The Perfect Storm: From Shipwreck to Love Story
How a Canadian marine wreck led to a five-decade romance.
On Aug. 27, 1946, violent ocean winds pummelled the merchant marine freighter Fort Boise against the unforgiving rocks off Dog Island shoal, near the coast of eastern Canada. Fog engulfed the doomed vessel and, according to an account in the Toronto Daily Star, the wind and waves conspired to “(break) her back within an hour.” Blind in the haze and tossed about in the wreckage, the crew made a desperate dash for the lifeboats.
“It was a grim fight all the way,” one survivor, who was thrown from his raft by the waves, told the Montreal Gazette. “I don’t know how far I battled in the water but I passed out before getting ashore. How I got there I’ll never know.”
Whether by stroke of luck or grace of God, a number of fellow crew members made it as well, washing up on nearby St. Pierre Island. The ship’s captain and chief engineer were found floating face down in the water just off shore. They’d escaped the ship but not the storm.
Two days later, and thousands of kilometres west of the island, a fair-haired 18-year-old typist named Mary Wroblewski rode a streetcar through downtown Toronto on her way to work. She sat next to a co-worker who’d bought a newspaper. The two girls flipped the pages and came upon an article detailing a recent merchant navy shipwreck. Ten Ontario servicemen survived, the paper said, including Edward Store, pictured, smiling in a tie and jacket. Mary studied the photo and, to the surprise of her travel companion, exclaimed, “I’m going to marry him.”
“What do you mean you’re going to marry him?” her friend, dumbfounded, blurted out.
“Look at him. Isn’t he gorgeous?” Mary asked, before restating her matrimonial intentions.
Her friend laughed. The streetcar continued on, squeaking along its rails. Two years later, the travel companion found herself again at Mary’s side – this time, as her maid of honour.
Edward Store was born on Dec. 15, 1927, in Toronto. Entering the world on the cusp of the Great Depression ensured his early life wouldn’t be easy. His father passed away a short time later, leaving a widowed wife with seven children to care for. The family bounced from home to home, with Edward’s mother sneaking her kids out under the cover of night when she couldn’t afford the rent. Edward dropped out of school to help the family full-time, eventually joining his brothers in enlisting in the merchant navy. He lied about his age – he was only 16 – and soon found himself en route to Europe.
In later years, Edward described the Fort Boise shipwreck to his eager-eared (and, admittedly, gullible) children and grandkids, peppering the story with Lord of the Flies-inspired tales of battling savages to survive on a desert island (the desert island, in reality, being a modern and inhabited French society). He even attributed his life-long aversion to bologna to the shipwreck, claiming all the survivors had to eat on the island was the bounty of “bologna trees.” In reality, his tour of duty ended with him washed up like seaweed on St. Pierre Island, lucky to be alive.
Mary’s strictly Catholic upbringing meant that staying out late and partying with friends was not an option. There was no dating either. Luckily, she had cousin Alfie. Alfie was younger than Mary, but he enjoyed a lot more freedom. As such he often popped in to visit his older cousin, like on Valentine’s Day, 1948, when he showed up unannounced with a friend he wanted Mary to meet.
Mary answered the door in hair curlers and pajamas, embarrassed and speechless. Eventually she gathered her wits, dressed, and spent the evening with the two boys on the front porch. Alfie’s friend, a young mechanic with what Mary called “the most beautiful blue eyes,” didn’t say much.
“Doesn’t this guy know how to talk?” Mary asked Alfie out of earshot.
“Just cool it,” Alfie replied.
Mary made the best of it, and the three enjoyed the evening until the time came for Alfie and his friend to say goodnight.
“Nice to meet you, Mary.”
“Nice to meet you, too, Eddie.”
Mary and Eddie’s romance may have floundered without Alfie’s help. Following Valentine’s Day, the trio conspired to make the relationship work. Alfie stopped by often, picking Mary up and, unbeknownst to Mary’s mom, driving her straight to Eddie’s place.
Soon, Mary saw Eddie on weekends, faithfully abiding by her by 10 p.m. curfew. Eddie believed in a traditional courting – no holding hands or kissing in front of anyone – the product of an upbringing that stressed the utmost respect for women. His chivalrous resolve proved steadfast, no matter how frustrating, ironically, a woman may find it.
