Tryon, Anne: A Brief Look at the Life of an Ancestor


By Anne Tryon

In August 1923, four sisters and their mother arrived at Quebec City, disembarking from S.S. Athenia which had brought them from Birkenhead, England. Ernest, their father, having travelled to Toronto earlier would be reunited with his wife and four girls, the youngest being 11 year old LEONORA. The family left a secure life, to come to a land of opportunity for their daughters. Lillian was very capable in domestic activities and midwifery. Ernest was a skilled tradesman in the umbrella industry. They came to Ontario at a time when its population was 1/3 of Canada's total population and it was increased in the next decade by 3,000 000 . Historically, the family arrived at a time of "post-war boom, with high inflation" but the decade ended with the crash of Wall Street in 1929.

Leonora attended public school senior 3rd. After three months and a course in Canadian History she was promoted. Leonora felt she had been uprooted from her friendly surroundings and plunked into an unfriendly environment where she was called a SPARROW and had horse manure rubbed in her hair. Her athletic abilities were increased because she ran from the boys. (A few years later she outran a bear and later in life people commented on her beautiful head of hair)

After teaching the Jewish lads the skills of making umbrellas, her father was let go, and a sign in the windows said "no Englishmen need apply" causing insecurity. The older sisters stayed in their domestic jobs as live-ins and Leonora with her parents headed west to Vancouver, B.C.

Leonora peeled sacks of potatoes, fished, taught swimming and walked two miles to High School. It was one of the happier times for Leonora even though she worked and provided an existence for her father and herself. Her mother was working for a family in the city.

In 1928 the threesome headed back east to Toronto, stopping in Lucky Lake, Saskatchewan to help with the crops which over the last few years had improved for the farmers. Leonora drove a team of horses pulling a grain wagon. Back in Toronto, Ernest played the trombone at the movies until the talkies ended his job. Leonora attended Central Tech but art supplies and other necessities which she couldn't afford resulted in her leaving school.

During the year of the crash Leonora was accepted in nurses' training in the Whitby Mental Health Hospital. It was a roof over her head, meals and hard work, which ended up beginning her life's work.

Having survived three years of training Leonora graduated in Whitby. Because she was too young to be hired elsewhere, she worked one more year at the Whitby Mental Health Hospital. Good proficiency reports, supervising positions, ability to not show fear, and the fact that she would not stand by and see a person hurt mentally or physically, possibly made her the choice for a nursing position at the Ontario Hospital Cobourg, at the top of College Street. Leonora earned $33.05 a month as supervisor of delinquent girls. It upset her to see orphans sent to the hospital at age 16 to learn sewing, cooking and other similar skills.

By 1950 Leonora was nursing at the Cobourg General Hospital and soon became evening supervisor. The following is a quote from another nurse, "Leonora was one of the first nurses I met when I started to work at Cobourg Hospital. She took me under her wing and, although I had not done much nursing since graduation, Leonora never made me feel like I knew nothing. She was a great help to me. We saw and weathered many changes and challenges over the years we worked together."

Later in 1957 she accepted one of two offers which put her in charge of Cobourg Doctors' Clinic. In 1959 at age 47 experiencing a final separation from her husband, Leonora was off working at two hospitals in Calgary. Later she was drawn back to Toronto to work at Sunnybrook Hospital and then at Doctors' Hospital.

Once again and until retirement Leonora began working with mentally ill people at the Ontario Government Psychiatric Research Hospital in Toronto where there was a change in treatment and attitude.

Leonora continued her education as a part time mature student at the University of Toronto. In 1966 this led her to obtain the position of evening Nursing Administrator incharge of the complete system (even switch board) in the brand new Clarke Institute of Psychiatry in Toronto. Leonora often opened her home to the nurses and doctors completing their training in Psychiatric care, most of whom were away from home, some as far away as Jamaica.

To help people understand the change in attitude, resources and methods used in the hospitals, Leonora portrayed a patient undergoing treatment, in a mini television series. "A pride of Canada---more Canadians should know about the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry", commented Leonora.

A fire in the hospital resulted in a tribute for her part in a "well organized orderly evacuation." During this time Leonora organized business in the community to briefly give shelter to the patients. The 52 Division police were there to take charge of the forensic patients who were from the locked unit in the hospital. During Leonora's retirement years she lived in and was an advocate for the Seniors who lived in assisted care at Victoria Place at the top of College St. (a familiar and much warmer, brighter home). Leonora's life had a common thread running through the years. It was to help others, no matter what. The quote "We were not put here on Earth to see through each other, but to see each other through" is apt. Also " a person is like a book. You just need to know how to read and interact with the person" or an animal. Leonora's benevolence went further than people, as many creatures experienced her love.

Leonora Coe Stevenson 1911 - 1998 an advocate, supporter, nurse, educator, wife, a hero and mother to her two daughters Mary Jane Petrilli and Anne Elizabeth Tryon.

Leonora Coe Stevenson