Pastor Wilfred Michaels of Canora presently serves as the padre for the Canora branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, but his military career started out quite differently when he was a teenager.
Michaels grew up in Yarmouth, N.S, and was always interested in the military as a youngster. He was just a kid when the Second World War began, but he said there always seemed to activity going on at the Yarmouth military base.
“We lived near the runway where the bombers came in. Soldiers were always driving around and doing drills. The rifle range was nearby in the bush.”
Another factor which contributed to his interest in the military was that his was very much a military family.
His grandfather Monde Surette served in the Canadian military during the time of the First World War, but died of the Spanish flu before seeing any action.
Uncle Wilfred Surette, who Michaels was named after, served in the Cameron Highlanders machine gun outfit in the Second World War and was wounded on Juno Beach in the Normandy invasion on D-Day.
His brother Jack Michaels served in the 1st Battalion of Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) during the Korean War.
Michaels’ wife Helen also grew up in a military family. Her father Peter Muise served in the 2nd Battalion of PPCLI artillery during the Second World War, and in the infantry during the Korean War.
Her brother Reg Newell studied to be an electrical engineer during the Second World War, but injuries from an accident prevented him from seeing action.
Helen’s aunt Mamie Muise served in the military, but was tragically killed while doing her duty as an ambulance driver, making her the only woman in the military from Nova Scotia to lose her life in the Second World War.
They got married in 1954 when Wilfred was 16 years old and Helen was 15. That same year he joined the reserves in Yarmouth, in the 14th Field Regiment, 84th Battery, and started his training in October.
Michaels soon developed a knack for working with the big guns. He was a layer, within six months, which meant it was his duty to do all the sighting. He eventually became a lance bombardier and had the opportunity to shoot the big guns, including the 105 Howitzer.
He said each big gun was operated by a crew of six men, and each of them carried a rifle for his own protection. He said his favourite was definitely the Belgian-designed FN (Fabrique Nationale) rifle.
“You could easily change barrels to go from semi-automatic to full automatic and it never jammed, not even in mud.”
Michaels’ time in the military included traveling to summer camps, which involved plenty of target practise. He took part in camps at Gagetown, N.B. and Petawawa, Ont. In total he spent just over seven years on active duty in the military, but did not see any action.
In 1962 he and his wife made the decision to become born again Christians. As part of that decision he became a non-combatant, and left his combat role with an honourable discharge. Michaels said the army was very good about his decision and never gave him any trouble.
In 1964 he became an orderly at the Oshawa, Ont. General Hospital. He said this was a great experience where he had the opportunity to work with many good people.
About two years later, in 1966 they moved to British Columbia, and he spent about three years working in a logging camp.
In 1969 he decided to go back to school, and they moved to Lacombe, Alta. where he studied theology at the Canadian Union College, which is now Burman University. While at the university, he was 2nd in command of the Medical Cadet Corps. During this time, he achieved the rank of sergeant.
After receiving his theology degree, Michaels had his first introduction to Canora. He accepted a position as pastor with the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, which he held until his retirement in the mid 1980s.
Michaels and his wife raised five children: sons Shawn and Wilfred Jr. (but everyone calls him Sam), and daughters Barbara Clark, Karen Bogdon, and Cindy Boerma.
About eight or nine years ago he resigned from the army, and left with the rank of Second Lieutenant.
Michaels currently serves as padre of the Canora branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. His other padre duties have included Canora air cadets, Swan River air cadets, and the 14th Canadian Hussars in Maple Creek.
Michaels said he has enjoyed seeing the Canora Legion’s renewed energy in recent months, including the changes at the Dugout.
“It’s good that people are working together to renovate the Dugout and support the Legion.”
Michaels has enjoyed his work as a padre, which culminates during Remembrance Day on November 11. He said he has one wish for this year’s service.
“I hope people will remember the men and women who died and the sacrifice they made for us. They did it so that we wouldn’t have to.”