Bertha’s Story

June 22, 1916November 24, 2007


Bertha Winnifred Shaw was born in Lion’s Head, Ontario, on June 22, 1916. Her parents, Ernest and Mildred , ran a corner store in the front of their house in Spry and her father did various other jobs like driving a milk truck and working on road crews to support the family. She had three younger siblings, Ross, Jean and Sheila.


One winter when she was quite young, her sister Jean was very ill, and a nurse came to care for her. Bertha was so impressed with the skills and abilities of that nurse, that she developed a firm ambition to become a nurse herself. It was not an easy ambition to fulfill, since it meant she had to leave home at an early age and she was very homesick. Bertha went to school in the one-room school house across the road from her home until grade 8 then went into Lion’s Head for high school. In Lion’s Head she had to board and only come home on weekends. One day she went and stood by the road until her father came by and begged to be taken home. However, her determination carried the day and she eventually went off to Hamilton to train as a nurse.


Bertha graduated and became a Registered Nurse on June 1st, 1938. Shortly after graduation, Bertha took the very bold step of eloping with Wilfred Hatt! In those days, nurses were absolutely forbidden to marry and continue working, so it had to be a secret marriage. However, the day after the wedding, Wilfred headed up to the Bruce Peninsula wearing his new “Christie Stiff” (a particular kind of hat that great lakes sailors wore at the end of a tour). He was picked up by Bertha’s father and brother on the hill coming out of Wiarton. Apparently they carried on a typical, laconic conversation for a bit. Finally Wilfred leaned across Ross and said to Ernest, “Married your daughter yesterday.” The response was “Uh-huh” and the conversation moved on to other things.


She lived in residence at the Ontario Hospital in Whitby where she worked while Wilfred returned to sailing. She didn’t enjoy living apart like this, so insisted that he find a job in Toronto. He went to work for Canadian Industries Limited in the Toronto west end and they found a flat nearby.


In November 1941, their son Larry was born followed in February 1943 by their daughter Lorraine. Bertha was so proud of her two beautiful, perfect babies! She talked about them years later when her great-grandchildren were born. In about 1943, they moved to 38 Montye Ave, where she stayed until 2001.


Bertha went back to work in about 1946 at a convalescent home on Runnymede Road. For the last more than 25 years of her career she worked at the Ontario Hospital on Queen Street, Toronto. She retired in 1981 as a head nurse.



She was delighted when Larry and his wife Susan presented her with her first grandchild, Shari, born in 1968. Shari was followed by Wes in 1971, and Laura in 1974. Not to be outdone, Lorrie and her husband Chuck Cansfield had three daughters: Lisa in 1972 , Andrea in 1974, and Shelly in 1977.  In 1981, when Larry married Janice, Bertha acquired a seventh grandchild, Nicole LeBlanc, whom she welcomed enthusiastically.


Life was certainly not without sorrow for Bertha during these years. Wilfred passed away in 1971 and she lost her father in 1952 and her mother in 1990. Her son-in-law Chuck died in 1994. However, her strength and determination carried her along and she did what she needed to, to live and work. She even learned to drive at the age of 57! She claimed that eventually everyone in the family had taken a turn to try to teach her and she had to move on to driving school instructors – several of them. Finally, she succeeded and got her license. At age 80 she had to be re-tested, once again got to know a few instructors in the west end of Toronto, and once again passed her test (on the third try). After her retirement, she had more time for knitting and undertook to make an afghan for each of her seven grandchildren. When she finished those, she did one for herself and one for the condo in Florida. They still hold places of honour in our homes. She also went back to school as a retiree, attending the Later Life Learning Programme at the University of Toronto. She hated to miss a session, and even managed to get there the day her kitchen caught fire during breakfast! She loved to share her curricula and course notes and to discuss what she was learning. As an avid reader, she shared books with all of us.


In 1996 she slipped on the ice near her home and broke her hip and elbow. She was in hospital and rehab for several weeks, but once again her strength of will carried the day and she returned home to Montye Ave. In 2001 she decided to let someone else take on the burdens of housekeeping for her, and moved to Beechwood Terrace in Mississauga. This retirement residence was lovely and she enjoyed her time there, even meeting a new boyfriend, John. However, in 2005, after an illness, it was time for another move. Since both Larry and Lorrie were living in Burlington, her new home was there, at Creek Way Village, just a few blocks from both of them.


In 2000 her first great-grandchild, Macgregor Dodsworth, was born. She now has eight great-grandchildren: Shari & Terry’s boys, Macgregor and Logan Dodsworth; Laura & D’Arcy’s girls, Sydney and Chloe McDonald; Nicole & Chris’s children Somerset and Luc Charlwood; and Shelly and Jason’s girls, Isabelle and Adeline Woods. Wes and Sarah are expecting a baby in March 2008.




38 Montye was the scene of many, many family parties over the 57 years Bertha lived there. Everyone in the family remembers sitting amazing numbers of people around the dining room table. Christmas trees in the basement family room. Card and board games wherever there was a flat surface. African violets and other plants under lights in the basement. Bertha’s photo albums were always a focal point and she loved to browse through them, especially when someone else was there to share them. During the more than 20 years that Larry and Janice lived in Ottawa, they and their family spent many weekends in the bedrooms upstairs. But they weren’t the only ones. Bertha opened her home to many of the family over the years. Jean lived there for awhile. Bill Shaw stayed there many times. Larry moved home for several months. A few cousins from the Bruce lived there while they attended summer school to become teachers. She often had friends and neighbours in for a meal or tea. Lorrie and her family were nearby and visited her often.


Bertha enjoyed travel, and saw many exotic places with tour groups after Wilfred died. She visited Japan, England, Scotland, Russia, Egypt, Pakistan and Hong Kong. Earlier she and Wilfred made several trips by car around parts of North America, and took their boat from Toronto through the locks of the Trent Waterway System as far as Merrickville. She and her sister Jean visited California. She often visited Larry and his family in Concord, MA, Dayton, OH, Ottawa and Florida. She traveled with Lorrie to Florida and enjoyed visits to their farm near Collingwood. And of course she frequently visited her home in the Bruce Peninsula and relatives in Hamilton. Thanksgiving at her mother’s in Spry was a tradition and there were often large gatherings in the front room there.


Bertha was always beautifully dressed and never felt comfortable unless she was wearing a dress and high heels. She had a standing appointment at the hairdresser’s every week and preserved her hairdo very carefully with head coverings and by sleeping on silk pillowcases. She seemed to be able to pack for a two week trip in the smallest of suitcases and still have a different outfit every day.


In June 2007 a small family group gathered to celebrate Bertha’s 91st birthday. By then her health was failing and it was an effort for her to muster the energy for such an event. However, she enjoyed seeing some of her great-grandchildren and everyone else who was there, and smiled non-stop while we chatted and enjoyed cake and coffee.


Bertha passed away peacefully on November 24, 2007 with Larry, Lorrie and Janice at her side.