Obituary of George Stewart
George Ernest Stewart passed away at Riverside Health Complex, Turtleford, Saskatchewan on Sunday, December 11, 2022 at the age of 86 years.
George is survived by: sister, Kathleen “Fay” (Ronald) Baldwin; brother, John "Jack" Stewart; sister, Dorothy (Delbert) Mitchell; and numerous nieces, nephews and other relatives.
George was predeceased by: his parents, Herbert and Kathleen Stewart; sister, Shirley Hoiland-Reavie; and brothers-in-law, John Hoiland and Stan Reavie.
The Memorial Service for George will be conducted from Vawn Hall, Vawn, Saskatchewan on Saturday, January 7, 2023 at 2:00 PM. If you are unable to attend in person, you may view the live streaming of the service on McCaw Funeral Service website under George's obituary at the time of the service.*Recording of service has now been posted.*
Donations in memory of George may be made to Canadian Cancer Society, RM of Turtle River - Vawn Hall or Edam Enriched Manor.
The memorial card for George can be viewed or downloaded from the link below.
By Blair Baldwin & Barbara Wallace
Good afternoon, we are Barbara Wallace and Blair Baldwin, niece and nephew, of George Ernest Stewart. And for those of you who don’t know us, we are the two remaining “kids” of Fay and Ron Baldwin. Fay being one of George’s three sisters, and Fay is the middle child of Bert and Kath’s five. And to get it out of the way: I am 5 foot 18 tall, and yes the weather up here is fine, and no – I don’t play basketball. But I do have the honour of being one of the people mentioned by George a bit ago to do the eulogy at his funeral. Hopefully I – we – do him proud!
George was born Jan 7, 1936 and for those of you who have not already done the mental math; today would have been George’s 87th birthday! A very close neighbour of George’s - Terry Gabruck - suggested this date for this memorial service for George; then promptly (and thereafter numerously) reassured me that he, George, and various others – always ruminated that George’s birthday typically fell on one of the coldest days of each winter. So the thumb-nail statistics of roughly 86, or so, consecutive winters; the odds for us getting a nice day were against us. We thank you, family and friends, for being here at the Vawn Hall on this beautiful winter’s day. And also a warm welcome to those who have joined on-line, assuming everything technologically goes as planned. Also, Happy Ukrainian (or Orthodox) Christmas to those who so celebrate.
George passed away peacefully Sunday, December 11th, 2022; while being skillfully cared for during his final few months at the Turtleford Riverside Health Complex. Right after the time of George’s passing, and beings it was quickly approaching the already busy Christmas through to New Year’s season for all; the quandary was whether to have this service for George immediately or pause until after New Year’s Day celebrations had passed. And the end of December 2022 was a bit brutal here in Saskatchewan, weather-wise… you can put the blame for that on me as I kind of requested it to be so. I requested that the weatherman get the nasty stuff out of the way reasonably before this weekend to allow travel to be safer and people of all connection to George to be more apt to get here, if able.
And that gets the typical Saskatchewanian and farmer-type preliminary discussion of the weather dealt with and out of the way – having mentioned it roughly three times already in this eulogy!
When I had a bit of time alone with George, in Turtleford hospital, during his second bout with Covid in the last portion of 2022, I asked George about whether he desired to have a funeral or not. He said: “Yes, that would be nice!” After a bit more discussion in this vain, I took it to be George’s condoning a service led by Pastor Dave Walker, to be followed by a lunch. I am sure George had partaken of very many such funeral services and lunches in the district or around Saskatchewan and he felt it was his turn to be the “host” and particularly towards a funeral lunch, as a form of pay-back, so to speak. If George was with us in bodily form today, I’m sure he would be in the back left corner of the hall, with his brother Jack; but today George is front and centre. In any case, that day’s overall discussion progressed smoothly as it was during one of the “good” final days and even with Covid, George’s matter of fact – yet still slightly wry, but quick wit showed up in another portion of our private discussion that day. I found his wit to be quite amusing at the time, and I measure this nugget of discussion to be the last bit of humour George and I shared. I will cherish this tiny twisted bit of his wit for many years to come!
During the Depression, George was born in Borden, Saskatchewan; while the Stewart family; that then consisted of his parents, Bert and Kath and an older sister, Shirley; were living across the North Saskatchewan River from Borden in the Langham district. They were “…farming a half section of land rented near Langham.” After George, the additions to the family were Kathleen (known as Fay), John (known as Jack), and finally Dorothy all following in reasonably quick succession, with all five kids being born in Borden other than the eldest, Shirley. Rumour has it they were living in a grainery at that time and at that, one without insulation!
