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Even in her final decades, Dorothy Wilde continued to take on the world.
Even in her final decades, Dorothy Wilde continued to take on the world.

LIVES LIVED

Lives Lived: Dorothy Wilde, 97 Add to ...

Artist. Veteran. Mother. Fashion spy. Born June 17, 1919, in Welland, Ont., died Sept. 30, 2016, in Toronto, Ont.; of natural causes at the age of 97.

When Dorothy Hoy was growing up in rural Welland, she longed to make her mark in the world. The Hoys often struggled to make ends meet; they caught fish and wild rabbits, grew their own vegetables and picked berries.

As a teenager, Dorothy spent her spare time sketching and fashioning dresses and hats from scraps of fabric. When her mother became ill, Dorothy, as the oldest girl, was expected to take a year off from school. And after months of cooking and changing diapers, Dorothy declared she’d never marry: She’d be a dress designer instead.

Although Dorothy found a job in Toronto as a pattern maker after vocational school, she was called home by her mother’s reoccurring illness. Fearing that she’d be trapped there forever, Dorothy leapt at a chance to enlist.

She was one of the first 100 airwomen to arrive at Camp Borden in 1942 and trained as a parachute rigger. Although she enjoyed several military flights, as a woman, she wasn’t allowed to test one of the chutes. Dorothy applied to serve in Guam in 1945, but with victory declared in Europe, she was posted to a parachute repair depot in Montreal instead.

After the war, Dorothy studied fashion design and was hired by a Montreal clothier to accompany a buyer on a trip to New York. Her job was to sketch the styles from memory and draft patterns from the sketches. Being a fashion spy meant she could sneak in one or two of her own designs.

In 1950, during art classes at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Dorothy met fellow student Jim Wilde, who persuaded her to break her taboo on marriage. The couple lived happily but in 1952, when Dorothy was admitted to the hospital with appendicitis, she had cause to regret her decision. Although Dorothy had joined the women’s legion and lobbied for women’s access to health care, a husband’s signature was still required before surgery. She waited on the table for three hours until Jim arrived to give permission for a life-saving appendectomy.

Dorothy’s lifelong love of art thrived even during the busyness of raising their children, Eric and Iris. When the Wildes moved to Etobicoke in the 1960s, she studied pottery, bought a kiln and transformed the basement into a studio where she offered art classes to neighbourhood children.

Dorothy fired raku, mastered glazes and became a sumi painter. She was a president and lifetime member of the Oakville Art Society, and an avid printer with the Neilson Park Printmakers in Etobicoke. Inspired by nature and everyday objects, she rolled lace, bones, sea fans or cabbage leaves with ink or pressed them into clay. Her art has received many awards and is recognized as uniquely beautiful.

In her final decades, Dorothy continued to take on the world. At 85, she travelled across Australia with Eric, and at 87, she learned to belly dance with Iris. She worked as a professional artist into her 90s. The week of her 97th birthday, Dorothy Wilde’s last solo art show was mounted at the Veterans Centre at Sunnybrook Hospital. The exhibit, which showcased over 50 years of her work, was entitled Free Spirit.

Iris Wilde is Dorothy’s daughter.

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