Category Archives: Mother’s Birth Place

Bruce Halliwell’s story of Sybil

August 28th, 2018

Sybil Croll was born September 4, 1903, the second of three children and only daughter of Andrew and Agnes Croll. Her parents were Scots but by Sybil’s birth had already left Scotland for Wales. Her father was a large, opinionated, brilliant man, a gifted doctor and surgeon and one of the youngest graduates ever from Edinburgh Medical School. Her mother was a calm mediating presence.

In 1906 the family set out for Australia hoping to find a cure for Agnes’ lung problems. The best route was across Canada so they sailed to Nova Scotia and got on the train but then for some reason stopped in Saskatoon Saskatchewan, population 300 and decided to stay. There was a need for doctors there and at first surgeries were carried out in the schoolhouse until her father and a few others banded together to build the Grey Nuns Hospital.

When the Great War started in 1914 Andrew was made Field Commander for the Medical Corps and traveled to Paris to set up and run British medical operations. Agnes decided she’d rather be at the front than alone so she packed up the children and moved to Paris as well. Sybil loved Paris, and thrived at school becoming fully fluent in French.

When the war ended her parents returned to Saskatoon but the children were boarded at schools in Toronto, her brothers at Trinity College and Sybil at Branksome Hall. Again Sybil loved school excelling at languages and the arts. Their family was not poor but neither were they rich. One brother became a doctor like his father; the other continued his schooling at Royal Military College in Kingston and became a pilot. Sybil decided she wanted money and work of her own and her solution was to become an interior designer. Her father wanted her to marry well like her friends and refused to consider it. They had a huge fight but Sybil persisted, and since there were no courses in Canada, found a way to go to the Sorbonne in Paris and College in London and finally finished her degree at Columbia University in New York.

It was 1925 and very few women ran their own businesses in Toronto let alone Canada. Sybil found a building she liked on Gerrard Street, then a rather dodgy neighbourhood, and followed her own advice to future clients: “Don’t pay rent; buy the place”. Friends from school and friends of her brothers, all from the elite families of Toronto, became clients of Sybil Croll Design and she established herself as the expert in all things proper, sophisticated and beautiful. Heads of companies would call with questions of protocol and John David Eaton would phone Sybil every morning to make sure his parties, meetings, homes and cottages were just “right”. She would arrive at parties hours ahead to ensure the right forks were used and then stay as a guest. Eventually she shifted to mostly commercial clients with the Bank of Nova Scotia as her primary account.

Sybil lived and breathed business. She was much pickier with love using her brothers’ friends – E.P. Taylor, Wallace McCutcheon – more as escorts than dates.  In the late 1930’s Sybil met an architect who was from the poorer end of a very well-connected family and they clicked. Charlie Halliwell was as brilliant as her father with the disposition of her mother; he was 31 and Sybil was 36 when they married in 1939, although no one knew Sybil’s true age until after she died. Their wedding was large and perfect, 1000 guests at the Hunt Club.

While her husband built munitions plants during the war Sybil continued working and on the side made babies: a daughter in 1941 and a son in 1943.  When she went into labour with her son both mother and child had pneumonia. The baby was not expected to survive. A young pediatrician, Nelles Silverthorn, asked Charlie if he could try an experimental drug on his infant son. Three days later, after Ian Bruce received sulpha drugs, he went home. Sybil took 10 more days to recover. Nelles Silverthorn went on to found Sick Children’s Hospital.

Sybil hired a governess very like Mary Poppins to look after the children and Miss Hardy was one of the few people Sybil listened to. When Sybil got angry and went after her daughter with a hair brush, Miss Hardy said “If you continue in this Miss Halliwell I will leave”. Sybil put down the brush.  Her son’s precarious health made Sybil nervous and unsure, two states she abhorred.  When her beloved younger brother Ian was shot down in 1944 Sybil’s disposition hardened even more. She devoted herself more completely to her business and her husband’s business.

Charlie thought he might join an architectural firm but Sybil was clear he should have a business of his own. This worked out well for them both. Banks at this time did not give mortgages for homes. In fact the Anglican Church was a major housing money lender in Ontario. Developers learned to come to Charlie with their building ideas and Charlie would travel to New York to talk to his uncle “Vinegar” Joe Stilwell, who usually fronted the money. In Toronto Charlie would design the house, the builder would build and Sybil’s company would decorate. By this time Sybil Croll Designs had 37 employees. Then someone asked to buy her out, Sybil agreed, and she was a company of one again.

