Bits and bites of everyday life


International Women’s Day at Place Sarsfield

“We inherit from our ancestors gifts so often taken for granted. Each of us contains within us this inheritance of the soul. We are links between the ages, containing past and present expectations, sacred memories and future promise.” (Edward Sellner)

True North Perspective
Alberte Villeneuve-Sinclair is the author of The Neglected Garden and two French novels. Visit her website to learn more

These words from Edward Sellner could not have been more appropriate in light of this year’s March 8th celebration of International Women’s Day at Place Sarsfield as they also celebrated the 125th anniversary of Sarsfield’s Saint-Hugues parish. Organizers wanted to honour some of the region’s fabulous women as well as remind us of women who were at the forefront of Canadian history. A quiz was used to test our knowledge of history reminding us, for example, that Roberta Bondar was the first Canadian woman to become an astronaut, Kim Campbell was our first woman Prime Minister, Jeanne Sauvé was our first female Govenor General and Cairine Wilson, the first woman to be nominated to the Canadian Senate in 1931.

Dinner, served by Desjardins Catering, offered everyone a chance to chat and discover the other ladies who shared our table. Connections were made as it was obvious to all we live in a small world indeed. We talked about people we had known, and their influence on our lives. People who usually stand out in the collective memories are the ones who have made it a lifelong pursuit to be healthy and happy, people who have found balance in their own life and are willing to share their beliefs and their feelings with others… Willing to show the way so to speak! Joanne talked about Katie Zeisig, who at age 86, still teaches yoga in Navan and Cumberland and has been honoured as the city’s oldest part-time employee. I met this fine lady some years ago during one of our yoga sessions and found her to be a truly inspirational person. People like Kathie seem to vibrate at a higher level that energizes and motivates others, and makes them feel better!

  Rita Dessaint and Pierrette Bourbonnais, our hostesses.

Along with the sugar pie and apple pie, the evening’s honour roll started. Seven ladies were honoured. I’ll introduce four of them in this article. Eva Kennedy of Cumberland is my first fabulous woman. Joyce Kennedy, Eva’s daughter, told her mother’s remarkable story in her book “Just call me Eva: The Story of an Uncommon Woman.” Eva Kennedy was a registered nurse trained in New York City, the wife of Cumberland’s clerk and treasurer, Robert J. Kennedy. Known for her extraordinary energy, Eva raised six children during the Depression, cared for the sick and injured, delivered babies (many of them in her own home), was the church organist, offered counseling to numerous men and women in need and often filled in for her husband at the Township Office (without pay). 

In the 20s, she started a maternity home and first aid centre in her home which would see her conduct surgery on the kitchen table, deliver and care for more than 500 babies and eventually transform her home into the main medical clinic for the inhabitants and visitors of the village. (One of her sons became our family doctor.) Her husband’s office also operated out of the family home and Eva often registered payments or official business in the late evening hours. A humanist, she often worried for the plight of others and sympathized with the men who lost their jobs during the Great Depression and were forced to travel to look for jobs. She would leave food for them on her back steps. 

Eva’s letters and diaries, a rare legacy about country life, the struggles of the Great Depression and the war that saw her sons fighting in Europe, have been preserved by her daughter, Joyce. A rare glimpse in the life of a most uncommon woman! 

The second fabulous woman is Sister Betty Ann Kinsella who founded the Youville Centre. In 1985, she recognized there was a need to provide single teenage mothers with accommodation, daycare for their infants and toddlers and social services that would allow them to complete their high school diploma. That year, she brought together the first volunteer Board of Directors and together they worked to realize the dream of opening a centre that combined education, housing and child care under one roof… all done on a shoestring budget. “The Impossible Dream… that is now a reality!” as the 1987 funding campaign posters for the centre announced, a dream that is still a reality with Sister Betty Ann at the helm until 1997. She would come back to chair the Capital Campaign that raised funds for the new Youville Centre on Mann Avenue. 

Sister Betty Ann was the recipient of the 2002 Quality of Life Award, the 2006 Investing in People Award and the Order of Ontario in 2011.

Indeed, a fabulous woman! 

Rollande (Lavergne) Leduc’s story is a story of caring and devotion between a village and an orphan who became a vibrant member of the Sarsfield community. She went on to marry Joseph Leduc and together they operated the General Store and managed the post office while raising their three children. Rollande remains very active in the parish, offering her services for pastoral duties, playing the organ, singing in the choir and welcoming people at the church services. She played an important role during the parish centennial celebrations, particularly with the committee that produced the Centennial Book, a great collection of historic facts and family histories. In 1960, she founded the local Parent Teacher Association and remained president for six consecutive years. 

With a flair for writing, a positive mindset and self-confidence, she is very popular, attending senior events, activities with the local “Golden Girls” and keeping up with current affairs. At 94, Rollande is a truly caring and dynamic role model. 

Germaine Dessaint and granddaughter, Dany Brisebois.  

Germaine (Lafrance) Dessaint’s presentation was offered by her granddaughter, Dany Brisebois who thinks that she is no ordinary woman, but rather a fine example of courage, love, compassion and caring. Like so many women of her time, when she married, she moved in with her in-laws and quickly started a family of her own: twelve in all. They all learned through example the value of generosity and selflessness as they witnessed their mom’s welcoming ways with anyone who crossed the threshold of their home. Germaine has been a Sarsfield parishioner for 68 years and has been involved in many of the local clubs and associations, cumulating friends along the way as will attest “The Golden Girls”. Married for 59 years to Jean-Noël, theirs is a fine example of the ideal relationship, of soulmates… one her granddaughter hopes to emulate one day.  

Dany ended her presentation with this summary: “It’s ordinary in this computerized, quantified 21st century to find oneself defined by numbers. Well, Germaine’s numbers are extraordinary: mother of eleven, grandmother of nineteen, great-grandmother of 12, mother-in-law of 8. Woman of 90! Grand-maman Germaine, you are Number One!” 

Wonderful testimonials! And our gracious hostesses, Pierrette Bourbonnais and Rita Dessaint also paid tribute to Doucia (Raymond) Daoust, Murielle Desjardins-Vinette and Anetta McDonald, all women of fine character.  

To conclude, let me borrow from Christiane Northrup’s “Mother-Daughter Wisdom”: “Our bodies and those of our daughters were created by a seamless web of nature and nurture, of biology informed by consciousness that we can trace back to the beginning of time. Thus, every daughter contains her mother and all the women who came before her. The unrealized dreams of our maternal ancestors are part of our heritage. To become optimally healthy and happy, each of us must get clear about the ways in which our mother’s history both influenced and continues to inform our state of health, our beliefs and how we live our lives. Every woman who heals herself helps heal all the women who came before her and all those who will come after her.” 

Blessings to all!