Staff at the Fort Saskatchewan Heritage Precinct have some war stories to tell this summer.
November 11, 2018, will mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the first World War. Fort Saskatchewan, home to fewer than 1000 people at the time, sent about 50 soldiers to fight in the overseas battle, including a man who would one day become mayor of the city.
Dick Mager immigrated to Canada from London with his family when he was a teenager. Decades later he was elected mayor of Fort Saskatchewan, holding office from 1943 until 1950. Long before he entered politics he served in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force, putting his mechanical skills to use as a sapper in the engineer corps.
“His job during the war was to do things like build bridges, construct structures or lay and dismantle minefields,” said Meghan Cardy, a museum historical interpreter who has been tracking down some details about the life of the local veteran.
Mager’s enlistment papers show he was an auto mechanic by trade.
“While higher ranking engineers could plan tactical movements of where a bridge was going to go or how to dismantle a structure that had been put up by the other forces, the sappers were ones who carried that stuff out,” Cardy said, adding that Mager would have put his life at risk helping out with construction projects in the midst of battle.
One of Mager’s wartime duties was especially dangerous.
"Sappers were the ones who had to go out and essentially locate and dismantle each individual bomb," Cardy said.
Near the end of the war Mager and some other soldiers fashioned a car together from some dismantled parts they found strewn in a field. The men took an impromptu road trip from Belgium to Germany.
"Essentially of their own accord just for a vacation," Cardy said.
Mager managed to escape the war without any major injuries. Once back home, he settled into life with his wife, Mary, working as a mechanic, opening up a few different businesses and volunteering in the community. A park in old Fort Saskatchewan bears his name in recognition of his contributions. Mary, who worked as assistant curator at the local museum, was an enthusiastic volunteer as well.
Mager is buried in the Fort Saskatchewan Cemetery, his headstone one of the stops on the Fort Heritage Precinct’s upcoming tour of the local graveyard. The precinct’s second tour of the summer happens on August 15.