Donnetta (Donna) Stewart
Passed away Friday, April 3, 2020. Born in North Vancouver on February 28, 1934. Married to Donald Stewart she lived in BC, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories before moving to Ottawa.
Donna and Don had four children; Ruth Stewart-Verger (Dean Verger), Nelson Stewart, Mary Salegio (John Gill), Keith Stewart (Erica Wilson); seven grandchildren (Josh, Brian, Lyndsay, Enrique, Roberto, Griffin, and Ivy), and three great-grandchildren (Samantha, Jasper, and one about to be born).
Donna was a single child for the first four years of her life. She romped with her mountaineer parents up and down the costal mountains. Sister Paddy arrived when Donna was three and immediately became her favourite doll. Her brother Stan arrived when Donna was seven. Margie, Ken, Jacqui and Douglas arrived in quick succession. Donna is described by her siblings as a second mother. Margie knew her as loving and giving. Ken describes her as caring and patient, the only one of his siblings he never once rolled his eyes at. Donna quickly learned that it was easier to get her brothers and sisters to do what she wanted if she told them a story. And thus, the storytelling skills she would use throughout her life were honed. Her siblings trained her for her future career as a teacher and leader.
Donna won a scholarship to University of British Columbia (UBC). There she studied history, graduating with honors. While at UBC she met the love of her life, Donald Stewart at the Student Christian Movement Fall Camp. Up to this point both had been called Don by family and friends. That weekend the campers assigned her the name Donna … and it stuck. As Don completed his Masters, Donna attended Normal School. In her practicum, the mentor teacher became ill the day she was to begin. Donna stepped in, taught the lessons, graded the students’ papers and met with parents. The principal did not mention that Donna was a student teacher, and all thought she was a substitute. All were so impressed, the following year she was hired, a qualified school teacher, to teach grades 7 and 8.
Donna and Don were married July 2, 1956. They moved to Edmonton, Alberta where Donna began teaching. There she began her lifelong friendship with Lauretta Howard, who eventually became Auntie Lauretta to Donna’s children.
Over the next years Donna taught in Alberta and the Northwest Territories as Don’s work moved the growing family from Edmonton to Yellowknife to Inuvik and to Fort Smith. Donna was instrumental in starting both a nursery school and a kindergarten in the Northwest Territories. She and several of her friends established a summer recreational playground program in Inuvik. She and Don were foster parents to dozens, ranging from infants to teenagers.
In Nepean, Donna helped to develop a learning-rich pre-school program in the days before four-year-old kindergarten. In Ottawa she was a volunteer in local schools, using her professional educational training and experience to the benefit of children at risk.
Donna was a founding member of the Ottawa StoryTellers, and sat on the executive of the Storytellers of Canada/Conteurs du Canada. Donna ran workshops for storytelling at all levels and helped create a storytelling and bereavement program. For many years, the children of Kanata knew her as the Story Lady due to her weekly volunteer storytelling hour at the Hazeldean Library. Donna has performed and toured as a storyteller in all provinces and two of the territories. She was best known for her well-researched historical pieces. Donna was known to tell stories to adults and children for 4 hours, without ever repeating a story, or taking a break. Her children and her grandchildren have all benefited from the rich repertoire, learning to listen and articulate their ideas.
Active in her local community, Donna volunteered at bike safety events for children, raised funds for many charities and spent many years on the board of the Kanata Foodbank. She believed strongly those who had the means had a responsibility to be involved in the well-being of her community. In the 60’s Donna took all four of her children (and four of her neighbour’s children) to participate in the very first Miles for Millions Walkathon. The nine walked the entire 25-mile distance and did it again the next years! In 2016 Donna was the inspiration behind a refugee support group that brought a mother, her six daughters, and one son from Eritrea to Canada. It took two more years to bring the husbands of two of the daughters to Ottawa.
Donna joined her church youth group (CGIT) at the age of ten. Since that time Donna has been active in her local United Church, taking on many varied roles from CGIT leader to Sunday school coordinator to chair of the Outreach committee. Donna, along with her husband, Don, were part of the United Church’s Pre-marriage Workshop Series, and on the United Church’s Stewardship committee. Donna was an active board member of and program provider for the Westend Chaplaincy. Children and adults from Foster Farm, Pinecrest area, and the Regina Street area will remember Donna’s Friday storytelling crafts and supper, her storytelling and discussion groups, and her stories at Family Camp. Always, the church was a center of her life.
Donna opened her door to all. Her house always had people coming and going, or even coming and staying, for days, weeks, and sometimes years. Her children enjoyed her baking. They remember fondly her deft hand with pie crust, and her always perfect cookies. One of the few things that all of her children agree upon: she was an excellent baker, but a dreadful cook.
As a mother, Donna actively participated in our lives. With, Donna, we have scrambled through woods, waded in lakes and streams, splashed in pools, explored books, built with lego, created with play-dough, played cribbage, Chinese Checkers or Scrabble and heard stories. She helped us with our homework, our studies and our children. She shared discussions, debates and dreams with us. She taught us the geography and the stories of our vast country, and introduced us, through stories, to the people who have made a difference in the world around us. She showed us, through her own example, that we are part of a wider community, we are responsible for our own actions, and we are our brother’s keepers. She always accepted and love each one of us for who we are. For all this and more, we give thanks.
For those wishing, please consider a donation in Donna's memory to Doctors Without Borders/Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) 551 Adelaide Street West, Toronto, Ontario M5V 0N8 or to your local Food Bank.