Archibald Bernard McPhail and Reta Lillian Jones and Bernard Shellist

When Archibald Bernard McPhail was born on April 23, 1918, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, his father, Archibald James Jacob McPhail (1870-1941), was 47 and his mother, Cecelia Garrow (1876-1941), was 41. Archibald Bernard had five brothers and four sisters.

He married Reta Lillian Jones between 1941-1942.

Reta Lillian Jones was born March 3, 1922, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Her parents were Joseph Lenox Jones (1898-?) and Flora Nolan (1902-?).

Archie Jr. and Reta had one daughter (not named due to potential privacy concerns.)


Given his qualifications as a mechanic, Archie enlisted on January 10, 1941 (during WWII) in the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (the Rileys). He was not married at this time, just prior to his parents deaths later that year.

67 Wexford Avenue South, Hamilton (image courtesy Google Maps)

Archie eventually enlisted with the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve on July 24, 1942. At the time, he was married and was living with his wife at 67 Wexford Avenue South in Hamilton and he was working as a mechanic at City Chevrolet.

Attestation Form CES (image via

He eventually became a stoker for the HMCS Star. According to Wikipedia, between 1941 and 1945, HMCS Star enlisted and trained 7,490 officers, men, and women for service during the Second World War. The Star is currently docked in Hamilton at a National Historic Site.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

He served aboard various ships in the fleet during his service, including the HMCS Cornwallis, Stadacona, Protecteur, HochelagaVenture and Chaleur II.

Untimely Death

It was aboard the HMCS Chaleur II (click link for a photo of the crew) that Archie met his untimely death on September 7, 1944.  His commanding officer’s report indicates there was a large explosion that day, while the ship was at the naval base in Gaspe, Quebec.

Death Report (image via

At the time of Archie’s death, Reta (and presumably Jeanette) were living at 1377 Main Street East, Hamilton (there is no longer a home at this address). After his death, Reta (and presumably Jeanette) moved in with a relative (Miss F. Jones) at 66 Beland Avenue (unknown whether this was North or South). The paperwork reflects that Reta was remarried at some point around 1948 to a man named Shelist and at that time was living at 1125 King Street East.

Archie’s name is listed on page 391 of the Second World War Book of Remembrance.

His obituary, dated September 9, 1944 in the Hamilton Spectator reads:

McPHAIL – As the result of an accident, on Thursday, September 7, 1944 at Gaspe, Quebec, Petty Officer Archibald B. McPhail, R.C.N., beloved husband of Reta Jones, aged 26 years. The remains will arrive in Hamilton Sunday afternoon. Funeral Monday morning at 8:30, from Dwyer’s private chapel to Holy Family Church. Interment at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

The September 23, 1944 edition of the Lethbridge Herald indicates that Robert White, a Signalman, was killed around the same time. A review of Robert White’s military files indicate that he was killed in Scotland on the same day, but obviously not in the same incident.

He’s buried at Single Section 1, Row 8, Grave 6 at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Burlington.

Rita and Bernard Shellist

Reta (eventually going by “Rita“) remarried a musician named Bernard (Bernie) Shellist on February 9, 1946 in Hamilton, Ontario.

Bernard Shellist was named Borys at birth. Records suggest he was born in Hyrciwola, Galicia, Poland, the son of Stefan Shelist (1877-1944) and Anna Tyndiuk (1889-1951). He emigrated with his parents to Canada at the age of six.

Records suggest that Rita was a vocalist, who started as a soprano in the church choir. Bernie coached her and developed her range to encompass and include Jazz and Big Band lead singer styles.

The couple emigrated to California in the fifties, becoming naturalized citizens in 1961. They had three children (not named due to privacy concerns).

Divorce records in California suggest that Rita and Bernard filed for divorce in 1968 and 1975, but other records suggest that they “shared a love of music until the end of their days.”

Rita died of congestive heart failure on May 11, 2003, in San Diego, California. Her obituary suggests she was “She was a mother of four, grandmother of eight and great- grandmother of fifteen.”

Bernard died on July 10, 2007.

The Bernie and Rita Shellist Music Endowed Scholarship was created by one of the couple’s children and is for a student whose goal is to become a professional musician.

Are you related to this family? Do you have photos or stories you’d be willing to share? Please contact me using the comment form below or find me on Facebook! Want to know where this family fits in my tree? Check out the Index!


2 Responses

  1. Hi AG, it’s Vince Lepore from Cathedral High School in Hamilton, Ontario. Amongst other things, I oversee the Cathedral War Memorial and the Cathedral archives. We are currently searching for a good quality of Archibald Bernard McPhail. We have a plaque of Archibald in our school because he was a Cathedral alumnus. However, we are searching for a better quality photo of him. Any chance that you have access to such a photo? I look forward to hearing back from you.

    1. Nice to meet you Vince. Unfortunately at this time the only photo I have is the one from the Spectator article about his death. I would love to see one if you manage to track it down! I understand a number of the McPhails went to Cathedral and you may find an alum who has one!

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AG Knapper

I’ve been researching my tree for over twenty years…and I’ve found some easy branches, and some gnarly ones…

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