Robert Chaloner (or Bert as he was known) was born on November 21, 1895 in Lauder Manitoba. His parents, John Henry Chaloner and Mary Gertrude( Heatley) Chaloner, arrived in Lauder in 1891 with three children: Louise, who was born in Quebec City in 1882; Adelaide, born in Rat Portage, Ontario in 1884; and Charles, born in Norman, Ontario in 1887. In Lauder daughter Marguerite was born in 1891, son Arthur in 1893, and son Robert in 1895. Another daughter, Dorothy, was born in Kenora, Ontario in 1901. John Henry and Mary Gertrude also had three more children who died in early childhood.
The military story of Robert Edward Chaloner is a short one but as a newspaper writer who told his story in the Vancouver Sun said, “Can one doubt that there are just as big battles fought in sickrooms as on battlefields”. Bert enlisted in Winnipeg on April 27, 1916 in the 34th Fort Garry Horse, a cavalry division, and less than a week later he was confined to a military hospital. His unit had gone to the swimming pool at the Cornish Public Baths in Winnipeg and, unaware that he was diving into the shallow end of the pool, Bert dove in and broke his neck.
It was characteristic of Bert to be ”first one in the pool” because he was known in the family as a rebel, a very active boy who hated school and played hooky often. Bert talked about his childhood in another story that appeared in the Western Home Monthly. “My mother died when I was five years old. I was the second youngest of seven children, three sisters and two brothers older, and a baby sister of only a few months. My father worked up north and only came home once or twice a year, so things were pretty hard, and my oldest sister, only eighteen, worked in an office and so left the sixteen year old one to bring up the family. The baby took up most of my sister’s time, and I, being considered well able to look after myself, was given more liberty than is good for little boys.”
Bert was paralyzed from the neck down. He spent five years in Winnipeg hospitals and underwent 3 operations and therapy of all kinds but he was only able to regain limited use in his arms. In 1921 he was transferred to Vancouver for rehabilitation and there he learned to write by holding a pencil or a pen in his teeth. He had written several short stories this way and had published them. He also had articles published in magazines.
Bert spent the rest of his life in British Columbia. He remained cheerful, despite his affliction but never complained and focused on the positive experiences and relationships that he developed along the way. He tells the story of the Chinese man he had met in the Winnipeg hospital. The man was on his way to England but caught an infection and found himself in the Winnipeg hospital. Bert took him on as a project. Using an Eaton’s catalogue he taught the man to read and speak many English words in the three months he was there.
Bert’s nieces and nephews tell of all the teasing he would inflict on them. Although his hands were of little use he had good strength in his arms and would try to gather them in his arms when they circled his wheelchair.
It was in Vancouver that he met and married a British-born nurse, Ruby Wiseman, in 1923. She had planned to be a missionary but decided Bert was in greater need of her attention. In 1926 they adopted Robert Alvin Heatley Chaloner who provided Bert with such joy for the duration his life.
Robert Chaloner died at Shaughnessy hospital, Vancouver, September 14, 1935 His funeral was held at St Helen’s Church and his burial was in the Mountain View Cemetery.