By-line: Ernest Bruce Fenner, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, friend, gardener, fisherman, surveyor, storyteller and artist
Written by: Jennifer Hendriks with stories from David Hendriks and Family
Born Dec 26, 1912 in Toronto
Died July 27, 2005 in Barrie
Bruce, to his wife and peers and Poppa to his family lived his life to its fullest potential from day one to his passing at the age of 92.
My grandfather embarked on and instigated many adventures in his life. Of these adventures, his most cherished was Margaret Quance, the love of his life and wife of 70 years. In 1935 they met, and on August 5, 1938 they eloped to Kirkland Lake from Toronto on the back of a motorbike. It was not always the case in their generation that one’s true love and one’s wife was the same woman. He inspired everyone with his love and devotion to my Mimi. They proceeded to have two talented and driven daughters Anne, who was born in 1939 and Barb in 1947. Eight grandchildren and six great grandchildren later, his family continues to be Poppa’s greatest living legacy.
My grandfather showed his stubborn streak early when he refused his father’s wish that he become a doctor having had no taste for the sight of blood instead he used the three years at university to play varsity football, tennis, and enjoying the “collegiate social life” (read: football parties). Poppa would often brag that although the brace slowed him down on the field it sped him up on the dance floor and legend has it that even Bette Davis once enjoyed Poppa’s talents.
Like so many Canadian men, he served overseas for five years in World War II and it is a part of his life he did not mention often. It wasn’t until his passing that we found out his division was responsible for cleaning up the Dutch villages after being destroyed by the Nazis at the end of the war. His division is still commemorated by a village where they dug the graves for the dead left behind by the Nazis. For this and the work he did building airport runways in Canada, Poppa was awarded the Canadian Centennial Medal in Ontario.
When he returned from the war he worked with the Department of Highways of Ontario where he surveyed some of the many highways in Northern Ontario. The vistas along Lake Superior reminded my family of my Poppa’s love of Northern Ontario as we drove home to Manitouwadge, ON from the cottage he built in the Muskokas. The next time you drive from Sault St. Marie to Thunder Bay you will crest a hill just north of Batchawana Bay and you will see a vista of Lake Superior that will take your breath away. If you haven’t driven this stretch of Ontario yet you haven’t seen the true north strong and free. It is spectacular.
Working for months at a time in the untouched northern forests turned Poppa into an avid fisherman, and created a lifetime supply of fishing stories that he subjected all of us to repeatedly. The day before I got married at the cottage he built, 14 days before he passed away, he told the same stories to my husband and I, clearly and proudly.
He set the bar high for how to live. He and Mimi travelled the entire world after he retired. Their system was simple, Mimi picked the country one year and my Poppa picked it the next year. They taught us about adventure and compromise without ever knowing it.
He took thousands of pictures and painted dozens more. Poppa wrote extensive letters and let his travels influence the many books he wrote and illustrated for all of his grandchildren and two of his great grandchildren. He had the uncanny ability to write stories that would reflect what would become key personality traits of each of us before we had any personality.
Even while establishing the roots of his own family, Poppa was always mentoring and inviting others to share in his life. His passionate and driven life was impossible to resist and because of this my family grew exponentially to include cottage aunts and uncles, coworkers and neighbours.
My Poppa lived his life with laughter, love, strength and determination but most of all he filled his life to capacity with family, friends and adventure, thus inspiring us all to do the same.