In 1944 George’s dad, Bert purchased the quarter section of land and that spring that branch of the Stewart family, 2 plus 5, moved to the quarter section south of Vawn and just north of the North Saskatchewan River; where, on that quarter or a short early stint on the quarter to the west of the original quarter, George proceeded to lived out the remainder of his life with only the minutest of interruptions! If your particular bent is for history specifics, then I refer you to the concise Bert and Kath Stewart write up in the Edam Historical Society book (printed 1992) or the big black bound Vawn/Edam bible, as it may likely be referred to as in our family. [Passages in quotations denote words being taken from a portion of that book.]
George – roughly aged 13 – was being entrusted with the day-to-day chores of the farm as surmised by the fact that Bert was enabled to go to Vawn and assist with the construction of this Vawn Hall in 1949. While others in the district helped with the hall’s construction – George, remained on the family farm.
In 1950 the Stewart’s built the house that still stands on the present day “home” quarter and where George functioned out of as he toiled on that mixed farm for basically the rest of his life. Again see the Vawn/Edam bible for more historical details, valid through to circa 1992. It is in this farmyard where the siblings, nieces and nephews, George’s cousins, Stewart’s and “Baldwin’s”, Louis Victor included, came from far and wide to congregate at various times of the year, through the early decades. And neighbours too, back then and plus, I am sure to a lesser amount in overall congregated numbers, continued through to the recent present. Cards, cocoa, and cook’s (as Bert phrased cookies) in the evening, for sure! Or simply instant coffee and whatever baked goods were available, if an earlier time in the day visit.
I am pleased to be able to be with you today to offer some comments about the life of my Uncle George.
My memories stem from long ago. During our growing-up years we often spent a lot of time on the farm, which was at first known in our family to be Grandpa Stewart’s Farm. Even during those years when I was a kid—all of us were kids, really, because we were all kids at the same time--even during those years, the farm was not really Grandpa Stewart’s Farm anymore. By then, most of the work was being done by George and Jack. It just seemed to us that the farm belonged to grandpa and grandma, because it seemed like they were in charge. Grandpa, anyway, seemed to be in charge. This was part of the artful life of George. He made it seem as though he was not in charge when he really was paying the bills and making sure the work got done.
There were nine of us cousins. Initially there were eight of us all born in the six years between 1961 and 1967. Kathy was born in 1974. Two of the nephews are already gone. So, now there are seven cousins left. Four of us are here today.
Every year there was an annual cycle of events at the farm, some of which included all the cousins and some of which did not. The time of year that we could always count on all being at the farm together was Easter. We would generally arrive on Good Friday and stay the following week, which was Spring Break in the public school system. Deidre and Dean would come from Edmonton. Heather, Donny, and Bobby (and eventually Kathy) would come from Arborfield. The weather was always relatively “warmish.” We could be outside all day long. The only thing we had to be warry of was the mud. There was always lots of that, abundantly thick, deep mud. I remember we played tag through the stacks of bales. And, I remember walking to the old house, which, even in my time, was just a remnant of the foundation. There were always lots of wagon rides. George would never drive by any child in the yard without stopping to give a lift either to the corral or to the field. There would be new calves. Often there were kittens. And sometimes even baby chicks.
In the evenings we played cards. Depending on the number around the table, two or three or even four decks would have to be shuffled together. We played either Thirty-One or Rummy or Whist or Crazy Eights. That was the craziest. We could barely keep track of which direction the play was going. There was no predicting how many twos could be put down in a row. And, small hands had a hard time holding that many cards all at the same time. George was always encouraging with his “make it sh-nappy” comments so that the pace never lagged.
We were also often at the farm during silage production, for butchering, when baling, and for Christmas. We always got a Christmas gift. As we got older the gifts changed to cash. And, that was fine with us, too.
In the summer we picked berries and shelled peas. We rode in the back of the old International Truck to go along to pump water for the cattle. We were even welcome to ride along when a truck load of cattle was being delivered to the stockyards in North Battleford, always with a stop at the Dairy Queen on the way home. We fed the chickens and collected eggs. We would be sent outside to stand beside the house with the lunch box to go to the field with the truck as it passed through the yard.
