Mother, book lover, Hank Snow fan. Born on May 20, 1926, in Cornwall, Ont.; died on Jan. 25, 2014, in North Bay, Ont., of natural causes, aged 87.
When Lina Bertrand was asked what she did during the Great Depression, her response was simple: “I read during most of it.” And read she did, borrowing books from the library at her one-room school near Monetville, Ont. Her love of reading was a constant: She was always the first to buy, send or lend reading material to her large family and many friends.
Lina spent most of her life in Monetville, in Northern Ontario, but for a brief time in the 1940s she took care of the children of a wealthy family in Toronto. There she caught the eye of a representative from a New York modelling agency, who offered her a sizable sum and promised success as a model. The prospect of fame and fortune didn’t interest her. New York was too far from her family and she soon headed home to her beloved French River area.
While working at a resort on the river one summer she met a striking young man with a shock of black hair and dark eyes – “the rooster about town,” as she would say, with a twinkle in her eye. Edward Bertrand, a young fishing guide with barely a cent to his name, swept Lina off her feet. He took her on walks along the river, presenting her with bunches of fresh-picked flowers. He courted her with a tenacity Lina always described as “amusing.”
They married in May, 1948, and settled in Monetville, where Edward became a heavy equipment operator for the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario. Being a mother was Lina’s dream and by 1963 she and Edward had 10 children: six boys and four girls. Sadly, two of their sons died before the age of two. Lina said she thought of them every day of her life.
She loved gardening, was involved with her church (she especially enjoyed the post-service brunches), and adored the music of Hank Snow and Johnny Cash. Her record player in the living room was well used. She also loved to take walks, and enlisted her young grandchildren to pick berries along the way. Those walks always entailed going to nearby Lake Nipissing, where we would swim under Mémère’s supervision as she hummed a tune.
In her mid-sixties, her life took a new path; she found herself living alone for the first time, with all of her children grown and gone. She endured some dark days but, as the poet says, “in a dark time, the eye begins to see.” She began to discover – and to relish – her own strengths and independence. Her laughter returned, along with that twinkle in her eye.
After a few years she had to leave her cherished home in Monetville and move to an apartment in Sturgeon Falls, and later to assisted living and a nursing home. Throughout many of these changes, reading remained her joy and consolation.
Lina will be deeply missed by family and friends. But whenever we feel the need to be with her, we know she can be found near the daisies by the lake, watching the sun set.
Melissa McMenamin is the seventh of Lina’s 17 grandchildren.