Valley Lives - Jane Gledhill
The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the May 20, 2015 issue. Reprinted with permission.
Not a word of French, Brit bridged the divide
by Anastasia Philopoulos
Hélène Dessureault chuckles softly as she recalls how she met and bonded with Jane Gledhill over their joint sheep-sitting responsibilities in a field in Masham.
"My friends were going on a two month trip to Europe," Dessureault said. "They said 'why don't you, Jane, mind the sheep with Hélène'... we met every day at first and we stayed friends after that."
Dessureault describes Gledhill as an original person with unique views on life. Self-described as an unwilling Brit, Gledhill was born in the United Kingdom, but immigrated to Canada and settled in Ottawa. Despite not speaking any French, she moved to the very froncophone neighbourhood of Chemin Saint-Louis in Masham after the passing of her husband in 2001.
"She moved to the country on her own," Dessureault said. "She was very determined."
Neighbour Marc Barnabé says Gledhill purchased land next to his family's home years ago. It was a humble country home that would sway every time the wind blew, and it made Gledhill feel like she lived on a boat. Uninhabited for years, the home needed some work but that didn't stop the tenacious women from taking it on.
"No single woman buys a property like this. We didn't expect [it], but she was one of the best neighbours we ever had," Barnabé said.
Over the years, Barnabé's family helped Gledhill with cutting wood for her stove, ploughing the snow in winter, and teaching her how to keep animals. It didn't matter that she was an Anglophone - from Britain, no less: she was part of the neighbourhood.
"She was always saying the best thing that ever happened to her was moving to our road," Barnabé said.
While some feel a tension between English and French in La Pêche, Gledhill managed to glide by it all with grace.
Friend Sylvain Bédard first met Gledhill when she bought her country home, and got to know her while he renovated parts of it.
"When I met her she spoke only English and I was Francophone, so I told her, 'let's make a deal. I'll speak to you in English and you correct me and you speak French.' When we were together that's what we did. We had fun," Bédard said.
Gledhill was enamoured with Masham, milling about her property and adjacent forest with her two dogs, Blackjack and Penny. She would snowshoe in the winter with a map and compass and garden in the summer. And in return, the community loved her back.
Gledhill was also a volunteer in La Pêche - she visited the seniors' home in Masham every Thursday, and was a staple at the Wakefield Library. It was she and her friend Annette Lovett who actually organized the move from the old library to its current location.
"She implemented some changes and she wanted to implement even more changes. She was the mover and the groover, she was the initiator and the trouble maker," Lovett said with a laugh.
Lovett describes Gledhill as a woman who had a keen, dry, and irreverent British sense of humour and whose French sounded like a Spanish cow in heat. "But she had no qualms and she wasn't shy, she just made herself understood."
But it was Gledhill's love for her community that truly stays with Lovett.
ith Lovett. "She really found her soul in the country."
Jane Gledhill, 63, died of cancer on April 17.
The following is a letter Gledhill wrote some weeks before she died, that she wished to see printed in the local paper.
Thank you to Masham, in particular, and La Pêche and Wakefield, of course.
Please be reassured that if and when you face serious illness, Masham will be there to help. Living on chemin St. Louis in rural Masham has been the best thing in my life, as I have faced up to the return of my breast cancer, which is now in its palliative stages.
First my immediate neighbours started clearing the driveway every snowfall, and bringing in wood to the stove... another close neighbour turns out to be the home-visiting nurse, and comes and checks on me...and the CLSC personal support worker who helps with bathing and dressings also lives on chemin St Louis. What a street!
Thank you, Masham, and thank you to friends (also living in Masham) who are staying overnight and are on call for housework emergencies and bringing early morning coffee.
I will still be around for a while - this is a fairly slow progression, but I just wanted to spread the word that Masham is a great place to live.
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