Category Archives: Obituary

The End: Antonio Montenegrino | 1974 – 2011

He was a lung cancer survivor and hometown hero for pulling a man from a burning building. ‘It was almost like smoke wanted him.’

Illustration by Team Macho

Antonio Montenegrino was born in late 1922 to a poor peasant family in a small village in southern Italy. When he was three, Antonio’s father, Joseph, left to find work in Argentina to support the family. He never returned, and his mother, Angela, was forced to give the baby up to her brother, George Raso. But Raso starved and beat the boy, forcing him to work as an indentured servant at his flour mill. At 16, Antonio pulled a gun on his uncle. “He said, ‘You will not hit me anymore. I’m leaving,’ ” says Emanuel, his youngest son.

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1938-2010 | Floyd Nicholson

A former army technician, he was devoted to his family and business. But at 71 he wanted to slow down, and do some fishing.

Floyd Nicholson

Floyd Nicholson was born in Halifax on Nov. 30, 1938, the first child of Samuel, who worked in maintenance, and Ella Mae Nicholson.

He grew up in Spryfield, a working-class suburb, where his family’s small home quickly filled with five younger siblings. Because their parents had a hands-off approach, the kids often came and went at all hours. “People were surprised by how much freedom we had,” says Wayne, Floyd’s younger brother. “We only had two rules. Don’t touch anything that don’t belong to you and don’t be around when something bad goes down.”

Those rules put a strong independent streak in Floyd, and he spent a lot of time away from home. He’d often be off fishing with buddies, which is where he started his lifelong habit of smoking a pipe—it kept the blackflies away. But he still loved being with his siblings. “I remember hanging off him while he was flying model airplanes,” says Wayne. “I wanted to go everywhere he went.”

Still, the small house was cramped, so when Floyd finished Grade 10 he decided to join the air force. A natural tinkerer and handyman, he became an electronics technician and took to the training so quickly that he was immediately made an instructor at CFB Borden in Ontario. “There’s nothing he couldn’t learn or fix,” says Wayne. “They used to call him the professor.”

Floyd was stationed in Baden-Baden, Germany, through the early 1960s. He’d use his leave to travel around the country’s beer halls, and was able to see most of Europe. But he did start to miss home. After 10 years of service, Floyd left the military and moved back to Nova Scotia, where he bombed around in a blue MG and maintained torpedoes as a civilian at an armoury in Bedford.

In 1965, a mutual friend introduced him to Paulette Carter, who instantly took a shine to the easygoing young man with a penchant for British roadsters. “He was just a smart guy,” says Paulette, “and besides that he had a sports car.” After two years of movies, dancing and double dates, the pair married and moved to a house in Spryfield. Their first daughter, Kathleen, was born in 1972 but tragically died in her crib. Soon afterward, Floyd built a large cedar-plank house in nearby Hubley, on a stretch of lakeside land Samuel Nicholson gave to his children so they could build homes and remain close together. Paulette then gave birth to Julie, Anthony and Patricia.

By this time, Floyd had grown sick of working for someone else. So he started a pipe inspection business using modified security cameras and old postal trucks. A dedicated father, he chose to run the business out of the house, where he’d thoughtfully puff his pipe while reading charts spread out on a gigantic snooker table. Almost every penny Floyd made was invested back into the family. He took them on trips to places like Disneyland and Europe, and, being a lifelong car buff, made sure the kids always had a working vehicle. He also put them through university, all the while maintaining his easygoing sense of humour and a boundless energy that hardly ever saw him rest while he was awake. “He couldn’t sit still,” says Paulette. “He was always tinkering.”

When he wasn’t golfing, fixing one of the family’s cars, or just casting a line to catch fish for dinner, Floyd even managed to build and fly his model planes. “He’d meticulously make these planes—he had dozens of them,” says Anthony. But “they never lasted very long. You’d hear these engines fire up, and then you’d hear a ‘whack!’ when he smashed it into a tree.”

In the late ’90s, Floyd shut down his pipe inspection business and went into metal sales, opening a shop in Halifax. For the first time in decades he had to drive to work, so he lost a lot of the leisure time he had once enjoyed. This year, with the kids moved out, he decided to shrink the operation. He was restoring a hardtop ’74 MGB with Anthony, and decided to get back into fishing, which he’d missed because of his busy schedule. “The man was 71 years old—he wanted to enjoy something more relaxing,” says Paulette.

