John Frederick Vallance: Farewell, Friend

December 30, 1924 – Ayr, Scotland
June 24, 2019 – Calgary, Alberta

In June, we lost John Vallance.  I want to leave a brief account of his life, here, because John became a true friend to so many during his time in Calgary.  It was a blessing to share in the celebration of his life, along with daughter, Billie,  friends of the British Home Child Descendants group that loved John so much and the generous folks of Trinity Lodge.

John and I both ordered a big plate of beautiful liver and onions the day that I met him in Didsbury, Alberta.  There, along with Bruce,  many stories and much laughter were shared.  I knew we would be good friends.  John was still living in his own house at this time and sure wasn’t crazy about moving into Trinity Lodge.  He was, all his life, a strong and independent man.  It was going to be a transition.

It was at this first meeting that I had the chance to share my own family history with John, the story of my Great Grandfather John Moors.

I have linked to John’s history here.

Child Migrant John Vallance is now considered “the chief” of his family’s clan. But for 50 years he had no contact with his four younger brothers and sisters.  Here is John’s story and how the Empress of Austrailia was the start of a new life for him in Canada – (article as it appears in the Summer of 2003 “the Barnardo Guild Messenger”)

MY MOTHER, Nancy, died in late 1937 at the age of 34. My father John was a fireman on the London and Mildland Scottish Railroad in Ayr, Scotland.

At 12, I was the oldest of five children, with two sisters and two brothers.  In March 1938, a few months after my mother’s death, I was sent to the Barnardo’s home in Stepney, then later that year to Kingston and Bromborough. In April 1939 I was sent back to Stepney for a couple of months before being sent to Bognor. Then in July that year, just before war broke out, I departed for Canada aboard the Empress of Australia.

I was one of a party of 30 boys and girls (one of whom was called Mary Love) who arrived in Quebec a month later. We were taken to Barnardo’s head office in Toronto where we were farmed out to foster homes.  My foster parents were Mr. and Mrs. Walter Davies, an English couple who owned a mixed farm in Burgersville outside of Woodstock, Ontario.  The Davies had no children and were good to me. I learned all about farm life, and enjoyed this new phase of my upbringing.  My only regret was that I never went back to school to complete my education.

Early in 1941 I left the farm and went west to Assinobia, Saskatchewan, where I worked on a wheat farm and ranch for three years before following in my father’s footsteps and joining the Canadian Pacific Railroad as a fireman.  A year later I enlisted in the army, where I qualified as a paratrooper.

I spent 30 years in the Canadian Army, including spells in Korea, where I was a Platoon sergeant, and in Germany. Later I qualified as a marksman and trained pistol and rifle teams at the Royal Roads Miltary College in British Columbia. I was released from the army in June 1974.

While in the army, I married Elizabeth a wonderful lady from Brandon, Manitoba. We had four beautiful children, two boys and two girls.  Sadly Elizabeth died in 1997. But my children are all doing well now and I have three grandchildren. I live alone with my dog Buddie in Calgary.

After Elizabeth died, my daughter Candace encouraged me to try and find my sisters and brothers. I remembered how I had arrived in Canada all alone, with no one to say “Here, John. Here’s a nickle. Buy yourself an icecream.” It was a sad life in that way.

My daughter and I sent a letter to 10 Vallances living in Ayr, Scotland, whose details I had found in a book about the history of the Vallance family around the world.  Within 10 days, I discovered that I had one brother and one sister still alive, my sister Isa in Enlgland and one brother George in Tasmania. I phoned Isa, who was very surprised, as she thought I was dead. She is married with three daughters and lives in Yorkshire. She told me she was planning to visit George the following month and asked if I could fly to Tasmania for a reunion. I immediately said “yes”.

I arrived in Tasmania to find George in hospital undergoing a hip transplant. He has two sons and a daughter, all working for the Tasmanian government. We had a great reunion and made the front page of the local paper with the headline “Siblings reunited after fifty years”. I now have the family life I missed as a child.

