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Country, community, family: Boon gave back his entire life

Second World War Veteran Art Boon was a tenacious advocate for Veterans, a spirited war historian, a dedicated family man, community builder, and a talented hockey player. He died this week at the age of 98
Rick Boon, left, with Art Boon and Rev. Cannon Dr. Lorne Mitchell at the Remembrance Day parade and service at the Stratford Cenotaph last year. Paul Cluff/StratfordToday

Decades after his father started school chats about the military, war and Canadian veterans, Rick Boon, a retired teacher, was still getting calls and well-wishes about the impact those carefully delivered stories had on students all those years ago. 

Such was the skill and precision of Art Boon, otherwise a quiet and humble man, that he could light up a classroom with important recollections about his time serving his country in the Second World War, his son recalled, masterfully connecting a tragic event from the past with no emphasis on the glory or pain, just the importance of lives lost, and how the youngsters in front of him ought to remember that and be thankful for their freedom.

Those calls increased in frequency this week when Art passed away after a short illness at the age of 98.

"He put a spark into history for the kids," Rick said this week, looking back on his father's visits to local schools. "He wanted them to understand that their freedom came at a heavy cost because others did not make it back to this country and gave their lives for (them)."

"Kids I taught 25 years ago are still telling me he made a lasting impression."

Art was a tank gunner, whose first action during the Second World War was during the D-Day invasion at Normandy, France. On June 6, 1944, Canadian, American and British forces landed on Normandy Beach. By August, northern France was liberated and the following spring, the Allies defeated the Germans.

Art's life when he returned home focused on family, community and Veterans.

He also had a brush with hockey fame. 

After the War, Art returned to Stratford and took a job as a stationary engineer at the CNR assembly shops. He played senior hockey in Ingersoll, at the time a farm team for Chatham, which in turn was a farm team for the Detroit Red Wings. 

"He got called down to Chatham for a tryout with the Red Wings," Rick recalled. "He was there with Gordie Howe and Sid Abel, Ted Lindsay and those guys. He played a few games after taking a short leave from the shops but they couldn't guarantee him a job down there so he came back."

Rick said his father was a skilled hockey player, difficult to catch on the ice. 

Art had discussions about playing minor league hockey, with a decent chance for a call-up but his own father, a First World War veteran who lived most of his adult life with shrapnel up the back of his leg, starting getting very sick. 

"My grandmother was at home with my aunt who had Down Syndrome. There was two younger brothers, and no one to support dad’s family. Family came first, so he came back."

Family was always the most important thing, Rick said. 

"When I was growing up he was always about me and my brother and my mother, making sure we were looked after. We were by no means a rich family, very much a middle class family but my brother and I didn’t do without because mom and dad always found a way to make the best of what we had."

Art and Lois Boone, who died in 2019, had another son named Art. 

After he re-enlisted with the Perth Regiment, he refused to accept a rank other than private, Rick said, insisting he work his way up the ranks. He did just that, achieving the rank of chief warrant officer. Boon was heavily involved with the Royal Canadian Legion (Stratford Local branch 8), and was part of the committee that got the Army, Navy, Air Force Veterans Unit 261 off the ground in Stratford. 

He was a Veterans affairs officer with the local Legion for 35 years and earned a reputation as a tenacious advocate for local veterans, helping them get whatever they needed, whether it was proper government compensation or recognition, or a helping hand from the community at large. 

There was some recognition for his advocacy efforts over the years. In 1974, Art was the 45th Canadian to be awarded the Medal of Military Merit from the Governor General and he received the Order of St. John.

"He made sure the people at Greenwood Court and Spruce Lodge (long term care homes) got their medals, too," Rick said. "He made a point of saying that everyone needs to be looked after. Even if the Veteran had passed, he went to bat for the family."

Art was deeply involved in the Legion and the annual Remembrance Day festivities. He played hockey well into his golden years, and was generally known for his calm and determined presence. Never one to seek the spotlight, he was comfortable in it when asked, particularly to educate a younger listener. 

"He loved to tell stories. He could sit and talk. He would have one beer, nurse a beer all night, and chat away. He was so engaged in what he said. Just an easy way of saying things. All of his stories were interconnected. He could have been a writer."

Rick came up with the idea of recording some of his conversations with his father. He wrote down a lengthy list and the two got through the vast majority. He plans to create an audio book packed with historical stories for future generations. 

They had planned a trip to Holland, a Veterans remembrance event that they started attending in 2015 with 18 Veterans. Just two Veterans made it last year. Everything was a go until a few weeks ago when his father started feeling off. His kidneys "were tired", his son said. 

Before he passed, Rick slept next to his father in hospital for six nights, making trips home for showers and food. Father told son he thought he had a few years left. He was a fighter to the end, Rick said. 

"He lived the life he wanted to live. He served his country, he served his community and served his family with pride and honour."