Valley Lives - Keith Nesbitt

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the March 16, 2011 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Wakefield grocer fought for English rights

by Trevor Greenway

Keith Nesbitt wasn't the type of guy who would ever back down. Especially when it came to dealing with Quebec provincial language laws in the late 1970s and early 80s.

Valley Lives
Keith Nesbitt of Wakefield stands in front of his sign for the Wakefield General Store on Riverside Drive. The Wakefield shop keep fought the province on Bill 101 and won. Photo courtesy Mona Nesbitt.

"I think Dad just thought it was ridiculous," said Nesbitt's daughter Mona, referring to Bill 101, the Charter of the French Language, which forced shop keeps and store owners to comply with having predominant French signs on their business doors. "And he won."

The long-time Rupert resident was fined for using English signage on his Wakefield General Store and instead of just paying the small fine; he took a stand for fellow small business owners in the province. He was sticking up for the little guys.

Nesbitt co-founded the Wakefield Rights Committee, which rallied to contest Quebec's sign language laws. As you stroll down River Road past the store today, the English wording, "Wakefield General Store," is the legacy of his taking a stand against the man.

Nesbitt died Feb. 24 at the age of 80 after suffering a massive heart attack at a hotel in South Carolina while en route to a vacation home in Florida. He leaves behind Kay, his wife of 53 years, his daughters Mona and Jenifer and his son, John.

Keith's sudden death came just weeks after he lost his daughter Keitha to cancer at the age of 48, leading some to believe that the two deaths were somehow intertwined.

"I think that the wind was with the death of Keitha," said Mona. "To lose a child before you go is the worst nightmare."

Kay Nesbitt endured a trying month during February, first losing Keitha to cancer, then finding her husband and life partner of more than 50 years lifeless in a hotel room. But while such trauma could destroy a person, family members say Mom is a "strong lady," who is coping well with the double loss.

Valley Lives
Keith Nesbitt celebrates St. Patrick's Day.

Keith was not only a businessman in Wakefield, he was also a farmer who ran a beef farm in Rupert where he grew up, was the secretary-treasurer of Masham North before amalgamation and was a loving father who made sure that his kids got out to see the world beyond West Quebec. He also ran a campsite in Rupert and was the foundation of the Nesbitt family.

"From what I can remember, he was always right behind us," said Mona. "He really kept us all tied together."

Growing up, Mona remembers going on car trips with her parents, especially the monthlong cross-country road trip to Vancouver in the early 1970s. She remembers being pulled out of school early to embark on the adventure, a trip that remained dear to the entire family.

"I think Dad believed that all kids should go on trips," said Mona. "He must have been tired, because he did all the driving."

The trip took them across the country, with random stops along the way in the prairies. They even accidently landed in Nesbitt, Sask., where they were invited into a town hall meeting for greetings - an event Mona called "embarrassing. "

From working in the grocery store together, to travelling around the country, the Nesbitt family shared their love for each other. The two gaping holes that Keith and Keitha have left will be impossible to fill. His 14 grandchildren will also miss "Papa Keith."

Lawrence Cross, a longtime friend for more than 40 years, will miss the weekly coffee-sipping sessions with 'Keith and chatting about "everything and anything."

"He was a good friend of mine, and I'm going to miss him," said Cross from his home in Wakefield.

Cross said although he was shocked by Keith's sudden passing, he is coming to terms with death these days, given that most of his friends from the village are no longer around.

The Nesbitts anticipate tough months ahead, as the reality of suddenly missing two family members will really start to sink in. But at least Keitha won't be lonely up there in the stars.

"And please Dad, when you see Keitha, give her a big, fat hug," wrote Mona in her eulogy during her father's private funeral.

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