Now & Then: Patricia Ann ‘Ciann’ Strickland

Recreational break in Canada.

Patricia Ann ‘Ciann’ Strickland

Ciann has always been a pathfinder, a navigator of new ideas, inspiring both lifelong learning and the sharing of her unique experiences with others. As a small child, she frequently moved, changing schools to accommodate her father’s working life. Her subsequent training as a lab technician brought on new frontiers as did her marriage to John Strickland. John’s geological work and high school teaching added more vistas, ranging from our Canadian north to Africa where Mt. Kilimanjaro’s peak stimulated Ciann to add mountain climbing to her resume. Africa gave the whole family a unique experience that would add dimension, keen insight and a new humility gleaned while living among other peoples and sharing their lives. 

Ciann’s dad, Robert Johnathan Lawson, hailed from Northern Ireland. He was one of 10 children, nine boys and one girl. They lived in a thatched-roof hut with two rooms, one for sleeping and the other for living. His mother cooked their meals in the fireplace. “I never met my Irish grandparents, just some uncles in 1967 when we visited Ireland. We lived with one of dad’s brothers in Toronto for six months. They had six children of their own.”

“I was told my father’s first job in Canada was railway pump-car driver for the construction division of the Foundation Company of Canada. After years of performing various roles that highlighted his skill with numbers, dad’s Grade 6 education and his proficient self-taught math skills got him promoted to treasurer of the company.”

“My great-grandparents came to Canada. Grandmother Selma was a young girl when she and her parents arrived in an open boat. She later married Eric Bauman who was a lumberjack and an experienced log roller. He and his fellow log rollers remained upright while dancing on twisting logs heading down the Ottawa River. Grandfather Eric would ride his bike down Buckingham Hill (now part of the Town of Gatineau in Quebec, north of Ottawa) to the pulp and paper mill. At the end of the day, he would walk his bike back up the hill. Their daughter Esther, my mother, played hockey in Buckingham as a young girl, and she had an unusual habit. At eight, she would climb a big nearby tree, lie on a branch and spit at people passing by. Years later, she streamlined her inclinations and married our dad, Robert.” 

Patricia Ann, ‘Ciann,’ was a depression baby, born to Esther and Robert Lawson on July 17, 1933. Brother Robert arrived two years later. Today Robert Jr. is a mechanical engineer in Barrie. “We spent our first years with mother’s parents in Buckingham. It was a big house that sheltered 12, three of us and nine uncles, aunts and grandparents. They had a huge garden, cows and chickens. I watched Grandmother cook donuts in the kitchen and milk cows in the barn while sitting on an upside-down basket. She also fed the chickens. We picked berries and helped with the chores.”

“Grandmother had old fashioned ideas of what was proper. I remembered one time she covered my eyes with both of her hands when we were walking down the street. We crossed the road. It seems a pregnant lady had been approaching and she felt I shouldn’t be looking at her. Our grandparents’ big house had two living rooms, but one was only used when the minister visited. When we moved to Cornwall, we lived in a rooming house for six months. Dad was the now the paymaster for all Foundation Company of Canada jobs. Brother Bob was born during a two-year posting in St. John’s, New Brunswick. By the time Ciann was old enough to go to school, the family lived in a walk-up on Lincoln Ave in Montreal. 

“I was pokey. I had to be helped to dress and eat breakfast before being pushed out the door. To show my independence, I would occasionally remove all my clothes on the porch and then dress myself. Later, when we moved across the street, our bigger apartment was all on one floor. Brother Bob and I slept on a Murphy bed that came down from the wall. A bat protocol was established. If one flew into the house, we were to hide under the bed and cover our hair with a net so the bat couldn’t get caught in it. This protocol remained in place until the frightened creature was caught.”

“We found a real family house on Radden Road, in the bauxite mining town of Arvida by the Saguenay River, north of Montreal. The company was building a dam there for the Aluminum Company of Canada. I remember lots of family visits, including one maternal uncle who was a top administrator at the Aluminum Company. When we moved to the Montreal head office for the Foundation Company, we lived on a fourth-floor apartment on Sherbrooke St. After a year, dad moved to Toronto at the company’s request, and we would meet him at a cottage in Brighton from time to time.” 

The family moved to Leaside in Toronto in 1948. Ciann attended high school there, followed by two years at McDonald College, part of McGill University. “I came home in the summer and worked at Ronville Lodge in Huntsville. In 1952, I met John Strickland there. He was a student from Haileybury when he and two friends came into the tuck shop at the lodge. I had heard John was a party boy, so I surprised him with, ‘You must be John Strickland.’ We were an unlikely couple, like the stars of the movie ‘Grease’.”

“In September, John headed for geological research in Newfoundland, and I was going back to school to finish my on-the-job training for medical lab technician at Toronto East General Hospital. We corresponded by mail and when he came to Toronto, he took me to a dance at Casa Loma. I can still see myself in my lilac dress at this magnificent, iconic Toronto landmark. John’s father was a lawyer and John’s upbringing had been much different than mine.”

