10 children to war: McCreary, Man., family believed to have sent more kids to war than any other

Look closely at the walls of the legion in McCreary, Man., and you'll find one wood-framed Second World War memorial with 10 photos that isn't like the rest.

All 10 children in the Cantin family enlisted in the Armed Forces during the Second World War

Albert Cantin's son, Richard, says his father 'would argue for anything to avoid putting more Canadian boys and girls into that situation for just about any reason.' (Supplied )

The walls of the legion in McCreary, Man., like others across Canada, bear photos of the men and women who served our country and secured our freedom. 

But take a closer look and you'll find one wood-framed Second World War memorial with 10 photos that isn't like the rest.

The nine men and one woman pictured all share the same last name.

It's believed the Cantins sent more family members than any other family in Canada to fight in the Second World War. The 10 were eight brothers and a sister. The ninth was a cousin the family adopted and considered a son. There are no records to verify that the family did, in fact, send the largest contingent, however those who have searched the records haven't identified any other family that sent that many people overseas during the war.

"It's pretty remarkable," said Richard Cantin, son of Albert, who at 92 is the only Cantin in the photo still alive. "It leaves you feeling pretty proud of everything all the kids did, and you know, in a lot of respects, everything the parents did to pull that kind of a family together."

This house in McCreary, Man., was in the Cantin family from 1918-2000. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

"It's just a huge source of pride for me," he said from his home in Langley, B.C. 

All 10 children head to war 

Julienne and Amedee Cantin's sons Lionel, Clement, Maurice, Joseph and Albert all joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Sons Wilfred, Amidee and Noel enlisted with the Fort Garry Horse regiment of the Canadian Armoured Corps. Clement Nivon was adopted by Julienne and Amedee after his mother — Julienne's sister — and father died. He also enlisted with the same Corps as Wilfred, Amidee and Noel. Their daughter Marie served overseas as a nurse.

Wilfred's wife Evelyne also joined the Canadian Women's Army Corps and served overseas following his death in 1940.

Julienne was named a Silver Cross mother in 1960. Julienne and Amedee didn't encourage their kids to join the Armed Forces, but didn't discourage them, either, according to a short Veterans Affairs Canada history of the family.  

A photo of the ten Cantin family members that served in the second world war hangs in McCreary's Legion. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Three of the Cantin brothers didn't make it home.

Larry McLaughlan, president of Legion Branch No. 173 in McCreary, a village almost 200 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, said it was not uncommon for families in the area to send large contingents to war. Other families sent six or seven children to war, mainly because of a training base located close to the village, he said. 

Plaque installed, road named in honour 

McLaughlan, who is also the reeve of the municipality of McCreary, has known the Cantin family his entire life and was part of a community group that pushed to have a plaque placed outside the house owned by the Cantin family from 1918 until 2000. 

Julienne Cantin was named a Silver Cross Mother in 1960. (Supplied )

The plaque was installed earlier this year and Railway Avenue, which runs along the west side of the legion, was renamed Cantin Way this past summer. 

This plaque was installed outside the home in McCreary that was in the Cantin family between 1918 and 2000. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Ernest Jackson has been researching the family's history for several years. He was a young boy when the Cantins and others left the community to join the Armed Forces during the Second World War.

Most of the Cantins stayed in the area after returning from the war, Jackson said. They farmed and owned a number of businesses in and around town.

Noel Cantin's wife, Bernice, still lives in McCreary. 

"Most of them were centred in the McCreary area [post-war]," Jackson said. "Two of them started businesses." 

'It shook him a lot'

Richard Cantin said his father, Albert, was last in McCreary for Remembrance Day in 2014 and now attends services on the West Coast. 

"He's always been really big on Remembrance Day," he said. "It means a lot to him."

"The war was pretty ... it's war," Cantin added. "It shook him a lot. He doesn't talk about it a lot. He's not one of those guys that rattles stories off." 

Cantin said his father still proudly displays the family's medals and other wartime items in his den. The son plans to visit the McCreary area next summer, however his father is too old to travel and likely won't get out to his hometown again. 

Jackson hopes the Cantins' story sparks other families to look into their own history.

The Municipality of McCreary installed signs for Cantin Way in the summer of 2016. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

"We're running out of time for that particular phase of our history," he said. "First-hand commentary won't be available fairly soon."

However Albert Cantin hopes no family ever has to send loved ones to war again. He knows that's something his father wants.

"I think in a lot of respects he understands the need to go to war but only as a last resort," Richard Cantin said. "He just hates war and wishes there was no need for it and no killing."

"He would argue for anything to avoid putting more Canadian boys and girls into that situation for just about any reason."