Floyd’s youngest brother Garry refreshed him on the best spots around their lake, and the two were planning to go out after supper on June 7. Although Garry decided not to go, Floyd characteristically headed out anyway. Paulette woke up at four in the morning and noticed Floyd hadn’t returned. She called Garry and the police, who immediately started searching. They found the overturned boat, with Floyd’s body nearby. He was 71.

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Jacqueline Anne Snarr (1961-2010)

A snowboarding pioneer and advocate, she recently realized one of her biggest dreams

Jacqueline Anne Snarr

Jacqueline Anne Snarr (née Primeau) was born in Toronto on Oct. 28, 1961, the first of five children to Anne, a nurse, and William, who was in the masonry business. Jackie was raised in Etobicoke, Ont., where she practised ballet and gymnastics. She inherited her competitive spirit from her grandfather—the famed Maple Leafs player and coach “Gentleman” Joe Primeau—and started putting it to use in 1969, when the family bought a log cabin in Markdale, Ont. It was a quick drive to the Old Smoky Hill and Beaver Valley Ski Club, where she refused to get off the mountain no matter how bad the weather, and developed a lifelong passion for the slopes.

Jackie was 18 and at a pub in Mississauga, Ont., when she caught the eye of her future husband, Scott Snarr, an amateur hockey player who landed a job as a firefighter. He asked her to dance, and a year later, tucked away in a secluded spot on Beaver Valley’s slopes, he proposed.

Soon afterward, Jackie got her certification to work in special education and started teaching autistic children. But she put her career on hold when her first child, Anne-Marie, was born in 1985. Two sons followed—Andrew, in 1987, and Tommy, in 1989—and Jackie stayed home, raising the young family in Streetsville, Ont. “She was the kind of mom who would write love notes in your lunches,” says Anne-Marie.

In 1995, Jackie was back in the classroom. Even though she was working full-time, taking care of her children, and sometimes plowing snow late at night to help Scott with his second job, Jackie was never short of energy. When she grew bored of skiing in the early ’90s, she took up snowboarding. “She was one of the first women to be on a board,” says Scott. “She could only snowboard with young men, even though she was a mother of three, and she became very good because they were all very aggressive.” Jackie loved alpine racing and regularly beat people half her age. But she was always gracious, almost to a fault. Once, she was so far ahead of the competition that timekeepers thought they must have made a mistake and added 10 seconds to her time, placing her in third instead of first. Scott was fuming, but Jackie didn’t care. “I get a lot of glory,” she told him. “Let them have their fun.”

Because she was one of only a handful of people with experience in the sport, Jackie was asked to volunteer as the director of snowboarding for Beaver Valley, where the old guard tried to keep boarders from taking over their ski hill. But they couldn’t fight Jackie’s charm, and by 2000 she’d managed to win the club over. “She had no problem walking up to the guy driving the CAT and making him melt in her hand to get what she needed done—to have the guy show up early to get the boarder cross course just right,” says Scott.

But her volunteering wasn’t bound to the ski hill. Jackie was also a vital part of Rebecca’s Hope, a charity that raises funds for leukemia research. When the organization’s namesake, a student named Rebecca Denise Borg, fell ill in 2002, Jackie started a food drive and personally made sure her family had a meal waiting outside their door every evening. She had a tireless dedication to anyone in need, which is part of what made her so great at her job—since 2005, she taught at Mississauga’s Corpus Christi Elementary. “She was an incredibly patient teacher,” says her sister Karen Anand. “A quality needed even more so when working with children with special needs.”

Jackie was elected to the Association of Ontario Snowboarders’ board of directors. She wasn’t on the job long when it became clear that the association had huge administration problems, and was at risk of losing its funding. For three years, she fought to keep the AOS afloat, eventually becoming president and rebuilding the entire organization from the ground up. Thanks to her, it is now a model for sports associations across Canada. “She saved the sport for the province,” says Christy Deere, one of Jackie’s best friends.

Recently, Jackie got the chance to live one of her biggest dreams: going to the Olympics. Her connections and expertise landed her a prime volunteer spot clearing snow from the starting gates between races, where she rubbed shoulders with the world’s best.

