Ottawa Citizen

War veteran re­mem­bered as ‘a great Cana­dian’

Son of rail­way porter broke into ex­ec­u­tive ranks at Ea­tons de­part­ment store com­pany

- AN­DREW DUFFY

‘Be­lieve you can and you can. Be­lieve you will and you will. See your­self achieve and you will achieve. Never give up.”

Wels­ford Daniels car­ried those words with him ev­ery­where, even to his room at the Per­ley and Rideau Veter­ans’ Health Cen­tre where they were taped onto the wall.

“It’s my motto,” he said in an in­ter­view prior to this year’s Re­mem­brance Day cer­e­monies.

Daniels lived by those words as a pi­o­neer­ing mem­ber of Canada’s black com­mu­nity. He served on the front lines of the Sec­ond World War as a sig­nal­man — a po­si­tion few black sol­diers were then af­forded — then re­turned to Canada where he was among the first blacks in the coun­try to break into the ex­ec­u­tive ranks of the T. Ea­ton Com­pany.

Daniels died this month from the com­pli­ca­tions of di­a­betes and weak­ened kid­neys. He was 92.

Daniel Clapin, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the The Per­ley and Rideau Veter­ans’ Health Cen­tre Foun­da­tion, called Daniels “a great Cana­dian.”

“I feel blessed to have known him, if only for a short time. He was my friend and a hero,” said Clapin.

“He was one of those spe­cial peo­ple that just seemed to de­fine the word ‘grace’ by his sim­ple ev­ery­day acts of kind­ness to those around him.”

Daniels’s son, Ted, said his fa­ther was a strong and ac­com­plished man who be­lieved that “ev­ery­thing had to be done the proper way.”

“I’m aware of all of the things he’s done in life, but I knew him as my fa­ther,” said Ted Daniels. “He al­ways told us never to stop try­ing to grow and to be­come bet­ter peo­ple.”

Wels­ford Arnold Daniels was born in Hal­i­fax on Sept. 14, 1920. His fa­ther worked as a rail­way porter, one of the few steady jobs then open to the coun­try’s blacks.

The fam­ily set­tled in Mon­treal when Wels­ford was three. Al­ways poor, the fam­ily moved of­ten as his fa­ther tried to stay ahead of rent col­lec­tors.

Wels­ford did well in school, par­tic­u­larly in math, and he went to work at 16. He was first a boat hand for Canada Steamship Lines, then took a job as an of­fice boy with the Mon­treal Stan­dard Pub­lish­ing Co., where he earned $7 a week.

In 1939, when the Sec­ond World War broke out, Daniels en­listed in the army re­serves.

The army was then his only mil­i­tary op­tion. At the be­gin­ning of the war, black vol­un­teers were not wel­comed into the Royal Cana­dian Air Force and Royal Cana­dian Navy, both of which main­tained a “colour line.”

In 1939, re­cruits to the navy had to be “of pure Euro­pean de­scent and of the white race.” The air force had a sim­i­lar re­quire­ment. (Both ser­vices dropped their racial bar­ri­ers mid­way through the war.)

Daniels be­came a full-time mem­ber of the Royal Cana­dian Corps of Sig­nals in Au­gust 1941 and ig­nored racial ep­i­thets to con­cen­trate on his craft: Morse code, ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tions and elec­tron­ics re­pair.

In July 1944, he landed in north­ern France with the 4th Cana­dian Ar­moured Di­vi­sion.

As a sig­nal­man, Daniels’s job was to re­pair ra­dios and other elec­tron­ics equip­ment that kept di­vi­sion head­quar­ters in con­tact with troops on the front lines.

It meant he of­ten trav­elled alone to the front lines at night on a mo­tor­cy­cle with a dark­ened head­light.

Fear­ful of get­ting lost, he stuck to the main roads, which were lit­tered with the car­casses of dead an­i­mals — the Ger­mans re­lied heav­ily on horse-drawn ar­tillery — and corpses.

He had some har­row­ing trips. Once, he had to weave through trees to avoid the straf­ing run of an air­plane. On an­other night, a ragged and dis­tressed man tried to flag him down, but he was too scared to stop.

The in­ci­dent still both­ered him more al­most seven decades later.

“To this day, I would love to know who that fel­low was and how he’s mak­ing out,” he said in Novem­ber.

In Hol­land, a Ger­man bomber crashed right in front of him, so close that shrap­nel from the plane was em­bed­ded in his leg.

On leave in Paris one week­end, he went to a night­club where he was told he couldn’t sit in a sec­tion re­served for whites. Daniels be­gan to protest that he had just helped lib­er­ate the coun­try when a Bri­tish ser­vice­man stepped in and told the night­club owner, “He’s with me and we’re sit­ting down.”

Daniels be­lieved the war brought down racial bar­ri­ers: “There were black peo­ple want­ing to bet­ter them­selves and couldn’t. I think the war changed that. Peo­ple were more re­cep­tive af­ter the war.”

Af­ter the war, Daniels went to Sir Ge­orge Wil­liams Univer­sity in Mon­treal (now Con­cor­dia) and earned a com­merce de­gree.

Flu­ently bilin­gual, he spent more than 20 years at the Mon­treal Stan­dard Pub­lish­ing Co., then worked as a mer­chan­dise an­a­lyst with Ea­tons in Mon­treal.

He was one of the firm’s first black ex­ec­u­tives and was re­spon­si­ble for trav­el­ling the world to buy mer­chan­dise on be­half of the de­part­ment store chain.

He fin­ished his ca­reer as a man­ager with what was then the fed­eral De­part­ment of Man­power and Im­mi­gra­tion.

Daniels re­tired to Ot­tawa 15 years ago with his wife, Gertrude, with whom he raised four sons: Regi­nald, James-Stan­ley, Ted and Wayne.

 ?? CARO­LINE PHILLIPS/OT­TAWA CIT­I­ZEN ?? Wels­ford and Gertrude Daniels at­tend the Canada Veter­ans Hall of Val­our’s 7th An­nual In­duc­tion Ban­quet in Ot­tawa in May 2009. Wels­ford was an army sig­nal­man dur­ing the Sec­ond World War and later a re­tail chain ex­ec­u­tive.
CARO­LINE PHILLIPS/OT­TAWA CIT­I­ZEN Wels­ford and Gertrude Daniels at­tend the Canada Veter­ans Hall of Val­our’s 7th An­nual In­duc­tion Ban­quet in Ot­tawa in May 2009. Wels­ford was an army sig­nal­man dur­ing the Sec­ond World War and later a re­tail chain ex­ec­u­tive.

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