My mother, Ruth Sarjeant, was born in 1908 in Barrie, Ontario, the youngest of three girls. Her father was the second youngest of thirteen children who came to Canada from England after Confederation in 1867, attracted by the offer of large tracts of Crown land. Her father’s older siblings and male cousins began a very successful lumber business in town, and my grandfather devoted his life to that business.
Mom’s mother had been born in Montreal, but her parents died when she was very young, so she was raised by an uncle who was a United Church minister in Barrie. He was also part of a large extended family. My mother grew up with the security and happiness of a large family network, and she maintained that spirit towards her own family all her life.
Her name was Karolina, but her close friends, those who knew her in “the old country” called her Lola. She was the second youngest of five children born to Anton and Mary (Baker) Schnurer on November 26th, 1903, in a small Polish town called Rownia. Part of the house that Lola grew up in was leased to the local police. Her father, a carpenter, died of pneumonia when Lola was only three years old. Her mother was a nurse and midwife. Sadly, when Lola was about fourteen, her beloved mother died of typhoid fever, which she contracted while nursing the sick during an epidemic. I have a picture of Lola with her mother and sisters, but she didn’t speak of them, so I don’t know what my mother did at this time. A family friend told me my mother delivered him, so maybe she took on her mother’s job as midwife.
My mother, Olive May Smallwood, was born in Nottingham, England, on May 10, 1903. She was the youngest of seven daughters and one of twelve children born to John and Mary Smallwood. She began school at age four at what was called the Infant’s School. She stayed in school until she was fourteen, since to advance would have meant travelling to another village, which she could not have done. So she repeated her last grade, rather than leave school altogether, and became the most literate of her family.