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Friday November 30, 2012

Anne Yaroshuk

Great-grandmother, gardener, gambler, artist, snowbird. Born Aug. 8, 1914, in Zelena, Man., died Sept. 25, 2012, in Toronto of heart failure, aged 98.

Anne grew up on a poor farm in western Manitoba the middle child of five. She was protective and close to her younger sister, Mary, and together they would fashion dolls from corn husks.

When Mary's doll fell ill, Anne conducted a funeral, playing the role of priest. Overwhelmed with grief, her sister fainted. Anne scrambled to resurrect the doll, assuring her sister that her baby was fully recovered.

On other occasions, the sisters rode or wrestled one of the farm rams until it butted them through the kitchen screen door (the door rarely had a screen).

Anne was independent and strong-willed. Once, she told her parents she would no longer go to church and they told her to wash all the dishes and clean the house instead. She hid the dirty dishes under the bed and in other clever places. When she saw her parents returning, and bringing relatives home for lunch, Anne hid in the hayfield until dusk. Finally, her mother called out for her to please come home, promising not to spank her.

Creative and restless, Anne saw no future for herself on the farm. Noticing an ad for hairdressing school in a newspaper that had been used for fish wrap, she begged her mother to let her go to Winnipeg to enroll. She was 15. Her mother agreed, and Anne attended night classes, working as a domestic during the day.

Eventually, she made her way to Toronto. It was hard to find hairdressing work during the Depression, so Anne decided to look for other work. She was a waitress, a domestic and a laundress, and even inspected bombs during the Second World War.

She had several offers of marriage, but fell for a handsome, charismatic, though poor, fellow from Alberta who sang with a rich baritone voice. Joseph Yaroshuk, being an idealist, enlisted with the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion and went to fight fascism in Spain. Anne waited, and upon his return they married.

Childbirth presented its own challenges, with first a daughter and several years later a son born "blue." Both survived.

When Anne and Joe had scraped up enough money to buy a house, Anne rented rooms to make ends meet. Over the years, their home became a revolving door for struggling relatives who needed a hand up.

Feisty and firm, Anne had unconditional love for her children. She valued education and deprived herself so her kids could have a better life.

Passionate about Canada, she supported the CCF and later the NDP, attending party meetings and canvassing on their behalf. She proudly volunteered with St. John Ambulance. Never idle, she took night classes in woodworking, leather tooling and sewing.

As I look at her written reminiscences, poems, paintings, drawings, appliquéd shoes and sweaters, and the garlic, onions and wildflowers growing throughout her garden, I marvel at the enduring spirit of this remarkable woman: my mother.

Louise Polika is Anne's daughter.

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