Speaking of lunch, there were never so many meals served in one household than were served from that farmhouse. This, too, was a routine. Breakfast at seven—eggs, toast, and cereal. Coffee at ten. Dinner at noon or slightly before. This was the big meal of the day consisting mostly of roast chicken or beef with potatoes, gravy, and vegetables, plus pie or baked pudding. Lunch at three consisting of cake, coffee, and sandwiches (jam in the winter and cucumber or tomato in the summer). Supper at six, which was mostly leftovers from dinner. Or, sometimes steak or a burger. Cocoa at nine along with a cookie. Such a routine. So reliable. So predictable.
George and I both broke our arms on the same day early in 1972. His was broken by a yearling calf in the process of being dehorned. Mine was broken on an elementary school playground at recess when I slipped on the ice.
We all had our first driving experiences on that farm, generally unsupervised. Remember my earlier comment about the mud? My first venture resulted in an old car being stuck up to the axles. This required a tow from George with the tractor. I also remember Blair, when he was eight, driving the two of us in a tractor in first gear down the field with an implement behind. The only instructions given were just to hold onto the steering wheel but not to turn it.
Unbeknownst to me until I was quite a lot older, there were political statements, too, made from that farm in a very understated way. If I had been more savvy as a kid, I would have understood the message a little clearer and a little earlier than I did. I remember the bulls on the farm having names that were vaguely prominent in the media. For example, the first bull I remember was named Diefenbaker. He was already an old guy when I was young. He was a curly haired Hereford. Next, I remember Stanfield, a Short Horn. Recently I consulted with the most reliable memory in the family which belongs to Jack Stewart. He reminded me of others named Chapman, Mr. Brown, Magpie, Mannix, Raycraft, and Jones. But, there was also Clark, a black angus who was a little bit unpredictable. After that it gets really weird. There was, if you can believe it, a Justin Trudeau and then another Trudeau and even a Brian Mulroney. We can only assume that these names were assigned based on personality and the political leadership abilities of these animals. Surprising as it is to me now, I never caught on to the significance of these names until very much later in my life.
There are so many good words that can be used to describe George. I recall him as being accepting, appreciative, capable, enduring, hardworking, humble, long suffering, modest, patient, self-deprecating, unassuming, understated, unpretentious, and strong in every way. Those of us who knew him were lucky to know him. Luckier still to be part of his family. The influence he had on my abilities is remote but profound. His death is the end of an era in our family. I will miss that.
George the Tiller of the soil! And the maker of fine bales! A master with a front-end loader, his skills with that bucket on a tractor were amazing, as I guess daily practice over decades will get you. A young man with eagle sharp eyes and attention. If you happened to spill the smallest amount of grain or silage while running the haul truck and he happened to be on the swather or another piece of farm equipment, anywhere within visibility range, George would see it and know! But George was not one to get riled or upset (and I would NOT want to see him so), but he would quietly reassure you he knew or saw and encourage you in your tasking. In my reflection about George to get to this point today, I realized that I can only ever recall one time where I heard or saw George snap and have a harsh word. This is not a disrespect to George, than it is the direct opposite of my intent, at least from my perspective. Once in several decades plus; huh, I personally can have exceeded that quota – a plenty – in only several days!
