Theo and me in 1964. Helping Harry pack for the boat.
Everywhere I’ve lived in Toronto has been close to nature—most often a ravine.
The thing all the places have in common is proximity to wealthy neighbourhoods.
Currently, I’m between Swansea and Baby Point. Near the Humber River and High Park.
I like low-rise apartment buildings built in the 20s and 30s. Low-density living. My building is well cared for. People who visit always comment on that. I know and say hello to enough people that it feels like home. The owners care and the people are nice. That’s the magic most developers can't replicate.
While I was out for a long walk this week I found another thread in Theo’s story.
After she gave birth to my uncle, she had to work for six months to pay off her room and board. Those were the terms. She incurred debt while waiting to have a baby.
The Salvation Army and the Soeurs de Miséricorde both had residents on Jarvis Street. In the early 30s, they shared the delivery rooms at the Toronto's Hospital for Unwed Mothers—Grace Hospital today. (I’ve scoured the Toronto archives trying to find images of the homes. No surprise, there are not many photos.)
I believe she was with the soeurs. Imagining what she would have had to put up with can make me mad.
Wealthy families in Rosedale hired the girls after their babies were born—probably for a song. A repayment plan of sorts.
My grandmother was a chambermaid. That’s where she learned to cook (she told me).
Theo’s mother, Odille, was a terrible cook (and had a black streak of meanness in her). She’d fed men in lumber camps in southern Quebec in the early 1900s. I pity them. So many habitant memories are horror stories.
Something was good between Theo and the cook in the Rosedale mansion. Learning about good food was a way for Theo to declare her autonomy. Leave Odille in her dust.
She was always curious—an admirable and essential quality in the kitchen. My grandmother, like me, was probably a good student.
The cook taught her. Well.
What Theo went through in 1933 was hard.
But the way seemed softer after.
The universe showed her mercy.
The wealthy home owners liked her.
Can you imagine how good that must have felt?
She started to recover. Her spirit above all else.
When I lived on the perimeter of Rosedale, shortly after I first learned about this part of Theo’s story, I would try and imagine which house she worked in. Did she live-in or go back to Jarvis Street at night?
At the time, my location didn’t feel like a coincidence. Theo was with me.
She still is.
I've stitched our hearts together.