“She moved the earth”
April 20, 1922 – August 15, 2013
Mother, G’ma, wife, organic gardener, handywoman, renovator, artist, creator, mentor
A REFLECTION BY TONY SEED*
PEGGY passed away at Toronto East General in the early hours of Thursday, August 15. She died with dignity and in peace, comforted by those grandchildren, children, and caregivers who could make it in time.
Defiant until the end, battling a slew of health problems, Peggy spent her final days conscientiously planning every detail of her final project: an open house and group art show, designed to showcase her and her family’s renovation and artistic talents. The show will go on, but on Saturday, October 12 from 1 to 5 p.m. on the Thanksgiving weekend at Knox House in the Meaford-Blantyre area.
Peggy joins her loving husband Jack of 68 years, who died on December 11, 2012. She is survived by their four children: Tony, Debby, John and Julia (Will McIlvride), all of Toronto; five grandchildren: Martin (of Atlanta), Thomas Reyto (Alex), Nick, Catherine Reyto, and Jennifer Wilkinson, all of Toronto; and great-granddaughter Makenna Greenland (of Burlington). Her siblings Myra (Myo Moore), John H. (Jackie), and Thomas Jackson, and Patricia (Patsy Haig) and their respective spouses (Keith, Ginny, Toni and Sally, and Graeme) all predeceased her. The many nieces and nephews of the Jackson/Moore and Seed/Smith clans will find it hard to forget their feisty aunt.
Peggy Seed was a woman of beauty and vibrancy – full of life, character and creativity, emotion and optimism. Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to the late Nell Bell Hollands Rae and John Jackson, she was the fourth of the original Jackson Five. The Jackson family were generous and friendly, and left a trail of respect and affection from all those who knew them. At Nell Rae’s insistence, all their children attended university and graduated in scientific disciplines such as aeronautical and civil engineering, nutrition and interior design. Peggy herself attended Ruperts Land, Gordon Bell HS, and the University of Manitoba (Diploma, Interior Design 1938). She had longed to be an architect and applied to and was arbitrarily rejected by the Faculty of Architecture due to her gender.
The Jackson family were well-known for their enthusiasm for sports. When John Jackson, a top baseball and professional hockey player, curler and champion bowler, was finally inducted into the Amateur Sports Hall of Fame in 2004 (he had to be waived by the NHL first in 1970 at the age of 83 so as to be reinstated as an amateur), the inscription on his plaque declared that “the Jackson family seldom turned down an appeal for help from amateur sports organizations.” 
For her part, Nell Rae became a fine amateur artist, the first of four generations of artists and graphic designers. Her painting were mostly landscapes – the beauty of the Prairies as well as scenes of fishing villages. (As a young boy, every morning I would wake up, and see her painting on the wall of my bedroom of a fishermen standing on a wharf in a harbour in the Maritimes. He is leaning on a wooden piling with one arm. But his arm was a little bit longer than the other arm! — to reach the top of the piling. Ironically, this was one of the paintings left to me by my mother.)
Raised in such an environment, Peggy as a student youth excelled in gymnastics, badminton, basketball and varsity diving and swimming, becoming provincial champion; as a swimmer, she always modestly deferred to her younger sister Patsy (“oh, Patsy was much better than me”), also a provincial champion, and as an athlete, to her older brother Jackie; as a spouse, she took up curling and golf with Jack; and as a senior, she played tennis and bridge with enthusiasm, last taking the court on Thanksgiving, 2010 with Jack during a family tennis tournament. Having come from church in town, the twosome (Peggy, 89, and somewhat blind, and Jack, 94, with cane, sweater and tie) insisted on coming onto the court and putting on an exhibition of serving and hitting the ball over the net, mostly successful.
Peggy Seed could have been a simple “society” girl, but the education she received, together with her own sentiments and personality and the imprint of the suffragette movement in Winnipeg, made her determined to find her own way in the world. Following her graduation, she defied prevailing wisdom by setting off east for Toronto, where she found a position with Eaton’s as an interior decorator. The department story monopoly was not interviewing women. With characteristic ingenuity she got the interview by submitting her application simply as being from “M.D. Jackson”. When she entered the room, they sputtered, “Why, you are a woman!” She retorted, “Well, if I had submitted it any other way, would you have called? Besides, what do you have left? All the good men have gone to fight in the war. Now you have granted me this interview, can we get on with it?”
She met Jack, then a poor struggling law student from Cobourg, Ontario, who had worked in mining camps and as a teacher in a one-room rural school outside Cochrane (he lived in the back, skiing to town for supplies during the winter) in Northern Ontario to help put himself through Trinity College, supplemented by a small bursary and working nights in the college library.
She was at a soda fountain with a mutual friend, she recalled to me shortly before she passed away. “Jack was sitting at the back. He came up, said hello to our friend, who in turn introduced us, and then asked me if I was free on Saturday night. ‘Well, no, as it so happens I am not free,’ I replied. He went back and sat down. About a quarter hour later, he came back and asked if I was free the following Saturday night. ‘Well, no, as it so happens I am not free that night either,’ I replied. About a quarter hour later, he came back and asked if I was free the following Saturday night. ‘Well,’ I replied, ‘as it so happens I am free that night.’ It was rather a cheap date! We had a milk shake and walked and talked. He had a certain ‘roughness’ about him that I found appealing.”
Peggy and Jack married in Winnipeg in January, 1944; the mutual friend, Jack Coyne, was Jack’s best man. They lived briefly in Sydney, Cape Breton and then in Halifax, NS, during Jack’s years in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Anti Fascist World War II, when he served on convoy escort duty during the Battle of the Atlantic and Peggy worked at the old Sears store by the Armdale Rotary. (Not a visit to Halifax passed without them driving down Inglis Street to see if the stately old rooming house on Inglis Street where they boarded still stood [it does].) She went home to Winnipeg for the birth of their first child in April 1945; six weeks later, she travelled by train alone with baby Tony halfway across the country back to Halifax. After the war, they somehow made ends meet with two young kids, while Jack finished at Osgoode Hall Law School and began practising law in Toronto. They soon rented a house on Park Street in Oakville, where he had taught at Appleby College in the late 1930s and Canon Smith, a cousin, was a rector of the Anglican church, St. Judes. Meanwhile, she personally designed the first split-level house outside Oakville on the Lake Ontario waterfront in 1951 – a design featuring an open concept and natural light that was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, the acclaimed American architect who had always impressed her for some reasons – and ahead of its time. Debby recently found the original designs; they were all initialled by her. She had drafted them, something we had never realized before. There in Oakville they made many lifelong friends, along with those in Toronto and Meaford-Blantyre from later years.
We had trouble keeping up with Peggy. Her life and immense work personified an independent spirit, clarity of purpose, tenacious determination, indefatigable energy, modesty and joyful presence. A pleasant conversationalist, she spoke frankly and did not suffer fools gladly. Her words and deeds were one. She upheld the highest moral and ethical principals and aesthetic standards, both in the home and in her art. Not surprisingly, she was her fiercest critic. She was a woman of impeccable taste, both in appearance and decor. She loved cooking and many of her recipes are treasured.
Her many interests ranged from reading and painting to organic gardening and propagating trees; from singing to attending the opera; and from painting theatre props to fundraising for the arts. Peggy volunteered for many organizations, e.g., the Crest Theatre, TSO, National Ballet School, and the famous Trinity College Friends of the Library annual book sale that she and Jack helped the late Prof Rupert Schieder, his former college room-mate and lifelong friend, to pioneer.
