Photo: Searching for Aubrey with ML Aubrey Cosens at Keewaydin, Lake Temagami

The story of a war hero and

the boat that bore his name

By Angus Scully

Part 2: series on historic boats  << Previous 1 2 3 Next >>

Posted Feb 18, 2005

Updated Feb. 28, 2005


THE AUBREY. For a generation the name defined an important part of the Temagami experience.  For cottagers and campers, beginning a vacation with a trip on the Aubrey added a touch of the exotic to Temagami. For the town, the Aubrey represented jobs with the Boat Line and the restaurant. For the people of Northern Ontario, the Aubrey represented the commemoration of a war hero who had exhibited the values of the people of the North. I first heard about the Aubrey in 1968 when I visited Temagami with my fiancée Jill Iddon, whose family cottage is on Island 1087. To them the Aubrey was not just starting or ending the summer, but also huge wakes crashing in twice a day, ice cream in the Aubrey’s snack bar, and talks with Captain Ted Guppy. My only sight of the Aubrey was the retired boat ashore near Marten River.

For that reason, it was several years before I made the connection between the boat everyone called The Aubrey and the war hero. Over the past 33 years I have run across his name several times in my reading of Canadian history. In the summer of 2001, I set out to find out how the boat came to be named after the man. The result has been a journey into the life of a remarkable Northerner, the environment in which he was raised, and how he has been commemorated. The journey is not yet complete, I find new pieces of information almost every day, and I have met some remarkable people.



1910 Sea Duck built in Boston

Railway buys Temagami boat line


Aubrey killed in action, awarded Victoria Cross


Sea Duck purchased and renamed Aubrey Cosens VC


Re-furbished Aubrey launched on Temagami


Aubrey's last season in operation


Aubrey moved to Marten River, burns shortly thereafter

War Hero

There is not enough space here to go into a full description of how Aubrey became a hero, but the basics will help to explain how and why his has become a familiar name in the North. He was probably born in 1921 in Cayuga, Ontario. His father Charlie was a First World War veteran and his mother Yvonne, an English war bride. When Aubrey was a year old, Charlie got a job with the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway (T&NO) and the family moved to Porquis Junction, near Iroquois Falls. Aubrey’s mother died there when he was four. Charlie faced a difficult problem caring for a little boy while working long hours on the railway in a period before day care centres, but the community responded. During and after Yvonne’s illness, young Aubrey was looked after by neighbours, Sid and Laura Dowdall. Their son Gerry, who now lives in Temagami with his wife Betty and daughter Muffy Wigwans, often kept an eye on Aubrey who was, he says, “on the go all the time.” Aubrey ended up living full time with Mrs. Dorothy Smith, another neighbour. After he left school, Charlie got Aubrey work on the railway as an extra section hand, and they lived together in Latchford when Aubrey was not bunking with a section gang. Aubrey enlisted in the army in 1940.

At four o’clock in the morning of February 26, 1945, the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada attacked the hamlet of Mooshof in Germany as part of a major offensive by the First Canadian and Ninth US armies to defeat the Germans west of the Rhine River. The fighting was vicious, casualties mounted, and Sergeant Aubrey Cosens found himself in command of his platoon, and its four other survivors. Aubrey was considered a natural leader and physically commanding. He had played hockey in the Timmins Police Athletic Association League and had been an Army PT instructor before being transferred to the Queen’s Own. He was just 23, but to the teenaged survivors of his platoon he was the “old man.” Aubrey was determined to capture Mooshof. He climbed onto a nearby tank and directed it to ram into a building defended by German paratroopers. With covering fire from the tank and his four men, he then, single handed, entered three buildings,  personally killing or capturing all of the occupants. In all, he killed 20 of the enemy and took 20 prisoners. He then left to report to his company commander, but was killed instantly by a sniper.

For his outstanding bravery he was awarded the Victoria Cross. So rarely was the VC awarded, that of a million Canadians who served in uniform in the war, only 16 were bestowed. When Charlie was interviewed about Aubrey winning, he said, “I still think of him as a kid. He was eighteen when he left home.”

My search for Aubrey in the summer of 2001 began with people and resources in the Temagami area. In the Latchford House of Memories, I found the dedication plaque from the boat, one of its lifebuoys, photos of Aubrey Cosens (with his name misspelled – it happens a lot) and a collection of news articles about the man and the bridge named after him. Ed Garreau who runs the House of Memories remembered Aubrey and had played pool with him in Latchford before the war. Aubrey was an only child, and there are no known relatives left. Ed said Aubrey was thin and wiry and always on the go, “but just a regular kid.”

