Nova Scotia

How 2 Nova Scotians resurrected the last Canadian to die in WW I

A sniper shot Nova Scotian George Price dead 120 seconds before the First World War ended, but a new film imagines what his life would have been like had he survived.

New film blends fact and fiction to honour George Price on 100th anniversary of his death

George Price was shot and killed two minutes before the 11 a.m. armistice went into effect on Nov. 11, 1918. (Parks Canada)

A sniper shot Nova Scotian George Price dead 120 seconds before the First World War ended, but a new film imagines what his life would have been like had he survived.

The farmhand from Port Williams, N.S., moved to Moose Jaw, Sask., to marry before enlisting. He joined the army in October 1917. The 25-year-old was soon fighting in Europe. 

As morning broke on Nov. 11, 1918, peace treaties had been signed, but the war hadn't ended.

Pte. Price led a team seeking a German machine-gun nest into a building in Mons, Belgium. He left it at 10:58 a.m. and was shot dead, falling into the arms of a friend. He was the final Commonwealth soldier to die in battle.

John Dunsworth arrives at the 30th annual Genie Awards in 2010. The actor portrayed an imagined, elderly George Price in the film. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Ben Proudfoot, a filmmaker from Halifax who now lives in the U.S., started the project on Price three years ago. "It's bad to forget — we must remember what happened," he said this week.

The tragic timing of Price's death led Proudfoot to wonder what would have happened had the sniper missed. He asked Nova Scotia actor John Dunsworth, who died in October 2017, to take on the role of an elderly Price reflecting back on the war.

'All the lives that didn't happen'

Proudfoot had tea with Dunsworth when the two met to talk about the role. Dunsworth told him his father said, "When you're dead, you're dead — but if you contribute something, you're a little less dead."

That line made it into the movie George.

"It's incredibly believable and moving. I think he brought a lot of himself to it," Proudfoot said of Dunsworth's performance.

The film blends fact and fiction, which Proudfoot said takes the "guesswork" out of Price's life.

"Hopefully it will bring out the emotion of someone's individual, human story," he said.

"Sometimes the numbers — [60,000] Canadians who gave their lives in the First World War — it's hard to fathom that."

George Price’s great-niece Rhonda McLean (left) and niece Beverly McLean (right) attended the premiere of the film at the Army Museum at the Halifax Citadel. (CBC)

George Price's niece Beverly McLean and great-niece Rhonda McLean attended the premiere of the film at the Army Museum at the Halifax Citadel on Monday.

"It's amazing to know that this story, in a funny way, is going to represent all of the stories about all of the soldiers that didn't come home," Rhonda McLean said. "It's a haunting experience. You think of all the lives that didn't happen because people lost their lives over there."

She said photos of her relative were prominent in her childhood and a recent trip to Belgium showed her how well they remember him. A Belgian city hosts an annual service to honour Price. They've named a bridge and school for him and created a plaque and sculpture.

The film will play on Nov. 10 and 11 at the Army Museum Halifax Citadel beginning at 10 a.m. daily. The museum was a production partner on the film.

About the Author

Jon Tattrie

Reporter

Jon Tattrie is a journalist and the author of two novels and five non-fiction books. He won the RTDNA's 2015 Adrienne Clarkson Award. Find him at www.jontattrie.ca