Sybil then dove into the real estate business. She had a good eye for properties and was especially interested in the area around Bloor and Avenue Road. One by one she bought buildings, fixed them up, and then either rented them out or sold them for a profit. Years later at her funeral a retired executive of the Bank of Nova Scotia was asked how Sybil managed to pay for this habit. “Oh she’d sign a cheque and we’d cover it. She brought us so many new customers we never asked for repayment.” Regardless whether this was a “soft” loan like that given to bank board members or something Sybil negotiated herself the fact was she managed her real estate business with no debts.

One day in early 1950 Charlie asked Sybil to meet him north of the city in an apple orchard. “Wouldn’t this be a great spot for a house?” Sybil agreed the view from York Ridge was spectacular. “Why just one house? Buy the whole farm, sell lots to our friends, design all their houses.” Charlie did as Sybil directed and built the first houses of what became a very exclusive Toronto neighbourhood. E.P. Taylor asked Charlie to partner with him on what would be Canada’s first planned community in nearby York Mills but Sybil thought partnering in anything a bad idea. One evening when E.P. behaved in a belligerent way in Sybil’s house she had the 6’5” nephew of her Jamaican housekeeper throw him bodily out of the house. The next day E.P. apologized. Sybil never apologized; for anything. Years later when family friend and publishing magnate Conrad Black met Margaret Thatcher he said “I think I’ve met you before.” The Iron Lady reminded him of Sybil Halliwell.

Sybil was accomplished in business and similarly ran her home. The two housekeepers and cook got detailed lists every morning of what to do and not do but her family were harder to control. She would put Bruce in the hospital after an asthma attack and discover her father or Nelles Silverthorn had taken him out for camping trips or jaunts around town in a sports car. Sybil and her father had huge fights about his interference. Sybil’s daughter went to New York when she was 18 and rarely came home. A few years later her son went to Vancouver and they didn’t speak for 20 years. Sybil told her husband “If I catch you writing secret letters to Bruce our marriage is over”. Charlie’s communication with his son became more irregular.

Her mother died in 1956.  Her father died in 1963. When Sybil was 60 she started a venture with her friend Irene Hewitt, one of the few people Sybil listened to, where they would travel to Europe to buy antiques which they shipped back and sold to designers in Toronto.

In 1970 the government of Canada instituted Capital Gains Tax and Sybil was outraged. Before the tax took effect she sold off all her assets to avoid penalty which put her out of both the real estate and antiques business. Sybil was hard wired to get things done so this forced retirement was not easy for her. She and Charlie decided to spend their summers in Spain and winters in Toronto where they could attend events of the season. It took Charlie six years to get a house built in Spain and then he sold it to a sheik and bought a ready-made house. Sybil was outraged.

During this time Charlie developed lung cancer, had surgery and quit smoking. Sybil refused to quit, even when she developed lung cancer. She had smoked three packs a day for years and would not acknowledge this had anything to do with her health. By 1980, even with the best of care, her health started to really deteriorate.

In 1983 the Queen visited Los Angeles and Sybil decided this meant visiting the West Coast was now acceptable. She and Charlie traveled to Los Angeles, then up the coast to San Francisco and finally to Vancouver. Charlie was amazed and exhilarated that neither his stubborn wife nor stubborn son sabotaged his plans to get them together. Bruce was stunned to see his once tall and beautiful mother now 100 pounds and in a wheelchair. They made peace but she was as sharp as ever recalling a long list of abuses she’d hold forever. No one holds resentments like a Scot.

Three months later in August Sybil Halliwell died in her sleep in Spain. She had a tasteful funeral on Labour Day weekend where friends and enemies told many stories of their experiences with her, always looking over their shoulders to make sure she wasn’t still there listening.

Posted in 1900's, Britain

Linda Higgins story of Anne

August 4th, 2018

My mom was more than a mother, she was my best friend. Her funeral was at the United Church in Whitehorse, Yukon. My dad and I were in the front row along with aunts, uncles, and my granny. Several friends and colleagues filled the church and accompanied us to a graveside ceremony, followed by a reception at our home. I was thirteen years old.

Anne Kulchysky was born on December 22, 1938 on a farm near Gronlid, Saskatchewan. Her parents, Fedora Moskal and Mykola Kulchysky were both immigrants from Ukraine, who traveled to Canada in 1911 and 1913 respectively. They married in 1920 and proudly farmed their quarter section of land. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in 1930's, Canada

Ann Sherwood’s story of Sophia

March 27th, 2018

I think the word that describes my mother best would have to be resilient. No matter what happened in her life, she found a way to bounce back and get through it, or around it, with persistence and determination. She was never a whiner or complainer.