After graduation, Ciann worked at the East General Hospital in Toronto and then at the Civic Hospital in North Bay. “Six of us lived in residence in North Bay.” Local military establishments meant many young men were looking for dates on weekends. Ciann had a few fun dates, but her heart belonged to John. They exchanged letters for the next five years. “We saw each other occasionally.” When Ciann knitted some Argyle socks for John and sent them to him in Newfoundland, his buddies declared, ‘You better marry this woman.’

A young Ciann, centre, with her cousin Brenda and brother Bob.

Ciann met John’s sister and brother and their partners at the Granite Club in Toronto for Christmas 1956. “It was clear that they were used to a different world.” Later, brother Jim and his wife accompanied us on a one-week canoe trip. Jim was a forester, his wife a biologist and John a future geologist. “Since I was not an outdoorsy person, my mother gave me a kaleidoscope to keep me occupied. The trip went well enough, but John’s sister was the only person I really got close to going forward.”

“I never felt I would be a permanent part of his life, but it all evolved.” The couple married on September 7, 1957 at the Leaside United Church. “My father, who had been gassed during the First World War had died earlier in the spring. Grandfather gave me away.” A week before the wedding, Ed, a young man Ciann had met at university, had called her and asked her not to marry. “When I saw him sitting at the back of the church, I was worried that he might get up and say something, but thankfully, he didn’t, and the ceremony went well. Later Ed took photos at the reception. I heard he became a professor at McDonald College.” 

“The reception was held at mother’s house. The meal was catered and ended with strawberry and walnut shaped ice cream. Nevertheless, all the men wound up in one room, watching football. The next day, a borrowed Volkswagen Beatle took us to New Brunswick. John’s sister and her husband joined us in their own car. We lost them in Montreal, where the new Seaway was being built, but found them again later.”

After four years, John had earned his geology degree from the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. Daughter Kate had arrived. “John moved us to Northern Ontario where he continued his work in exploration with the Pickle Crow Uranium Mine. From my window, I could see local Native folk going by in canoes packed high with supplies. I was expecting our second baby, so I returned to Toronto to stay with mother, before the snow came. Shauna was born at a Toronto hospital.” 

John wanted to add a Bachelor of Education degree, to teach school, so it was back to the University of Fredericton. By 1962, John was teaching at Lennoxville High School in Quebec, near Sherbrooke. A year later, he settled the family in Port Cartier and taught there for two years. Third daughter Maureen was born.

Ciann and her brother Bob.

The next stop, Morogoro, Tanzania, Africa would be life-changing for the family. John was hired to teach geography at a boy’s boarding school. “Maureen was just 14 months old, and I felt a bit uncertain about uprooting her and her sisters to move to another continent and another culture. One morning after we settled into our abode, we heard, ‘hodi, hodi.’ John thought someone was calling a cat, but he found out ‘hodi’ means hello. ‘Hodi’ came from William, a ‘house person’ who facilitated all things and kept snakes away. He was promptly hired. 

“We enjoyed seeing local animals in their own settings, but I also remember being chased by Masai warriors when I tried to take pictures of them. We quickly ran away but they rushed to cut us off. Thankfully, we escaped before they could throw those long spears.”  

“In the Morogoro school, Kate was presented with a unique class seating plan that ensured the person on her left had better overall knowledge than the girl on her right. This may have encouraged students to work together. Academic subjects like arithmetic were taught in the morning and this was followed by more practical lessons like rope-making, using the sisal plant, in the afternoon.”

Two of John’s students, scheduled to graduate, needed French after their French teacher had quit. Ciann volunteered to tutor them, despite the school being only for boys. The boys appreciated her help. One Saturday, an unusual ceremony caught her attention. “On this day, all students marched in a field. Each one had to show the soles of their feet to prove that they had not stolen any thumb tacks, a difficult item to replace in Africa.”

“When we moved to Moshi we took William, his wife and baby too, so he could be with us in the new location. Shauna went to a special American school where many of the students were North American. On field trips, which were fun and informative, Maureen and I would accompany the class. Kate went to a multicultural school where she met kids from all parts of the world.”

“During the day, I would gaze up at Mt. Kilimanjaro and wonder what it would be like to look down from up there. In 1967, I got up enough courage to climb her with Bella, a fellow traveller who agreed to accompany me. We had porters to carry all our belongings up and down the long walk. Although much of the trip had us marching through knee-high snow, it was an exciting excursion. We reached the 4,900 metre mark from the base and saw that impressive view of the world below.” 

“After the African stay, our family and an African pet cat headed back to the Port Cartier High School for a seven-year stay. Elliot Lake and underground mining was next, for one year. When the new high school opened at West Bay (Manitoulin Secondary School), John applied and got that job in 1969. We bought a house in Gore Bay. We also bought a lot here, where the cottage is today. We were the only place on this bay at the time. It was five acres with 700 ft of frontage.”

