Hotelier, strudel baker, rose aficionado, artistic soul, baba. Born July 8, 1914, in Sault Ste. Marie, died Nov. 6, 2012, in Niagara Falls, Ont., of natural causes, aged 98.
Anne was the eldest of six children born to Nikola and Anna Bilich, immigrants from modern-day Croatia who settled in Sault Ste. Marie in the early 1900s. It was a difficult life for immigrants in northern Ontario and Anne had to leave school to help with the family finances. Her limited formal education was one of her greatest regrets.
She had many domestic and artistic talents and was always a fashion plate. Anne, said to have been the first woman in the North to wear pants as a fashion statement, was such a remarkable seamstress that she could whip up dresses that her sisters picked out of the pages of magazines.
She married at 19, to Milan (Emil) Badovinac, an immigrant from Malinci in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina who was 12 years her senior. It was an arranged marriage. Ten months later, she became a mother to Emil (Sonny). Her second son, Nicky, was born in 1942.
The couple’s first business venture was a boarding house in Schumacher, Ont. In 1941, the young family moved to Niagara Falls, where they partnered in and eventually purchased the Caverly Hotel on Bridge Street. Anne was a hard-working and talented businesswoman who imbued the hotel with a family atmosphere. Patrons enjoyed her home cooking, especially her hearty soups and baked goods. To family and friends, she was a generous hostess, always making an extra cake or dessert to freeze “in case company drops in.”
The success of the hotel gave Anne and Emil the opportunity to travel. Florida was an almost annual destination and they undertook a couple of major trips to Europe. Anne was a dedicated photographer and, later in life, oil painter. She left a legacy of slides, photos and paintings created over many decades. A lifelong gardener, she planted a glorious flower garden in the parking lot at the side of the hotel, with fragrant climbing roses in pink and red. The rose garden was a favourite backdrop for pictures and source of inspiration for her paintings.
Anne relished her role as a grandmother of seven. An overnight stay with Baba was always fun. After the requisite bath, she would make a “cocoa party” with hot chocolate served from a teapot in demitasse cups and fingers of crust-less cinnamon toast. She had a way of making the ordinary extraordinary.
A few days before she died, Anne awoke in the middle of the night and asked for tea and cake. She was known to be a dessert lover, so despite the unusual time of day the nursing home staff was pleased to comply. It turned out to be, rather fittingly, her last meal.
Kim Badovinac is Anne’s granddaughter.