Image: Jim Simpson, Walt Murphy, and Fire Chief Pete Eager look at newspaper articles dealing with fire disasters and prevention. ca. 1954. (SPRA 2006.035.12)
Martin David Conrad Eagar was born in 1919 in Grande Prairie, AB where he lived his whole life. He was the son of Martin Wingate Eagar, a lawyer in Grande Prairie, who nicknamed him Pete at a young age. Having a free-roaming boyhood, Pete felt more at home in the bush than in big cities. In 1937 Pete joined the Grande Prairie Fire Department as a volunteer getting paid about $20 a year. At age 21 Pete enlisted with the army and was active in the August 19, 1942 Dieppe raid. 225 fellow Canadian soldiers lost their lives, while 264 men, including Pete, were taken as prisoners of war by the Nazis. In all, Pete spent over 3 years being captured in at least 3 different camps. Pete and his comrades were shipped by box car to Landsdorf, Germany where he spent the rest of 1942 and 1943. At one of the POW camps Pete was made the camp cook with 55 prisoners to look after, which he considered as “preferential treatment”. His last camp was on the Baltic Coast, and when the Russians moved in, Pete and all the allied prisoners were turned loose with minimal supervision, and were expected to walk their way across Germany to freedom. The walk took from February to May and was about 800 km. This was called the “Death March” as some men died along the way. Two days after the war ended, Pete arrived in Luebeck, Germany, and then was flown to England. In later years, Pete described his war experience: “One thing it taught me was my own capability of what I am as an individual and what tolerance I have. “ He also mentioned with humour that the extent of his military service was about 8 hours, and the rest of the time he was a liability as a prisoner of war.
When Pete returned to Grande Prairie, he went back to volunteer firefighting, and working as parts manager at Rodacker Sales and Service. Pete was married to Lenore, and they had 3 children: Sons David and Richard, and a daughter Pat. For a while, Pete and Lenore lived upstairs at the old fire hall across from City Hall, and raised their children there. In 1952, Pete was appointed Chief of the fire department, and in 1957 he became the first full-time fireman. He retired after 40 years’ service in 1982, and became an avid golfer. During his lifetime Pete was an active member in several associations: Provincial Fire Chief Association, Masonic Lodge, Shriners, Order of Eastern Star, and Royal Canadian Legion Grande Prairie. He and Lenore belonged to a travel group and visited many countries including Spain, Hawaii, and Norway.
Pete died from bone cancer at age 66 on December 18, 1985 in Grande Prairie
Source: SPRA Family and Personal Life Reference Files:
Edmonton Journal May 10, 1971 “Fire career began at $27 a year”
GP Booster April 16, 1980 “Fire Chief Recalls Dieppe Years”
GP Booster June 15, 1982 “Fire Chief retiring”
Daily Herald Tribune Dec. 2, 1982 “Pete packs it in”
Daily Herald Tribune Dec. 20, 1985 (Obituary); “Pete Eagar: respected, dedicated and frank”
Soldier Spotlight highlights veterans from the Archives’ online Soldiers’ Memorial. Each week, our volunteers select a remarkable individual to showcase in this blog series. The Soldiers’ Memorial commemorates more than 1,100 WWI veterans and 2,300 WWII veterans from our region. Three dedicated volunteers have contributed over 1,200 hours to this project by researching and writing biographies. Our goal is to have all South Peace soldiers acknowledged for their service. If you know of someone who lived in the South Peace and should be listed on the Memorial, or would like to get involved by researching a local veteran, please contact the Archives.