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Frederick Elliot Winter
Frederick Elliot Winter

Frederick Elliot Winter Add to ...

Archeologist, traveller, professor, family man, new Canadian, man of faith. Born June 19, 1922, in Barbados. Died Sept. 17, 2011, in Toronto of pneumonia following heart surgery, aged 89.

At 6 foot 4, with a booming voice and huge laugh, Fred Winter was indeed larger than life.

It is said that “when an old man dies, a library burns down.” This was never truer than for Fred, one of the “old school” of archeologists fluent in Latin and Greek. His deep love of the classics began while growing up in Barbados. Parts of his copy of The Aeneid are marked “Tappa,” his father’s camp in the Guyanese jungle where, at 20, Fred helped for several months with creek-bed diamond mining – and read Virgil.

Learning was central to Fred’s life. After winning the Barbados Government Scholarship, he took the gold medal in BA classics at McGill University in 1945. He then studied archeology for his PhD at the University of Toronto, where he taught archeology and art history for more than 50 years, inspiring countless students. He published Greek Fortifications, which earned him the accolade “father of the discipline,” and, at 83, Studies in Hellenistic Architecture. His curiosity continued post-retirement. At the time of his death, he was studying Hebrew, his ninth language.

All those languages facilitated another passion: travel. Every few years his restlessness would peak, and he (and in later years his wife, Joan) would be off by boat, bicycle, car and donkey round the Mediterranean. Fred’s last journey took place at 87 to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in England.

The country dearest to Fred’s heart was his adopted Canada. The love affair began when a wide-eyed Barbadian saw his first snow in Montreal, and was sealed by his Rocky Mountain honeymoon with Joan in 1951. They took their four children – Elizabeth, Penelope, Mary and Michael – camping, hiking and canoeing. He suddenly announced that canoes were the way to see the wilderness after years of insisting, “There’s too much of me to get into one of those things.” In 1983, he and Joan made their own contribution to Canada by restoring the pioneer log house built by Joan’s grandparents in Muskoka.

Family was Fred’s bedrock. Last summer, he and Joan celebrated 60 years together. He was an unusually involved father for his time, helping with homework, making skating rinks in the backyard and giving his children a matchless blueprint for parenthood.

Fred’s faith illuminated his life, giving him contentment and compassion. A profound religious experience in hospital in 1999 led to a new habit of contemplation, and a reassessment of his worldview and politics. In the evening of his life, he exhibited an openness of mind that would be the envy of many half his age, and which will continue to inspire those who knew him.

By Mary Sylvia Winter, Fred’s daughter.

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