‘The Flower Lady' Leaves a Meaningful Legacy
Published Monday, November 9, 2020
Pictured are Effie and George Rempel, with a portrait of Isabel Webster, who made a generous donation in her Will of $1,025,128, which will be used to create the Isabel Webster Endowment Fund; funds generated from the endowment will support the Cardiovascular Surgery Program at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.
By Heather Vita
From milking cows as a child, to helping her family farm chickens, and then, later, finding a passion for gardening and flowers, Isabel Webster’s life was one that will always be remembered by those who knew her. And now, thanks to her decision to make a gift in her Will to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation, her impact will continue to be felt for years to come.
After spending close to 99 years living a life that revolved around her love of flowers and gardening, Isabel passed, but not before taking the time to express her desire of how she wanted her estate to be used. “She wanted it to go to a worthy cause; one that would make good use of it,” recalled Effie Rempel, Isabel’s cousin and co-executor of her estate. “She was extremely particular,” commented George, Effie’s husband, “and wanted things just right”. He recalled having to dig up some of the 500 gladiola bulbs he had planted to replant them one-quarter inch deeper, since they weren’t up to Isabel’s standard. “So I can say it was with a lot of thought and trust that she made this donation,” he added.
In her Will, Isabel left a donation of $1,025,128, which will be gratefully turned into the Isabel Webster Endowment Fund. Funds from her endowment will support the Cardiovascular Surgery Program at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. Having had to travel to Winnipeg for heart surgery, Isabel knew how important this service would be to residents of Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario. She was keen to leave a donation to the city where she spent her entire life, to fund a program that could continue to care for people.
As an only child, Isabel grew up working hard with her parents, first at the family-owned Braidwood Dairy, where she learned how to milk the cows by hand. Her mother had a garden and took flowers, vegetables and bread in a horse-drawn carriage to sell at the Farmer’s Market that was located at the Prince of Wales Rink – behind Fort William Gardens. It was foreshadowing a future where Isabel herself would become well known at Victoriaville where she would sell fresh produce, bread and flowers.
Her family re-located the dairy farm from the corner of Amelia and Heath St. to Squaw Bay near Chippewa, where they rented a farm. They began re-operating under the name Indian Farm, and eventually stopped home delivery because the bottles kept breaking because of the rough condition of the road. During this time, Isabel went to a half day of school on Frances Street, completing grade 8. She also boarded in Fort William to attend Fort William Collegiate to complete grade 9.
When her mother became ill, Isabel stayed home to help with chores on the farm, where her family stayed until 1944. They sold their herd of cows and moved to Garden Avenue where they purchased 10 acres and operated a farm that began with chickens. They sold eggs, cleaned chickens and brought them to market.
Isabel’s father passed away shortly after the move and Isabel and her mom decided to go into the greenhouse business. Her friend Len Vanderwees helped build a new greenhouse after her first one started with old windows as cold frames. This began her love of gardening and flowers.
Effie remarked, “She really had a way with arranging and knowing which colours would look good together. I remember she used to bunch flowers together in juice tins to transport them to market and once there would arrange them into beautiful bouquets. One day when she was a patient at St. Joe’s, she asked me to go to her greenhouse and pick some white orchids because the lady in the bed next to her didn’t have anyone visiting. She specifically told me to add some greenery to compliment the white. Well, I returned with the flowers and knew I hadn’t done half as good a job as she would have. She took one look at the arrangement and said, ‘that’s not quite what I had in mind’.”
As Isabel was working with her mother, she was introduced to Vicky, who became her life-long best friend; they would go on to share over 60 years together. While Isabel never married or had children, she enjoyed the company of others but also cherished the time on her own.
George said, “She used to be up at all times of the night, blaring country music, baking 80 loaves of bread and arranging flowers for market. That was just how she was.” He added, laughing, “It was hard to reach her on the phone because that music was always turned up so loud.”
An independent woman her entire life, Isabel will be warmly remembered by those who knew her. And for those who didn’t, they will most likely be touched by her generosity, through her support of the Cardiovascular Surgery Program.