The R.C.A.F. at Auchmar



The War Years
Francis and Edith Farwell spent part of their summers at their compound on Milford Bay near Beaumaris on Lake Muskoka. Her son, John, had joined the R.C.A.F. and became a Flight Lieutenant. When John returned home on leave he would bring a few flyer pals with him and enjoy life on Lake Muskoka.
During these years, the Farwells learned about how British airmen where recovering in England. Based upon the British model, Francis and Edith Farwell worked with the R.C.A.F. and initiated the Wartime Convalescent Home War Charity Fund. By 1945, 11 properties would be loaned to the R.C.A.F. to serve as convalescent hospitals. Overall, there would be a capacity of 600 beds.
Airmen injured during battle, would be treated overseas in hospital, and when able, transferred to the estates on home soil to convalesce.
The R.C.A.F. embraced this new non- traditional concept of convalescence. Within their corps, they developed a Medical Reconditioning Program which combined physical activity, custom therapies, and a lengthy list of activities which were recreational in nature.
In 1942, the Farwells constructed an annex complete with lavatories, dormitories, and office space to be used by recovering airmen and staff. Small cabins were built to accommodate staff. They shared their estate with the airmen and freely engaged in activities with them. Some of these were Sunday service, lawn bowling, and day to day conversation.
Francis and Edith Farwell encouraged many friends within their extensive social circles to do the same for the airmen. Within these circles, several were already “Dollar a Year Men” working as civilians in various crown corporations as part of the war effort.


Summer has a rhythm of life unto itself and unlike the other seasons. Once settled in for the season, time was spent with family and friends, entertaining and relaxing, and boating. There were certain social circuits and orbits which occurred as naturally as the water which washed the shorelines or tumbled over Bala Falls. Time was spent on the water, riding the launches, observing the Greavettes and the Ditchburns, or cruising on the Sagamo or Segwun.
A.V. Young and his family would spend summers at their cottage near Beaumaris on Lake Muskoka. In 1943, while visiting with the Farwells, they had the time and inclination to observe all that the airmen enjoyed.
The Young family was very impressed and decided to offer their home Auchmar to the R.C.A.F. By August 15, 1943, all the paperwork and documents were signed. In the next two months, the R.CA.F. went about converting Auchmar to meet its need in accordance with the government contract.

When the seasons changed and summer became autumn, the Farwells were closing their compound and preparing to return to Hamilton. Seven airmen and accompanying staff and officers were packing up their belongings and gear. By boat and train, they made their way to Hamilton and Auchmar.


On October 9, 1943, the first seven airmen and staff transferred from Beaumaris to Auchmar. Among the airmen were Warrant Officer Dan Taylor, and Warrant Officer Bill Carrey. The staff included Flight Lieutenant P.A. Voelker, M.D., Nursing Sister Hazel Hughes, a specialist in burn treatment, and Corporal Alice Vousden, who happen to be the mens’ favourite cook. Corporal Perkins was also assigned to Auchmar. Squadron Commander Len Dunham would be the Commanding Officer.

The following are excerpts from The Ottawa Journal, October 19, 1943:RCAF logo

Air Force Acquire Estates for Convalescence

“Four estates in Eastern Canada have been taken over and two more are in the process of being acquired…… the Honourable C.G. Power, Minister for Air, announced today.”
“The A .V. Young and F. Dalley estates, Hamilton Ontario are in operation while the estate of J. W .Flanagan, Toronto, will be opened shortly. The Forbes Angus Home, Montreal and the W. Pitfield property, Cartierville, are under negotiation.”
“No.2 Convalescent Home Hamilton, Ontario includes both the Young and Dalley Estates operating as a single unit.
The Dalley Division will have 60 beds, treat general convalescents and neurological cases, while the Young Division will have 40 beds and will be especially devoted to burn and plastic surgery cases. This unit will operate in close liaison with Christie Street Hospital, Toronto.”

The article continues and briefly describes the philosophy.

“…Air Commodore, J. W. Tice, Director of Medical Services, R.C.A.F., said the keynote of the convalescent home is in their non-institutional character. Blazers and slacks to be worn. They are essentially airmen, regardless of rank, all distinctions being dropped upon patients’ admission.”


After settling into their quarters, it was time to get on developing the physical exercises, individuals’ therapies, and adding leisure activities.
Dr VoelkerThe conventional wisdom prior to WWII was that convalescence was focused upon bed rest. Certainly, the airmen required rest. Dr. Voelker was aware that each man in his own way, needed to be challenged and not only challenged through the tiresome drudgery of daily exercises such as calisthenics, but, the painful stretching and exercising of burned fingers and hands to maintain mobility.
Dr. Voelker, in a prescient moment, documented on film throughout 1943-1944, the life of the airmen to educate others across the Dominion about the effectiveness of these individual therapies. There are images of men with badly burned hands stretching and flexing, dipping their hands into a wax bath and toning their muscles.
Leisure at AuchmarThere were chores to be done which strengthened both body and mind. The airmen cut down dead trees and piled up wood to feed the fireplaces of Auchmar. They jogged on the grounds. They competed for the best score on a nine hole golf course which was on the grounds. Overall, they spent two Christmases together. Dr. Voelker put a Christmas tree complete with lights on the second floor balcony at least once, maybe twice.
The men created an in house newsletter, The Auchmar Tonic. The issue dated April 29, 1944, describes how they built and planted a Victory Garden. Images survived of the airmen bowling, curling, cycling and cross country skiing. The men made use of the extensive collection of books in the library at Auchmar. They would listen to classical music on the record player while relaxing (possibly remarking on how fortunate they were). Smoking was permitted. Drinking alcohol was not.
Auchmar housePhotographs have survived from this time. Like all photographs, some found frames and stories were told about them while other were placed in luggage trunks, hat boxes and shoe boxes. All that survived are family heirlooms.
Life at Auchmar was not just the day in day out routines. The people of Hamilton visited. Photographs long forgotten about, show the airmen receiving haircuts from Ralph the Barber (last name unknown) at Auchmar.
Saturday evening dances were held. The airmen enjoyed the Joe Charles Band and the music of the day. June Cooper, who was a teenager at the time, would visit on dance nights. Perhaps she danced with the men but she took the time to help them write letters home to family.
June 6, 1944 witnessed the Allied Invasion of Normandy. As the seasons passed, the end of the war would eventually draw nearer and nearer. The airmen continued with their therapies.
By 1945, the newspapers and magazines had done coverage on the R.C.A.F. Convalescent Hospitals. The following are excerpts from the Saturday Night magazine and the Toronto Evening Telegram.

