Nestled in folds of Mclauchlin tartan, sprigs of rowan berries at the frame base, knowing eyes of a woman look directly at you. Firm face, kind eyes, set mouth, satin dress, pearl necklace… clearly Florence McLauchlin Speers was dressed in her best for the camera.
This photograph, expertly restored and coloured in today’s technology, graces the cover of a book commemorating the life and letters of Florrie, born in 1893 in Bootle, England. She died in a hospital in Moose Jaw, SK in 1930, at age 37. Breast cancer moved to her brain and a tumour took her life. Her life had a significant impact on Barrie, ON.
Between her birth and her death are remarkable years. She birthed five children, instilled with a love of learning and education, though her gender prohibited her from the learning she would certainly have embraced. Florrie Speers’ death meant her 14 year old son, John, was now parent to three young children… ‘the kiddies’ he called them.
A year apart, 3, 4, and 5, or 6, 7, and 8, they were cared for, entertained, washed and fed by their big brother. At the same time, John had his eye on Curly, his slightly younger brother.
This is a story of a family in the Canadian prairies in the Depression of the 30’s; a story of a family poor in financial wealth, and rich in love, how a young boy grew up trying his best to go to school, loving and connected to his mother, caring for his siblings, worrying about his dad. The young man went on to graduate from ‘normal’ school and take up teaching on the prairies.
Son John got through school, two university degrees, taught before taking up the Anglican Church. It was at Trinity Anglican Church in Barrie that the Rev John Speers brought his kind heart to a ministry that spanned 50 years.
He’s story teller, historian, pianist, poet, writer and remarkable gardener. Canon John, now 95 years old, is blind and hard of hearing, but his determination to tell his mother’s story found favour with a number of people who gave willing assistance.
John’s secretary Angela Maxwell comes once a week to help with correspondence. Volunteers read and took notes as John ‘wrote’ the connecting tissues that pulled together his family’s storied life. He’s printed enough copies for Florrie’s immediate 21 descendants to each have a book, and to sell the rest. While Curly (Clarence) died at age 20 in World War Two, the other Speers ‘kids’ are still alive…
George is 85 and lives in Brantford. With four universities degrees, he lectured at Mohawk College and in the United Church.
Dorothy, at age 86, taught high school and became a librarian. She lives in Kingsway, Toronto.
Millie (Mildred), 84, taught public school and devoted to motherhood. She lives in Georgetown.
These three are the ‘kiddies’ to whom John dedicates his book. “I have carried the kiddies’ all my life.”
John says that writing Florrie brought his mother closer to him. Though separated through circumstance, though an aunt adopted Millie and Dorothy, they were united in Cobalt in 1941 after six years. “The bond stayed and we were so happy to see each other.”
John is planning a book launch this fall and, at $20 a copy, this journal opens a window on life 80 years ago in Canada, life on the prairies, life as it launched so many of the elderly people who are here in our community today.
With Florrie, John feels as if he has his mother back, as if she’s come home.
You can order Florrie through John Speers at 705 726-1072 or Angela Maxwell at 705 728-5307.