I found out that my older brother Robert, had served in the Royal Navy during the war, then went back to work as a miner in Scotland and died of lung cancer. My sister Lily served with the Woman’s Land Army in England and Scotland during the war.  They both have families in Scotland who I later visited.  I also found out to my surprise that both Robert and George were in Barnardo’s homes before being sent to foster families together.

I am now considered the chief of the Vallance clan. As I never had the benefit of a proper education, I have created a college fund for each of my three grandchildren.  I now feel at peace with the world, and that I have done my duty as a good Canadian citizen. And I am still a Barnardo’s boy.

What an amazing human being with such a phenomenal history.  John’s friends and family shared amazing recollections of John as a young man, a father, a husband and a child growing up, separated from his family of origin through devastating circumstances.  John’s resilience and willingness to educate others was huge.

I’d like to give a special thank you to Hazel who has been a diligent worker for descendants of British Home Children here in Alberta, for without her efforts, I may have never met John.  Thank you, Hazel, not only for the beautiful quilt, but for your thoughtful initiatives in caring for our John.  He will be missed.

Claresholm, Alberta Heritage Days event.

John may you rest in peace and may perpetual light shine upon you.  To Billie and all family and friends, may you find strength for the coming days…

A Scottish piper accompanied the family.  Beautiful words were shared by John’s daughter and his grand son.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

Photo Credit: Hazel Perrier

John and dear friend, Bert.

John on his wedding day.


Tribute to a Friend

I asked Wendy, about a month ago, if I might write about her on my blog.  She said, “Well, what is there to write about?  But, yes, sure. That would be fabulous.”  ‘Fabulous’ was something that Wendy said…about good food, beautiful places, and even about a wild flower found along a trail.  As I pour over the myriad of wildflower images that I snapped along our various walks and hikes over the years, I selected these two because today, they seem to mark my feelings best and capture the magic of what a true friend is. The first flower is a wild orchid. We were always so excited when we spotted a variety of orchid….typically hidden and not very showy…just remarkably beautiful and tucked away in some rich loam under a bush, usually in the shade.

Yesterday morning my sister-friend slipped out of this world and moved mysteriously into the next…and she did this without ever seeing my words written down.

I’ve decided to sit with thoughts of Wendy this morning, while the sun shines bright on the snow.  Somehow it feels warmer today.

I attended the concluding evening of a church mission that was hosted in our parish last evening, prayed for the peaceful repose of Wendy…for the journey that my brother is taking…for my family and dear friends.  The priest shared something interesting, once finishing up the Gospel reading about service…the one that’s read every Holy Thursday about Jesus bending down and washing his disciples’ feet… he said, serving one another does not always mean saying a whole lot…sometimes it means just sitting and being with the other.  So, this morning, I’m sitting with thoughts of Wendy and I’m not going to say a whole lot.

There will be a whole number of people who over the coming days and weeks, months and years, will talk about Wendy’s accomplishments because she was indeed, an accomplished woman, coach, teacher, political force to be reckoned with, orator, curriculum writer, baker, crocheter, wife, cadet…she was all of that and more, but this morning as I contemplate why the huge ache in my heart, I realize that it was the enduring presence that is Wendy, the friend, to me that I most celebrate.  So, I will not let this post be about anything but that, her love and wisdom and friendship.  What I wish to most strongly communicate is Wendy’s courage and fortitude and extreme vulnerability…those qualities that Wendy gave through her presence with me and with our group, affectionately named the Ya Ya sisterhood.

The other sisters; Val, Darlene, Carla and Cathy; had the blessed opportunity to work with Wendy some years before our first meeting.  It was Val who invited me to join in the regular gatherings with her circle of friends in order to enjoy food, drink, lively conversation and a hot tub now and then at Darlene’s.  I was a very vulnerable person at the time, digging deep in order to stay afloat, raising three children on my own, all the while trying to do a great job as a teacher. I am forever-grateful for the friendships that were established at the time and how they have continued to change my life for richness of experience, knowledge and love.

