Cover photo for Barbara Jane Stiles's Obituary
Barbara Jane Stiles Profile Photo

Barbara Jane Stiles

July 20, 1955 — April 5, 2024

Barbara Jane Stiles

Barbara Jane Stiles passed away peacefully on April 5th after a year-long struggle with ALS.

 

Barbara (Nee Rushforth) was born July 20th 1955 in Scarborough, then moved to Shipley Rd in Etobicoke at the age  of 4. She was the second of four children to Douglas and Helen Rushforth. Barb was a determined and happy child. She spent the early years of her childhood playing with the numerous kids in her neighborhood. In those years Barbara's father, Doug, worked as a CPA for a toy company, and would bring home dolls and toys on occasion. This made her very popular with the neighborhood kids.


She excelled in school, joining the junior choir and developing a love of reading that would carry on throughout her 68 years of life. 


Barb was a get-things-done kind of a gal. Her sister will tell you about the time Barb decided to paint the hallway, having grown tired of listening to her mother complain about how this task had remained on her fathers list of to-dos for far too long. When her parents went away one weekend, she took one look at the paint can collecting dust in the hall, and decided to take advantage of an opportunity for peace in their household. Though Barb loved to cross off an item on her list (or really any list, for that matter) the end result was not necessarily precision nor perfection. Her parents returned home to find a painted hallway, yes, but also painted light switches and trim, with blotches here and there. In her quick wit, she would say that she was successful at getting her dad to paint that hallway after all.  In grade 13, she did an exchange to the Black Forest in Germany. She shared a room with two kitchen apprentices in a small narrow space on the upper floor of an inn. The girls thought her very peculiar, standing at nearly 6 ft tall, wearing trendy westerner clothing and speaking in accented rudimentary German. As a result, there were many stories of practical jokes played at Barb's expense. In one story, she was ordered by the girls to catch one of the fish in the tank as a customer had just ordered it, and the cook was having his daily afternoon siesta. Conveniently, the net was missing. Barb, ever determined to find a solution, managed to catch a fish with her bare hands, before it slipped from her nervous grasp and slithered onto the tiled kitchen floor. Acting quickly, Barb grabbed the nearest industrial metal drain stopper and proceeded to chase down the fish hitting it several times until it was a soggy mess with an indiscernible shape.

 

Barb went on to complete an undergraduate degree at Toronto University, followed by a teachers degree at Queen College also at the University of Toronto. Barb didn't let the grass grow under her feet. During her University days, she lived at home but was seldom there. She worked multiple jobs, while also getting involved in community theater, and volunteering in various activities. She was a rare breed, who could read in a moving vehicle without getting motion sickness, and she said this skill was honed over these years as she was often stuck in the subway commuting to and from work and school.


After graduation, there was a surplus of teachers with very few opportunities, this brought her to Sydenham highschool in Kingston, Ontario. After applying for the job with 200 other applicants, Barb was interviewed and hired quickly. On her first day, Barb parked in the teachers parking lot, and when she got out, one of the teachers gave her an obvious once-over and seeing her young face (she graduated early) and flashy car with racing stripes, affectionately named the vomit, he redirected her to the student parking at the back of the small school. Barb answered "I'm the new French teacher!" At the time, many of the families of Sydenhams students were farmers, and she once witnessed a cow being paraded into the school and hidden in the home ec class for the teacher to find. Barb pretended to be scandalized by the event, but not-so-secretly recounted that story many times with a look of pure glee. 


Barb returned to Germany a few years later in 1983 after having applied for a sought-after position as a teacher on a Canadian Army Base in Lahr. She was given a generous relocation package which included shipping her car to Europe. While living here, she was able to travel a great deal with friends across Europe, Asia and even visited Soviet Russia. However her best story from this time was when she was recruited to take part in a military drill on the base.  Barb was to play the enemy combatant, and was given a large cardboard cylinder for protection. She hid in one of the outbuildings and when she received the call that the tank was headed her way she jumped out the door, ran into the middle of the road with her “weapon” parked high on her shoulder and with a dramatic flair yelled “BANG!”


Barb lived in Germany until 1985 and after her contract was complete she returned to Kingston. In 1987, she married Edward (Ted) Stiles and the two made their way to Ottawa, Ontario. They shared a love of adventure, though this manifested as thoughtful organized trips with itineraries and packing lists for Barb, and spur of the moment decisions and opening doors marked “NO ENTRY” for Ted. While in Ottawa she had her first two children Simon Douglas Stiles in 1989 and Sarah Catherine Stiles in 1992. The family of four made their way to Maryland in the United States, when Ted was promoted to work at the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC. While living there, Barb gave birth to Samuelle Hélène Stiles in 1994. After a difficult year, the family made their way back to Canada and settled in small town Kemptville, Ontario. Barb worked as a middle school French teacher at Rideau Valley Middle School in Kars until she retired in 2009. Her willingness to indulge in adventure encouraged Ted to buy a massive RV  in which the family would spend their summers traveling. Across Canada and the U.S. Barb documented the trips taken and though these trips had their ups and downs, her children cherish these albums to this day. In Kemptville Barb continued her love of theater and joined “The Kemptville Players” after being invited by her neighbor and friend Nancy Chajkowski. Barb volunteered with the theater troupe for decades and they put on many productions. As you might expect by now, she didn't just act and sing on stage, she directed, produced, prompted, costumed and did props.  Barb was a workhorse, and as such had the incredible skill of juggling many balls at once. She would go back to work after only a few months of maternity leave, run clubs at school including theater and the "green team" (a club with the near impossible task of getting middle schoolers involved and excited about recycling and sustainability), mark her assignments, cook dinner, laundry, mending, childrens extra-curriculars, and the list goes on and on. Though Barb did seem to have an endless supply of energy and drive, her children recall finding her curled up some evenings with a good book, a handful of chocolate chips and a serene look on her face.


When Barb became single in 2014 she made Ottawa her new home. She dove into her new life a little too enthusiastically and at a certain point realized she was involved in multiple productions, while learning yet another language (Spanish) and had joined 5 book clubs. Running on a steady supply of caffeine, she dropped nothing and sailed through leaving us all to wonder how she could possibly be busier in her retirement than while she was working full time. As her son-in-law David would say “she’s not busy, she’s Skizzy. And the Skizzy gon do what the Skizzy gon do.”


When Barb received her terminal diagnosis, she and her family decided to take charge (a decision which surprised no one). We began planning for our last adventure together in the doctor's office. Barb flew first class, and we returned to her family's homelands of Ireland and Scotland. She finally left behind her health conscious ways in Canada, and began to religiously say yes to champagne and dessert.


Barb won't be remembered for running a fortune 500 company, nor working in parliament though I'd argue she would have excelled easily in either of these or a million other chosen paths. Instead, Barb chose a profession and a life that would serve and benefit others. She was a teacher, a guide, a beacon. Barb loved her own children, and all her students who she affectionately referred to as "her kids". Her days were endlessly long and arduous, but she felt called to her vocations as teacher and mother, and she was excellent at both. And though her name will not go down in the history books as a celebrity, her contributions to society are quieter and more subtle, they are not insignificant. Her legacy will be lived through her family who she loved fiercely, and we loved her right back.


For those who weren't lucky enough to know her, here's a snapshot.


She loves: a good strong cup of coffee, crossword puzzles, a well written who-dun-it, wool socks, thrifting, her sisters pottery, letting someone else do the driving, lemons, silk scarves, ice cream, exploring a new place, costco samples, being prepared, scheduling dinner at breakfast or (more preferably) a week ahead, theater and the arts, a dry joke, cookies and cream chocolate bars, irises, and time with her granddaughters.


In equal measure, she detests: the color orange, white store-bought bread, polyester, not recycling, wasting money, not having a plan, snakes, her cell phone (not talking,she loved that, just using technology in general), leaving the lights on, rap music, driving (particularly in the dark), large spoons, any underwear that isn't full bottom, carnations, people who don't volunteer, and being asked to donate to a corporate charity while in the checkout line.


In the afterlife, you'll find her: caring for her grandkids, reading a good book, mixing ingredients together for dinner that have no business being blended, thrifting for treasures, stockpiling thoughtful Christmas gifts a full year in advance, traveling or making plans to travel with friendship force, making coffee, walking the neighborhood with her snow grippers (bonus points if this is at dusk, so she could see into the neighbors houses) talking her partner André's ear off, and watering her many houseplants.


Mom was a truly singular person. The world (ours especially) is dimmer and a lot less interesting without her in it.


Barb is survived by her partner André, her siblings Karen, Chris, and Kevin, her sons Simon and Brian (Marianne), daughters Sarah (David) and Samuelle. Barb has 3 grandchildren: Rose Florence McKernan, Harriet Catherine McKernan, Matilda Faye McKernan.


In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to the ALS Society. To honor her memory, remember to recycle, take trips with your mom, and always say yes to champagne.


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