Margaret Torrance, a much-loved and respected resident of Queenston, died Sept. 8, peacefully, in the Niagara Falls site of Niagara Health.
Out-of-town relatives had a funeral home include a lovely online obituary, but because it was not published locally, many who knew her were unaware of her passing, say her friends and neighbours.
Also, due to the pandemic, there has been no way to celebrate her life or her contributions to the village, where she and her husband built a home in 1974.
Dorie Barratt, another long-time villager, was closest to her, as a friend and neighbour.
The two women lived next door to each other for more than 30 years, and often waved through their windows. If Torrance was outside in her garden, where she loved to putter, Barratt would join her for a chat.
“She was outside in her garden right up to the end,” says Barratt, who spoke to her friend one day, and was surprised to hear the next day she was in the hospital.
“I was shocked. She woke up, had some pains, and called the woman who helped her out in the house sometimes,” says Barratt. “The next day she was gone.”
In that sense, she was fortunate, living a healthy and independent life right to the end, says Barratt.
“I still look out the window, and miss being able to wave to her.”
At 96, Torrance “was young,” quite fit and active, both mentally and physically. She lived very independently, and drove right up to the end, going out for whatever she needed. She had a gardener who came to help her with the heavy work, and he had been there the day before she died, with Torrance outside, following him around and directing him as he worked, as she always did, says her friend.
Before the pandemic, she was still driving into town to Tai Chi classes twice a week, and her house was designed with the living quarters on the second floor. “She was going up and down her stairs umpteen times a day,” says Barratt, so those activities likely helped keep her physically fit.
She was also a voracious reader of non-fiction, deeply interested in history, and delved into subjects thoroughly, never superficially, which was reflected in her conversation.
“She was a very unique personality.”
Torrance loved people, and liked to be busy. “She’d get bored, decide to go for a walk, and it wouldn’t be long before she’d be in someone’s driveway, talking, or she’d be hanging over her balcony talking to someone walking by. She was forever bringing over articles she read that she thought I’d be interested in. She read all kinds of newspapers, and she liked to talk about what she read.”
Torrance and her husband Bob had travelled a great deal before his death in 2006, both of them keeping journals, Margaret right up until the end.
“She had great stories about the places they’d been, many places that not many people get to visit.”
And then, suddenly she was gone, with some villagers still expressing surprise when they hear of her passing, says Barratt.
“Even though Margaret was 96, everyone was shocked to hear she had died. I heard from an old friend who didn’t know she was gone until just a few weeks ago.”
Before the pandemic, there were several annual events in the village, and Torrance was active in all of them. She helped bake tourtieres for the annual sale leading up to Christmas. In the early days of the annual village art sale, a lover of art, she would help hang pictures, and in later years was always on hand to help out. And she’d never missed an annual plant and garden sale, says Barratt. “Right up until everything was cancelled, she was at every function. And she was always doing something for somebody.”
One of Torrance’s many significant historical accomplishments was her success in the reprinting of The Journal of John Norton, says Jim Armstrong, president of the Queenston Residents Association.
As many events were organized to recognize the anniversary of the War of 1812, Torrance, who had been trying to have the historic figure recognized for his significance in the war since she first read a review of his journal, became committed to having the publisher, the Champlain Society, reprint it to make it more accessible to the public, explains Armstrong.
Torrance had been a member of the QRA from its earliest days, and was dedicated to the community in many ways, including its history. She was especially interested in the contribution of Indigenous people, he says, describing her as “involved, incisive and observant in her thinking.”
Norton had a Scottish mother and a Cherokee father, had been adopted by the Mohawks, and led the Native allies into many significant War of 1812 battles.
Torrance was especially interested in his first-hand account of those events, says Armstrong.
She had learned about them when she and her husband Bob visited a manor home in Scotland, and she came across a document from his journal.
When first approached, the Champlain Society said, “maybe, we’ll see,” recounts Armstrong. “Then they said they’d do a softcover, and finally agreed to a hardcover, as a result of Margaret pursuing it.”
He recalls a saying she would often use when faced with a challenge, “‘‘and the way shall open.’ She believed if you keep with it, focusing on things of value and working on them, a way will open to make them happen, and they usually did.”
The reprinted version was for sale in the Fort George Gift Shop, at the NOTL Museum and the Laura Secord Homestead in Queenston, and sold out quickly, but as a result became more accessible to those interested in it for research purposes.
“This was one of the achievements that was quite singular for her,” he says, “and it’s something the Champlain Society just doesn’t do.”
They included an acknowledgement of her efforts in the front of the journal, but not to the extent he felt she deserved, adds Armstrong. “It was something, but it could have been so much more.”
Torrance was also very involved in an effort, around that same time, to have the Niagara Parks Commission purchase and move John Norton’s cabin, which was on the private property of historian Jon Juppien in St. Catharines, which was for sale. She and others were hoping it could be moved to the Laura Secord Homestead site, to ensure it would be preserved, and possibly used as a museum to Indigenous people. The idea was investigated and then dropped, and although it wasn’t successfully relocated, the St. Catharines property was eventually sold to the John Brown Heritage Foundation, where the cabin is being preserved.
It wasn’t just historical events that kept her active in her community, says Armstrong. She could be counted on to help out whenever there was a need, and she rarely, if ever, missed one of the QRA meetings, he says.
An extensive book collection amassed during the travels of Margaret and Bob has been donated to the Queenston Library.
Upon her death in September, her family suggested those interested in making a donation in her memory choose an arts or social justice organization that champions Canada’s Indigenous peoples.
Her online obituary can be found at https://memorials.passfieldmortuary.ca/torrance-georgena/4459793/index.php