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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.”

Copyright 2017 ZoomerMedia Limited

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