Readers of The Globe’s Lives Lived stories and obituaries already know we lost some amazing Canadians this past year. Some were well-known. Others you may not have heard of. We’ve rounded up the stories of 10 remarkable Canadians whose deaths this past year deserve a little more recognition. To submit your own story of an incredible Canadian, please see the guidelines at tgam.ca/livesguide.
Civil-rights champion Bromley Armstrong was ‘a gentleman and a scrapper’
It didn’t take long for Bromley Armstrong to encounter racism in Canada, and it didn’t take him long to use those encounters as forces for change. In 1948, a year after arriving in this country from his native Jamaica at the age of 19, he went to work as a labourer for Massey-Harris (later Massey Ferguson, maker of agricultural equipment).
Mr. Armstrong wanted to be a welder, like his father, and he signed up for classes. “Get your money back,” his supervisor advised. The company had never hired a black welder, he was told, and wouldn’t do so any time soon.
Sylvia Yeoman was a tireless campaigner for heritage preservation
“The amiable steamroller.” That was how the Governor-General introduced Sylvia Yeoman 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.
Synthesizer doctor John Leimseider made house calls for rock stars
No doctor of the synthesizer had quite the same healing touch as John Leimseider. An expert in the intricate field of synths and other musical electronica, he could diagnose, mend and restore to health even the oldest and frailest of instruments.
Those rare skills earned him international renown in the music business. In Los Angeles, he was the emergency responder that Michael Jackson’s synthesizer players turned to during a recording-studio crisis. He was the keyboard guru that Ray Charles would ring up for a consultation. He even made house calls – Lenny Kravitz once flew him out to his Caribbean retreat to perform some crucial synth surgery.
Kay MacBeth, one of the most famous female basketball players ever, called herself ‘The Court Master’
After spending her adult life in anonymity, Kay MacBeth’s final months included a dizzying array of honours. She was portrayed in a Heritage Minute, feted at a Toronto Raptors basketball game and inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
She was the last living member of the legendary Edmonton Grads, a squad that in the opinion of Canadian-born James Naismith, who invented the sport, was “the finest basketball team that ever stepped out on a floor.”
Proud Pakistani-Canadian Abid Rizvi was known for his big heart
Abid Rizvi said his parents lived in a home with an army of domestic help, and in a world where his mother left for evening outings on an elephant and his father could raise lion cubs in his house. But his parents left everything, he would say, “for a new country and better future for their children.”
Just like his father, he migrated to build a future. In 1970, Abid was 24 when he left Pakistan for Canada with $100 in his pocket. Although he had been working as an engineer, he had to start from scratch in Canada. He worked odd jobs, went to school at night and drove a taxi during the day. In later years, he would always keep his taxi driver’s license in his wallet as a reminder of his struggle.
Telegrapher Isabel McDonald monitored coded Japanese broadcasts in Second World War
During the Second World War, Isabel McDonald decoded encrypted enemy communications in Canada at a Pacific Coast outpost of Bletchley Park, the famed code-breaking station in Britain. Rather than fielding German messages, the listening post at Gordon Head, part of Saanich, a suburb of Victoria, was established to intercept Japanese radio traffic. Ms. McDonald, who took the surname Mauro when she married after the war, died recently, just four days shy of her 96th birthday.
Like their counterparts at Bletchley Park, the dozen members of the Women’s Royal Canadian Navy Service who worked at the Gordon Head facility signed the Official Secrets Act.
Carl Freeland: The spy who loved his family and his country
If there had been a book written about Carl Freeland, the title might have been The Spy who Typed 60 Words a Minute. Carl’s quick fingers would take him into a world of classified secrets and wartime intrigue.
As a teen, he worked as a telegraph operator, becoming proficient at Morse code. Once the Second World War began, Carl recalled sending telegrams to families whose sons were missing in action.
But that didn’t stop him from lying about his age and joining the Canadian Armed Forces. During training, officers were surprised that he could type up to 60 words a minute and he was assigned to service units at Canada’s original code-breaking bureau. Even today – because of the Official Secrets Act – no one is certain specifically what his job entailed. Carl took his secrets to the grave.
Jean Roe was renowned for her volunteerism and her wit
Jean Roe was a gulf stream of good deeds with an irreverent sense of humour who had a penchant for getting things done.
Jean was born in Newfoundland before it became part of Canada. She grew up in Corner Brook and eventually led the United Service Organization there during the Second World War. She talked fondly of dancing morning, noon and night with the soldiers on leave. After the war, she became an executive secretary at the Bowater pulp and paper mill and would talk proudly about organizing and hosting martini parties at Strawberry Hill mansion for Sir Eric Bowater and his attaché, Dervish Duma. Apparently, after a few notoriously strong cocktails, the dignified women in attendance would sink into the wet grass and stagger about the lawns rather unladylike.
Climber Tim Auger became an expert in mountain rescues
Tim Auger and five climbers were just 1,500 feet from the summit of Mount Pumori, a satellite peak of Mount Everest, when a howling wind began punishing them.
Blowing at 65 kilometres an hour, the stinging wind “just picked up the snow and drove it into our faces,” Mr. Auger said later. He knew the death toll for climbers in the Himalayas was about one in 10.
“There were many little moments of terror. There were long, long moments when we had to think about whether we were going to make it.”
Emma Leckey planned to devote her life to helping other people
Emma Leckey was just shy of her 22nd birthday, and just about to graduate from the University of Toronto, when she was struck by an alleged drunk driver and never regained consciousness. Her organ donation would save another life. Emma led and inspired others. She volunteered often, organizing the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in high school and eventually serving as co-chair for the Relay for the entire University of Toronto. She fought against homophobia and was a strong ally of the LGBTQ community, co-chairing the support group at her college.