Heroes are around us every day.
Heroes are not created out of grandiose actions or big achievements, but from the choices in and motions of everyday life. William McGregor, who turned 100 years old last month, has led the life of a hero.
He is an immigrant from Northern Ireland. He has lived through famine, the depression, a World War, two pandemics and today keeps a garden of the best tasting potatoes in the region. He has often taken the hard road, working to support his family and his community. Through all this, William shows what an exemplary and heroic life is.
By the time Willie was 17, he was working in the winter milking cows and feeding pigs and in the spring driving a six-horse harrow. It was then that he heard about the war breaking out in Europe. Since the depression of the 30s there had been no good paying work—the lure of adventure and a paying job
led the McGregor boys to enlist. John enlisted in 1940, Robert and Willie in 1942. Willie was assigned to the Royal Canadian Medical Corps and travelled across Canada by train, then onto Scotland via the Queen Mary where they trained in England until 1944.
Willie was with the 11th Field Ambulance attached to the Essex Scottish Regiment when they crossed the English Channel, landing on Juno Beach on June 6th, 1944. The 11th Field Ambulance followed the artillery, giving field first aid and transportation to the Regimental Aid Post to anyone needing help— allied, enemy, or civilian.
After securing Juno Beach they carried on to Paris, liberating towns and villages as they went.
The focus of the Canadian Army was to secure a supply route. They followed the coast through Belgium into Holland. They were able to secure the deep-water ports of Ostende and Antwerp.
In 2015 WIlliam was made a Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honor for his service during D-Day, the Battle of Normandy and the liberation of France—the highest honour conferred by the government of France.
As with many veterans, there are many stories of their exploits and deeds, and Willie is no different. He often went out of his way to help those in need. For example, while in Antwerp, William was billeted with a family and he’d often bring home food for them. One day he encountered a young man who was in a tough spot. He gave the man some “bully beef” and canned milk from his bag. The next day the man found him and gave him a camera in appreciation. At another town, he gathered coal along the rail tracks to bring home to the family he was billeted with.
Willie’s brother John was injured and killed in Clive, Germany in the battle to break the Siegfried Line on February 27th, 1945. He is buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, Holland. In 1995 Willie, along with his wife Lorane and some family, went to Holland to commemorate the end of WWII. While there he was able to visit his brother John’s grave. He returned to visit John again in 2017, this time with his son Lloyd, as a representative for Canada at the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge.
The war ended on May 5th, 1945, but William was drafted to go with a Canadian doctor to the North Frisian Islands of Denmark instead of returning home. While on leave home at Christmas 1945, Willie met Lorane Peterson at the Ukrainian New Years Eve Dance.
After he was discharged in 1946, he bought a farm with the assistance of the Veterans’ Land Act and got his first tractor, an Oliver 60. He married Lorane in 1948. They were partners for over 74 years and had four children—Vivian, Lloyd, Tom and Ralph. He always teased that since they got married on April 1st, it didn’t really count.
The hard work and dedication continued, but now with his own family to care for. William farmed in the summer and logged in the winters to make ends meet. He’d take lumber as payment for his share of the work and in 1958 they built a new house for their growing family. It cost $1000 for the two carpenters he hired, and Willie supplied the lumber. The following year he built himself a barn, again with lumber he had logged during the winter. They got power in 1958.
Through these years, William was also dedicated to his community. He was the assistant director of the local 4-H beef club for 6 years, was active in the Iron River School, the Home and School Association, and with the Iron River United Church. In 1967 the Land of the Lakes Recreation Board was formed with WIlliam as one of the directors. He noted that there was a need for a place for the youth clubs to gather and was instrumental in fundraising for the Centennial Hall. In 1973 he joined the Bonnyville Agricultural Society and served on their board of directors for 19 years. It was during his time they did fundraising and built the town Agriplex. WIlliam and Lorane’s commitment to their family and their community led them to being awarded the Alberta Farm Family award for northeastern Alberta in 1974.
In 1990, Willie and Lorane retired and moved into Bonnyville. At that time he joined the Bonnyville Senior Citizens Society. He served on the Board of Directors from 1992 to 2015, 10 years as President. In 1997, plans were made to expand the Seniors Drop In Centre. Willie believed in the benefit of socializing for the well-being of seniors. He was an area director of Lakeland Senior Games Association for 15 years. He travelled to games in other clubs around northeast Alberta. He attended numerous Provincial Games, usually floor curling.
In December 2002 WIlliam was awarded the Golden Jubilee Medal for his significant contributions to Canada, their community, and fellow Canadians. The accolades continued when in September 2005 he was awarded the Alberta Centennial Medal, then in 2012 he was given the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for significant contribution to his community.
Sadly, in 2022, Willie lost his life-long love, companion and soul mate, Lorane. They were married for 74 years. He now continues to live in his house on Lakeshore Drive, watching the birds and animals along the lake. He walks every day on his treadmill, drives his car to go shopping, grows a garden of potatoes and tomatoes, and makes his famous bread pudding. It is a life to be celebrated and held in awe.
William McGregor’s 100 years has shown that heroes are walking around us every day. He teaches us to be open to life’s experiences and to embrace change. He is a hero to his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and to his community. I am amazed and humbled by the stories of the people he has known, the places he has gone, and the things he has done.