Saturday Night Magazine, April 1945.

‘….the end of weariness, boredom, and depression, “as convalescing airmen enjoyed physical exertion in the fresh air and sunshine…..mental diversions and customized therapy”…..
……concluded that the program was “one of the good things which has come out of this war.”

And then, there was the “Evening Tely”.

Toronto Evening Telegram, July 28, 1945.
“R.C.A.F. Convalescents Bask in Sports and Amusements”.

By September 1945, with the war over, the R.C.A.F. started to close up the convalescent hospitals, repair the buildings to a certain degree, and transfer the airmen, prior to returning the estates to their owners.


The Discovery
The Hamilton Mountain Heritage Society had decided to publish a pictorial history of the Hamilton Mountain. Photographs, memorabilia, and anecdotes were collected and gathered from many sources and individuals. The publication was well received and two of the photographs used belonged to Mrs. Viva Voelker of Waterloo.
Doug Embleton, who had grown up on Auchmar Estate, returned the photographs to Mrs. Voelker. During the course of their visit, Mrs. Voelker asked Doug if the society would be interested in three rolls of film shot by her husband in 1943. Doug agreed to take the film.
The film was brought back to Hamilton. It was decided to transfer the old films onto a stable format and a copy was produced. Members of the society watched as the silent movies, 29 minutes in length, played out. They had found the proverbial “Gold Mine.”
The society decided that a commentary and musical score should be added. The films also required synchronizing to ensure that the story flowed evenly. With the guidance, assistance and efforts of many talented individuals, working in collaboration with the society, Auchmar. The War Years was created.
Auchmar: The War Years is available from the Hamilton Mountain Heritage Society.
There was an underlying unanswered question when viewing the film; why were the hands burned most often?
George Hall, a former Spitfire pilot explained to Stewart Leslie. When the plane is hit, the pilot had to remove his gloves to undo the hasps, so that the canopy would get blown away.

film strip Auchmar

The Tradition
The war was over. The R.C.A.F. had closed No. 2 Convalescent Hospital and given back Auchmar Estate to the A.V. Young family. Dr. Philip Voelker returned home to Waterloo. In 1946, at his home on Young Street near Waterloo Park, he climbed onto the second floor porch wearing his father’s coat and put up a 10 foot Christmas complete with lights.
While working at R.C.A.F. convalescent hospital at Auchmar in Hamilton, he erected a tree on the balcony of Auchmar at Christmas.
Maggie daughter of Dr VoelkerThis eventually became a community touchstone as well as an honoured and cherished family tradition. The Voelker House became known to all as the Christmas House.
Dr. Voelker passed away in 1995. By this time, his children had continued the tradition as have his grandchildren. Maggie, the youngest daughter, has handed down the mantle of responsibility to her son, Matt. Matt has be known to climb onto the second floor porch, wearing his grandfather’s coat and raise the Christmas tree.
For almost 70 years now, a community celebrates Christmas when the Voelker tree goes up.

The Coincidence
In 1925, Frederick Dalley built Wynnstay Estate in Ancaster. It was on 100 acres of farmland. The family lived on the Estate for twenty years.
Wynnstay EstateIn 1946, The Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, a Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Congregation purchased Wynnstay Estate and renamed it Mount Mary Immaculate. By 1953, the Sisters operated a private residential and day high school known Mount Mary Academy. The academy closed in 1975 and the facility was leased to the Hamilton Wentworth Roman Catholic School Board which used it for staff education.
In 1976, Mount Mary began to host retreats and continues to do so.

In 1926, A. V. Young purchased Auchmar from Elsie Buchanan. They owned the estate for nineteen years.

In November 1945, the Youngs sold Auchmar Estate to the Hungarian Sisters of Social Service for $32,500. Bishop Joseph Ryan had long sought a retreat house for the diocese.
Auchmar EstateIn January 1946, representatives of the military met with the Sisters to discuss the recent use of Auchmar. They gave the Sisters a breakdown of the military obligations to the estate in accordance with the government contract. This included over $80,000 in expenditures towards plastering and flooring, water main installation, sewers, gas, and electricity.
The Sisters of Social Service held retreats throughout the decades and were able to expand during the 1960s. By 1998, members of the order were aging and hard decisions had to be made. The final Mass was held at Sts Peter and Paul Church in October of that year. The decision to sell was made in 1998.
A plan to sell Auchmar to Ray Bucci Developers who proposed a nursing/retirement home and town house project was unsuccessful.
In 1999, the Holy Spirit Centre (Auchmar) was sold to A. DeSantis and V.R. Investments for $2 million. There was strong objection and activism when this occurred. Eventually, the City of Hamilton became the owner of Auchmar Estate by conducting a land exchange with the DeSantis Company.