Of the national historic sites administered by Parks Canada, approximately 50 are related to the two world wars. Working with local communities, Parks Canada offers events commemorating the world wars and, in doing so, showcases the country's rich national heritage. Through the Hometown Heroes program, Canadians and visitors from all over the world can pay tribute to remarkable individuals, their outstanding achievements and the invaluable contributions they have made to their communities.
Get to know the remarkable stories of these hometown heroes, honour their memory and express your gratitude for their service by visiting Parks Canada's National Historic Sites, National Parks, and National Marine Conservation Areas.
Two new Hometown Heroes!
Paris K. Sahlen and William H. Wilson joined a growing list of Canadians who have been recognized for their contributions to the Canadian Military and for their dedication to help preserve and promote Canada’s naval heritage, as part of Parks Canada’s Hometown Heroes initiative. By sharing these exemplary stories with Canadians, we express gratitude for their service and sacrifices.
Paris K. Sahlen (1944-2018)
Paris “Smiley” Sahlen was born in Barons, Alberta. He helped around the farm well into his teenage years, but realized he wanted to do something different and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy in 1962.
While Sahlen left the navy following his three-year commitment, his heart remained there, and his determination to help preserve and promote Canada’s rich naval heritage drew most of his attention. For decades, Paris Sahlen was a mentor and a leader who devoted much of his life fostering connections between veterans, youth, and their navy.
In recognition of his public service over many years, Paris Sahlen received numerous awards, including the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers and Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012. He was also made Honorary Coxswain of HMCS Calgary in April 2018. Paris Sahlen passed away on 29 December 2018.
Captain(N) (ret’d) William H. Wilson, OMM, CStJ, AOE, MSM, CD (1924-)
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Bill Wilson was 14 when the Second World War began and he joined the Sea Cadets. Three years later, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve. He was a seaman gunner on HMCS Ottawa (2nd) when it took part in the Battle of the Atlantic and the Normandy Landings.
Officer of the Order of Military Merit and known to his community as “Mr. Navy”, Wilson has dedicated his life to preserving Canada’s naval history and artifacts for future generations to study and appreciate. His dedication to educating youth was a driving force behind the creation of the Naval Museum of Alberta, opened in 1988, and later as part of the “Military Museums”.
In recognition of 62 years of honourable service and tireless efforts to promote greater awareness of Canada’s rich naval history, the Royal Canadian Navy appointed Bill Wilson an Honorary Captain in 1992, a position in which he served until 2014. He also received the Admirals’ Medal in 2008 and the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2013.
Our two new Hometown Heroes Paris K. Sahlen and William H. Wilson share a common passion for the Navy. Both also recognize the importance of interacting with new generations in order to keep our history alive.
Watch the video honouring Paris K. Sahlen and William H. Wilson
Hometown Heroes — Text transcript
Able Seaman Paris Kemp Sahlen, CD
appointed Honorary Coxswain of HMCS Calgary
“Every ship deserves a Paris Sahlen. I wish the stores system stocked them and I could order a couple more. You won’t meet a sailor who has served in Calgary that doesn’t know Paris and hold him in the highest regard,”
Paul Francoeur, Chief of Staff
Naval Personnel and Training Group Head Quarters Royal Canadian Navy National Defense
Government of Canada
I think it was the best day of the war for the world.
We did free all of Europe.
Canada was there, for a little nation like ours.
Captain (N) (ret’d)
William H. Wilson
OMM, CStJ, AEO, MSM, CD
And it still amazes me,
there were five beaches and Canada had one of them...
and the Brits and Americans trusted us to look after that beach...
and we did... in spades.
Our soldiers went in and did their job.
And that was day one of freeing Europe.
Our pilots were second to none, our air crew were second to none,
our sailors I know, were as good as the best
and our soldiers unparalleled - great Canadians.
And I happened to be there, I was one of them.
So some of them didn’t come back,
and most of them are now gone, so there’s a few left like me,
for whatever reason.
Would I do it again?
Great day for the world!
Paris K. Sahlen and William H. Wilson both preserved and promoted Canada’s rich naval heritage by guiding new generations.
Thank you for your service
Home Port Heroes
Commemorating Canada’s Merchant Navy
Throughout the war, Canadian, Allied, and neutral merchant fleets lost 4,200 vessels, mainly to enemy action. In excess of 62,900 sailors perished, including more than 1,600 Canadians and Newfoundlanders who are now commemorated in the Merchant Navy Book of Remembrance housed in the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
Since 2003, September 3 is recognized as Merchant Navy Veterans Day honouring the contributions of those who served in this service. Their sacrifice is equally recognized as part of the Battle of the Atlantic, commemorated yearly on the first Sunday in May.
An impressive challenge
To support the Allied war effort, Canadian shipyards undertook an ambitious building program. Between 1941 and 1945, they completed more than 400 cargo ships. Of these, the Park Steamship Company Limited, a Crown corporation, operated some 180 vessels named after Canadian parks while many other Canadian-built merchant ships, named after forts from Canadian history, were supplied to Britain.
Today, a number of these places with namesake park or fort merchant vessels are preserved and presented by Parks Canada as part of Canada’s extensive network of national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas.
Learn more about the "Park" and "Fort" ships
Several national historic designations commemorate Canada’s Second World War merchant service and shipbuilding industry:
- Role of the Canadian Merchant Navy during the Second World War National Historic Event
- Battle of the Atlantic National Historic Event
- Battle of the St. Lawrence National Historic Event
- Shipbuilding at the Burrard Dry Dock Company National Historic Event
- Crow’s Nest Officers’ Club National Historic Site of Canada
- German U-Boat Attacks at Bell Island, 1942
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