Skip to main content

Canada A feisty woman’s obituary imploring voters to kick out Harper resonated

Catherine Finn, seen holding a gift book in a family photo, was a woman of joy but was also an implacable foe of Stephen Harper. She died on July 19.

'In lieu of donations," the mid-July obituary read, "Catherine would want you to do everything you can to drive Stephen Harper from office, right out of the country, and into the deep blue sea if possible."

Three months to the day after Catherine Finn passed away from pulmonary complications, telephones began to ring in homes in Waterloo, Ont., Toronto and Calgary. Calls and e-mails and text messages poured in from around the country – relatives, friends, colleagues, neighbours and even a few strangers – all with the same sentiment.

"Your mother would be proud."

Story continues below advertisement

Mary Catherine Finn – June 6, 1943 to July 19, 2015 – was a feisty, engaged and opinionated woman. She belonged to no political party and, at various times, passionately supported, or argued against, most of them. She loved the CBC but not what it had become. She loved Margaret Laurence – the author lived in nearby Lakefield when Ms. Finn lived in Peterborough, Ont. – and thought Ms. Laurence's place in Canadian literature suffered from Margaret Atwood's celebrity.

And then there was Stephen Harper, prime minister of her beloved Canada these past nine years – and, in her oft-voiced opinion, the potential destroyer of all she held dear, the CBC included.

She also liked obituaries, but not the kind that read like résumés. She wanted to know what the person had been like and would scour the obit pages in search of telling tidbits. When she died, her three sons – Patrick, an associate professor of performing arts at the University of Calgary, Andrew, a director of development at York University in Toronto, and Jonathan, chair of the department of communications studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo – decided that the family would write her up the way she would like to be remembered.

"That obituary went more viral than we ever anticipated," Andrew Finn says.

It was picked up by social media, by a Toronto newspaper, and soon the Finns were hearing from around the world. It was, no surprise, the line about throwing Stephen Harper out of office that grabbed people's attention.

Last Monday night it happened. Perhaps not all the way to "the deep blue sea," but across the floor to official opposition status, with Mr. Harper soon to step down as leader.

Andrew Finn watched in Toronto with his partner Evelyn; Jonathan Finn watched in Waterloo with Janice; and out in Calgary, Patrick Finn let his nearly four-year-old son Max stay up until the CBC, of course, declared a Liberal government.

Story continues below advertisement

"It was a celebratory moment," Jonathan Finn says. One that Catherine Finn, had she lived to see it happen, would have marked with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne.

"She was very disappointed to watch where her country was going," Andrew Finn says. "All the things she held dear about being Canadian seemed to be changing."

At one point, she became so despondent that she tried to quit following the news – even cancelling her Globe and Mail subscription – but she soon resubscribed and devoted what energy she had left to trying to convince people that the country was in desperate need of a change.

"Canada, to her, was a place where people cared about each other," Patrick Finn says. "It was a place that welcomed others, where people debated openly and compromised. She felt that was being lost and it was important to her to get it back."

She would have loved this campaign, Patrick Finn believes. Not the mean-spiritness of it, but "the sense that people were taking their country back."

Sandra Martin, the brilliant, long-time Globe and Mail obituary writer and author of Working the Dead Beat, says it is not entirely uncommon for an obit to strike readers' fancy and take on a new "life" of its own.

Story continues below advertisement

Ms. Martin, who is finishing a new book called The Good Death, says that she herself can be swept away by a single line in a well-crafted death notice. She recalls her curiosity being piqued by a single sentence: "After graduating from Commissioner's High School in 1939, Ken joined the Royal Rifles of Canada, ostensibly to flee his job at a soda fountain where two broken coffee carafes were about to cost him a week's wages." Following up, she produced a long and fascinating obituary on Ken Cambon's extraordinary life as he survived four years as a prisoner of war in Japan before an impressive career in medicine.

"Reading the death notices caught my eye lots of times," says Ms Martin, leading her to write about "people I wouldn't normally have written about."

Catherine Finn's three sons wanted their mother to be remembered for her passion, but not as someone who had only the negative energy she applied to the Harper government.

"She was always the person you called first with good news," Patrick Finn says. "She found a true joy in life, so every birthday or kid's success you would call her right away."

She was politically engaged but committed to no party. Her late husband, Gerry, had worked in government relations and the Finn family had lived around North America. The children were taken to political rallies and encouraged to debate politics around the dinner table – but their future would turn out to be academia rather than politics.

Jonathan Finn always considered himself an "introvert" compared with his outgoing, fun-loving mother. But on Tuesday, one day after his mother's wish came true, he found himself asking the Wilfrid Laurier senate to approve a petition he began over the summer opposing a plan to place statues of all 22 Canadian prime ministers about the campus.

Story continues below advertisement

As he put it: "We're a university, not a theme park."

The nearby city of Kitchener had already turned down the idea after it was found there was little public support for the privately funded project. The university, which already has a statue to Sir John A. Macdonald, had stepped up with the approval of its board of governors.

The petition, however, won the day with the senate. It voted 28-6, with seven abstentions, to ask the board of governors to drop the idea.

"One of my colleagues," Jonathan Finn says, "who knew all about our mother came up to me after and said: 'The apple doesn't fall very far from the tree.' It had never occurred to me before – but I guess it's so."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter