Lt. Col. Samuel S. Sharpe, DSO, MP: A Legacy Worth Remembering


Do you know the full story of Sam Sharpe? From his rural upbringing and leadership here in Uxbridge, to his experience in the swampy rubble-filled battlefields of World War I, and his struggles with PTSD, Sharpe's story is complex. And although his life came to a sudden and tragic end, Sharpe should be forever remembered for his legacy and service.

Samuel S. Sharpe in uniform. Courtesy of the Uxbridge Historical Centre. Permanent Collection, 1002.

Samuel Simpson Sharpe was born on March 13th, 1873, on a farm just outside of Zephyr. Sharpe studied law at the University of Toronto and founded his own law firm, Patterson and Sharpe. When Sharpe was only 16 years old he joined the 34th Ontario Regiment and rose to the rank of Major. In 1908, Sharpe was elected to the House of Commons as a Conservative MP and served until his death in 1918. He was the first MP to represent the town of Uxbridge.


Interestingly, Sharpe was fighting overseas when he was re-elected in 1917, making him the only MP to be re-elected from the battlefields of Europe. He was initially passed over to form an infantry battalion, but on November 9th, 1915, Sharpe was given the green light to form his own battalion, the 116th Ontario County Battalion.


The 116th Ontario County Battalion Officers (Sharpe at centre, row 2). 1917. Courtesy of the Uxbridge Historical Centre. Permanent Collection, 961.

The 116th Battalion did not represent just Uxbridge, but all of Ontario County, extending from the southern shores of Lake Ontario in the South to Lake Couching in the North. It included the majority of what is now Durham Region. Sharpe selected his hometown of Uxbridge to be the headquarters of the Battalion. Uxbridge quickly became the centre of military activities in the region. The post office became a military recruiting center, a guard house was built and the sound of gunfire from the rifle range became common occurrence in the town. Sharpe recruited men from all walks of life and his military recruiting campaigns became widespread across the town. An overwhelming number of people enlisted, and private homes were turned into sleeping quarters to house all the new recruits. In May of 1916, the Battalion bid farewell to their loved ones as they paraded through Ontario County on their way to England for training and later, France, on the frontlines.


Lt. Col. Samuel Sharpe’s trunk from the First World War on display at the Uxbridge Historical Centre permanent exhibition space, "Undeniably Uxbridge."

On February 11th 1917 the 116th Battalion arrived in France. They reached the frontlines a day later in the village of Haillicourt. It’s in France where Sharpe and the 116th would fight in some of Canada’s most memorable battles, including Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, Avion, and Hill 70. Sharpe’s bravery on the front lines was rewarded when King George V presented him with the Distinguished Service Order. However, soon after Sharpe began experiencing symptoms of shell shock, which is now recognized as PTSD.


Of the 1145 men that joined the 116th Battalion, only 160 remained on active service at the end of the war. Sharpe was among almost 10,000 Canadian Soldiers diagnosed with shell shock during the first World War. He was sent back to Canada and admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal where on May 25th, 1918, he jumped out of his hospital window to his death. It was suggested by those who knew him that he could not face the prospect of returning to Uxbridge and seeing the families of those who had died, many of whom he had personally recruited.


Samuel Sharpe’s funeral procession in downtown Uxbridge. 1918. Courtesy of the Uxbridge Historical Centre. Permanent Collection, P488.

Samuel Sharpe’s funeral was the largest in Uxbridge's history, with a private service at the Sharpe home on First Avenue, followed by a public service at Trinity United Church. The procession was over a mile long and included colleagues, surviving members of 116th Battalion and a military band. The funeral was concluded in traditional military style with thirty riflemen firing three volleys over his grave.


Unfortunately, due to the stigma around PTSD victims in the 20th century, Sharpe’s contributions were largely forgotten for many years. The mistreatment and lack of compassion for those suffering shell shock was deplorable. It is only in modern times that the stigma around PTSD started being addressed. As such, Sharpe’s contributions are being revived into the public consciousness. In 2018, a full century after his death, Sharpe was finally honored in Ottawa on Parliament Hill, with a statue and bronze plaque commemorating his life as a Canadian hero. However, the place where his legacy lives on most, perhaps, is here in his hometown of Uxbridge. His impact on our history is felt. Whether it be the street that honors his name, his law firm that continues to operate today, or the bronze statue that sits on the corner of Brock and Toronto Street. This statue features Sharpe, trying to write a letter to his best friend’s wife to tell her that her husband has been killed in battle but can only write “Dear Mary.” We encourage all to take the time to know Sharpe's story and other's like him who made and make unthinkable sacrifices during war times.


The Samuel Sharpe Statue at the corner of Brock and Toronto Street in downtown Uxbridge.

Sources:


Barris, Ted. “Victory At Vimy.” Thomas Allen Publishers, 2007.


Boileau, John. "Samuel Simpson Sharpe". The Canadian Encyclopedia. November 25 2021. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/samuel-simpson-sharpe.


McGillivray, Allan. “Tales from the Uxbridge Valley.” The Uxbridge Millennium Committee, 2000.





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