Jackie was riding high after the Games. The International Ski Federation wanted her to work as a technical director for Ontario, and she was back spending much of her free time on the slopes. “I’d pass her on the runs going up the lift,” says Scott. “She was flying.”

On March 17, Jackie was rocketing down the Beaver Valley trails when she suddenly went off course and hit a tree. She was rushed to hospital, but died from her injuries. She was 48.

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The end: Taylor Bruce | 1992-2011

Mountain biking, motorcycling, skiing—he was always looking for that adrenalin rush

Illustration by Juliana Neufeld

Taylor Bruce was born on Dec. 15, 1992, at Ottawa’s Grace Hospital. He was the first son of Gene Bruce and Peggy White, two country musicians who met on tour, got married, and decided to retire their road-weary F150 and have kids. Taylor was fearless, constantly smiling, and hated being confined. Every morning Peggy and Gene would find him rattling the bars of his crib in their Nepean home for attention. That stopped within a few months, once he learned how to flip himself over the edge to freedom. “One of his uncles said to me, ‘Taylor does everything he knows all at once, every somersault, every skip.’ He was an extremely physical boy,” says Gene.

He also had his parents’ ear for music, but nothing excited him more than the roar of a revving engine. “As a tiny guy, he could draw every imaginable type of machine, whether it was a crane or a bulldozer, always from memory,” says Gene. “He could identify individual vehicles just from the sound of them—or tell me the year by the shape of a headlight.”

Despite his talents, Taylor had a hard time at school—he had verbal and physical tics, got into fights, and was constantly teased. At the start of Grade 2 he was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome. He’d fly into rages at home and had a hard time making friends, but that all started to change when, at seven, his parents bought him a cheap Canadian Tire bike. “He went flying down the hill—he was trying to get the bike to jump. I said, ‘Okay buddy, you’ve got to look for cars,’ ” says Peggy. “He’d say, ‘yeah, mom,’ then take off and go off the sidewalk.” Once Taylor went mountain biking with some of Peggy’s friends. The group loved his determination so much they scraped together extra parts to make his bicycle a viable mountain bike so he could tag along again. “That bike was his saving grace,” says Peggy. “He loved the adrenalin—the rush of going fast.”

Gene and Peggy divorced in 2002. The shock of the separation devastated Taylor, but he quickly managed to turn his frustrations into an endless thirst for new adventures. “He’d ski for one season, then sell the skis and buy a snowboard, then buy trick skis,” says Jacqueline Kirkland, Gene’s partner. “He’d smash ribs, but he could do all these sports and just excel.” Extreme sports became an outlet for Taylor’s pent-up energy, and helped him get his tics under control. He started to make friends—he remembered being teased, so he was never selective—and settled into a groove of spending one week with his father and the next with his mother. With both of his parents finding new partners, the family stayed close. And just like when Taylor was a baby, he was always smiling. “A flash of that smile, he just broke hearts,” says Justin Metcalfe, one of Taylor’s best friends. “The girls loved him all over.”

Peggy says they couldn’t help but fall for his good-natured, rebel-without-a-cause attitude. At 16, he started taking out his parents’ trucks, and often brought them back coated in mud—with plants in the undercarriage. When Peggy questioned him, he’d just shrug and say he hit a puddle. “He’d steal his dad’s huge cruise motorcycle and drive it around like nobody would know,” says Moira Wilkie, a family friend. “He didn’t have a clue that he’d get caught, and he’d get caught every time.”

When Taylor wasn’t taking his father’s motorcycle, he was often a homebody. He’d spend hours on his computer, looking at new parts for whatever he was currently speeding around on, and both his parents’ couches became well worn from action-movie marathons. When he went out it would often be with friends in Justin’s Chrysler New Yorker, listening to music—Bill Withers’s Lean on Me was a favourite—and talking about life. “His personality is bigger than anything. We didn’t have to be doing anything, no matter what, it was fun,” says Justin. “You couldn’t have asked for a better friend.”

