By Kate Lunau - Wednesday, September 28, 2011 - 0 Comments
She came to Canada from Italy’s Friuli region, and her heritage, including bocce ball, remained an integral part of her life
Giovanna Quarin was born on Oct. 2, 1933, in Biauzzo, a village in Italy’s Friuli region, in the northeastern end of the country. Her father, Giovanni Ottogalli, died from appendicitis while mother Ida was pregnant with Giovanna; Ida was left to raise their daughter and son, Mario. (She later remarried and had another three boys.) By 13, Giovanna had left school to work full-time in the fields, and in a tobacco factory with her mother. “This was during the war,” says Rita Zoratti, Giovanna’s daughter. “They were quite poor,” but the family made do, raising rabbits to eat. In the night, Giovanna would sneak outside with a sickle in her hand and “steal grass” from a nearby landowner’s property to feed the animals, Rita says.
Giovanna dreamed of leaving her village, and at age 16, she left Biauzzo to work as a maid to a wealthy family in Florence. After four years she returned home, and struck up a correspondence with Luigi Quarin, a Friulan who’d moved to Canada (they were re-introduced through a mutual acquaintance). Luigi, who lived in Hamilton, Ont., “didn’t speak a lot of English,” Rita says, “and he wanted to marry an Italian girl.” In December 1954, Giovanna boarded a ship for Canada. She arrived on New Year’s Eve, and the couple was married on Jan. 29. The reception was held at Hamilton’s Venetian Club, where they were members.
Giovanna and Luigi moved into a house in the north of the city with Luigi’s parents and brother. “It was a very Italian community,” Rita says. “There was an Italian grocery store, an Italian doctor, and everybody on the street was Italian.” Luigi worked as a roofer, and Giovanna got a job at a candy factory until their kids were born. The first, Ed Quarin, came in 1955; Rita and Linda Viola followed. At home, the family spoke the Friulan language native to their region of Italy. “Our friends all spoke Friulano, and we sang in Friulano when we got together,” Ed says. Hamilton’s Friulan community was so big that they eventually splintered off from the Venetian Club to start their own, Ed says. The Famèe Furlane of Hamilton (the name translates to “Friulan family”) was founded in 1969; Giovanna was frequently at the club cooking food for events, helping with committees, or visiting friends.
By Richard Warnica - Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
A farmboy turned neurosurgeon, he fell in love with a craggy plot of land on the Juan de Fuca strait, and returned every year
Harold Norman Lynge was born on a wheat farm in the fertile Regina Plains on March 29, 1922, the son of Amelia and Kristian, Lutheran immigrants from Jutland, Denmark. Kristian came to the New World in 1914. He worked in Chicago but returned home twice to woo his bride. Eventually, Amelia agreed to join him. She booked passage to Montreal in 1919. Later that year the two settled on a rented section of land just off the old Soo Highway between Drinkwater and Moose Jaw. Harold arrived three years later. His only sister Marie was born the next year. He had no brothers.
Harold grew up in a farmhouse without running water or electricity. There was never much money, Marie says, but always plenty of food. Amelia canned anything: potatoes, carrots, turnips, even chickens. But at harvest, it was her pies that drew crowds from neighbouring farms. Marie says she had a happy childhood. “But I’m not sure my brother felt the same way. He was a very intense person. He worried about mother and dad and the hardships they were facing.”
During the school year, Harold and Marie travelled by horseback more than six kilometres through the snow to a one-room schoolhouse. Harold rode the faster animal, a great brown beauty named Stuffy. Marie’s mare, Jessie, was older and slower. “When Harold was ill, I was thrilled because I could race his horse,” she says. The early exposure stuck with Harold. He was a dedicated horseman for most of his life. He “could ride anything on four legs,” says his wife, Amy.
By Michael Friscolanti - Wednesday, September 14, 2011 at 11:05 AM - 0 Comments
He was meticulous, unmaterialistic and frugal, waiting until his 65th birthday to get the seniors’ rate on a ﬁshing licence
James Forrest Kienholz was born in Nelson, B.C., on Sept. 12, 1946, the ﬁrst of ﬁve siblings (Melvin arrived next, then Lorraine, David and Beverley). James’s father, Forrest, was a Greyhound bus driver; his mother, Malendar (neé Davidson), was the anchor of the family home. “I had a house full of kids all the time,” she says. “I always baked bread and buns on Monday mornings, and all ﬁve kids wanted to bring a friend home for cinnamon buns. I let them each to bring one, so that meant 10 kids every Monday morning.”
