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Sylvia Goodson.Courtesy of family

Sylvia Francis Goodson: Mother. Feminist. Artist. Yogi. Born Feb. 19, 1930, in Montreal; died Dec. 17, 2023, of natural causes, in Montreal, aged 93.

Sylvia Engel, a first-generation Canadian, was born in Montreal to Harry and Nettie Engel. She was an avid reader from an early age but left school at 13 to work at a carpet store to support her family, which included two younger brothers and a sister.

In 1946, her striking looks helped her find work as a model at Morgan’s Department store in Montreal. Her writing skills, however, helped her to eventually become hired as a copywriter. As the first female writer in a department of men, Sylvia received a lot of unwanted attention but she worked her way up and became creative director overseeing the company’s advertisements.

Despite her initial decision to focus on her career rather than married life, at the age of 30, she met Jack Goodson, a divorced Second World War veteran from the Royal Canadian Air Force. Their first date revealed a shared love for The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. Sylvia found herself falling in love with him but she couldn’t persuade him to marry, so she took off to London, England to work as a copywriter. Soon Jack’s letters began arriving and begged her to return. Then, he surprised her in the British capital and proposed.

In 1963, they were married in Montreal. Sylvia and Jack quickly had four children – Scott, Anna, Joelly and Tracy, and a stepdaughter Leslie – though the children didn’t deter Sylvia from her aspirations. Even with her youngest still in diapers, she returned to school to obtain a high-school diploma and then a degree at Sir George Williams University. She was busy, but always returned home to tuck the children in at night and sing to them.

To say the house was hectic is an understatement. Sylvia had to do it all and look fantastic to welcome Jack home at the end of the day with a drink in her hand. In the mornings, while the four young children were getting ready for school, Sylvia turned to yoga and meditation, often doing headstands in the living room in the nude. It was her way of safeguarding her personal time, and a warning to keep out.

Upon graduating, Sylvia opened an art studio on Crescent Street, the same space that eventually became Thursday’s restaurant. She built a collective with other women, most of whom were single and younger. Sylvia was determined to forge a serious career in fine arts, which led to numerous shows of her paintings in Montreal.

Sylvia established her own company, L’Image Engel, offering commercial art and creative writing services. This gave her the means to pursue a newfound passion for yoga. Once, at a party, she met then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and they engaged in a friendly headstand challenge.

In the 1970s, the demands of work and family life took their toll, and she experienced bouts of mania and depression. Thankfully, she sought treatment and continued to do so throughout her life with the support of her family and friends.

Always the free spirit and seeking balance in life, Sylvia also found solace in travel with Jack, exploring destinations throughout Europe, Asia and the Caribbean.

In 1999, Jack unexpectedly died of complications to his cancer treatment, leaving Sylvia stunned and empty. After visiting a yoga retreat in Kerala, India, she returned to Montreal a different woman. Sylvia stopped painting and wrote poetry. The family disconnected and fractured. But over time the children reconnected, especially when grandchildren were welcomed into the family.

In her later years, Sylvia took great pride in teaching her eight grandchildren how to paint and sketch, how to hold brushes and to express their feelings. She talked to them about her favorite artists such as Marc Chagall and Aubrey Beardsley, and inspired some of them to paint as a hobby. Jacoby, her eldest grandchild, asked to keep her paint brushes upon her death.

Scott Goodson is Sylvia Goodson’s eldest child.

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