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John (Jack) Litchfield
John (Jack) Litchfield

John (Jack) Litchfield Add to ...

Husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, hard worker, craftsman, home child. Born Dec. 1, 1914, in Sheffield, England. Died Sept. 24 in Grimsby, Ont., of pancreatitis, aged 95.

Born in a British industrial city at the beginning of the First World War, Jack Litchfield had a different start in life than what his descendents are enjoying today. He lost his father to the Spanish flu when he was 4, and his mother died of heart disease three years later, having borne nine children.

The Barnardo Homes, overflowing with orphans in those hard days, took in Jack, his twin Dennis and younger brother Frank. When the twins were 13, a presentation at the orphanage about Canada caught their attention. The prospect of taking a ship to the promised land of toboggans eclipsed any knowledge that as "home children" they would be indentured farm labourers and never see their siblings again.

In Canada, the farmers were disappointed by the small size of their new workers. Jack, however, was lucky to land with a family who "fed him up" and treated him as their own. He was always haunted by the fact that Dennis did not fare so well: At his farm, he slept in an unheated room, leading to lifelong health problems; he died of a heart attack at 57. Not until the last decade of his life would Jack openly discuss that he was a home child.

After the farm, Jack toiled at a series of factory jobs, including a stint during the Second World War at a munitions plant. Wartime work then brought him to the factories of Windsor, Ont. Wanting "someone to go out with," he agreed to meet Alice Raby, who came recommended by his landlady. Alice became the love of his life. They married in 1944 and raised three children - Dennis, Arlene and Randall. The couple nursed Dennis through polio, and worked their way up from a $25-a-month apartment through a series of fixer-upper homes, thanks to Jack's skills.

A heart attack at 62 sent Jack into retirement, made comfortable by years of frugal habits and hard work. Moving to Guelph, Ont., to be closer to their children, Jack and Alice took up lawn bowling and carpet bowling, and tended a garden that kept Alice busy canning and freezing.

Jack's children remember growing up with a stern and undemonstrative father, but having lost his birth family, Jack would tear up when hugged by his seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He often told them how lucky they were to have education and such luxuries as swimming lessons. They adored visiting his workshop, where his projects included a model of the ship he emigrated on in 1928, the Duchess of Bedford, which he carved from a single block of wood.

After Alice's stroke in 2006, Jack nursed her until her passing in 2009. Recalling nearly 65 years of marriage, he would shake his head and say, "I don't know where it all went," reminding us that life is fleeting, even if we get 95 years of it.

By Jane Allan Litchfield, Jack's daughter-in-law.

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