As a child, Jim was a natural athlete. He spent the summers playing baseball and soccer and anything else that kept him outdoors. When the kids went ﬁshing on Kootenay Lake, Jim always took the time to bait his little sister’s hook. “We would collect grasshoppers from my grandmother’s backyard and use them for bait,” Lorraine remembers. The family had a cat named Mittens. Jim’s pet rabbit was Snifﬂes.
When he was 13, a family of refugees from the former Yugoslavia moved in across the street. Dan Skopac barely spoke a word of English, but Jim and his brothers welcomed him to Canada, sharing their Batman comic books and teaching him the language (good words and bad). “Jim was three years older, and I just thought he was such a cool guy,” says Skopac, who remained lifelong friends with the Kienholz boys. “He had his comb-back hair with the Brylcreem and he looked like James Dean and Edd ‘Kookie’ Byrnes and Fabian all rolled into one.”
By Martin Patriquin - Wednesday, September 7, 2011 at 11:55 AM - 0 Comments
He survived war and violence in Sri Lanka, then rebuilt his family in Montreal
Suntharam Yogarajah was born in Kamparmalai, a town on the northernmost tip of Sri Lanka, on Nov. 26, 1947, to Suntharam Yogarajah, a farmer, and Vairi Muthan, a housewife. The sixth of 12 children, Suntharam’s first job was selling his father’s banana, eggplant and carrot crops in the local market. At 22, he met 18-year-old Sivapackiam Arumugam at her high school in the nearby town of Parutharai. The two were so taken with each other that they decided to marry—one of the few couples in Kamparmalai to enter into a “love marriage” rather than one arranged for them. Their first child, a girl named Vansanthy, was born in 1970. Five more children, two sons and three daughters, followed.
Tensions grew between Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers in the late ’70s. Suntharam was used to seeing men abducted off the street, never to be seen again. In 1981, two years after their daughter Tharsini was born, he answered a knock at the door to find several Sri Lankan soldiers. He convinced them to leave him be by motioning to the baby in his arms. The soldiers moved on to his neighbours’ houses, rounding up other young men and bringing them to a vacant building. The soldiers then executed them, worried they would have otherwise joined the Tigers—the rebel group that went on to fight a 26-year war with the Sri Lankan government—if they hadn’t already.
As the eldest male in the house, Suntharam felt he was in grave danger, and soon fled to Singapore for three years. He moved to Canada in 1985, part of the first wave of Tamil refugees to come to these shores. He landed in Montreal alone on Aug. 11—he always remembered the date—and settled in an apartment in the city’s Snowdon district. His first job was distributing flyers door to door; he later worked as a printer and, finally, as a supervisor for the company that produced the flyers. In 1994 he had his entire family brought to Canada to live in the same apartment block.
By Stephanie Findlay - Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 9:40 AM - 0 Comments
He grew up by the often perilous waters of Newfoundland, and once saved a cousin from drowning
Christopher Michael Sheppard was born on a wet, snowy, windy morning in Bay L’Argent, Nfld., on Feb. 6, 1978, to Rupert Sheppard and Patricia “Pat” Baker, the middle of four children. (Two years later, the couple would lose their second daughter Ruby to health complications.) Pat, whose father was a deep-sea fisherman, was a homemaker. Rupert, who grew up with 14 brothers and sisters, worked, among other jobs, with CP Rail in Ontario and the Canadian Coast Guard in Newfoundland.
Toddler Chris had a shock of shaggy, dark brown hair, like his dad, and emerald green eyes, like his mom. His grin was infectious. “Chris was a bit of a rambunctious fellow,” says Rupert, “but if he couldn’t make you smile throughout the day, then girl, you had a glass jaw.” Older sister Ann-Marie, Chris, and younger brother Jamie made an inseparable trio. “They had their little toughs every now and again,” says Pat, “but one protected the other.”
The Sheppards’ early stomping grounds were in Harbour Mille, an 18th-century fishing village on Newfoundland’s southeast shore. Days after school ended, the family would pile into their bright yellow wooden boat for the 20-minute ride across Fortune Bay to the cove where their small log cabin stood. “Me and my brother would be curled in the bow of the boat with a blanket over our heads and there’d be 14-foot waves,” says Jamie. “It was lots of fun. Giggles left, right and centre.”
By Alex Ballingall - Thursday, August 18, 2011 at 9:45 AM - 2 Comments
A fun-loving cab driver who enjoyed Bollywood music and card games, his main desire was to make his children happy
Ramesh Chandra Sharma was born in New Delhi on July 5, 1954, the second of 10 children raised in a Hindu family in the Yusuf Sarai neighbourhood, which in those days was a poor area of India’s capital.
Growing up, Ramesh, who always took great care in making sure his clothes were perfectly ironed, had a reputation for being the best-looking kid on his street. Neighbours called him “the movie star.” And he caught the eye of Charan Kabba, a girl who lived across the street. “He was very handsome,” she remembers. Over time, the pair fell in love. “He was very nice and he had good manners,” says Charan. “I loved him too much.”
