'It’s overwhelming': Second World War veteran turns 100

A Second World War veteran is Timmins' newest centenarian.

Albert Vaillancourt was joined by friends and family to mark his 100th birthday on Tuesday, April 16, and he said the show of love and support was something he’d never imagined.

“It’s overwhelming,” he said. “I’m so thankful for everyone who stopped in.”

Vaillancourt served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War and reached the rank of sergeant in 1945.

He shared memories and stories from that time, including a formative moment for the men serving in the air force when King George VI greeted the troops in England.

“When he came to the air force, he didn’t know what to do, so he said, ‘Gentlemen of the air force,’” said Vaillancourt. "It wasn’t structured, it wasn’t intended, but it stuck.”

Vaillancourt moved to Timmins in 1952, and his family has been in the city ever since.

Members of the Royal Canadian Legion presented Vaillancourt with gifts and the members’ good wishes on the big day.

Kim Schaeffer, legion branch 88’s membership chairman and second vice-president, said it’s important to remember the service of men like Vaillancourt. She also served in the air force.

“I want to highlight Albert’s service and make that well known,” she said. “It’s an honour to be here to celebrate his birthday, and as a legion member, he’s been with us for years, but I also wanted to be here personally.”

Vaillancourt said the legion has been an important part of his life.

“My time with the legion was very meaningful,” he said. “There’s not too many spots like that.”

Schaeffer also pointed out that this year is also the 100th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

“It’s quite the honour to be born the same year as the RCAF was created,” she said.

O’Gorman High School English teacher Erica Shelley and one of her students also showed up to the party.

Shelley, who was teaching her class about the Second World War, reached out to the legion to try and connect with a veteran when the stars aligned.

“It was perfect timing for us, so we turned it into a project for the class,” she said. “We wrote an announcement for the school that students shared over the intercom, and a few students in the class volunteered to create the card. Almost all the students in the class took turns going around and collecting signatures.”

She said having a concrete connection to the history they were learning about can help the lesions stick.

“We’re really thankful to the legion for connecting with us and providing an opportunity for a student to present this,” said Shelley. “I think the kids taking ownership of this and the card when you’re doing it for a real purpose and sharing that with the rest of the student body, it got a lot of kids on board.”

Grade 10 student Kael Hunter presented a card signed by many of the school's students. Hunter was also part of the team that created the card.

“I’ve never met a person like him before,” said Hunter.

Amanda Rabski-McColl, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com