My mother was born Sophia Petronella Pauw in Dordrecht, in the Province of South Holland, the Netherlands on March 24, 1918, the eighth child and seventh daughter of Rudolf Pauw Sr. and Sophia VanStokrom. An older sister had died at the age of 6 months, another sister and two brothers came after her. She was named for her mother and nicknamed Fia. The family moved to The Hague when my mother was about nine years old. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in 1910's, Europe

Gladys Swedak’s story of Ruth

March 23rd, 2018

My mother’s story starts May 3, 1901 the day she was born on the Woodheed sheep farm in Annan Scotland. She was the youngest of Margaret Agnes Kirkpatrick Pool and John Pool’s 11 children. When she was 3 years old her mother died, of what I do not know. She was raised with the other younger children by her oldest sister named after their mother and nicknamed Kate. At about 5 years of age Mom fell and hit her head on the hearth of the fireplace and cut her forehead. She carried the scar all her life. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in 1900's, Britain

Nancy Young’s story of Mary Feyuan

March 23rd, 2018

Last October, three generations of our Lee and Young family burned incense and paper money to celebrate our Mom, Sister, Aunt and Grandma’s life, to help her on the journey to her next life – her “Home-going” as they say in Taiwan.  Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in 1930's, Asia

Tim Carvajal’s story of Martha

May 8th, 2017

Miss Martha Brunner (born October, 29, 1931) is a missionary in Ecuador. She is known for establishing churches, a maternity clinic, a Christian school, and an orphanage in the Pifo valley.

Early Life

Martha Louise Brunner was born in Pennsylvania. She was the third of Rev. Henry Brunner and Mary Luceta Brunner (Hunting)’s four children. Richard and Mary were four and three years her senior; and David 7 years her junior. Her father was an evangelical minister and an architect, traits which would prove invaluable to Martha later on in her ministry. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in 1930's, USA

Alessandra Olmedo’s story of Lilian

March 21st, 2017

Lilian Maria Andrea was born to Juan and Elvira Garcia on September 28, 1936 in the sleepy coastal town of Tuxpan, in Veracruz, Mexico.

Lilian was the firstborn of three children of the Garcia’s. She had a sister, Lourdes and later a brother, Juan Junior. However when Lilian was 3, Lourdes  died  aged 7 months from a fever that even in those times should have been easily cured. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in 1930's, Mexico

Sydell Weiner’s story of Janet

May 20th, 2016

janet-kay-horowitz

My mother was born on May 5th, 1917, in Rochester, New York.  Her parents both emigrated from Eastern Europe lured by the promise of a better life. Her father, Abraham Kay (born Kosovsky), came from Minsk, Bylorussia in 1911, and her mother, Edith Garelick, from Poland in 1913. They were married in New York City on December 22, 1913, when Abe was 19 and Edith was 17. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in 1910's, USA

Myriam Laberge’s story of Simone

May 10th, 2016

simone-26-ansSimone Grenier was born on December 13th, 1930 in St. Prime Quebec on a dairy farm, the fourth youngest in a Catholic family of 11. She had her father Antoine’s brown hair and eyes, a light sprinkling of freckles and just the slightest gap in her front teeth which would later be replaced by dentures. Her graceful features came from her petite mother Mathilda.

During the week, Simone and her siblings walked to the local schoolhouse. In winter, they wore moccasins made by her father and thick woolen socks knitted by her mother. The entire family attended church every Sunday travelling by horse and wagon.

Mathilda and Antoine encouraged their children to be proud and cultured. They were to speak well, dress well, and to contribute to the community. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in 1930's, Canada

Sharon Quirke’s story of Flo

February 20th, 2016

    Florence Jeanette Dolce and Forte

Florence Jeanette Thompson was affectionately named “Shorts” or “Shorty” by her tall, charming father, Monty. She was, however, anything but short on spunk, impeccable taste or witchery intuition. Her life was a musical score that captured every mood and timbre. Pretty and blue-eyed, she loved to sing, dance, play the piano, and listen to the birds. She was quick to say, “No” and quick to say, “Yes”. She used baby talk and straight talk. You could talk to her; she didn’t mince words; she’d always surprise you. She lived in tiny backwoods cottages and grand mansions. She lost everything she owned and decorated homes with a credit card carte blanche. She lavished gifts on her loved ones. She had a doggie named Midge and one named Sir Salishan. She loved oatmeal, warm ovens, Coca Cola. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in 1930's, Canada