It wasn’t easy for them to be together. Ramesh came from a Hindu family, while Charan’s family was Sikh. Charan’s parents didn’t approve. In 1980, Charan followed her sister to Canada. Ramesh, who had graduated from Punjabi University with a bachelor of arts degree, stayed behind and worked at the Japanese embassy before moving to Oman, where he found work as a security guard. During their separation, Ramesh wrote Charan more than 100 letters. Each one began the same way. “Dear darling sardarni,” he would write, referring to Charan using the religious title for a Sikh woman. In 1982, when back in India for a visit, the two eloped and were married in an unofﬁcial ceremony. Ramesh was eventually able to join Charan in Victoria, where they had an official wedding in 1986.
By Alex Ballingall - Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
A thrill-seeker, he’d grown up with a new job; his parents bought him a dirt bike to recognize his new-found maturity
Bradly Prytula was born in Winnipeg on July 7, 1994, the second of two boys born to Daryl and Audry. The Prytulas live near Anola, a rural community just east of Winnipeg, where Daryl runs a welding shop named for his sons—Brody and Bradly’s Auto Body and Welding—and Audry is a caretaker with the Sunrise School Division. Their house, as Audry puts it, is “out in the middle of nowhere.” That’s the way Bradly loved it.
When he was a little boy, “you couldn’t tell him what to do,” says Daryl. “You’d tell him to turn right and he’d turn left.” Daryl would often pull Bradly and his older brother Brody on GT Sno Racers—sleds with steering wheels—behind his snowmobile. Bradly was always “the cocky one,” Daryl remembers, often playfully bumping into his big brother as they slid across the snow.
The family often visited Star Lake, Man., where Bradly’s grandfather has a cabin. It was there that Bradly started developing his reputation as a daredevil. “He was like Evel Knievel,” says Daryl. Bradly loved waterskiing, wakeboarding, tubing and, especially, dirt biking. “Nobody could ride a bike better than him,” says Daryl. “Bradly had a knack for it.” One winter, Daryl and Audry lit a big bonfire on the shore of the lake while their two sons roared across the thick prairie ice on the family’s two new snowmobiles. “He was active and happy. And he loved being outside,” says Audry.
By Alex Ballingall - Thursday, July 28, 2011 at 5:15 PM - 0 Comments
She was the ‘glue’ that held her family together, and wanted to help everyone. That led her to become a search-and-rescue volunteer.
Sheilah Sweatman was born in Winnipeg on Feb. 8, 1982, the third child of Wynn and Teddi Sweatman. Ever since Sheilah was a little girl, the Sweatman family has been frequenting their cottage at Lake of the Woods, a large body of water dotted with thousands of islands that straddles the Minnesota, Manitoba and Ontario borders. It was Sheilah’s favourite place. “I believe her heart lies at Lake of the Woods,” says her older sister Megan.
When Sheilah was three, Wynn remembers her hammering nails into the deck at their cottage. “All the other kids could walk around a work site,” he says, chuckling proudly. “Not Sheilah. Even at a young age, she was a participant.”
Sheilah’s “ fiery demeanour” first surfaced when she was a little girl. At the cottage, she was always dragging massive branches and logs out of the woods to help her cousins build “the biggest and best forts,” recalls Megan, and she was “always the first one in the water.” It was Sheilah who helped teach people to swim. She was also the go-to guide in the forest and the resident expert on catching fish. “She was our guide, in more ways than one,” says Megan. “She thought of everybody else before herself. Sheilah’s heart was never full.”
By Jen Cutts - Thursday, July 21, 2011 at 1:45 PM - 0 Comments
Born into a mining family, it wasn’t long before he followed in his father’s footsteps. Safety was one of his main concerns.
Jason Richard Chenier was born in Rouyn-Noranda, Que., on Aug. 17, 1975, to Richard, a miner, and Barbara. With “poker-straight” blond hair and big blue eyes, he was an outgoing kid, says his uncle, George Staszak. While younger sister Jennifer was the artistic one (once winning the family a trip to Ottawa with a drawing she entered in a Maclean’s contest, says George), Jason was the sporty one; often, the entire family would travel to cheer him on at out-of-town hockey games. When summer came, it was baseball, or fishing with George. If Jason didn’t like what Barbara was serving for dinner, says George, he’d “run two streets over to Granny’s house, and get fed whatever he liked there.”
