Gunner Leonard Abraham Corstiaan Van Roon

Len was born in 1921, the only child of Adriaan and Cornelia, Dutch immigrants who purchased land in Charleswood. They moved to Charleswood Road in 1928 and started the family poultry farm.

After finishing high school, Len continued to work the farm with his mother, his father having passed in 1932 from stomach cancer. He met Verna, the love of his life, at the Charleswood United Church.

Len was drafted in January 1943. Len and Verna agreed not to marry until he returned from doing his military service.

He did his basic training at Fort Garry and was then shipped to Dartmouth for training in anti-aircraft and coastal artillery. On completion of training in July, his cadre was shipped to England on the Queen Elizabeth. They spent the next five months in a replacement depot. In January 1944, he was assigned to the 19th Field Artillery Regiment as an enlisted assistant to a Forward Observation Officer, for which duty he had to be trained in surveying.

Len landed with his regiment on Juno Beach in the first wave on D-Day and fought with that unit through France and Belgium and into Holland. After the Battle of the Bulge, Len and the 19th crossed the Rhine and fought their way into Germany as far as Freisoythe. For most of that time Len rode with the FOO and the rest of the crew in a Sherman tank that they fancifully named “Calamity Jane”, just like the one in front of the Charleswood Legion.

Len’s Dutch heritage was extra valuable to the 19th while in Belgium and Holland, since he spoke Dutch and served as an unofficial translator to the unit.

After the end of the war, the 19th was pulled back into Holland. He was well down on the list for repatriation so he had time to visit his many relatives before his return to Canada in December 1945.

Len and Verna were married in September 1946 and raised four children on the family poultry farm at 1018 Charleswood Road.

The Van Roons were central to the formation of the Charleswood Historical Society and the creation of the Charleswood Museum. As a boy, Len had noticed some peculiar tracks that crossed the farm when he went out to check on his rabbit trap line. His interest in local history was stimulated by the realization that these were the tracks of Red River carts. This led to his identification of the actual site at which that trail crossed the Assiniboine River, the “Passage”. His work on local history led to the receipt of the Historical Preservation award.

They made numerous presentations at local schools on the importance of the Canadian contribution to victory in World War II. One very special project was the assembly of information, with photographs, of all the Charleswood and Headingley men who had died in the two World Wars. They raised money to erect the monument at the corner of Berkley and Roblin.

Their efforts to preserve the natural habitat were honoured by the Friends of the Harte Trail, who named an area near the trail “Van Roon Prairie Garden”. Their steadfast support of the Charleswood United Church led to naming of the new hall the “Van Roon Community Hall”. Verna passed in February 2011.

When he gave up competitive badminton at age 70, Len took up painting with a local art group. He has finished more than 200, some of which are treasured possessions in the homes of his children, grandchildren and friends. His fondness for wandering the woods on the farm resulted in the construction of life-sized stick figureks from deadfall. He has made more than 200 of these “guffelwarfs”, nearly every one of which illustrates a pun. Len remains active at 100+ years, looking after his garden and sharing his wisdom with everyone he meets.

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