Allisonian Archives

A legacy of leadership

Remembering Don Norton (’42), navigator with the RCAF during the Second World War
By: Renée Belliveau (’17)

Every year for the last 70 years, the Don Norton Memorial Award has been awarded to a graduating student who has made the greatest overall contribution to student life during their time at Mount Allison.

Though his name is widely recognized, few likely remember the person who inspired the award.

Originally from Milltown, NB, Donald Norton arrived at Mount Allison in 1938 and quickly earned the nickname “Whizzer” for his remarkable speed on the track. In his first year, he dominated the intercollegiate track and field meet in Halifax with first place finishes in the 100-yard, 200-yard dash, broad jump, and triple jump events. The following year, he repeated his victories and placed second in javelin. He also set a record in the 100-yard dash at the Highland Games in 1940 and beat Canadian sprint champion Peter Taylor two years later. His classmates playfully teased him in the 1942 yearbook, claiming that his “favourite hobby [was] breaking records.”

Mount Allison University Men's Track Team, 1939 (Norton back row, middle)

In addition to his athletic achievements, Norton was an excellent student and actively contributed to campus life, serving on numerous committees, including as President of the Students’ Union. His well-rounded efforts both on and off the track earned him a silver and gold athletic “A” and an executive “A.”

Norton earned a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics in 1942. After three years of war, it’s likely that he had already planned his next step. His yearbook entry noted, “his mathematical ability and his all-round condition should certainly make him a cinch for a navigator in the Air Force, his chief desire.”

Norton with Mount Allison classmates, 1941

The Royal Canadian Air Force certainly recognized his potential. Norton enlisted shortly after graduation, on July 1, 1942 and comments on his attestation paper show that the RCAF held his education in high regard.

“This man is well educated. Very good material. Should make an excellent observer or pilot.”

His calm, even temperament and excellent health made him an ideal candidate for the position of an airplane navigator (otherwise known as observer), and his proficiency in mathematics earned him high marks in all examinations. His Commanding Officer noted on his examination results, “Shrewd and capable, this airman definitely knows how to look after himself. Looks like a hard fighter.”

Norton underwent rigorous training in Lachine, QC, Toronto, ON, London, ON, and Halifax, NS, while maintaining his active involvement in sports. He won aggregate marks in a RCAF meet at Lachine and was lone double winner at a track and field day meet at the opening of the Navy League Recreation Centre in Halifax.

After earning his Air Observer Badge in November 1943, Norton was deployed overseas. In January 1944, he sustained injuries in a plane crash during take-off in England but quickly returned to the skies. Tragically, on June 8, 1944, Norton was part of an eight-member crew aboard a Halifax aircraft that failed to return from an operational attack on Acheres, France. Norton was reported missing that day and officially presumed dead in February 1945. Investigating officers eventually concluded that the aircraft had crashed at Ronchois, France. Norton was laid to rest at Poix-de-Picardie Cemetery in Somme, France.

Norton was among over 400 Mount Allison students who served with the RCAF during the Second World War. His loss reverberated across campus and beyond.

At the 1954 Athletic Reunion at Mount Allison, L.G. DesBrisay (‘42) announced that the Class of 1942 would establish a memorial award in Norton’s honour. The Mount Allison Alumni Board has continued the tradition of annually presenting the Don Norton Memorial Award to a student who embodies Norton’s finest qualities: service, leadership, scholarship, and character.

This article is part of a two-part series commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Air Force (1924-2024), focusing on Allisonians at war. Read the companion article about Elizabeth (Rising) Howell ('39), Grace under fire.