In high school, Jason took summer jobs at the mine where Richard worked. He also inherited his dad’s habit of teasing people he liked, says Tracy Racine, who didn’t mind the attention. Though she was just 13 and three years behind Jason in the small English high school they attended, she couldn’t help developing a crush on the “loud” boy who was friends with her older brother, and prayed that she would one day marry him. But too soon, Jason left Quebec for Sudbury, Ont., to live with his grandmother (who’d moved) and attend Grade 13.
In 1994, Jay, as his friends had begun calling him, enrolled in Cambrian College’s mining engineering technician program. He shared an apartment with Rob Des Rivieres, who had the pleasure of being subjected to Jay’s practical jokes. One night, after drinking more than he’d planned at a keg party, Rob decided to sleep it off in his car. He awoke to find Jay had stuffed it to the roof with things from the neighbours’ yards: “Firewood, recycle boxes, garden gnomes. It was never just a low-end prank with Jay.” After they’d been in school for two years, nickel prices were surging and local mine Inco was paying for students to take the “common core” course that would certify them to work underground, says Bill Bennett, who also got to know Jay at Cambrian. Though Bill and others moved right from the course to jobs at Inco, Jay stuck with school and finished the last year of his program. By the time he graduated, the nickel market had turned down, and Jay wasn’t able to get on with Inco. He returned to Rouyn-Noranda, and worked a few short-term contracts at different mines in the area.
By Emma Teitel - Monday, July 11, 2011 at 9:35 AM - 0 Comments
At 12, he marched across Canada to protest lenient penalties given to many violent criminals
Blue Gene Lonechild was born in Vancouver on May 15, 1983, to his mother, Spirit Lonechild, a peace activist, and a father he would barely know. Blue was the eldest of Spirit’s three children and spent his first few years in a high-rise apartment with his mother and her best friend, Cindy, whom he called “Dad.” “I guess I was the more authoritarian one,” says Cindy. “Spirit usually said yes.”
Spirit vowed to give her son everything she never had. “I even let him pick the menu for all our dinners,” she says. “Beef liver was his favourite. He could eat a whole package in one sitting.” Blue met his biological father twice: once in Vancouver when, says Spirit, the man took Blue from his crib and staggered drunk down Davies Street dodging police cars, and again at 12, in an arranged meeting at Port Angeles Island in Washington. “Blue wasn’t impressed,” says Spirit.
Spirit and Blue moved to the Lazy River trailer court in Port Coquitlam, B.C., when Blue was three. Blue toured the trailer court grounds on his Big Wheel in the spring and skated the Coquitlam River in the winter. “We would sing all the way to the ice,” says Spirit. “A combination of native and English songs, but Tears in Heaven was one of his favourites.” Blue was bold and kind. He pulled his baby teeth out at the age of six and used the funds deposited under his pillow to buy his mother carnations. “He treated women with a gentleman kindness,” says Spirit.
By Stephanie Findlay - Wednesday, July 6, 2011 at 7:00 AM - 0 Comments
On his own from the time he was eight, he hadn’t seen his brother in more than three decades
Terry Lee Pettigrew was born in Brandon, Man., on Sept. 7, 1952, the third of seven children, to Marvin, a brakeman for the Canadian Pacific Railway, and Helen, a nurse. In search of employment, Marvin moved the family “like gypsies” across Canada, all the while teaching his boys to play board games, fish, skate and camp. Seven years later, seeking permanence, the Pettigrews returned to Brandon, Marvin’s hometown.
Terry was a happy-go-lucky toddler like his older twin brothers, Garry and Larry, but couldn’t leave his terrible twos behind. As he grew, so did his temper. One day, when seven-year-old Terry was playing with the neighbourhood kids, he got hold of a small camping hatchet and in a fit took after one of his friends. Soon after, he threatened a different kid, this time with a rock. Marvin and Helen were at their wits’ end. They called social services, who advised them to place Terry in a group home. “That was about the only recourse I had, was to do something terrible to get something good done,” says Marvin. “Awful thing to have to do to get help, isn’t it?” Terry was eight when he moved into the home, where he stayed until he was 18. During that time, he didn’t see his parents once, and, even years later, never spoke with them about his time there.
But if Terry went in troubled, he came out smiling. With his twinkling blue eyes, straw-blond hair and lithe frame—he stood about five-feet-eight-inches tall—Terry took after his mother’s side: in his early 20s, he was the spitting image of granddad Harold Edward Appleyard, a jockey. After some stints up north working the oil rigs, Terry took a job as a groom at the Calgary Stampede race track. There, he met Bud Keizer, owner of a horse transport company in Calgary, in the late ’80s. “Some horses were very, very hard to handle,” says Bud, “he just seemed to do it without any problems.” For the next decade, Bud hired Terry as a truck driver transporting horses across Canada and the U.S. Often, Terry would have dinner with Bud and his wife, Patty. “I tried putting weight on him but boy could he eat,” says Patty. (Terry loved Patty’s fried chicken and befriended her two Maltese dogs). “I like people who like animals,” says Patty, “I think there’s a kindness to them a lot of people don’t have. He had a big heart, Terry did.”
