Crowd Gathers on St. Clair Avenue for Barker’s Funeral Procession by City of Toronto Archives Fonds 1266, Item 19526RCAF Foundation
Crowds Line the Route
The largest funeral in the history of the city of Toronto, Ontario took place on March 15, 1930. More than 50,000 people lined the route of William G. Barker’s funeral procession to Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto.
The Funeral Procession
That Saturday afternoon, the funeral procession began at the home of Barker’s father-in-law, Horace Bruce Smith.
It was approximately 3km from the home to the cemetery.
Barker's Father-in-Law's HomeRCAF Foundation
The Horace B Smith House
Located at 355 St. Clair W., this house was where William Barker had married Jean Kilbourn Smith on June 1, 1921. They had been introduced by fellow First World War flying ace Billy Bishop.
355 St. Clair West Toronto, Ontario as it appears today.
2000 service members paraded in Barker’s honour. Behind the casket walked family, friends, Howard Ferguson (Ontario Premier), Major General Andrew McNaughton (Chief of the General Staff), and a group of Victoria Cross recipients.
The US Army had also sent an honour guard.
During the funeral service, six Toronto Flying Club aircraft flew over the mausoleum and released thousands of rose petals in tribute to Barker. He was laid to rest in his wife’s family mausoleum. Barker started as an observer/machine gunner in the Royal Flying Corps. He received his pilot's wings in February 1917.
f1266_it19540 copyRCAF Foundation
Why was William Barker’s funeral so heavily attended?
Barker was one of Canada’s most accomplished pilots of his era and remains the highest decorated service member in Canadian military history. He would have been a celebrity at the time.
Portrait - W/C Barker W.C., U.C., DSO. Director, RCAF. April 1, 1924RCAF Foundation
Barker was born near Dauphin, Manitoba on November 3, 1894. He served in the prewar militia for 2 years. He enlisted with the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles in November 1914. In September 1915, the Mounted Rifles were sent to the Western Front. Barker served with a machine gun crew.
Barker Transfers to the RFC
In March 1916, Barker transferred to the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). He initially served as an observer and machine gunner in two-seater aircraft.
As a gunner, Barker downed two German planes and was awarded the Military Cross for his actions.
Barker Becomes a Pilot
In November 1916, Barker was sent to England for pilot training. He received his pilot's wings on April 2, 1917. After still serving as a gunner for a time in No. 15 Squadron, Barker was given command of “C” Flight. Wounded by artillery in August 1917, he returned to England.
Barker LetterRCAF Foundation
Barker and "The Flying Circus"
In a letter to friend, Barker describes fighting against the famed German "Flying Circus," led by none other than Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron.
Barker in Italy
Barker and RAF 28 Squadron was transferred to Italy in late October 1917. On June 3, 1918, he was given command of 139 Squadron. In early August, Barker dropped an Italian army agent behind enemy lines, earning the Silver Medal for Military Valour, one of Italy’s highest awards.
Major Barker with Machine in which he won the Victoria CrossRCAF Foundation
Barker's Victoria Cross
In September 1918, Barker was assigned to command an aerial combat school in England. Before beginning, he flew a brief tour of duty on the Western Front. He joined No. 201 Squadron for 10 days. Barker was given relatively free range to engage enemy aircraft.
On 27 October 1918, Barker attacked an enemy aircraft and shot it down. Simultaneously he was attacked by a Fokker biplane, wounding him in the right thigh. He also brought this aircraft down.
Courage Under Fire
At this point, he was attacked by 15 enemy aircraft. Wounded several times and his plane riddled with bullets, Barker shot down 3 more aircraft bringing the total to 5. Twice fainting from loss of blood, Barker crash landed behind Allied lines. He was taken to the hospital.
Recognition of Barker
Barker survived the crash but suffered from many injuries.
His Victoria Cross citation noted that “In one of the most dramatic dogfights of the war, Barker’s pilot skills, marksmanship and a good measure of luck enabled him to prevail against seemingly impossible odds."
Barker with Crashed AircraftRCAF Foundation
Most Decorated Canadian in Military Service
Barker was awarded the Victoria Cross, the Distinguished Service Order and Bar, the Military Cross and two Bars, two Italian Silver Medals for Military Valour, and the French Croix de guerre. He was also mentioned in despatches three times.
WG Barker in civilian attireRCAF Foundation
Barker’s Post War Struggles
Following the war, Barker struggled. His wounds caused him considerable physical and emotional pain for the remainder of his life. His legs were damaged, and his left elbow was nearly immovable. He also suffered from alcoholism and, possibly, post-traumatic stress disorder.
Barker and Bishop
After the war, Barker, with Billy Bishop, founded the company, Bishop-Barker Aeroplanes in November 1919. It was a commercial failure and ceased operations in 1922.
RCAF Cap BadgeRCAF Foundation
Barker in the Royal Canadian Air Force
In 1922, Barker joined the Canadian Air Force. He was made commander of the air station at Camp Borden. In early 1924, he became acting director of the Royal Canadian Air Force. He resigned from the RCAF in 1926 due to personal dispute with new RCAF Director, J.S. Scott.
First President of the Toronto Maple Leafs
In 1927, J.P. Bickell, Owner of the Maple Leafs, together with Conn Smythe, former RAF pilot and managing partner, appointed Barker as president, a symbolic gesture to help raise the team’s profile. The relationship did not last long due to Barker's struggles with alcohol.
Another Aviation Opportunity
In January 1930, Barker became vice-president and general manager of the Fairchild Aviation Corporation of Canada.
On March 12, 1930, William G. Barker died when the Fairchild KR-21 trainer he was demonstrating for the Department of National Defence crashed in Ottawa. He was 35 years old.
Barker MonumentRCAF Foundation
Largely due to the effort of the RCAF Foundation Chair John Wright, a monument honouring Barker stands at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto. It was unveiled on September 22, 2011.
Barker's achievements began to receive proper recognition.
Barker's CryptRCAF Foundation
Memory of Barker
Barker remains the highest decorated military service member in Canadian history.
He was incredibly well known at the time of his death but with time the memory of him faded, largely to his death at a young age.
That memory, due to the work of many, is being revigorated.
A statue of Barker in Spresiano, Italy. The monument was donated by David Mackenzie, Barker's nephew.
A new statue of William Barker has been completed. It will be the centerpiece of
‘Barker Parkette’ in Ottawa, located near CFB Rockcliffe, the site of Barker’s tragic death in 1930. The park will be unveiled by the RCAF Foundation and the City of Ottawa in Spring 2024.