Joe Novak was born September 10, 1923 in Montreal, into a Polish family in the city’s Frontenac neighborhood. Both of Joe’s parents were teachers, though his father later worked for Canada Customs. Joe’s father passed away in 1934, and times were difficult for the family as the Great Depression wore on. Joe did manage to attend and complete high school – just as the war was heating up. Joe enlisted and was soon at basic training, where he excelled on the rifle range and was pegged as a sniper and bound for special forces training. Unfortunately Joe was badly injured near the end of basic training, so at Camp Borden he was assigned to the Royal Canadian Service Corps. The men were shipped overseas, and soon after Joe was reassigned yet again, to serve with the Chaplaincy Corps, under Col. Maurice Roy. It was his job to make reports on the unit’s activities and to accompany the chaplains as they visited the different units. Joe was not in the front lines, but he was very close to the fighting, and he saw its aftermath as he made his way through France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. He returned to Canada in short order, and within the year he was married and had started his new, postwar life. Joe and his wife were married for 73 years; they lived in Montreal for most of that time, raising their family. More recently they moved to the Yukon, to be near their son, and they decided to bequest much of their estate to the local hospital and to a scholarship fund at Yukon University that will benefit indigenous students, reminding us that reconciliation is a multigenerational process. Crestwood students met Joe Novak via zoom in May 2021, and we thank Terry Grabowski and RCL Branch 254 for their role in facilitating this interview.
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