By Kate Lunau - Friday, June 17, 2011 at 11:10 AM - 0 Comments
She was a happy person, and made others feel so as well. But she also knew tragedy, losing a son, former spouse, and husband.
Virginia Dorothy Little (née Crossley), better known as Ginnie, was born on Oct. 12, 1942, to Leslie and Kathleen Crossley in Vancouver. Leslie worked as a mechanic and later as a letter carrier, while Kathleen stayed home with Ginnie and her younger brother Phil. “We used to sit in the bedroom, and she’d teach me how to whistle,” says Phil. “Ginnie was a hoot. She was always laughing and giggling.” Shirley George remembers “getting into trouble” with Ginnie, her lifelong best friend. They’d tie their hair in pigtails, “roller skate all over the place,” or go to the movies. “Singin’ in the Rain had just come out,” says Shirley, “and we’d go down Burrard Street singing songs.”
After high school, Ginnie got a job as a bank teller in downtown Vancouver. A co-worker introduced her to a navy man named Eric Badminton, and “they hit it off right away,” says Susan Fox, their daughter. The two were married in Eric’s hometown of Victoria on June 6, 1964; Susan was born in 1966, and brother Duane one year later. When Susan was in Grade 1, the family moved to Brentwood Bay, outside Victoria; Ginnie stayed home with the kids while Eric continued in the navy. He was often away, but returned in the summer “so we could go camping,” says Susan. On those week-long trips, “my dad would go fishing every day, and my mom would read.”
In 1988, Susan got married—and her parents got divorced. “For the most part, they’d been happy together,” she says, “but they were two different people.” Ginnie, who’d gone back into banking, handled it well: “She got an apartment in downtown Victoria,” Susan says, “and went to work.” Several years later, Eric passed away. At his funeral, a man named Don Little, who’d been Eric’s commanding officer, approached Ginnie to give his condolences. She’d briefly met Don before, and “thought my dad was not a nice man,” says Karen Pelletier, Don’s daughter. She must have changed her mind, though. Not long after the funeral, Don paid her a visit at the bank, and asked her out on a date; on Oct. 22, 2001, they were married.
By Michael Friscolanti - Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 9:35 AM - 0 Comments
In the winter, he parked his Harley-Davidson in the living room. When his wife died of cancer, the long rides helped him cope.
Geoffrey Ernest Yellow was born in Hamilton on Nov. 16, 1955, the first son of Ernie and Frances Yellow (née Tait). His father, an Englishman who moved to Canada after the Second World War, was a millworker at Stelco; his mother, originally from Scotland, worked as a newsroom secretary at the Hamilton Spectator before leaving to raise her children. (John was born next, then Mary.)
Like so many toddlers, Geoff adored the television show Romper Room, which featured “Ms. Lois” reading to groups of children and peering into her magic mirror. “He wanted to be on that show so badly, so I wrote in,” Frances remembers. “Sure enough, we got the call.” The program was taped at a downtown Hamilton studio, but because the Yellows didn’t own a car, Geoff’s dream-come-true required some early morning bus rides. “He thought it was wonderful,” Frances says. “He got to be a TV star for two weeks.”
When Geoff was 11, the family moved to Grimsby, a small town on the tip of Niagara’s wine region. He taught his little brother to fish in Forty Creek and skate without holding on to a chair. When they were teenagers, he took John to his first rock concert: Alice Cooper. “He was three years older, but he never minded me tagging along,” John says. Once, during a visit to the Canadian National Exhibition, Geoff won a giant stuffed giraffe. “People offered him money for it,” says Mary Dancer, his little sister. “But he came home and gave it straight to me. I am in my 40s now, and I still have that darn giraffe.”
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 12:55 PM - 0 Comments
He nursed his wife through the tragedy of Alzheimer’s, but ‘he never complained that it was hard, and never asked for help’
Donald Rayworth Crandall was born on Oct. 19, 1926, in Moncton, N.B., to Milton and Mary Crandall, the youngest of three boys. The family loved to sail, and Milton, an automobile parts dealer, built several sailboats. When Donald was 14, a three-masted schooner came into Moncton with a load of lumber. “The captain had engine troubles and approached dad for help,” says Bud Crandall, Donald’s brother. “They became fast friends,” and Donald befriended the man’s young son. At the end of his stay, the captain suggested that Donald sail back to Turks and Caicos with them—and his parents agreed. The three months Donald worked as a deckhand in the Caribbean turned out to be one of his most memorable adventures.