Taylor was in his last year of high school and was about to start apprenticing with Peggy’s brother, an electrician. Already an expert on the road, the mountain, and the ski hill, Taylor’s next conquest was snowmobiling. He managed to scrounge the cash together to buy a used 1000 cc Yamaha, and picked it up on the morning of Sunday, Jan. 30. He was riding around the country trails and was only about 10 minutes away from his house when he lost control of the vehicle, struck a telephone pole, and was killed. Taylor Bruce was 18.

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The End | Father George Olsen | 1942-2011

Devoted to his parishioners, he took special care in honouring the emergency personnel who risked their lives for others

Father George Olsen

George Olsen was born in Kirkland Lake, Ont., on May 2, 1942. The second child of Cliff, a plumber, and Susie, a nurse and homemaker, he was a quiet child, but one who took charge. “If we played army, he would always be the general,” says his younger brother Cliff. The family was staunchly Catholic, and the Church fascinated George. As a kid, his favourite game was mass: he’d deliver the sermon and enlist Brenda, his older sister, and Cliff, as altar servers.

When George was six the family moved to Susie’s hometown of Killaloe, Ont., two hours west of Ottawa. They took root in the local church, and George and Cliff served as altar boys. Cliff was never particularly interested, but the parish priest noticed George’s enthusiasm and took the boy under his wing. “George showed all signs of wanting to be a priest,” says Cliff.

In fact, George had decided to enter the clergy before he even graduated from elementary school. But while he was unusually well-behaved and attentive toward his schoolwork, he was a typical child. He’d spend afternoons wrestling with Cliff or playing shinny on the creek that bisects Killaloe, and delivered papers to save money for clothes or to buy gifts for his mother. When he got a bit older, a neighbour taught him to dance. George was a natural, and spent many nights of his teenage years driving girls crazy at a nearby pavilion. “He was so smooth,” says Cliff.

At 17, George left home to join the priesthood. “I was at the bus stop with him,” recalls Cliff. “I figured this would be, ‘Hey, I got the place to myself, I got my brother out of my hair.’ But the bus pulled away and I was crying in the street.” The family didn’t see much of George while he was at the seminary, but he came back to be ordained in Killaloe when he was 25. “He didn’t run with the crowd anymore,” says Cliff. “I remember my mother, she would say to Brenda, ‘Now don’t you encourage him to dance.’ But that wasn’t a problem, George had given it up anyway.” The priesthood hadn’t totally changed his brother, though. “He was still George,” says Cliff. “He loved to have a laugh.”

Over the next decade, Father George worked at a number of churches in the Ottawa valley before being transferred to the tiny Quebec town of St. Joseph. There, his rectory was a small, isolated house surrounded by farmland, and he was always on the road—the congregation was so spread out that he had to oversee three churches more than an hour’s drive apart.

George was known for his laugh, and every service started with a joke. “He sometimes chuckled, like Red Skelton, before he delivered the punchline,” says Clarence Shires, a friend and long-time parishioner of Father George’s. “His sermons were always short, but they were not a fast-food restaurant. His words were wholesome meals that enriched the heart.”

In 1994, after 15 years in St. Joseph, Father George was posted to St. Casimir’s in Round Lake, Ont., just 13 km from his hometown. This brought him closer to the family, and allowed him to attend his siblings’ annual May long weekend trip at a cottage Cliff built on land he and George inherited from their grandfather. At one such gathering in 1995, they were all sitting on the porch when Brenda mentioned that she’d love to buy property nearby but didn’t have enough money. “George said, ‘You can have mine,’ ” says Brenda. “He signed it over, no cost or anything. That was just how he was.”

Father George devoted himself to the community in a similar way. For the last 17 years, he constantly met with parishioners, visited the sick, and worked with Round Lake’s tiny Catholic school. He was chaplain at the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus, and became especially dedicated to the club when, after 9/11, he was asked to organize an annual “blue mass” in honour of emergency personnel, when police, firefighters and paramedics from the diocese attended a service and a luncheon with the priest.

On March 20, a week after this year’s special service, Leonard Chaput, a friend of Father George’s who was visiting to help with chores the next day, left the priest watching TV in the rectory basement. Leonard woke up to a smoke-filled house and the priest’s cries for help, but couldn’t find Father George in the blaze. Firefighters, many of whom had attended the previous week’s blue mass, managed to save the attached church, but the flames were too intense to rescue Father George. He was 68.

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