Margaret Isabelle Cattanach: Adventurer. Northerner. Learner. Teacher. Born Sept. 11, 1927, in Fort William, Ont., died Feb. 11, 2019, in Toronto, of her injuries following a car accident; aged 91.
Margaret Bruce was struck by lightning as a child. Rather than developing a fear of storms, she ventured forth into the world with confidence that it was unlikely to happen a second time. That’s how she was. Pragmatic. Spirited. Adventurous.
Isabelle, as the family called her, grew up in northern Ontario and her childhood was shaped by her father’s quest for employment during the Depression. She completed Grade 1 by correspondence as he worked as a straw boss during the construction of the TransCanada Highway in Northern Ontario. When Isabelle was 7 or 8, her father worked as an accountant at a gold mine. Once a week he had to deliver a gold brick to the train station. "He’d take it home the night before and it would sit on our kitchen table,” Isabelle said. The next day she and her sister would get a drive to school accompanied by a gold brick. “He’d toss it into the back seat with us,” she said, and leave it on the luggage rack at the train station, “all by its little old lonesome.”
The family eventually resettled in Fort William (now Thunder Bay). Around age 12, she and her friends never went anywhere without roller skates, rolling through the five-and-dime and stopping by the funeral homes, removing their skates only to pay their respects and sign the guest book before moving on.
During the final months of the Second World War, Isabelle donned jeans for the very first time and worked as a farmerette in the Grimsby area. At 18, she braved teaching all eight grades in a one-room schoolhouse in Ghost River. According to her, the engineer barely stopped the train to throw her luggage (and her!) out into the wilderness of Northern Ontario. She spent a few years teaching in other small towns in southern Ontario, and went back to class herself one summer for a course at Queen’s University. Here she met student named Lachlan Cattanach. They liked each other but never exchanged addresses. In September, he luckily remembered the name of the school where she worked and wrote. “You couldn’t stop us then,” Lachlan recalled.
They settled in Markham, Ont., and spent 67 wonderful years together. They raised four children. Isabelle was an extremely organized and creative mother to Mardi, Rory, Jamie and Alison. She co-ordinated crafts, painted murals on the walls and made elaborate Halloween costumes. She knew how to throw a great party, even convincing Lachlan to put a dance floor in the basement.
As their children grew older, Isabelle and Lachlan travelled. A lot. They visited every continent save Antarctica, regaling family and friends with stories of racing tuk tuks in Bangkok, skiing the Vallée Blanche in France, and safari-ing in Africa. Isabelle and Lachlan hosted the extended family at the ski chalet they built in Huntsville, and organized family trips to Puerto Vallarta and Costa Rica, and ski resorts Steamboat, Mont Tremblant and Sun Peaks. She loved her nine grandchildren and taught them how to play cribbage and that apple pie was best served with cheese.
Her spirit of adventure lives on in her husband, children, grandchildren and great-grandson.
Heather Rowson is Isabelle’s granddaughter.
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