Donald served in the navy during the Second World War, and then attended Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. In 1949, he took a job with Air Canada, working in market research and training. The position suited his outgoing personality and love of travel, since it sent him across Canada and to the Caribbean. In 1950, he married Frances, a kindred spirit: like Donald, she’d grown up in Moncton, served in the navy, and attended Mount Allison. After their children Louise and Hugh were born, the family settled in Montreal. Donald and Frances were “absolutely devoted” to each other, says daughter Louise.
When Frances was in her fifties, she started developing symptoms of Alzheimer’s. At 57, Donald retired from his job at Air Canada, “largely to look after her,” says Louise. They sold the house in Montreal and moved back to Moncton, but the couple didn’t like to talk about Frances’s health; Donald carried the burden of her care largely by himself. “He never complained that it was hard, and never asked for help,” Louise says.
By Kate Lunau - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 9:55 AM - 0 Comments
His mother brought him from Colombia to Canada for a safer life. He hoped to be a musician after finishing school.
William Quintero Martinez was born on Dec. 2, 1993, to Eduardo Quintero and Floralba Martinez Romero in Tocancipá, outside the Colombian capital of Bogotá. “We lived in pretty little cottage in the mountains, with a nice view,” says Floralba, who stayed home with the kids (William’s big sister, Esperanza, was three years older) while Eduardo ran an importing business. “We had a chauffeur and a cleaning lady; the chauffeur would drive us into the capital, and Eduardo to his office.”
When William was still a baby, his father died suddenly. Later, Floralba told her son that he’d been killed in a car accident, but that wasn’t the case. “I didn’t want to upset him,” she says, “but his father was assassinated by the chauffeur,” who planned to steal the family’s car. The chauffeur, a teenager at the time, spent two years in prison. Floralba was devastated. “I couldn’t live in the house where William’s father died, so I stayed with my sister in the capital,” she says, and eventually rented an apartment there. She got a job as a hairdresser, and as an office receptionist. “I felt like I was finally starting over, because I had my two children with me, and a job.” But when William was a toddler, tragedy struck again: while on vacation with another family member, his sister Esperanza drowned in a pool. Floralba sank into a deep depression and “couldn’t eat or sleep,” she says. “I thought a lot about William’s future, and knew I had to get better for him. He was my life.” After Esperanza’s death, a psychologist visited with William—a loving, social child—and told Floralba, “He’ll be okay.”
When William was still young, Floralba paid two visits to Montreal, where she knew other Colombians who’d emigrated. “I decided that I had to leave Colombia because there were too many memories,” she says. “I started thinking I’d like to go to Montreal so that William could grow up there, where it’s safe, and we could start over.” When her son was five years old, they boarded a plane for Canada—this time, to set up a new home. “It wasn’t hard for him at all,” she says. “In the plane, I told him, ‘We’re going to a country where there’s snow, like in the movies.’ He was very excited.”
She had the rare gift of being able to bring people out of their shells
Alysa Naomi Rotstein was born in Hamilton on Jan. 30, 1981, the first-born for Simone, an elementary schoolteacher, and Ed, a psychiatrist. At eight months, Simone and Ed noticed that Alysa would topple over when trying to sit, and favoured her left arm; doctors later diagnosed cerebral palsy, though “a mild right-sided weakness is what we called it,” says Ed. Brother Joshua was born two years later, and Simone remembers teaching them to climb the stairs at the same time. Brother Ben came along in 1985.
Alysa was a curly-haired and imaginative child, spending hours in the yard inventing adventures with neighbourhood kids. Summers were spent at a left-leaning Jewish camp, where Alysa pushed herself to “pull her own weight” with camp duties, says Simone, and where she formed a passion for “changing the world.” At 14, Alysa, who loved writing, won a city-wide contest for her poem about a homeless man, displaying early on an empathy that would shape her work and friendships.
After high school, Alysa spent a year in Israel, working on a kibbutz and volunteering. On her return, she began a bachelor’s in social work at McGill. Inspired by the Shabbat dinners she’d enjoyed at the home of a Montreal family, Alysa began hosting her own Shabbat potlucks. “Alysa loved to sit around a table and share food,” says friend Jenny Cohen. Everyone and all faiths were welcome, and Alysa would preside over the sharing of “highlights and lowlights” of the past week. With her warmth and signature laugh (like “staccato hiccups,” says Jenny), Alysa brought people together and made friends effortlessly.
By Julia Belluz - Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 10:56 AM - 1 Comment
Since childhood, he’d loved adventures. After he retired in December, he and his wife set off on another one.
