It was first christened ‘Pine Street’ and was flanked on the east by Spruce Street and on the west by Ashburn Street in the heart of Winnipeg’s West End.
Those were the early days in a city which was spreading out in all directions. Pine Street, exactly like so many others, dotted with houses and families in the days when Winnipeg was this country’s third-largest city.
During World War I three men – Corporal Leo Clarke, Sergeant-Major Frederick William Hall and Lieutenant Robert Shankland, incredibly all from the same block on Pine Street – would do their neighbourhood proud by distinguishing themselves with bravery and acts of valour.
All three were awarded the distinguished Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award in the Commonwealth honours system and awarded for gallantry ‘in the presence of the enemy.’ As a tribute to their heroism, the street was renamed ‘Valour Road’ in 1925. A memorial statue and mural is now located at the corner of Valour Road and Sargent Avenue.
And almost 100 years later, the trio was saluted again as Winnipeg’s entry in the Canadian Premier League – the country’s new domestic soccer league – was christened Valour FC. Today, on Remembrance Day, it’s worth revisiting their story.
Leo Clarke was born in Watertown, Ontario, moving to Winnipeg in 1903. He had been working as a railway surveyor when Word War I broke out and joined the 27th Battalion, later transferring to another regiment to be with his brother.
In 1916, during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette in France, Clarke’s battalion attacked a heavily defended section of the enemy. He was the only man left standing, but had managed to kill 19 of the enemy, while capturing one. A month later, Clarke was injured by a shell attack and later died in hospital. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross in 1917, the medal presented to his father by the Governor General of Canada in front of a crowd of 30,000.
Frederick William Hall, originally from Kilkenny, Ireland and the son of a British soldier, emigrated to Canada in 1910.
A member of the Winnipeg Rifles Battalion, Hall’s heroics came during the second Battle of Ypres in Belgium in 1915. On the night of April 24, 1915, Hall could hear the moans of wounded and missing men. He would venture into a ridge in darkness twice to rescue a wounded man and bring him back to safety. Later that morning, Hall attempted to rescue another, but was shot and killed while trying to lift the man and carry him back.
His name is among the 56,000 listed on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, honouring troops from Canada, Britain, Australia and India.
Robert Shankland was the only one of the Pine Street/Valour Road heroes to survive the war. Born in Ayr, Scotland, he moved to Canada in 1910 and was working as a cashier for the Crescent Creamery Company in Winnipeg when World War 1 started. He joined the 43rd Battalion, the Cameron Highlanders of Canada.
Shankland was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in 1916 as a Sergeant, and received a battlefield commission later that year. During the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, Shankland’s platoon was under heavy fire and dangerously exposed. Leaving the platoon under temporary command to another officer, he worked through the mud and heavy enemy shelling to headquarters, where he detailed the situation. He then returned to the location with reinforcements to lead a counter-attack.
His Victoria Cross citation reads ‘his courage and his example undoubtedly saved a critical situation.’
Shankland returned to Canada after the war and remained in the military while working for several Winnipeg companies. He moved to Victoria, and when World War II broke out, he returned to Winnipeg and rejoined the Cameroons. He served as a Major and later Lieutenant Colonel as the camp commandant of the Canadian Army Detention Barracks in England in 1940 at the age of 53. He died in Vancouver in 1968 at the age of 81.
Valour Road – Pine Street – is the only street in the Commonwealth that was home to three Victoria Cross recipients.
Lest we forget.