Our activities included regular hiking, gourmet dining hosted by Wendy and her husband Darren and wonderful daughter, Becca…basement movie gatherings and themed photo opportunities.  We consumed, voraciously, the times we had together, always rallying around the person(s) who was/were feeling most overwhelmed at the time, offered genuine support to one another, invaluable advice and resource-sharing.  Wendy gave me confidence.  She also had one heck of a sense of humour.  She was a straight-shooter and never muted a point.  Her determination and will was contagious.  We have, over the years, all benefited from her drive and her commitment.

Wendy had an ability to roll with the punches.  She lightly jested that she was much like a unicorn because her health matters that gradually grew to be insurmountable were uniquely challenging.  I admired how hard she pushed against every obstacle and I was inspired by the strength of her family and the love that the three of them shared.

On Monday, I sat watched Wendy enjoy a bowl of Thai Soup while I ate a Greek Salad in the Fanning Center cafeteria.  It was all so ordinary.  We said ordinary things with one another.  And, I’ve decided that this is what life is, a long string of ordinary moments.  It is right to enjoy each of those.  A cup of ice.  Saying hello to the other person in the elevator.  Advocating for support.  Leaning down for that embrace at “Good-bye”.  Laughing at the ritual of asking a complete stranger to take a photograph…

Late that night, my cell phone rang…I didn’t get it in time.  It was Wendy’s number on my phone.

I called back and Wendy didn’t pick up. I’ll always wonder what Wendy might have said.  More than anything, I will remember.

Oh what a treasure to have shared the mountain air with Wendy…fabulous food…nice drinks on a back deck, laughing and talking and looking up at the stars.  I will love you always, dear friend…and nothing will take these years from me.

It is 4:00 in the afternoon, on Valentine’s Day.  It has been a blessing to look over photographs and to think about all of the wonderful times we have enjoyed.  Good-bye, good and faithful servant.

These images are a small sampling and many moments are buried in my archives or sitting on some one else’s camera…but these offer the gist of a remarkable friendship.

Hikes:

Kath's Canon June 28, 2015 Flower Walk 073

 

 

 

Food…

 

Photo Booth

The Idea of North

The AGO has hosted an exhibit titled The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris curated by Steve Martin.  The show opened on July 1 and comes down on September 16.  While I won’t have a chance to take this one in, I was able to attend a local exhibit at the John M. Parrott Gallery here in Belleville, titled A Tribute to Lawren Harris, co-curated by Peter Paylor and Susan Holland, featuring 21 different artist’s works.

In neighbouring Gallery One, Valerie Kent exhibited her works In Celebration of Markets, a flamboyant and culturally charged exhibit that was very compementary of the Harris Tribute exhibit.  Fun to get out and see a show and picked up a book written by Belleville-born writer, Frances Itani, Deafening, at the second hand shop in the front gathering space.

A lovely and reflective time for me in the city and a lovely diversion as I was eagerly awaiting my high school buddy’s arrival for a girlfriend visit and walk down memory lane.

The pendant below…work by Lisa Morris.

IMG_0740 IMG_0741 Thus, if I paint a house…I assume the shape of that particular house, experience its form, its meaning, its relationship to the soil it rises from, the skies that bathe it in reflection of their colours and mood, the neighbouring houses, the mood of the particular house, its age, its inner life; and the more direct my experience of that is, the more I permit that house to dictate to me how I hall paint it and the more certain I am to arrive at pure experience in my art and to create an intense equivalent in terms of my art or my first hand experience.  If my experience is clear and deep enough, the life I get into my picture of that house and the formal relations it dictates for its own expression will become universal.  – Lawren HarrisIMG_0743 IMG_0744 IMG_0745 IMG_0746 IMG_0747 IMG_0748 IMG_0749 Sculpture by Peter Paylor IMG_0754Valerie Kent’s work.IMG_0751 IMG_0752IMG_0750

Autumn in the Garden

Angel Wings and Mums, Gaillardia, Echinacea, Brown and Black-Eyed Susans

Determined to enjoy ‘some’ colour in the gardens, having been away all summer, I decided to clean out the bits of remaining summer and add ‘autumn’.  This garden is a tribute to my parents.  I love them so much and in the morning, when I enjoy my coffee, I will look out at these splashes of colour and think of them.

Perennials for the Late Season