Johnson, Marie #1 *

Honoured by Hariett Madigan

My mom was born January 27, 1916, to Cora Le Clerc, a dedicated home-maker, and to Peter Messier, who worked in the logging camps and also as a trapper, in a hamlet in Northern Ontario.

Marie was one of 14 children.  As was sometimes required in her day, Marie stayed home to help her mother care for the children.  As a result, her formal education was cut short when she left school at age 7 to care for her younger siblings.  For much of her youth she worked as a maid, housekeeper, cook, and waitress in Northern Ontario.  During those years, she taught herself to read and write. What’s more, she developed  a financial acumen and will to survive that her children came to recognize, appreciate, respect, and emulate.

She married William Johnson in 1937, and had her first daughter, Bonnie, in 1938.  In 1939, her husband enlisted with the Canadian Engineers and joined the WWII effort .  Marie spent six years as a single parent during this difficult time, working full time in the mines driving the slag trams for INCO. Bill and Marie began their life together, once more, in 1946.  Marie gave birth to twins, Herb and Hariett, in 1947.  Life in the 50’s was challenging and led to the family moving frequently, often due to Bill searching for work.   It wasn’t easy, but wherever we went, Marie made sure that our family had a home, food, and a garden.   Marie loved horticulture.  She just loved to grow things!  As a child I recall listening to her as she would talk to her houseplants into growing – she treated them as if they were family!  She also knew the value of composting and practiced it long before it was popular.

Bill used to say that Marie could make “something from nothing,” and it honestly seemed that way.  For instance, Mom could make delicious meals to feed her family with very few ingredients, and over the years she won many blue ribbons from the North Bay Horticultural Society for her gardening magic.  She could make a garden in very poor soil, as she did wherever she lived. She even managed to create her own little garden in a space no one imagined there could be one, tucked away at the back of the ONR apartments on Oak Street.

My mom made a difference in my life and touched many people with her sense of humor, her ability to survive and persevere through difficult times, and her compassion for others, which she displayed through every day kindnesses. She loved to walk at the waterfront and certainly loved the gardens. She even became a Heritage Gardener at one point.  Marie would be so pleased to be remembered as a contributor to building our community one leaf at a time, to beautifying our future Waterfront Park on reclaimed rail lands, to being a part of something that began from nothing.

Marie now resides at Leisureworld.  She has dementia and is 96 years old.  She has forgotten most everyone but she will be remembered forever on the Leaves of Inspiration Pergola.  Thank you Mom.