Little Red Maple celebrates a tender life

“What an impact, what a gift this young woman gave to her world in her short years here. And what a remarkable tribute that a community of elderly people would honour her memory with this brilliant, living testament.”


K’Leigh Cundall lived a big life. Born in 1984, she was a keen student. And as a pre-teen, she announced to her parents that she was going to be a doctor. As a teenage high school student, she announced it to the world.

Quietly. Because K’Leigh wasn’t given to being loud. She was given to living big, and well, and full but with a quiet confidence that gave her steely determination.

When K’Leigh was born, and then when her brother was born, their parents marked their new lives by planting red maple trees. When they moved from that home and took up another, their first act was to plant two new red maple trees. It was a tradition.

Long before our school system mandated volunteer hours, K’Leigh marched herself from Eastview Secondary School down the street to Grove Park Home. There, as a volunteer, she loaded the tea cart and pushed it around during the afternoons, serving tea and cookies to residents and their visitors.

She volunteered as a dietary aid, helping residents at their meals.

She then got an after school and summer job at Grove Park using her unique ability to care and connect with elderly people. So comfortable was she in her own skin that she was able to sit in silence just holding the hand of an older person. She let them know that they mattered.

She identified those who had no or few visitors and made it her mission to arrive at work early, in time to drop in on Gordon Beswetherick. From Gordon’s window, he’d identify birds and show her his daily sighting journal, meticulously kept by a man with a lifelong interest in birds.

K’Leigh’s enthusiasm for Gordon’s enthusiasms was infectious and inspirational for both of them.

She’d sit there, listening, talking, holding their hands, caring.

When Gordon died, K’Leigh and a friend came to his memorial service. A lifelong bachelor, Gordon’s relatives were few and those at Grove Park realized that it was K’Leigh and her friend who really knew and understood Gordon. They were the ones who visited daily. K’Leigh was there when Gordon was ill. K’Leigh was there to honour him when he died.

K’Leigh’s brother Peter also volunteered and then worked at Grove Park, bringing additional Cundall care to Barrie’s oldest retirement facility.

During her high school years, she was taking summer courses at Queen’s University. These summer enrichment programs were taking her into bio-chemistry and then into medicine. While giving herself an academic edge, she also held down part time jobs at the OPP Regional Centre as well as at Grove Park.

With that same quiet, solid sense of who she was, K’Leigh entered lives and made a difference. Her death several months ago was tragically premature.

K’Leigh’s mother remembers how upsetting it was (in a way) that her seven-year-old daughter could go off to sleepover camp for a week and not even miss her. Brenda recalls going to visit K’Leigh at camp, enjoying lunch, and then being virtually dismissed by her daughter with a “you can go home now” smile. Brenda’s friend saw it differently. “You’ve done a terrific job as parents that K’Leigh feels so secure,” said her friend.

Last weekend, K’Leigh’s mom and dad, her brother Peter, her friends Heather, Mike, Karen, Tonya and Michelle all gathered in the interior courtyard at Grove Park Home. They participated in the planting of a tree to celebrate the life and honour the attitude of K’Leigh Cundall. By total coincidence, it’s a red maple tree.

Every fall, its leaves will be the first brilliant scarlet to signal the start of the last season of the year. And, as coincidence would have it, K’Leigh’s tree is planted right outside the window where she and Gordon used to look at the birds.

What an impact, what a gift this young woman gave to her world in her short years here. And what a remarkable tribute that a community of elderly people would honour her memory with this brilliant, living testament.

Thanks, K’Leigh. Thanks, Grove Park.