The Pensioner

Lieutenant Colonel R. H. Labatt
4th (Central Ontario) Battalion

He was prominent in all manly sports, and for years a member of the champion Tiger football team. A successful oarsman and canoeist, Chairman of the Hamilton Club, an organization of outstanding ability, both in military life and in sport. His passing will be regretted by a very large circle. Personally he was the soul of honour and loved by all his friends.

(Trinity College School Record, 1919, 33)

Born on 24 Feb 1864 in London, Canada West, Robert Hodgetts Labatt was a member of the famous Canadian brewing family. A long time militiaman, he had volunteered as a private during the 1885 Northwest Rebellion. In August 1914, he was appointed commander of the 4th Battalion when the First Contingent assembled at Valcartier.

Just over one month before the 4th deployed to France in February 1915, Labatt relinquished command due to illness. When his replacement, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Percival Birchall was killed in action at the second battle of Ypres on 23 April 1915, Labatt resumed command of the battalion.


He remained with the 4th until 7 June 1915 when he was evacuated to England suffering recurring heart and stomach pains. Captain M. A. Colquhoun assumed command of the battalion in his absence. By July, Labatt was back in Canada to assist with volunteer recruitment in Ontario. He helped to organize the 86th Machine Gun Battalion in Hamilton and gathered over $210,000 in donations. He also assisted with the formation of the 97th American Legion from Toronto. He was  appointed honorary colonel of the 205th Tiger Battalion, commanded by Hamilton sportsman Robert Roy Moodie.

Ottawa appointed Labatt to the three-member Board of Pension Commissioners in June 1916. While he promised to avoid the “pension evil” of uncontrolled government expenses, by May 1918 it was Labatt’s position on the board that became a focus for controversy. Newspaper editors and members of Parliament objected that Labatt drew a civil service salary as well as his disability pension. For many critics, a man could not legitimately receive compensation while at the same time remain a functioning government employee.

Accusing the government of nepotism, Vancouver Conservative H. H. Stevens argued, “in my view, either Colonel Labatt is in receipt of his pension by virtue of misrepresentations or undue favour through powerful influences as it is clear that he is not suffering from Total Disability at all…” To avoid a public scandal, Labatt resigned from the Pension Board in June 1918. Eight months later, he was dead.

RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 5270 – 62

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