A lifelong learner, Peggy went back to university and graduated, at the age of 50, with a BA in Fine Art from the University of Toronto. She once declared to me, “50 is the beginning of new life” and “at the age of 50 you are at the height of your creative powers.” She personified these axioms with a certainty of purpose and by writing a new volume of creative work. She became an accomplished portrait artist and landscape painter in mid-life in her own right. To her amazement, she placed third in a 2003 competition of the International Portrait Society for her dignified and sombre work, “The Veteran, WWII”; had portraits chosen for national shows of the Portrait Society of Canada; and earned commissions from organizations, stores and individuals. Indeed, she came into her own as an artist in her seventies, enjoying ever-growing success selling her works. In 1998, at the age of 76 she courageously organized her first (and solo) art show, where she sold 80 per cent of 30-odd paintings. Her painting, in which she put nature and people at the centre of her art, characterized by a marvellous sense of colour, was an extension of her will to humanize both the social and natural environment. Alas, this potential was nowhere near exhausted by the time of her disability. Her failing eyesight robbed her of the opportunity to develop her full potential.
Like her artistic mother, Peggy continued to study by attending art workshops at home and abroad, also nurturing an independence of spirit and joy in travel. (Both always returned home to their patient husbands.) She likewise derived great pleasure in travelling to different continents with Jack in their eighties, thus satisfying their mutual interest in and respect for other peoples, their rich cultures and their heritage.
Quietly patriotic – she referred to a certain multinational big box outlet as “that American store” and never by its name – her spirit for nation-building found its reflection in the sphere of culture and the arts, for example, the struggle for independent publishing. Peggy, Jack and longtime neighbour Paul Deacon supported Arnold Edinborough in his efforts to sustain Saturday Night as an independent national magazine. Likewise they continuously encouraged Tony in his efforts to develop independent journalism and media in Canada, for example, his publication of Shunpiking, Nova Scotia’s discovery magazine – to which she contributed a poignant commentary on the groundbreaking Canadian painter Tom Thompson and his Group of Seven; and of Debby in her writing of such award-winning children’s books as The Amazing Water Book and as co-founder of the Freelance Copy Editors Association of Canada.
What was humbling to watch was her world outlook, humanistic and noble, as it kept evolving. Even at 91, amidst her stoic battle for life, she denounced the exploitation of immigrants by Canada and the degredation of the environment by agribusiness. After Jack passed on December 11, 2012 just three days after his 97th birthday, Peggy declared in January 2013 that she aimed to visit Cuba, saying “I want to see what the Cuban people have achieved.” She had been thrilled to have personally met the Cuban ambassador to Canada at a social function in Toronto several years earlier – “it was full of life!” – and became fascinated as to how the Cubans had turned the illegal US blockade, which included the export of pesticides, on its head by developing organic farming and sustainable agriculture. Her two-week trip, charted out by longtime family friend Sandra L. Smith, was to include a stay in an eco-village inhabited by artisans outside Havana and a week in the capital during the height of the world renowned Cuban ballet season. Sadly, her trip was to be vetoed in March by doctors, one of the few concessions she was forced to make to the objectivity of life.
Despite her failing health, she continued to attend meetings of the Toronto Herb Society and Current Events Club (both of which she was a long-time member); to drawing sessions at the Heliconian Club; to playing bridge weekly with good friends; and to the opera. Music was a passion. Undaunted at the loss of her sight, she adapted to the medium of reading books, devouring audio books that she obtained either from the public library or the CNIB, especially on the environment and national affairs, but the computer defied her. To keep abreast of current events, she avidly listened to programs on CBC Radio as she worked in the kitchen or on TV Ontario later in the evening hours, which became her window on the world, when not sharing an evening watching Turner’s Classic Movies holding hands together with Jack. She would make light of Jack’s own health problems and would tease him, saying “for most of my life I was dependent on you; now you are dependent on me. I rather like that!” But then he always had an answer: when she would scold him for being late to the dinner table, he would slowly turn to her, smile sweetly and state simply, “I love you Peg.” Dinner was served.
In her last years, together with Jack, grandson Nick and later granddaughter Catherine, Peggy channelled her energy into turning the empty Meaford-area Knox Church (1857) on Grey 12 into a residence, soldiering on despite her and Jack’s many critical health problems. They were inspired by longtime friend and activist neighbour, the late Milford Sewell, who wished this centre of their farming community preserved. Finishing the church project with its innovative design was Peggy’s crowning achievement, aided by the active collaboration of the whole family. In her last days she was working on a unique logo from a Gaelic and a Greek motif for Knox House symbolizing friendship: a loving cup. Her next, unfinished project was the renovation of the abandoned Blantyre community centre which is contiguous to the Bruce Trail on Grey 12. “Then,” she told me, “my work on this earth will be finished.”