“While we were in Gore Bay, we took a 15-day canoe trip from our town to Parry Sound. John, three kids, a dog and I got into a large freighter canoe. Maureen was about five years old. We went under the bridge and through the tunnel at Birch Island and portaged across Baie Fine to Killarney Park. I kept a diary of the trip. Our last night was at Killbear Park. It was an eventful trip for the whole family, including the dog.”

Ciann, then 16, as a bridesmaid for her cousin’s wedding.

In 1983 they sold the house in Gore Bay and bought one on McLean’s Mountain Road, just outside Little Current. This would be their home for 19 years. After the girls moved out, the cottage was renovated. Both John and Ciann also did volunteer work and gave classes to Toronto seniors visiting at Timberlane Rustic Lodges. “After I lost my licence due to glaucoma, we bought a small house on Robinson Street. I began to spend time there, closer to needed services. John preferred our rural home, but he would visit, and we called each other, twice a day, morning and night.” 

Sadly, one morning at the McLean’s Mountain home, John died of a blood clot at age 78. “Earlier in the day he had visited me. He had his new rescue dog, Parker, that he was so happy with. We found him next to the lawn tractor, his prepared lunch still on the table. Maureen was in Sudbury, Shauna in Vancouver and Kate in Quebec. All three girls arrived and began to make arrangements. Our niece, Heather in Parry Sound, took Parker. An old friend of John’s from mining school, John Smith, arrived to pay his respects. We hadn’t known about him. We invited him to a celebration of life in September.”

In 1994, Ciann was dealing with a bout of breast cancer so naturally she started a support group, ‘Circle of Hope,’ which is still ongoing. After she inherited some money from her mother, she started ‘Seeds of Joy’ for women. She hosted sharing retreats at the Anishnabe Spiritual Centre at Anderson Lake near Espanola. Ciann trained to be a life skills coach at Cambrian and joined the Association of Life Skills Coaches of Ontario (ALSCO). She used this skill to design a special program for women who wanted to return to work in M’Chigeeng. In 1999, the president of ALSCO gave her the President’s Award for her work as an accredited life skills coach. “I thought another lady was getting the award so was flabbergasted when they called my name.” It was a gallant thank you for her commitment and dedication.

Since 2015, Ciann has begun to spend a few winter months at Jarlette’s Roberta Place Retirement Lodge in Barrie. She helps with lifeskills teaching and arranging activities like a drum circle or a ‘Bring and Brag’ get together for the residents. She has made friends like George, her dinner partner. In 2019, Ciann got a ‘MADA’ award (Making a Difference Award) from Jarlette, at a ‘white tablecloths and wine’ ceremony.

“Associations I participated in? Brownies and Girl Guides, running some of their camps. On one trip, we followed railroad tracks for a long way before each of us set up camp in the wilderness. Unfortunately, a spike injured my leg and I had to give instructions with my leg in a bucket of cold water. When rain began, getting to the outhouse, by pulling oneself up a slippery hill with a rope, became more challenging. Nevertheless, it was an interesting learning experience for all of us, especially an indoor person like me.”

“Most important event in my life? The birth of my three daughters, all wonderful young women. My favourite season? Fall, when the leaves turn. I really missed it in Africa. Summer is a close second. I love to swim, and this year is the first year I did not swim on my birthday! Collections? Cows and turtles. Favourite show? Jeopardy and police shows. Favourite school subject? History. In 1967, outside London, England, I was sharing my acquired history about Hampton Court with a friend, when people began to collect. They thought I was a tour guide.”

“Pets? We had Frisky, a border collie mix, who survived a lightning strike in the Benjamins. His foot was on a rock beside us when a nearby tree was hit. He became epileptic but with medication he survived to an old age. My strengths? Organizing activities and events, like retreats. They keep my mind active.” 

“What would I still like to do? Visit a certain cathedral in France, see a circle-dance event in Ireland, go down the Mississippi in the Delta Queen River Boat, and see the Saguenay River in Quebec. Recipe for happiness? Don’t carry resentment and only accept responsibility for what you are responsible for. Use your intuition.”

A life changing event? After a weekend session, ‘Changing Course,’ in 1994, Ciann decided to change her name. “Everybody knew me as Patsy, so I took the last three letters of Patricia and part of Ann to create Ciann. With this name, I felt different, stronger and capable of achieving my real potential to help others.”

These days, at 88, Ciann spends her summers at the cottage, and in Little Current. “I am the oldest member of the Bauman family now. I have lived on Manitoulin for over half my life, 50 years, longer than any other place. I love to participate in multicultural circle dances here. I have no grandchildren, but a few of my class participants are passing on to their offspring what I have taught, so a legacy lives. Many of my friends are Haweaters and some came from other places, like me. Manitoulin is my ‘haven’ now, my place to get away to, every summer. I can reconnect with all my friends and all those special memories.”