Family man, veteran, geologist, survivor. Born Aug. 7, 1925, in Hampton, N.B. Died Dec. 23, 2011, in Kemptville, Ont., of complications from Parkinson’s disease, aged 86.
Ken Ewing’s resilience and quiet courage were abundantly demonstrated throughout his full life.
The fourth of 12 children of Colin and Regis Ewing, Ken grew up in Hampton, N.B. He was just 15 when, caught up in the wave of patriotism sweeping Canada during the Second World War, he walked 37 kilometres to Camp Sussex and enlisted in the army.
Ken’s regiment was sent to defend Hong Kong in November, 1941. Weeks later, Hong Kong fell to the Japanese, and Ken was taken prisoner. He spent nearly four years as a PoW. Photos of the walking skeletons liberated in 1945 speak clearly of their appalling suffering. Ken talked little of those years, but he did say he had resolved early in his captivity that he would survive if anyone did – a resolution he kept. Video interviews of Ken and his comrades finally recounting their wartime experiences can be viewed on the Veterans Affairs Heroes Remember website.
With the end of the war, Ken’s life took a turn for the better. Two years in hospital, eventually in Fredericton, healed the worst effects of his captivity and he resumed his education, earning a degree in geology at the University of New Brunswick.
In 1952, he married Mary Woods and went to work in Ottawa for the Geological Survey of Canada. The next year a baby daughter, Marjorie, arrived, and two more children soon followed: Joan and Kenneth Jr.
In 1956, as the Ewings drove home from a Thanksgiving visit, they collided with another car near Madoc, Ont. Ken’s wife and infant son died instantly.
Perhaps Ken’s greatest gift was his ability to overcome misfortune. He found time for many things, but never self-pity. A year after the accident, Ken married Susan Woods, Mary’s sister. Together they put their loss behind them and set about raising not just Ken’s two girls, but the six boys and a girl they had together: John, David, Paul, Michael, Stephen, Thomas and Ann.
Ken and Susan thrived. Weekend picnics at Lac Leamy in Gatineau, Que., and summer car trips “down east” to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were perennial favourites of the kids.
In 1970, Ken moved his family to a larger house on the banks of the Rideau River, where his abundant energy was spent cutting wood, cross-country skiing and tending his huge vegetable garden. His retirement in 1977 allowed him to add bread baking, furniture building and soap making to this list. It also afforded the opportunity to travel widely, which he and Sue did annually.
Ken was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1989. Characteristically, he didn’t complain but simply carried on. During the many years of his illness, his patience with his diminishing abilities was remarkable and moving. He is dearly missed by his wife, nine children, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
By Mike Ewing, Ken’s son.