Peggy and Jack loved the Meaford-Blantyre area, where they spent the last 40 years of their lives restoring farmhouses and barns, building ponds and gardens, moving earth and boulders, planting thousands of trees, supporting the maintenance of the famous Bruce Trail that passed through their farm in the former village of Blantyre, and surviving the 1996 tornado that narrowly missed their home. In turn they quietly opened their home in Toronto to those friends like Grandma Lamb on her visits to see her late granddaughter, who was hospitalized at Sick Kids.
Education and a thirst for learning, hard work, thrift, an interest and participation in political and civic affairs, and a love of the arts and sports was a premise in her home into which she placed her entire body and soul. The concept of entitlement and the supposition of being “born better” was alien to her. A loyal wife and devoted mom and grandmom, she herself occupied an important and meaningful space, permitting her children and grandchildren to blossom and contribute to society and in turn was a tremendous and beloved inspiration to her extended family, her broad circle of friends from all walks of life and all ages, and all those who came to know her.
“Her infectious enthusiasm propelled conscious friends and people around her to make this world more humane and beautiful,” wrote one younger friend.
After blindness robbed her of her driving licence, she (and Jack) relied on John and later Tony to drive her to countless meetings and medical appointments, accompany her shopping, and drive her back and forth to Meaford. Through the collective efforts of Debby, Julia and Tony; grandchildren Thomas, Catherine, Nick and Jennifer; loyal friend Julie Davis; and Blair Mackenzie and Kazi Haque, she and Jack were able to live their last years with dignity and purpose. Their great luck was to have the devoted caregiver Marissa Gimena for six years, as well as the cheerful Lida Muguerza.
The family wishes to thank the kind and prompt attention of doctors Rewa, McKellar, Bin, Carron and Collins, as well as TEGH’s staff in Non-Invasive Cardiology, Oncology, and Emergency who knew Peggy and Jack on a first-name basis. We are grateful also to their case managers at the CCAC and Sprint in Toronto, and Paramed in Owen Sound. These women’s patience and concern were amazing.
The funeral is on Wednesday, August 21, at 11 a.m., at St James Cathedral (King and Church); interment and reception to follow at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Visitation Centre. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Peggy’s scholarship fund in Interior Design at the University of Manitoba Faculty of Architecture, a publicly-funded hospital or library.
Peggy Seed will always be remembered for the truly exceptional Mother, G’ma, Mentor and Creator she was.
*This reflection is based on the original obituary by the children, especially Debby, and is a work in progress. Please feel free to contribute your own reflection in the ‘Leave A Reply’ box below.
1. John Jackson played pro hockey with the Brandon Maple Leafs (1907-09), but was not allowed to play amateur when he returned to Winnipeg. He was an active sportsman and strong supporter of the Manitoba sports community for more than half a century: the “Coal Hole” in the backroom of the family business, Thomas Jackson and Sons, was a meeting place for the sporting fraternity of the Prairies. John and his brother Jim operated standard bred races on the ice of the Assiniboine River, and he was a part owner of the great Canadian-bred pacer, Winnipeg, which set a world pacing record and won 107 races en route to the Canadian and U.S. Racing Halls of Fame.
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From Toronto Star Guest Book
What an inspiring life!
Best wishes to you at this difficult time.
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There is cause for celebration and gratitude at the end of a life so long, so productively lived, and shared with such love and exuberance with so many. Still, some people’s passing has the impact of the hour hand reaching twelve for one of the few times that it does, and Peggy’s passing leaves me sad and profoundly startled that, inevitably yet impossibly, both she and Jack are gone. Goodbye, you two. It was my heartfelt privilege to know you.