Biography of Ross Playfair

The young Ross Playfair (Source: Playfair family photos) The young Ross Playfair (Source: Playfair family photos)

Ross Playfair was the second youngest of 12 children—seven boys and five girls. He was born in 1886 in the village of Playfair on the banks of the Mississippi, near Lanark, Ontario. The village was built on the land deeded to Lt. Col. Andrew Playfair, who fought in the War of 1812. Ross’s father owned the lumber mill that was powered by the river. Family legend has it that when Ross was three, he saved his baby brother from drowning in that river: the infant Walter fell in and Ross grabbed him by the bonnet strings and pulled him out. Growing up Ross would have worked for his father in the mill. One of his key functions was to hunt to provide provisions for the men in the lumber camps and in the mill. He most likely participated in all aspects of the mill’s activities.

At some point Ross acquired a certificate in accounting. He began working for the Bank of Montreal. While working for the bank in Kingston he met Mary Ferris. They married in 1912 and Ross took a position with the bank in Rush Lake, Saskatchewan. On January 4, 1915 Ross joined the King’s Own Calgary Regiment, and subsequently became attached to the 50th Canadian Infantry Battalion. The regiment arrived in England in November of 1915. Ross first went to France in August of 1916.

Mary Playfair on the porch of Ross and Mary’s house in Rush Lake, Saskatchewan Mary Playfair on the porch of Ross and Mary’s house in Rush Lake, Saskatchewan

In Ross’s first year in France he was stationed in Rouen in the administrative headquarters of the Canadian Army. In 1917 he requested and received a transfer to the front. He served on the front lines from August 1917 to the end of the war. During this time he was promoted from sergeant to lieutenant. At the end of the war he was a part of the occupying army in Belgium. He left Belgium for Canada in May 1919.

Ross in uniform. Ross in uniform. He obviously had no need for a kit bag—everything seems to be in his pockets! (Source: Playfair family photos)
Ross’s dog tag Ross’s dog tag

Ross’s wife Mary followed Ross to France. It is not clear when she arrived but she was certainly there from August 1917 until May 1919. Mary stayed in Bernay, France and in England while Ross was on the front lines. She eventually joined him in Belgium during the occupation.

After the war Ross and Mary lived in Calgary for a brief period. They then moved to Toronto, where it is likely that Ross continued working for the military out of an office in the Christie Street Hospital. While they were living there, their four children—Peter, Elizabeth, Patrick and John—were born. In 1938 Ross and Mary moved to Ottawa where they lived at 117 First Avenue and Ross became the Chief Treasury Officer of National Defence. When the Second World War broke out and separate staff were assigned to the three separate services—army, navy and air force—he became the Chief Treasury Officer of Naval Defence, responsible for all procurements and financial activity for Canada’s Navy. At the war’s end Canada had the fourth largest Navy in the world.

The Playfair family From left to right: Patrick, Ross, Elizabeth, John, and Mary.

Ross retired in 1951 and moved to Iroquois, Ontario. He died in 1968. Mary died shortly after: three weeks to the day after Ross’s funeral.