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Niagara-on-the-Lake
Wednesday, February 1, 2023
Letter: Benjamin Geary deserves a plaque recognizing his Victoria Cross honour
Maj. Benjamin Geary. Sourced

Dear editor:

Hurrah to the new owners of 329 Victoria St. in Old Town who say they have no intention of tearing down the 170-year-old Cobbler’s House, (The Lake Report, Dec. 8).

ln the late 1960s, Benjamin Handley Geary retired after more than 25 years as the Ontario legislature’s sergeant-at-arms. He and his second wife moved to 329 Victoria St.

Geary is the only Niagara-on-the-Lake resident who was the recipient of a First World War Victoria Cross. He was born in London, England, but resided at 329 Victoria from the late 1960s until his death in 1976.

Last year, thanks to the efforts of a conscientious NOTLer, The Lake Report published a story about Geary’s April 21, 1915, defence of Hill 60 near Ypres, Belgium.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, he resigned his British commission and joined the Canadian army as a major in charge of Camp Borden.

William Humphries, a prior owner of 329 Victoria, applied to the Ontario Heritage Trust, which was created to recognize people and properties that contributed to the heritage of the province.

As the legislature’s sergeant-at-arms, Geary vetted the applications of heritage-worthy persons.

But when Humphries applied he was told that Geary could not be recognized because “he was not a Canadian” when he was given the Victoria Cross.

St. Catharines has honoured three of its VC recipients with an Ontario Heritage plaque, each displayed in a different town park.

Geary sat at the table in front of the table of Queen Elizabeth ll at the Pillar and Post luncheon given for the monarch in 1973 before a Shaw play commemorating the opening of the Festival Theatre.

Later, against the advice of doctors, he went to a reunion of VC recipients.

He died after his return and is buried with his wife Constance in St. Mark’s Cemetery. Benjamin Handley Geary had two sons, each of whom served with distinction as officers in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Interestingly, regarding the name of the Cobbler’s House, census records show that the town cobblers (or shoemakers) lived on Gate Street not Victoria.

Doug Phibbs
NOTL

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