Pausing at first, Stocky Edwards smiles at the ground when asked to name his favourite hockey team.
“Montreal Canadians – they played hockey like hockey.”
The decorated Second World War fighter pilot ace – whose own hockey abilities sparked the interest of the Chicago Black Hawks – momentarily contemplates his life if he chose a career in hockey rather than joining the military.
“The hockey was sort of born-in – we had lots of it,” he recalls playing in Battleford, Sask. at school, where one of his teachers was an ex-NHL player who had a friend with connections to the Black Hawks. “Of course you never know, (but) I was small.”
The Comox resident, who has been knighted by the French government, an Order of Canada recipient, Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame inductee and named one of the 100 most influential Canadians in aviation is celebrating another milestone Saturday – that of a centenarian.
For Edwards, he is taking the milestone in stride.
“I think everyone will get the same feeling as it approaches, you’re not sure if you’re going to get there or not.”
Growing up, Edwards says he considered many careers, but joining the military was not one of them. As the Second World War broke out he changed his mind.
“I thought I’d like to be a pilot. From my point of view, there isn’t a better place for a young person for training, for all sort of parts of life, not just military. They are just doing their best – all they want to do is go out and do a job for somebody …. they don’t think of their lives at all they just want to help people.”
Canada’s highest-scoring ace in the Western Desert Campaign, Edwards earned respect for his quick reflexes, flying abilities and shooting instincts while serving with 260 Squadron in the Western Desert Air Force in North Africa in 1943.
During the war, he flew Spitfires (his favourite plane) after first piloting a Kittyhawk, which has since been refurbished by Vintage Wings of Canada.
By the start of 1943 when he was a flight commander, Edwards had earned a Distinguished Flying Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for acts of valour or courage.
“I am (proud) in my quiet little way. I did 373 combat missions. You get sort of … you don’t know anything else. The day the war was over, it was a feeling of ‘what do I do now?’ “
Following retirement and in between spending time with his wife Toni and their four children, eight grandchild, 10 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren, Edwards is passionate about the environment around him, particularly preserving it for future generations.
For 40 years, he and his family have supported Ducks Unlimited and the restoration work they do in the Comox Valley.
“They’re doing a wonderful job – they’re saving some of the things we’re losing and educating too, especially the young people. I would like young people to really get more into nature then we are.”
Greg Sawchuck, senior B.C. director for Ducks Unlimited Canada recognizes Edwards’ support for the organization.
“He’s donated to our local banquets and he and Toni always attend our banquets. Him and I have gotten together, and said ‘hey, your 100th birthday is coming up, we should do something special,’ … so we teamed up and worked together and looked towards raising $100,000 for Ducks Unlimited Canada for wetlands, waterfowl and wildlife and hopefully we’ll get there. It’s really wonderful that he put his name towards the program. I’m really proud and pleased with that.”
Edwards’ son Jim, says he’s extremely proud of his father and grateful for those celebrating with him. While his siblings could not be in the Comox Valley for the birthday due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, he notes he is representing his entire family at the celebrations.
“You think people wouldn’t want to talk about the war anymore; when you reach his age, you don’t have peers any more, (but) the whole family is immensely proud.”
Edwards says now his life revolves around Toni, whom he has been married to for 72 years.
“That’s my life. I just hope I lived it well because I’ve always done the best I could.”
Anyone who wishes can drop off a card for Edwards can do so prior to the drive-past parade, however, gifts are not needed. Those who wish to do so can donate to the Ducks Unlimited Stocky Edwards Wetland and Wildlife Conservation fund or the Stocky Edwards Legacy Trust, which supports, assists, promotes and furthers the education of young Canadians in careers related to aviation, especially those enrolled in Air Cadet programs. This year, three air cadets are set to receive grants from the trust.