by Neil Carleton

As preparations were being finalized this past week for the 2013 Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph in Almonte, a memorial for Canada’s most decorated serviceman was nearing completion at Dale Dunning’s Lost & Foundry sculpture studio, at 209 Old Union Hall Road in Mississippi Mills.

 William George Barker (1894-1930) of Dauphin, Manitoba was a flying ace during World War I.  He returned to Canada in 1919 with 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.  “Will” or “Billy” Barker was also mentioned in dispatches three times.

Archival Photo William G. Barker
Air ace William Barker stands before his WWI flying machine.

Although Lieutenant-Colonel Barker was the most decorated serviceman in Canadian history, and in the Commonwealth, few people know about him.  Over the past 25 years, there have been concerted efforts to raise awareness of his legacy.

  • 1997    Barker, VC: The Life, Death and Legend of Canada’s Most Decorated War Hero, Wayne Ralph, 1997, Grub Street, 320 pages hardcover, ISBN 1898697590 (ISBN13: 9781898697596)
  •  1998    At the digital archives of CBC TV, an introductory clip (6:44 minutes) about William Barker is available for viewing on-line at http://www.cbc.ca/player/Digital+Archives/War+and+Conflict/First+World+War/ID/1864205612/ .
  • 2003    The documentary film “The Hero’s Hero – The Forgotten Life of William Barker”, was broadcast across Canada on Wednesday, March 19, on History Television at 10:00 p.m. EST.  It was based on Wayne Ralph’s book.

A short history of William Barker’s exploits in the air during WWI is available on-line at the website “Canadian War Air Aces and Heroes”, at http://www.constable.ca/caah/barker.htm.

Dick Harington Steppe Bison Skull
Dr. Harington of the Canadian Museum of Nature with a steppe bison skull collected along the Old Crow River, Yukon.

Dr. C. Richard (Dick) Harington is passionate about paleontology.  He’s a recipient of the Order of Canada and the Massey Medal for his contributions to the knowledge of northern paleobiology, and his leadership in the study of climatic change.  Although retired from his long and varied career in 1998, he still works at the Canadian Museum of Nature in his role as Research Associate and Curator Emeritus of Quaternary Zoology.

Dr. Harington is also passionate about William Barker.  The lack of proper recognition for Canada’s most decorated serviceman didn’t sit well with him.  His first step was to  commission a bust, created by former Almonte resident Doug Watson, which he donated to the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum.

Dick Harington (left) and Ottawa sculptor Dave Watson with the commissioned bust of Canadian flying ace William Barker.
Dick Harington (left) and Ottawa sculptor Doug Watson with the commissioned bust of Canadian flying ace William Barker.

More recently, Dr. Harington commissioned a statue of Lieutenant-Colonel Barker.  Ottawa sculptor Doug Watson created a miniature in his studio which was digitally enlarged in foam with a computer operated milling machine in California.  After the addition of an epoxy putty layer, Doug delivered the slightly larger than life composition to Dale Dunning at Lost & Foundry.  Sections were cut to fit the burnout oven, and Dale made a silicone rubber mold of each piece.  Wax casts were carefully created, a ceramic coating was applied, then the wax was melted and removed in the burnout oven.  Each hollow ceramic shell was set in a bed of sand for support, and molten bronze metal was poured at a temperature of 1050 C / 1922 F.

Dale Dunning of Lost & Foundry uses the lost wax technique for fine art bronze casting.  In this 2012 photo he pours molten bronze to create a sculpture.
Dale Dunning of Lost & Foundry uses the lost wax technique for fine art bronze casting. In this 2012 photo he pours molten bronze to create a sculpture.

When they had cooled, the ceramic shells were broken, the gates and sprues were cut, and each bronze section was prepared for assembly.  Welding joined them together, any rough spots were attended to, then the bronze statue was sand blasted top to bottom.  A patina was sprayed on and highlights were buffed.  The next steps were to heat the metal, apply a wax coating, and buff when the statue had cooled to create a gloss finish.

In the warm glow of spot lights at Lost & Foundry, the nearly completed bronze statue of Lieutenant-Colonel Barker awaited the final steps of preparation on November 8.
In the warm glow of spot lights at Lost & Foundry, the nearly completed bronze statue of Lieutenant-Colonel Barker awaited the final steps of preparation on November 8.
Remarkable detail was achieved in the creation of the statue.
Remarkable detail was achieved in the creation of the statue.

Dr. Harington has donated the statue of Lieutenant-Colonel Barker to the National Airforce Museum of Canada at CFB Trenton. Admission is free. Hours, directions, and other information are available on-line at www.airforcemuseum.ca.

This fitting tribute to Billy Barker will stand at the Museum, hopefully beside a Sopwith Camel, his favourite flying machine. 2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of WWI. Thank you Dick for your generous centennial contribution.