Sylvia (Monies) Yeoman: Iconoclast. Traditionalist. Restorer. Mother. Born June 27, 1926, in Hebron, N.S.; died Jan. 25, 2018, in Granville Ferry, N.S.; of old age; aged 91.
“The amiable steamroller.” That was how the Governor-General introduced my mother at the Order of Canada ceremony in 1983 where the medal was awarded for her work to preserve New Brunswick history. It was as good a description as any.
Sylvia was born on a farm in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia where her family had settled, coming from England by way of Assam, India. She was educated at home by a governess, then, when they returned to England, at the Miss Whittingtons' Dame School in Charmouth, Dorset. Later, the family returned to Nova Scotia, to Windsor, where her father was riding master at Kings College and she became a champion rider.
She went on to study fine arts at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. Here, attendance at football games was compulsory, which she resented, so she obliged in her own way: dressed in her finest cocktail outfits she sat on a nearby hill, sketching the games, under the shade of a lacy parasol. Later, she studied in Boston, and then London, England, at the Paris Academy of Fashion in the famous Bond Street fashion district. In 1952, back in Canada, she married Mark Yeoman. They had met during the war, when he was home in Halifax on leave. His parents and her parents had become friends, and brought Mark over to visit. Sylvia, five years younger, was considered too young to meet a soldier. So she was sent upstairs to her room. But fate had other plans. Seven children followed their marriage in quick order, precipitating the need for a bigger house. They settled in Dorchester, N.B., in a battered stone house that had been built by a Father of Confederation. It would be her first restoration project.
Sylvia was a tireless volunteer and campaigner for heritage preservation in the province, and especially in Dorchester. The government-funded projects also provided jobs and skills training in the small, economically depressed village. Her children grew up amid the history, spending much of their childhood in Victorian costumes – original period outfits with tiny waists and stiffened with whalebones, which had been donated to the Keillor House Museum. They wore these exquisite outfits at fundraisers, in historic fashion shows, and even in a BBC television series.
Mark died too soon, and Sylvia made ends meet by turning our family home into a bed and breakfast. She had a particular fondness for women who stayed while visiting their men in the Dorchester penitentiary. Mum felt they needed moral support and took them under her wing.
In her 70s, she sold the family house and moved back to the Annapolis Valley. She settled in quietly, but the lure of an area steeped in history was too much and she joined the board of directors of the Historical Society of Annapolis Royal. Until well into her 80s, she was active in the arts, gardening, and often lent herself or her exquisite historic costumes to various events.
When she knew her time was nearly up, she met that knowledge with her usual unflappability. She slipped away quietly on a sunny winter morning, just as she would have chosen.
Katie Yeoman is Sylvia’s daughter.
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