Mark Clairmont |

GRAVENHURST — Comrades in arms.

There’s a reason Legions still exist. They take care of their own — no man or woman left behind.

Laura Hoffman-Steiger, a retired Canadian Armed Forces veteran, wondered whatever happened to Ralph Scales after he died sometime late last November.

She’d heard nothing of a funeral, albeit given COVID; but no celebration of life either?

Her late father, Wes, and Scales served during the Korean War and peace mission that followed and were lifelong friends.

But in March when she dug a little deeper, she learned the body of the former tank gunner was still in Toronto at the coroner’s office — unclaimed.

So she took it upon herself and set in motion to repatriate his remains, bringing him home for burial — with the help of the District of Muskoka, which paid for a modest coffin.

Legionnaire Al Denne gave a brief graveside eulogy, as Laura Hoffman-Steiger, her guide dog Hank, piper John McIntyre and veteran Doug Cassin, who drove back from B.C., look on yesterday. (Photo Heather Schell)

Yesterday on a sunny Saturday afternoon at the Royal Canadian Legion plot of the Mickle Memorial Cemetery, Scales was finally laid to rest with military honours by his comrades who buried one of their own according him the respect he deserved.

He was recently until then resting in the basement of the town’s church-like-looking mortuary building at the north end of Muskoka Road.

Then Branch #302 pallbearers carried him to his final resting place. A bugler played Last Post — a piper the lament — followed by Reveille.

There was two minutes of silence as the 20 people on hand remembered an amazing veteran of an almost forgotten “war.”

Scales, a modest man of 91, left no wishes to be buried in such a manner, with the piper playing Amazing Grace as Steiger-Hoffman and Legion president Heather Schell placed poppies on his blue coffin, stopping each as they did to salute him.

It was the same with his other Legionnaire family members and comrades who lined up with friends from town and veteran Doug Cassin who drove back from Kelowna, B.C. and a couple others who came from Petawawa.

Scales now rests next to his older brother, William, a veteran of the Second World War, who died in 1995. Scales’ wife Bernie is buried in another part of the cemetery with her family.

Hoffman-Steiger says she will pay for an appropriate headstone.

Scales was a quiet man. Little is known about him or about his death. What is known is that he died sometime in late November. His death certificate reads Nov. 26, 2021.

He was born Sept. 3, 1930.

A lover of animals, with a couple of dogs and a cat, Hoffman-Steiger believes he left his James Street business/home and a home and property next door to the SPCA.

Appropriately, her service dog Hank (who practically lives at the branch), sat mostly patiently and quietly beside the gravesite during the service in which the coffin was briefly opened and poppies and his 1952 service tunic and a photo of his late wife were placed inside before it was lowered into the ground.

“Lu,” as she refers to herself, was able to quickly get in and out of the house to recover some personal items, which she displayed after Saturday. She and her husband, a Muskoka Paramedic, who follow in her dad and Scales’ bootprints. They are involved the colour guards of the paramedics and Beaver Creek prison where she worked. They both participate in Remembrance Day Services each year, where she is the parade marshal.

Twenty people attended the send-off Saturday for Ralph Scales, who was buried in the legion section of Mickle Memorial Cemetery in Gravenhurst. (Heather Schell photo)

Legionnaire Al Denne, the branch’s historian, offered a few remarks, calling Scales “a cornerstone of the branch.”

“He was never the easiest person to strike up a conversation with and even less so when the conversation turned to him. So, it was impossible to gather enough information about him to even get a thumbnail bio for the Legion Military Service Recognition book.

“But I met Ralph Scales many times, talked to him on many occasions and learned some very interesting things. I can tell you that few people over the past 40 years have left the impression on our branch that Ralph Scales has.

“If one were to select the top five former ‘Veteran Members’ of our branch whose names came up most frequently, and with as much respect and reverence, among them are Art Coon, Wes Hoffman, Nellie Gorman, Jack Davie and Ralph Scales. No one I ever spoke to had a negative word to say of Ralph Scales.

“There were many builders of Branch #302 who spent hours and energy making it strong and meaningful. Builders who worked with bricks and mortar to construct and hold it together. Ralph was one of those builders; and now he is gone.”

At RCL Branch #302 Ralph Scales was active and well known as a sergeant at arms, colour guard and parade marshal, but otherwise kept to himself and his water, ice, wood and propane business on James Street in Gravenhurst.

At the branch after members toasted his memory, while looking through a scrap book of war photos and a display of his blazer, another tunic and a large medal display Hoffman-Steiger put together from his Lord Strathcona Horse Royal Canadian Dragoons days — and one belonging to brother bill.

Though reticent at times to show or express his feeling or share his personal life easily with others, no doubt Scales would have reluctantly accepted the public recognition at the end.

For decades after the 1950-’53 Korean War, which he fought for veterans to receive the same recognition as those of the First and Second World Wars, Scales was a big part of the Legion working hard and serving in public as parade marshal and colour guard sergeant. And until a few years ago he stood behind the scenes at the cenotaph on Remembrance Day, Nov. 11, raising and lowering the Canadian and Union Jack flags.

Always turned out in a smart Legion blazer and grey slacks, his shoes and medals shined for the most important day of his year.

Often he sported a distinguished turned-up, military-style handlebar moustache.

But away from the branch — like too many veterans of war and other since conflicts — Scales received nor craved attention as he went about his business for 70 years after a war that defined him.

Though he signed up early at age 20, he never saw active duty during the so-called “conflict.” He was stationed in Canada until an amistice was declared and he arrived under the UN banner patrolling to keep the peace and seeing only brief post scirmmages and a lot of desolate living.

But there was more to Scales than war and peace.

Ralph Scales, here at service at Trinity United Church, was a tough, exacting, no-nonsense veteran often in charge of the colour guard.

For many recent years he ran successful water, ice, wood and propane businesses serving customers around the Muskoka Lakes.

But come this summer barbecuers will miss Ralph Scales and be left thinking of him and his wry smile.

Chances are those backyard chefs in town and at cottages got their last propane tank filled in back of his shop on James Street west — rushing many times late in the day or on a Saturday afternoon or early evening to him as grilled meat was left half cooked or about to be served up bloody rare.

They won’t be able to enter his ramshackle compound, across from the ball field, and drive out to the little shack in back to get their propane filled for … “Oh, 15 beans, sir.”

No crossing the threshold and hearing the dinging sound of an old-timey gas station air hose bell, which for years solicited Scales unhurriedly pedalling out from his home on his bicycle and as late as last fall driving a beat-up old golf cart.

“At the going down of the sun we will …” always remember Ralph Scales.

Laura Hoffman-Steiger, who wore one of Scales’ Legion ties, put out a memorial display that included behind her a beautiful frame of his war pins, badges and medals among other momentos she repatriated from his home after his sudden death recorded as Nov. 26, 2021.
Ralph Scales was former 1st vice president, past officer at Harry Wray Branch #302 and in charge of the poppy fund among many other RCL duties.
William (Bill) Scales, Ralph’s older brother, was a Second World War veteran who was born in 1923 and served with the Irish Regiment of Canada. He died in 1995 and his brother is now buried next to him.
A scrap book found in his home shows some young and older photos of Ralph Scales, including a shoulder patch from the Lord Strathcona Horse Royal Canadian Dragoons.
A beret, tie, blazer, gloves, medals and pins adorned a wall yesterday at branch was veterans, Legion members and friends said goodbye to a soldier who served his country and community well.


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