From there I was led to Lorne Fleece of North Bay, the retired archivist of the Ontario Northland Railway. The archives are no longer open, but Lorne was able to direct me to Gerry Dowdall and Nancy Richards of North Bay. Nancy, who was also raised by Mrs. Dorothy Smith, has provided family history and photos. Through these generous people I have been able to start to put together the picture of Aubrey before the war. I am still looking for people who know of him, and would welcome any information.

Photo: Sergeant Aubrey Cosens, recipient of the Victoria Cross, Canada's highest military award for bravery.

Sergeant Aubrey Cosens, recipient of the Victoria Cross, Canada's highest military award for bravery.


Photo: ML Aubrey Cosens VC under full steam.

ML Aubrey Cosens VC under full steam.                   MUSKOKA STEAMSHIP AND HISTORICAL SOCIETY

The Boat

Back issues of the North Bay Nugget and the archives of the Registry of Ships have made it possible to put together a history of the boat and how it came to be named after Aubrey. In 1944, Colonel C. E. Reynolds of Sault Ste. Marie was appointed the chairman of the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Transportation Commission (renamed Ontario Northland in 1946). Reynolds had served in the First World War and had been active in the Canadian Corps Association, a veterans group. Colonel Reynolds set out to modernize the railway and prepare for post-war expansion.

One of his first acts was to have the railway buy the Temagami Navigation Company. Reynolds believed that an expansion of tourism would boost the prosperity of the railway and of northern Ontario. On January 16, 1945, Reynolds announced that the town of Temagami would become an improvement district. He wanted to “improve the appearance and sanitary conditions” of the town and he promised that “hydro, water, and sewage systems would be installed there as soon as possible.” Reynolds also said that “a freezing plant is to be located on the Temagami dock, now receiving extensive repairs, and a supply ship will be put on Lake Temagami as soon as possible. This boat will be equipped with refrigeration and will supply regular food delivery to the islands and resort.” He was also determined that the T&NO would give new jobs only to returning servicemen.

On April 3, 1945, an ad placed by Temagami Navigation Company appeared in the Nugget calling for tender bids on construction of an office, restaurant, boat-repair shop, boat and car storage sheds, freight shed, and ice house in Temagami. Then on April 25, the Nugget reported more details from Colonel Reynolds. The new construction in Temagami was to start the next week, but the big news was that a boat had been purchased at Quebec City for service on Lake Temagami. The Nugget reported, “The new boat is 85 feet long with a 15 foot beam. She will carry at least 100 passengers and in addition a quantity of freight. Workers started to load the craft at Quebec City on Tuesday and it is expected to pass through North Bay by Canadian National Railways on Friday or Saturday. Special transportation arrangements were required in order to bring the craft to its future home at Temagami. It has been turned on its beam and requires special movement all the way from Quebec City.” 

The new boat for Lake Temagami was named the Sea Duck.

I had hoped to trace the story of the Sea Duck and its transformation into the Aubrey through the back issues of the Nugget, but after the April 25 announcements there was little news. While the arrival of the Sea Duck was being announced, the war was ending. On the same day that the Nugget printed the story about the boat, Berlin was reported as surrounded and the Canadian minesweeper HMCS Guysborough was reported sunk in the North Atlantic with the loss of 53 sailors. Further news about Temagami development was swallowed up in the news of the end of the war.


A small item in the Temagami community news column of the Nugget on June 30 said that the Sea Duck was ready for launching and that a new landing barge had made its first trip to Bear Island. The next reference of the boat did not appear until August 1946. I had to find another reliable source, so I  used e-mail to contact Transport Canada and the Archives of the Registry of Ships. The results were interesting.

Photo: Looking out over the stern of the Aubrey Cosens steaming down the North Arm, Lake Temagami, c.1950.

Looking out over the stern of the Aubrey steaming down the North Arm, c.1950. Rabbitnose Island is in the background.


The Registry of Ships keeps vital information about a ship and all changes in ownership or name. The Canadian records do not list the original or subsequent American owners, but they do show that the Sea Duck (158628) was built as a motor yacht in 1910 in South Boston, Massachusetts by Lawley and Son. She was officially listed as having a 77-foot wooden hull, with a breadth of 14 feet. Her gross tonnage in 1935 was 57.62 tons. She had two gasoline engines built by Murray Tregurth Co.,  also of South Boston, that could drive the boat at a speed of nine knots. In 1935, the vessel was purchased G. G. Anderson and C. C. Breakey of Quebec City. In 1945, the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway, through its subsidiary the Temagami Navigation Company, started a reconstruction of the Sea Duck. Two new 200-horsepower, Cummins, diesel engines were installed that could drive the boat at over eleven knots. Work on the interior and deck continued through the summer and winter of 1945.