Question – again not a disrespect to George – but a testament to his laser focus in life: What was George’s range of travel during his life? WEST: Alberta yes – but did he ever get far enough west to even personally see the Rocky Mountains? Yes, Terry Gabruck and he spend a day or two a bit a go in Banff. I’m glad George got to see what UNFLAT land looks like! EAST: Manitoba? Or did he never made it to the eastern border of Saskatchewan? I do know he got as far east as the Arborfield, SK district to Don and Jeanne’s wedding. Or possibly to Kelliher, SK to his Uncle Alf & Aunt Roberta’s. So whichever is the most easterly of farm lands AND CROPS observed there. And of additional note regarding the Arborfield trip for Don & Jeanne’s wedding, there are memories of a certain groom discussing with a couple of his uncles (George for sure, and Jack too) plus maybe a few others of a rural bent the cost of the wedding dress. My recollection was the dresses cost was expressed in a value in terms of the number of truckloads of wheat it would cost – no dollars signs were needed in front of that number! NORTH: Again maybe the Arborfield district for the same wedding event that maybe set his eastern travel boundary… or possibly somewhere closer in this west central district of SK was the northern limit set… maybe Meadow Lake’ish? SOUTH: Swift Current, for sure, I rode there with him once when our family moved there! I rode with him in the farm-truck unit that defines the cost of wedding dresses, as he in his grain truck helped us Baldwin’s move to “Speedy Creek”. But I didn’t know of him ever having had a passport… that would allow him to leave his beloved Western Canada even for an instant. His wallet had for plastic – a SK driver’s license (for his main ID), a SK Health Card, and a only slightly used (…or maybe unused…) Timmies card. Beyond that the only other identification item was the wallet-sized paper cattle brand registration certificate. A true cattleman! Back to George having a passport or not. Fact checking verified he did have one once. He got one to enable him to go to Tara (nee Gabruck’s) Fould’s destination wedding in Mexico! This possible trip for him I now recall, in as much as I truly wanted to have seen pictures of George in Mexico at this destination wedding and even more so any evidence of him having worn shorts, during his adult live! But alas, he did not go, he did not use the passport. The duty he felt to his farm and family were too strong to allow himself the luxury of going. And so it goes…
And that he was… caring for his brother Jack… caring for his animals … caring for his father Bert until his passing, caring for the farm… caring, one way or another, for his neighbours and district! In Saskatoon berry picking season 2022, George articulated that he was looking at leaving the farm. His summary of the tipping point for this decision; was that he was worried about the neighbours having to “worry about him!” And he didn’t want that…
At this point I will start thanking some on behalf of George! I am not sure which Archangel; Michael or Gabriel, to compare some neighbours of George’s to à A tremendous thank you to George’s Guardian angel neighbours: Jodie Gabruck, Terry Gabruck, or the Gabruck’s (in general) over multiple generations, Darrell & Debbie McCarthy, and Wally Mack.
A heartfelt thanks to George’s cousins – Uncle Jack’s girls (aka the Mervin Stewart Girls) for visiting George at various stages of his life, especially his later live and for their efforts towards the bit of lunch we will have soon. Thanks in advance for stepping up and getting this marshalled, in George’s stead – towards some community payback.
Thank you to all the medical staff – nurses, assistants, housekeeping, facility managers, doctors, etc. that cared for George. And if I am allowed one intentionally negative comment – like in the show Corner Gas re Dog River people speaking about Wullerton – “huk-pu” to the SK health system in George’s last few months that bounced him around like a ping pong ball for a while. But this critique is most certainly not towards the individuals… who all did their utmost to care for George in the best manner as they were able, within that SYSTEM.
For the technological wonder with an artistic bent, that became the picture slide show for today, thanks to ScrapperDee – Diedre Mitchell - who could not be here today in person. Thanks for stepping up! To include a ScrapperDee recent emailed quotation: “I sure wish someone had thought of taking photos when we were all there playing cribbage, having cocoa, sitting on the stairs watching the adults, snapping peas, baking bread etc. Would have loved some photos of the kitchen, stove, living area, etc...”
George had at most a Grade 8 education or actually as corrected by Jack – George was working on Grade 9 by correspondence but stopped half way through. Elsie Gabruck is here today, we too acknowledge you – a school teacher of George’s, many years ago… But George through his hard work and continued self-learning was, what I would consider a great success in life, as a farmer … George, a truly amazing man!
George had the amazing ability to extract the best traits out of the genes, upbringing, and surroundings and not take on the not so good… for his life mannerisms and actions. George’s dad Bert, although hard working had some traits that were not as smooths as some other of his own driving principles. As examples, although, as a younger man, I was never “hired” by George, but rather only by his father Bert; I could likely guess by tons of other evidence in George’s life that like his dad Bert, George: “could never be accused of under-paying hired help. Those who worked for him could be sure of a decent wage, often higher than average.” and also like his dad, George “was invariably generous, always willing to pay more than his way, and willing to provide what help he could to those in need.” BUT George had weaned out those less desirable characteristics that could have easily and readily come naturally to him from his father.
Perhaps this is an ability that is honed by some of the self-reflection of solitude. Later in preparing this I figured out that this ability was present even before the solitude arrived, as it was already happening in the early family days. And George was extremely comfortable within himself, without a TV or a radio going in the background or without a very smart phone, or without another nearby for many stretches of time. George was extremely comfortable and pleasant in who he was, where he was, and what he had done.
In the end it was the Cancer (not the Covid) and at that his second bout with Cancer that took him from us… And as the story goes from the days of real horse horsepower, -- the horses headed home pretty quickly when they got turned towards home! George, you will be sorry missed by your family, your Guardian angel family, the neighbours in general, and the district! Farewell our Friend! Farewell!!