Peter Denney was born in Calgary on Oct. 16, 1944, and raised south of the city in a small town called High River. His father Jack owned a car dealership, and mother Eileen taught typing and bookkeeping at a local high school. While his parents were at work, and sometimes after dark, Peter would go on “adventures” in and around the river—fishing, or floating overnight on rubber inner tubes. “He fancied himself a Tom Sawyer character,” says brother Norman.
That Sawyer-esque lifestyle was instilled in him by a chance meeting with author W. O. Mitchell, known as Canada’s Mark Twain. The eccentric writer was a neighbour in High River (as was former prime minister Joe Clark). Peter was an eager audience for Mitchell’s stories about fishing or duck hunting trips, and adventures into the mountains. From him, “Peter learned at an early age to be a bit of an eccentric, a real adventurer, and he learned how to appreciate the outdoors,” says Norman.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 8:41 AM - 0 Comments
He was a lung cancer survivor and hometown hero for pulling a man from a burning building. ‘It was almost like smoke wanted him.’
Antonio Montenegrino was born in late 1922 to a poor peasant family in a small village in southern Italy. When he was three, Antonio’s father, Joseph, left to find work in Argentina to support the family. He never returned, and his mother, Angela, was forced to give the baby up to her brother, George Raso. But Raso starved and beat the boy, forcing him to work as an indentured servant at his flour mill. At 16, Antonio pulled a gun on his uncle. “He said, ‘You will not hit me anymore. I’m leaving,’ ” says Emanuel, his youngest son.
Antonio spent the next two years knocking on his neighbours’ doors with a spade on his shoulder, offering to till land in exchange for a bale of hay or a bucket of olives. At 18, he fell in love with Stella Mammoliti. But the Second World War had broken out, and Antonio was drafted. He was stationed at a small airport in a rural village, where he worked as a smoker, creating cover to foil strafing Allied planes. “He didn’t care about war,” says Emanuel. “He had this beautiful woman he was in love with, he was afraid of losing her, so he said to hell with this and on pain of death went AWOL.” Antonio married Stella, but was eventually dragged back by the military.
In 1945, after the war, the couple had their first son, Joseph. He died in infancy, but was followed by five more boys in the next 10 years.
One day, while walking home from church, Antonio heard women screaming and came upon a blaze at a neighbour’s house. Dousing a blanket in water and wrapping it around himself, Antonio ran inside and pulled out a badly burned man just as the building collapsed. Though he became a hero in his village, the family still lived in a dilapidated farmhouse with no electricity. Being uneducated and illiterate, Antonio couldn’t earn enough in buckets of olives and hay to feed the family. So, in 1959, they decided to move to Canada.
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 5:00 PM - 2 Comments
He patched up injuries to his hands with duct tape, and once put out a house fire on his own
John Joseph Cloutier was born on Nov. 27, 1961, to Darlene and Marcel Cloutier in Vanderhoof, B.C. A year later, the family moved to Prince George, about 100 km east, and then eventually on to Kelowna; Marcel was a hard-working mechanic, and Darlene stayed home with the four boys (John was second-oldest). Once John got his driver’s licence, he’d pile his brothers into a van and take them up to the ski hill. Even with his older friends there, “he’d spend time with us, the rookie novices,” younger brother Greg remembers. “On the way home, we’d fall asleep, pooped right out, knowing he’s going to get us home.”
After high school, John found his way to Edmonton, then Calgary, where he got work at a concrete cutting business. He soon met Janice, the salad girl at a local Burger King. “I was cutting up salad at the back,” she says, when she saw John stroll in. “I said, ‘That’s the guy I’m going to marry.’ ” He asked for her phone number. Janice’s father didn’t approve at the time—John was 21, she was all of 15—but their courtship took off anyway. On their first date, John drove her out to a nearby school, “parked his Pinto car, turned on his headlights, faced them at the field, and cranked his tunes,” she says. “He danced me through the field for two whole hours.”
By Julia Belluz - Thursday, December 23, 2010 at 5:00 PM - 6 Comments
He wanted to build an empire through his music. But unlike many other rappers, he was stridently against firearms.
Don Richard Grant was born in Scarborough, Ont., on Nov. 30, 1982, during a family vacation. After his birth, his parents returned to their native Trinidad and Tobago, where Don’s father, Donald Phillips, was killed in a motorcycle crash. In 1986, Don’s mother Rosemarie married Leon Grant, whose name Don assumed, and later had three more children: Christon, Marika and Leah. The family travelled back and forth between Canada and the Caribbean, and music was the constant in Don’s life. Surrounded by all of this “negativity, the real-life experiences faced by [him],” his website would later read, he poured himself into writing—poetry and songs—at an early age, and performed at talent shows or for schoolmates during lunch.