In the mean time, the announcement on May 21, 1945 that Aubrey Cosens had won the Victoria Cross created a sensation across Northern Ontario. The Nugget reported that both Aubrey and his father worked for the T&NO. The Nugget also attributed to Aubrey, the Spirit of the North, “a spirit that enables men to perform noble deeds spontaneously and without regard for their personal safety. It has been said that 'the North does something to a man' –something fine and generous and loyal – and this has been proven time and again during the present war.”

Photo: Captain William Reynolds standing in front of the Aubrey Cosen's wheelhouse.

Captain William Reynolds standing in front of the Aubrey's wheelhouse.


Colonel Reynolds was dedicated to veterans and his response was almost immediate. A request for a name change had to be made to the Registry of Ships, and the archives show that on July 10, 1945 the following motion was passed by the board of the Temagami Navigation Company. “It was approved that the name of the Motor-launch 'Sea Duck' be changed to 'Aubrey Cosens' in honour of Sergeant Aubrey Cosens VC an employee of the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway who was awarded the Victoria Cross for valour in battle at Mooshof Holland where he lost his life on February 21, 1945, and that a Memorial Plaque recording these facts be placed in the boat.” The Registry showed the new name to be, in fact, Aubrey Cosens VC. The common error over where Aubrey was killed stems from the fact that  he is not buried in Germany, but at Groesbeck Canadian Military Cemetery, Holland. 

Having found this motion in the Archives and the plaque in the Latchford House of Memories, I felt I had recovered some of the history of Lake Temagami. The Aubrey was completed late in the summer of 1946, and the Nugget reported its first voyage was to take out campers. My wife’s cousin Owen Funnell of Island 981 remembers his first sighting of the Aubrey in August 1946, as it rounded the point going into Camp Wabun. “It looked like the Queen Mary,” he says. Among well remembered crew members were captains Willliam Reynolds and Ted Guppy, and purser Dave Reid. But it was the Aubrey, not the Sea Duck, that sailed the lake for 20 years, entering legend.

But the advent of the Mine Road, the increased number and size of private boats, as well as its advanced age, doomed the Aubrey. The archives record her last years. In October 1966, she was sold to Shell Canada. In March 1967, she was, in turn, sold by Shell to the Temagami Development Corporation, with Shell holding a $10,000 mortgage on the boat. In June of 1967, a ship inspector reported that the Aubrey Cosens VC had been stripped of equipment and was to be “burned in the near future.” Letters from the Ship Registry kept asking about the fate of the boat, and in March 1969, the Temagami Lake Boat Line told the Registry that the boat had not been in the water since 1966, “and we do not anticipate it will be again. Two museums have indicated an interest in it and it may be sold or donated to them, if not it will probably be dismantled for scrap.” Then in October 1969, the Boat Line reported to the Registry that the Aubrey had been sold to Alfred Guppy, who moved it to Land O Lakes Lodge in Marten River where it was to be used as a restaurant. Within a month, R. Macdonald of Land O Lakes Lodge asked the Registry to remove the Aubrey as it was not to be used as a ship. Thus ended the Aubrey’s career as a ship. It was destroyed by fire before it could become a restaurant.

Warrior's Tribute

Despite the disappearance of the Aubrey from Lake Temagami, there are still many memorials to Aubrey Cosens. The Latchford bridge is, of course, dedicated to him and there is a cairn and park beside the bridge. The Latchford House of Memories is worth a visit, not just for its collection related to Aubrey. There are other items of interest about the Temagami district. The Queen’s Own Rifles Museum in Casa Loma in Toronto has a small display on Aubrey and is worth a look if you are there for another event. As a sign of how things have changed, Aubrey is commemorated in digital form, as a search with Google produced 83 hits. The National Archives site even displays the actual telegram sent to Charlie Cosens informing him that Aubrey had been killed in action. Perhaps the most unusual reference to Aubrey is in the science fiction novel Starship Trooper, by Robert Heinlein (1959). On page 205, Heinlein lists space ships named after great warriors “...Horatius, Alvin York, Swamp Fox, Colonel Bowie, Devereux, Vercingetorix, Sandino, Aubrey Cousens, Kamehameha, Audie Murphy, Xenophon ...” Misspelled, but definitely Aubrey.                          

Angus Scully is writing a full biography of Aubrey Cosens and would be happy to hear more about Aubrey or the boat. He can be contacted at

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