Canadians’ stories on how grandmothers inspire them

The Stephen Lewis Foundation has been asking Canadians how grandmothers inspire them for International Women’s Day. We are pleased to share the following stories and reflections with you

When someone says the word grandma, I immediately think of my Dad’s mom. She was the strongest person I have ever known and ever will know. She had six children and she was poor growing up on a farm in northern Saskatchewan. She worked hard for every dollar her and her husband made. She loved to volunteer for numerous organizations, including Meals on Wheels and the Prince Albert Legion. She was my inspiration to start volunteering for whatever I could. My Grandma was always cooking or baking for others. She gave herself in all that she did, always putting others before herself. She was my role model and encouraged me in whatever I wanted to accomplish.
Last year, her life was taken by a hard battle with cancer. She fought the hardest she could have, but she just wasn’t strong enough to ward off the disease. My Grandma still lives in the hearts of my family and I and she will always be known as the strongest woman I’ve ever known. Like the African Grandmothers, my Grandma stood up for what she believed. They will do anything for their families, just like she did. Grandmothers in Africa are an inspiration to all. We could all learn something from them.

Sarah Logan
My grandmother came to Canada in the early 1900’s as a new bride. My grandfather had secured a job in the Alberta coal mines and had worked several years to earn enough money to return to Italy to bring my grandmother, Mary Zinonni, back to Canada with him. Although my grandfather had learned enough English to function in his work environment, and their four children spoke English fluently, my grandma never did.

During most of my childhood, my Italian grandmother lived only half a mile away from our farm, so I often walked to her house. We communicated our love for each other when we met or parted with hugs and endearments in our separate languages. We would go out into her amazing garden and I would ‘help’ her hoe, weed, water and harvest. She, on the other hand, protected me from her vicious, free-ranging turkeys and geese that somehow sensed my fear and took advantage of me whenever she wasn’t around. She taught me how to make dandelion chain-necklaces and dandelion-leaf salads. I felt secure enough in her company to sing the little songs and poems I’d composed and was always rewarded with a warm smile and an encouraging arm around my shoulder. Special times with grandma often culminated in an intimate luncheon—just her and me—sharing her home-made bread, newly churned butter, and some of grandpa’s home-made wine. I remember those meals as love-banquets—a special kind of non-verbal communion between my grandmother and me—in a closeness where words were superfluous. There was a profound acceptance of each other’s being and a contented enjoyment of each other’s company.

It came as a serendipity—just here and now as I am writing about her—that although I have questioned perceptions about, around, and beyond myself and my world for 70 years, I—at no time—ever doubted that my grandma loved me dearly. And I, her.

CM, Sherwood Park, AB
In the early 90’s following my social work practicum with AIDS organisations in San Francisco at the General Hospital I returned to Canada and was given the opportunity to visit Uganda to work with health care agencies and offer workshops in many remote rural villages.

Working out of Kampala I spent all my time visiting rural communities and speaking with a multitude of various groups and what struck me most was the fantastic courage and determination of African grandmothers.  Wherever I went their presence was obvious.  Despite their tired bodies these Grandmothers managed to smile and invariably sing as they cared for numerous grandchildren orphaned by AIDS and I was so impressed with their obvious love and care for them.   This “parenting” role had been thrust upon them but they cheerfully took up the challenge.  Many of the babies and young children were infected but those dedicated Grandmothers struggled to maintain their humble dwellings and create a fit place for raising them.  I recall feeling so guilty returning to my hotel at night which cost 100 dollars, knowing that I had been told that for a mere 10 dollars the roof of their hut could be waterproofed and the mud floor could be cemented.   The grandmothers worked tirelessly to nurse these children while hauling water, growing what they could in their small garden and taking turns to teach at the local school. They were truly amazing and I was so excited when Stephen Lewis took up the cause and the SLF was born which offered hope to so many of those women.  They deserve our greatest admiration and all the support we can give them through the work of our various Grandmother groups across this country.

Go Grannies Go!

