Obituary for Ann Elizabeth Bilechuk
~~ With sad and heavy hearts we advise the passing on September 10th 2019 of Ann Elizabeth Bilechuk in her 86th year. Ann leaves behind 4 daughters: Olga, Annmarie (Carmen), Cathy, and Helen. More about her below.
~~ There are plans for a Celebration of Life to be held at a later date, check back for details. Meanwhile if you have any stories about Mom we would like to hear them. Feel free to use this website to do so.
~~ If you’d like to make a donation in her honour, we encourage you to give to the Royal Botanical Gardens (www.rbg.ca/donate) which has plans for a massive tree planting at Princess Point. If however none of that is possible, or you’d like to do more, give a listen to The Chieftains or Johnny Cash, any of their songs will do.
~~ Mom’s story started in Wexford County in Ireland in 1933 as Annie Murphy or Nan Murphy. Her father came from the Murphy line known as “the Saints”, because there were so many Murphys in Wexford and environs.
~~ She was in effect an only child, described herself as a lonely one, because no one else was home at the same time. Her older siblings were put out to work as soon as possible, there would have been others closer in age if they had survived, but infant mortality was too common amongst the rural poor. And later Mom herself was no longer at home for the younger children. No surprise that newborns were rushed to baptism. The story goes that the day Mom was transported to the church, probably by donkey and cart, it was pouring rain, she howled the whole time, and her mother (Mammy to her and Granny for us) said she never looked back.
~~ Her father worked as a labourer for a local farmer (most land was owned by several generations of the same Anglo-Irish gentry.) Instead of a tractor he used a horse and plow, because he said, you always need good fertilizer while tractors never gave back and were such dirty things. From a fistful of soil he could advise what should be planted next. His foreman would lend him to other farms who would take him for the day to do just that. But it was a hard life despite the country’s recovery after the fight for Independence, the great depression, WWII and rationing were over.
~~ As a child Mom walked barefoot, for her shoes to last longer, the mile or so to primary school in Clohamon. For the longer trek to sell their eggs at market or perhaps see films or the pictures in Bunclody, Granny would make Mom take the seat in the cart, and herself would walk leading the donkey.
~~ After primary there would be no more school. No money for it, but the parish priest ruled his flock (a benevolent dictator like in The Quiet Man) and with the help of his own sibling, who was the Mother Superior, arrangements were made for Mom to go to her convent school. The most respectable work for someone like Nan Murphy (other than marriage or becoming a nun) was to be trained for domestic service.
~~ At the convent she was thrown into Gaelic immersion. Had to be fluent quickly in order to stay as all classes were in Gaelic which was reinstated as an official language after Independence. They were allowed in their off times to speak English, but proper or King’s English only, the Irish brogue was not allowed, no slang and definitely do not say anything that would be considered foul outside the chicken coop.
~~ Aside from prayers, religious studies and usual school lessons, there was Irish step dancing, violin lessons, hurling, and chores to be fulfilled within the somewhat self-sufficient community. Someone had to churn the butter or scrub the bannister. But there was no better reference letter than that from the convent though a titled peer’s came close.
~~ After leaving the convent school, Ann Elizabeth Murphy found employment as an upstairs maid for an actual Lord & Lady (like in Downton, but their butler made her life so miserable she had to leave). Later moved to Liverpool, first port of call for the Irish, and worked as an au pair for the US Vice-Consul’s family (his wife was a very sophisticated aristocrat from Spain).
~~ By the age of 20, she turned down the invite from the Americans to go with them to their new post in Germany, and found herself instead on a long and lonely sojourn on an ocean liner bound for Canada.
~~ She had decided to seek her fortune in a foreign country provided it was English speaking and a member of the Commonwealth (she was too afraid to try the US because of what she knew about the war and saw in the movies the brashness of the Yanks; this was before JFK.)
But how she ended up at the Canadian consular office versus Australia’s for example, she could not remember. Listening to her tell it, wonder if the official had to meet a quota under the Diefenbaker domestic plan. Oh my dear says he, in the most sincere tsk tsk voice, Australia is not the place for such a fine Irish Catholic girl like you, it started out as a penal colony you know. She would do better in a big city like Toronto (also much less wet than Vancouver and Liverpool; no more chilblains clinched the deal for her).
~~ Arrangements were made, passage was paid by the government, who collected it back later. But none of that mattered when she was awarded Canadian citizenship. It was the proudest day of her life other than her children’s milestones.
~~ Her eldest would say: my mother is from Ireland, my father the Ukraine, they met and married in Toronto, and I’m not to blame. Which leads to the next big milestone – divorce.
~~ Mom was devastated to finally recognize that the man she married and the father of her children would never be the same man he was when he wooed her. For her the shame and to no longer be a proper married woman allowed the sacraments by the Church was so hard to bear, but divorce was necessary. By then the family were in Hamilton and had a small business, Yorkshire Fish & Chips.
~~ All was not lost, though the home and business were gone, for “Irish Annie” emerged. Single with 4 kids with no other family or support. It was make do as best she could, lemonade out of lemons etc., including back to domestic work and serving coffee and doughnuts. There were plenty of adventures and our little group never missed a laugh or an episode of Monty Python.
~~ Mom made sure her children and any of their friends who stuck around were taught sewing, cooking, gardening, how to drive, how to swim though she couldn’t swim herself, how to recycle/reuse, to love the outdoors and even did her best to help find work. No money no problem, cause if something is broken fix it yourself – there was a lot you could do with a staple gun, drill and rolls of duct tape. And there were many many hours of listening to traditional Irish music, stories about the old sod and “The Saints”, her love of Canada, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and country music.
~~ By the 1980’s there were operations and treatment for ovarian cancer and removal of a tumour the doctor said was the size of your head. She was one of the lucky 5% to survive. It was tough, but she was tougher. As the years went by, more age related health issues arose including a lengthy stay in hospital in 2016. On her last birthday just a couple months ago she was amazed that she’d made it this far.
~~ We are blessed and grateful for the resources that were made available to us and for the people we met along the way. On her and our behalf we say, thank you.
~~ The following is her favourite prayer entitled To our Blessed Mother:
Dear Blessed Mother, never was it known that anyone who fled to Thy protection, implored Thy help and sought Thy intersession, was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly unto Thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother to Thee I come before Thee to stand sinful and sorrowful. Oh Mother of the Word Incarnate despise not my petition but in Thy clemency please hear and answer my plea. Amen.
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July 13 1933 – September 10 2019
Nos plus sincères sympathies à la famille et aux amis de Ann Elizabeth Bilechuk..
Décès pour la Ville:Dundas, Province: Ontario