One day, Eddie took Mary to a local carnival. They boarded the Ferris wheel and, just as they’d spun their way to the top, the ride stopped. The couple remained motionless, dangling above the park. That’s when Eddie pulled out the ring.
“He’s lucky I didn’t fall right to the ground,” Mary recalls, “because I just about fainted.”
Not everyone was thrilled with the proposal. Eddie was Protestant, and Mary a Catholic. Some family on both sides disapproved. Both the Catholic and Anglican Churches advised Mary to find a nice Catholic boy and Eddie a good Protestant girl. A priest even visited Mary’s home to warn that all of the couple’s children would be “bastards.”
With the forces of family and faith against them, the couple found a haven at Eddie’s childhood church – St. Andrew’s – in Toronto’s east end. Mary told Father Perdue that they were eloping. He asked if they understood what they were doing. They said yes. They lied. But it didn’t matter.
On Nov. 6, 1948, almost nine months after they met, the couple secretly eloped. Eddie was going on 21. Mary was 20. The only witnesses were Mary’s co-worker and her boyfriend. They couldn’t even tell Alfie.
Mary wore a beige pantsuit her mother had made for her, thinking she was going to someone else’s wedding shower. Eddie wore a brown suit with “a horrible orange and brown tie” – an ensemble Mary disliked so much that when a relative passed away and had no clothes to be buried in, they handed over the whole ensemble. Father Perdue decorated the altar in pink gladiolas, and the organist played Here Comes the Bride.
“To me, it was right,” Mary concluded. “I figure the Good Lord must have blessed our marriage because we would never had been married (so long) if it hadn’t have been.”
Mary and Eddie hid out at Alfie’s mom’s house after the wedding. The next day, they sent a telegram to her family to announce their marriage. Needless to say, it didn’t go over well.
It was Mary, however, who received the greatest surprise. Shortly after they married, the couple was perusing Eddie’s family photo albums. Just as she did years earlier on the streetcar, Mary turned a page to see an article from the Toronto Daily Star about a shipwreck near St. Pierre Island. And there was Edward Store, pictured, staring back at her from the page. Mary couldn’t believe her eyes.
“Hey, I saw that years ago and I made up my mind that I was going to marry you!” she exclaimed. Eddie, understandably, didn’t quite know how to react. His mother had saved the clipping as a reminder of her son’s brush with fate.
Mary also learned that, at the time of their Valentine’s Day introduction, Eddie was on leave and was supposed to go back to Belgium. Instead, he dropped anchor, never setting foot on a merchant navy boat again.
It wasn’t easy, and in some cases it took years, but eventually the families accepted Eddie and Mary’s union. Eddie went on to work as a mail carrier and at a paper company, while Mary made a living as an early childhood educator. At their 50th anniversary party in 1998, surrounded by their children, grandchildren, extended family and friends, they danced to Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One”:
“They said, ‘I’ll bet they’ll never make it’
But just look at us holdin’ on
We’re still together still goin’ strong…”
Neither wanted to take a trip to celebrate the occasion. It felt more appropriate to be among the family they’d built. Through the furious winds off St. Pierre Island to their battles with family and faith, the pair weathered all storms to find clear skies ahead.
“It was a great life,” Mary says. “If somebody said, ‘Would you have done it again after what you went through?’ I’d say I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Eddie passed away in April 2004. He and Mary enjoyed 55 years of marriage, three children, five grandchildren, a long and leisurely retirement and the peace of mind that their decision to marry was the right decision all along. The only thing Eddie regretted was that he “never made a big wage, and he felt he had left nothing.” Of course it wasn’t true, but for someone who grew up in Depression-era Canada, the thought process is understandable.
Still, of all the financial decisions Eddie made in his life, perhaps the most important was the $50 he spent in November, 1948 as a marriage fee to Father Perdue. Eddie may never have made a lot of money, but he and Mary proved they knew a good investment when they saw one.
Edward and Mary Store are the grandparents of the author. This story is derived from first-hand accounts, and many years of hearing Eddie talk about battling savages and eating from the bologna tree.