My mother Martine Baugniet (latterly Gow-Cooper) was born in Brussels in 1939. Her mother was a Montrealer who was raised and educated in Belgium, and her father was a Belgian who converted to Judaism in 1934 before they married. My mother, her mother, and her eldest brother were rescued from Belgium in May of 1940 by my great-grandfather Albert Freedman, who had been an intelligence officer in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in WWI, and served the British intelligence effort before and during WWII, based in London. He had enough notice of the German invasion to make his way to Brussels, take the family to Paris for British visas based on his nationality, and get them all back to London, just in time.
There they lived through the Blitz, evacuation, and, back in London by war’s end, the flying bombs – all before she was 6! I think these experiences profoundly affected and shaped who my mother was: indomitable; optimistic; avid for pleasures and enjoyment now, as the future could not be relied on. And anything short of those WWII terrors failed to impress her. She married young and against her parents’ wishes, had four boys in quick succession, and divorced my father after eleven years.
She raised us more or less on her own, choosing to live in an almost all-Jewish street in Ottawa’s west end where one of her closest friends lived – Auschwitz survivor Anna Heilman, mother of Victoria community member Noa Schwartz. We experienced her path-breaking career in the federal civil service, where she rose quickly through middle management to the senior level, one of the first mothers of children to do so, and one of the very first single mothers ever to reach that level. We were proud of her but often missed her as she was away a great deal.
Her work generally involved explaining and/or enforcing the new gender and visible-minority equality initiatives and laws of the day, often to recalcitrant, all-white, all-male groups, such as in the Coast Guard, armed forces, or various technical departments, including Transport. I like to imagine that she dragged the federal sector, kicking and screaming, into the age of employment equity! By 1985 she had had enough of this hard sledding and became a consultant, but also began pursuing her first passion more seriously: painting and glass work. She developed a second career as a visual artist in her 50s and 60s. In 2010, she moved to Victoria and spent ten happy years surrounded by many family members and friends who moved here, as well as new ones. She left us as she lived, on her own terms.
Andrew Gow (Andrew joined Congregation Emanu-El in 2015 following his relocation from Edmonton AB.)