Ellen Daniel: Wife. Mother. Optimist. Raconteur. Born June 04, 1923, in County Donegal, Ireland; died Feb. 13, 2020, in Edmonton, Alta.; of Alzheimer’s disease; aged 96.
Ellen McGlinchey was 6-years-old when she arrived in Montreal in 1929 with her mother and four siblings. They reunited with their father in a rented house in “Griffintown” – a neighbourhood for new Irish immigrants. After much hard work and sacrifice, her father purchased a four-storey home and turned it into a rooming house. Ellen and her sisters helped her parents look after their guests. After completing Grade 10, Ellen left school and honed her baking skills at the Royal Victoria Hospital.
In 1943, Ellen met Joe Daniel in Eaton’s revolving doors. He had pushed so hard that she flew out onto the sidewalk. Joe apologized, helped her up and walked her home. A sailor in the Royal Canadian Navy, he was wearing his white dress uniform and Ellen’s parents thought her escort was a garbage man! Joe was smitten and the couple married in Montreal in April, 1944.
During the Second World War, Joe was first posted to Sydney, N.S. and then to Halifax. After the war, they moved across the country to CFB Esquimalt. Money was tight, and Ellen remembered their hour-long walks into Victoria for a 5-cent ice-cream cone – they took turns having a lick!
In 1948, Joe was hired by Transport Canada and posted to Snag, Yukon. It was remote and cold and only men were allowed in the barracks, so Ellen returned to Montreal to live with her family. But she was lonely, and took the train to Haines Junction, Yukon, then hitchhiked to Snag. The base commander was so impressed that he allowed her to stay. “Married housing” was a wood shack with tar-paper insulation. Ellen wasn’t afraid to try anything, she learned how to shoot a rifle and shop by dog team, the couple even helped build a log church in Snag. Ellen and Joe would often invite friends over for roast bear and potatoes.
In 1950, Ellen and Joe transferred to Churchill, Man., where they lived next to a blubber shack, watched out for polar bears and clung to rope pathways during blizzards to get around town. In 1951 they moved to Fort St. John, B.C., and after many years of trying to start a family, decided to adopt. They took the train to Vancouver and cradled their long-awaited son – Joseph Michael – in their arms.
A devout Catholic and devoted wife, now Ellen turned her supportive and encouraging manner to her son. She was a true homemaker and a great baker – there were always home-made desserts on the kitchen table and theme cakes (hockey rink, freight train) for Joe Jr.’s birthday parties. At the age of 2, she taught him how to skate in an unused Quonset hut on the base.
Future postings would take the family to Calgary, Ottawa and, finally, Cornwall, Ont. In Ottawa, Ellen loved skating on the Rideau Canal. She would be gone for hours and often see Pierre Trudeau skating to work – he once did a pirouette for her.
Joe retired in 1986 and the couple moved back to Victoria. In 1996 they moved for the last time to Edmonton to be near their son and his family. Shortly after Joe died in 2003, Ellen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She fought hard for 10 years but the disease took its toll. Throughout her life Ellen was the epitome of a party girl: always ready for a gathering wherever there was music, dancing, cocktails and, most importantly, funny stories and lots of laughs. Ellen would lose many of her precious memories but her adventurous and positive spirit endured right to the end.
Joseph M. Daniel is Ellen’s son.
To submit a Lives Lived: email@example.com
Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go online to tgam.ca/livesguide