Barb Clay
Often I think of my maternal grandmother, who died when my own mother was only 18 years old.  Seven times she gave birth; only three daughters reached adulthood.  One daughter died at 14 of diabetes before insulin was discovered; two others of childhood diseases. Her first child and only son was stillborn.

Such losses are not uncommon in the developing world, but for us  in Canada in the 21st century they are nearly unthinkable.  On the other hand, the grandmothers in Africa know about such loss and with courage I imagine my own maternal grandmother shared they continue to love, to care and to build the future.  True heroes indeed!

Frances Bauer
My Grandmother, Elizabeth Allen McDonald

My maternal grandmother was a special woman of strength, who gave birth to nine children, eighteen grandchildren and several great grandchildren.  She was the unmistakable matriarch of the family.  My grandfather was a sailor who sailed the seven seas from their home in England.  After three children,  my grandmother decided this was no life for her family so she scrimped and saved the passage for her husband and babies, (steerage) from England to Canada.   They were marooned in the Gulf of St. Lawrence for 10 days.

Once they landed in Canada, she taught her husband how to read on a farm outside Montreal.  She bore her other children, seven daughters and two sons, encouraging each one to reach his/her full potential.  She came to Canada to make a better life her family.  Her dreams came true.

At the age of 94, when she died we gathered for her funeral, something interesting happened.  We shared our stories of Granny, and each of us was convinced we were her favourite!  She had that special way of listening, sharing and loving that made us feel unique.  We hear her voice of encouragement to this day.

Linda Wills
Grandmother Regional Liaison, Atlantic, Member of Grans to Grans
Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign,  Nelson, British Columbia

Beverley Wills
Member of the Bay Grandmothers
Tantallon, Nova Scotia

My grandmother was known as “Gram” by all who knew her. She was a very generous person; and gave her time and talents freely to others; she always helped when she had the opportunity to do so. She was artistic; she sewed, knitted, cooked, painted and made crafts and was the first recycler before it was” in vogue”. She lived as a widow for almost as long as she was married.

She lived in the city and my family lived in a rural community outside of the city. My parents were a very mismatched couple and our home life and childhood was not the happiest or securest environment. So whenever we visited Gram, (my maternal grandmother) it was like an escape or vacation as she always made me feel welcome, loved and safe.

My grandmother showed me how a home should feel and how family should act and love. Unfortunately, my children didn’t get to know her but through my stories and memories of her she lives on. Grandmothers are a very valuable part of a family and should never be taken for granted or forgotten. I look forward to being grandmother someday. I miss you Gram! Love Barb

Barb Brown-Conrod
My Ma Tante ,  my aunt, Juliette Beauchamp ( a kind of surrogate Mother to me) was the inspiration to always be kind to others and to make something of nothing. She was an amazing craftsman. She taught me to be compassionate at a very early age.

My Mother who was a Gran-granny, as her great grandchildren, dubbed her  was the most courageous woman I have ever know. She made a life for herself as a single parent  at 24. Being a divorced single parent in the 1940s was not an easy burden to carry. She had her own display business for a number of years. She was a waitress at Miss Montreal’s ( a forerunner to A & W) she was a cleaning lady for awhile and then became the first woman in Canada to drive a taxi for a living so she could support my sister and me. She spoke several languages well . She was also a wonderful artist. She also supported us by painting portraits.

She also in her early fifties gave up the luxury of a serene life to take on the upbringing of my niece (8 years) and nephew (6 years).

She was a ‘doer.’

At her funeral so many folks came up to me to tell me how she had helped them in one way or another. She always believed that one should leave a place in better shape than when one found it.

She died in 2004 so she never knew about the Grandmothers campaign. I know she would have cheered us on and been one of our greatest supporters.

H. Carol Schmidt, Past Chair
Omas Siskona( Grandmothers Together) of Kitchener-Waterloo

How do grandmothers inspire you? Share your stories with Stephen Lewis Foundation for International Women’s Day: write a story, email us a note, post on Facebook or tweet using the hashtag #granspiration, share a photo or create a video to tell us how they motivate you! E-mail

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