From hobo to hero

Sid Daley’s life story unfolds like a movie. From riding the rails as a hobo during the Great Depression, to serving in World War II, to being the oldest retired OPP Officer in Ontario, he has packed more living into his 101 years than most of us can imagine. Now living at Parkwood Hospital, Sid shares some highlights from his life so far, and his thoughts on Remembrance Day. 

Sid Daley at veterans memorial

Born in England in 1912, we moved to Sault Ste. Marie in the 1920s. When I was 17 I left home and became a hobo riding the Algoma Central and CPR freight trains looking for work. During these years I had two near-death experiences jumping off moving trains so I wouldn’t get caught by the bouncers.

I got work building a road from Schreiber to Nipigon in Northern Ontario for $5 a month plus room and board. I loved to dance, and every Saturday night I walked 10 miles to the dance in Schreiber where I met my wife Hilda.

Next I became a cook at the YMCA restaurant run by the railroad, then I was the butcher in the local grocery store.

I joined the Royal Canadian Navy in 1942 where I made $1.25 a day. They made me an instructor because I already knew semaphore, marches, drills and navy jargon as I was a Sea Cadet when I was a young lad. I trained the boys on the HMCS Griffin in Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay), then we’d send them off to sea. They said I was a tough instructor, but I said, “You’re here aren’t you? We’re tough to keep you on your feet.”

I finally got to go to sea in 1943 as a DEMS gunner on merchant ships which carried food, fuel and equipment to wherever they were needed during the war. We travelled in a convoy of ships which were usually escorted by destroyers, and several smaller ships like corvettes.

We were always in danger, never knowing what was going to happen or when. We had to be constantly on the alert—it was self-preservation—we didn’t have time for fear.

When the war ended in 1945 I returned to my career as a butcher in Port Arthur. Then in 1946 I went on to a career as an officer with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP).

On Christmas Day in 1946 we were transferred to Schreiber – I was now policing the place where I’d landed as a hobo just over a decade before.  During my years with the OPP we moved throughout Ontario and I advanced through the ranks of corporal, sergeant and detachment commander. I had many interesting cases, and some heartbreaking ones as well. I retired from the OPP’s Lucan detachment in 1977.

I joined the Royal Canadian Legion (RCL) in 1942. When we were living in a town called Haileybury, I spearheaded a drive to build a senior citizen’s residence which gave preference to veteran admissions. My ongoing work with the RCL included being the secretary for Tri-Districts A, B, and C, and Hospital Chairman for District A raising funds for Parkwood Hospital. These funds covered the cost of items not supported government funding that enriched veterans’ lives. One of our most significant contributions during this time was the bowling alley in Western Counties Wing.

For my community work I received Canada’s Centennial Medal in 1967, and the Queen’s Jubilee medal in 2012.

In April this year I came to Parkwood, and now I’m partaking in some of my toils.

Remembrance Day for me is a sad time. It’s a time to remember our brother and other comrades killed in the war. When I lived in Lucan and Haileybury I recited The Veterans Prayer with my whole heart at the Cenotaph each Remembrance Day, and at funerals and other events. It grieves me when it is recited without emotion.

But you can’t live in sadness all the time – you have to go on with life. Death is an eventuality. Some of us, like me, are just lucky enough to live a little longer.

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