The Centenarian

The Centenarian

Reg Wanamaker celebrated his 100th Birthday on September 8th. “I am a war baby from the First World War,” says Reg. “And I was in the Second.”

Reginald C. Wanamaker was born in 1918 in the settlement of Sine (north of Belleville), to parents William and Beatrice. He had an older sister Vivian, and then a younger sister Dorothy. In time the family moved to the Dufferin/ St. Clair area of Toronto, where Reg attended Central Technical School.

Reg met his future wife-to-be Ruth (née Grant) when they were in their early teens. “We went ice skating one night up Yonge Street, and she was skating there too, so we skated together for a while and forgot to quit.”

Wife-to-be Ruth Grant poses with model aircraft built by Reg Wanamaker in Toronto

After having built model aircraft as a hobby from a young age, joining a club, and flying them in competitions, Reg pursued his studies in aircraft design in earnest at the University of Toronto.

Prior to World War II, Reg and a buddy bought a single-engine airplane in Hamilton for under a thousand dollars. Neither one had their pilot license, so they had it flown to Barker Field in Toronto.

“There was an airfield up on Dufferin Street, in the area where Yorkdale Mall now sits,” says Reg. “And there was a bunch of guys there who had their wings but needed more flying hours. We had a plane, so they took us up, in the meantime teaching us how to fly. Eventually we got enough time in to join the Air Force and go in as aircrew, so that worked out fine.”

The Greatest Generation

Canada entered the Second World War on September 10th, 1939, and Reg volunteered with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) soon thereafter.

After completing initial training in Ontario, the first half of Reg’s graduating class (split alphabetically) was promptly shipped overseas. “They never got there,” says Reg. “On the way over they got sunk.”

RCAF Flying Officer Reg Wanamaker in Toronto, circa 1941

Reg was then posted to Trenton, ON, Dafoe, SK, and then Rivers, MB. Receiving his commission, Reg was sent to Toronto to be fitted for his new Flying Officer uniform. From there he was shipped to Scotland for further training after which he was assigned to an RCAF squadron in England, flying Vickers Wellington bombers.

“When I look back on it now I enjoyed my flying,” says Reg. “You would get scared to death before the operation but once you got in the airplane you were in your own office and that was it.”

The airmen faced down formidable odds; of those serving with Bomber Command only 41% escaped physically unscathed, with 8% becoming prisoners of war, 6% seriously wounded, and 45% killed in action.

After completing his tour of 30 bombing operations, Reg stayed on for a second tour, this time on the Avro Lancaster. He transferred to No. 433 (Porcupine) Squadron in Skipton-on-Swale, Yorkshire, England.

“Those were the days that we were young and in our prime and used to have a hell of a lot of fun all the time,” says Reg. “I wouldn’t want to do it again though, but it was for King and Country.”

Hazards on operations included thunderstorms, icing, structural failure, Luftwaffe night fighters, and once the target was reached, the omnipresent bursting shells from flak batteries.

Close Calls

“It was just an ordinary trip but when you are bombing a target they are shooting at you from down below,” says Reg. Shrapnel came through the windscreen, striking him in the chest. “That’s where I had a cigarette case that I shouldn’t have had…I still got the mark. But that saved my skin—there were a lot of quirks like that you know, what the hell.”

Reg with cigarette case damaged by shrapnel from anti-aircraft shell

On another operation, Reg’s aircraft was returning from an op over Kiel, Germany, when flak took out the starboard outer engine.

Hundreds of miles from home and losing altitude, they made it to the Wash, an estuary off the east coast of England, before having to ditch in the sea.

“We all got in (the dinghy) without getting our feet wet, when the damn thing (airplane) sunk. That’s the closest call we had but then we were out in the North Sea in February,” says Reg. The crew was picked up that night by an RAF Air Sea Rescue boat four or five hours later.

After the war Reg was shipped to Halifax, and returned to Toronto by train. He retired from the RCAF at the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

Ruth had worked at Eaton’s before the war, and had been sent to work at CN Rail for the duration, an assignment which had come to an end.

“First of all I had to get married,” says Reg. “We had been trying to get married for years but the war got in between.”

Newlyweds Reg & Ruth Wanamaker atop the Empire State Building in New York City, circa 1946

Reg and Ruth honeymooned in New York City and then moved into an apartment on Bloor Street. A couple of years later they built a bungalow in Oakville, ON.

 Furniture Factory

A neighbour had mentioned to Reg they were having a tough time finding a toilet seat for their child.

“They used to come from Quebec, so I got together with another guy that had been in the service, and we went into the business of making toilet seats for kids,” says Reg. “And we made them like they were going out of style.”

Establishing their plant on Forsythe Street, Atlantic Manufacturing expanded their offerings to include highchairs, cribs, and other baby furniture–which coincidentally came in handy after Reg and Ruth’s son Reed was born in 1948.

Ruth worked for many years as a volunteer at the Westwood Public School, and the Radio Reading Service. “It was a whole different world,” Reg says. “We would have a barbecue in the afternoon or evening, and all the neighbours would come over.”

With Ford Motor Company opening their assembly plant in Oakville in 1953, Reg’s staff left en masse to go to work building automobiles.

Repurposing as a general furnishings retailer, Reg and his business partner reopened their shop as Federal Furniture from the same location. And once he had his fill of selling furniture, Reg put his design skills to good use but this time in the boat building business, with C & C Yachts.

Reed went on to a career serving the municipality as a supervisor in the public works department, and has since retired.

The Wanamakers had been married for 59 years, when Ruth passed away on September 25, 2005.

RCAF Flight Lieutenant (Ret’d) Reg Wanamaker inspects Avro Lancaster at Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton

With his boyhood passion for aviation undiminished, Reg recently visited the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, and took a walk around the Lancaster.

“Time marches on,” says Reg. “I don’t know where its going.” Does he have any regrets? “Oh no, I had a pretty good life.”

About the Author

Van Hansen

While Van is Not Allowed to Sing™, he is allowed to write songs and stories. Mostly stories. Published in magazines such as Canadian Aviator, Canadian Geographic, Costco Connection, Photography Monthly, and The Walrus, Van now shares with you the everyday adventures of the People in Your Neighbourhood™. Van is a real estate broker with the full-service boutique brokerage Apex Results Realty Inc. in Burlington, ON.

– Next episode is The Artisan

People in Your Neighbourhood™ is presented by Jen & Van Hansen, Brokers with Apex Results Realty Inc., proudly affiliated with Leading Real Estate Companies of the World. We’re Local We’re Global™

Jen & Van Hansen


  1. Thank you so much for this lovely story. Mr. Wanamaker passed away on March 24, 2022. Being able to visit him via this video is a blessing. Thank you!

Leave a Comment