At age 18, Don settled in Toronto to study business at York University. He continued writing music, and recorded his first track in 2002. Soon, he was known around the city by his rapper name “Don Kartel.” He did not finish his degree; his passion for music took over. “He was always in and out of the studio,” says Peter Makarewicz, a friend. “He never had his mind going the wrong way, always had it going down a straight path.”
By Nancy Macdonald - Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 5:00 PM - 28 Comments
After the death of her first-born, she found solace and healing with her native neighbours. She especially loved the sweat lodge.
MARJORIE ANNE HEINRICHS was born in Morris, Man., on March 2, 1956, the second of six children born to Helen and Sydney Reimer, a financial adviser. Marj, a redhead with a fiery personality and a yen for storytelling, grew up in the prosperous, conservative Mennonite community of Rosenort. She was an opinionated and curious tomboy—not your average Mennonite girl. TV and radio, the church believed, were a sin. Hard work brought you closer to God.
At 14, she met Jim Heinrichs, “the cutest boy in school,” as she described him. Gentle Jim, shy and soft-spoken, was her polar opposite. They married in 1974, after graduating from Rosenort Collegiate, and moved onto a hog farm west of town. At 19, Marj gave birth to Tom. Jen, Katie, Sara and Billy soon followed. Life was merry, but not without bumps. No one worked harder than Jim, who also managed the local lumberyard, but in the ’80s hog prices hit rock-bottom. Interest rates and feed prices were sky-high. In 1986, they had to sell the farm and move into town, where Jim took over G.K. Braun Insurance from father-in-law Sydney. Marj was devastated—she loved that old farm.
By Julia Belluz - Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 5:00 PM - 0 Comments
He brought his young family to Canada in the 1950s, looking for a better life. He and his wife of almost 65 years were inseparable.
Oreste Mordini was born in Torino di Sangro, Italy, on Sept. 23, 1920. His parents, Nicola and Maria, ran a farm in that hilly part of Italy, on the Adriatic Sea. As a child, Oreste was charged with shepherding the family’s sheep and milking the cows. When he wasn’t busy helping his parents and nine siblings work the land, he’d play with the chickens and rabbits, and tend to the family garden—a hobby that would remain constant in his life.
Oreste became accustomed to doing a lot with little at an early age. Nicola and Maria made sure the children always ate, but other daily necessities were sometimes lacking; Oreste would fashion shoes from leftover wood and rubber. After grade school, he worked on the farm full-time, but when Oreste was 19, the Second World War broke out. He joined the war effort, training as a medical assistant in Italy.
By Nancy Macdonald - Thursday, November 25, 2010 at 5:00 PM - 4 Comments
Hard-working since childhood, and always mature beyond his years, he was finally ready for his first-ever beach holiday
Malcolm William Brent Johnson was born in Vancouver on March 11, 1977, to Malcolm Sr., a navy officer and diver, and Lynda, a hairdresser. Malcolm, who was white-blond with piercing blue eyes, was “always ahead of the game,” says Lynda. “He walked early, talked early, read early.” But he didn’t always have it easy. His parents divorced when he was young, and he bounced around B.C., to Vernon, Mackenzie, Armstrong, then Prince George. He was only nine when his dad died, suddenly.
Malcolm threw his energy into karate—kyokushin, which is rooted in a philosophy of self-improvement, discipline and hard work. Soon, the ethic became his own. He was fiercely independent, and doted on his half-brother Lance, five years his junior, taking him trick-or-treating, and dropping him at school every morning, hanging up his jacket, pulling off his boots and putting him in his inside shoes. By 12, he was answering phones, making coffee and sweeping up hair at the Woolco salon his mom managed. At 15, he’d landed a job at Wendy’s.
By Nancy Macdonald - Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 5:00 PM - 6 Comments
He escaped the repression of Soviet-era Czechoslovakia, and became a paramedic saving lives on the British Columbia coast
Ivan Polivka was born on March 2, 1945, in the tiny Czechoslovakian town of Blovice on the River Úslava, in southern Bohemia. Ivan, a nature-lover with innate curiosity and a solitary streak, was the second of three boys born to Jarmila, a teacher, and František, a technician. He avoided school when he could, and loved fishing and roaming the Úslava valley—forever bringing home the mice, wounded birds and stray cats he encountered, says his younger brother Jiri. At 16, he enrolled in a four-year forestry program in nearby Plzen; there, he also joined an amateur theatre troupe. Mandatory military service was rough for the Soviet Bloc’s rebels and budding artists. But Ivan managed to snag a job training military dogs and feeding pigs. He emerged an outspoken critic of the hardline Communist regime and, in 1968, was briefly jailed when Soviet tanks crushed a nascent reform movement. In November of that year, he fled to Canada via Austria.