Celebrate Huntsville’s women - Related Image.
Today is International Women’s Day and we
have much to celebrate. Throughout the year as I write my Muskoka Mosaic column
I have the great good fortune of meeting amazing hometown women.
And not only do I get to meet them, but
they share with me their life stories. Sometimes they invite me into their
homes and give me cups of tea.
I love these women and each one will always
hold a special place in my heart.
Today, I honour them and the incredible
women I have yet to meet and am looking forward to interviewing in the coming
YWCA executive director Beth Ward shared
her story with me just a couple of weeks ago. I think of her today because of
her relentless commitment to seeking social justice for the women of this
It’s her work and her passion and the
benefits of her good work are felt in the lives of many.
It’s her optimism that I most applaud,
though. Ward is the kind of women who sees a problem and immediately starts
dreaming up a solution. She doesn’t embrace strident negativity; she works
toward positive change.
Gotta love her.
In case you missed it in the pages of the
Forester, here again is her story.
Happy International Women’s Day. Check out this week's Forester for some of Huntsville's influential women's take on the status of women in Muskoka.
Introducing Beth Ward
Beth Ward has always lived her life with
Community engagement was a large part of
her parent’s lives and she has taken a page from their example and turned it
into the novel that has been her experience.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s chocolate or
vanilla, but don’t tell me you don’t care,” her mother Betty Hilton often said.
To Ward those words meant something important.
“Be intent about your life – use it – don’t
squander it,” said Ward, the executive director of YWCA Muskoka.
And she is grateful for the love and
support she has received, first from her parents and three siblings, and then
from her husband and two sons.
“I have lived a blessed life,” she said.
Born in Toronto, she was raised in the Lawrence Park
neighbourhood. Her parents were
both active in their communities, but she describes her mother as a “professional
volunteer” for her tireless efforts for groups like the Girl Guides, the United
Church and what was then called “ a home for unwed mothers,” of which Hilton
was the chair of the board.
As a child, Ward enjoyed reading, swimming
and family getaways to the cottage in Kawartha.
She did an undergraduate degree at the
University of Toronto in geography. While there she met Peter Ward, who would
become her husband, but their story doesn’t begin until almost a decade after
Her first job out of university was as
appointments co-ordinator for then-premier Bill Davis.
“That was way too serious,” she said. “I
had to go play.”
She managed a hotel in Whistler before
there was even a town in the skiers’ heaven; she lived in a squatter’s cabin
and hit the slopes daily. She came back to do a stint at George Brown College,
becoming a qualified baker. But the heat of the pastry kitchen wasn’t her cup
of tea and she went off to build enormous transatlantic spinnakers and was part
of a team that built a mainsail for the Bluenose.
Nine years after graduation Peter called
Beth. Months later she moved in with him in his cabin in Algonquin Park, where
he was a warden. The year was 1979, and the temperature was a frigid -47
But she jumped in with both feet and while
the water was cold, she had a marvellous three years living in the park, which
she now describes as her “spiritual home.”
“I had to reinvent my notion of what a
rewarding day was in winter,” she said.
In summer she worked at the info booth in
the park but in winter they skied, hauled water and Beth did a lot of knitting,
quilting and reading.
The couple was married in 1981. And shortly
thereafter they started a new chapter.
“I went away for a weekend and Peter applied to law school,”
That led them both to Dalhousie University
in Halifax where he went to law school and she did her masters in public
administration. While they were both smitten with the east coast, upon
completion of their schooling there, they had to move back to Toronto to find
jobs in their fields.
As Peter was articling in Toronto, she
worked as a legislative research service for the Ontario parliament.
Beth said she loved the job where she was
paid to learn; researching whatever was needed, from pay equity legislation to
energy commission debates.
From there she became a co-ordinator of
cabinet liaison for the ministry of municipal affairs and housing.
After Peter completed his articles he was
offered a job in Bracebridge, and they jumped at the chance to return to live
Beth worked for the District of Muskoka as
manager of personnel and administration, then for Muskoka Parry Sound District
Health Council as a senior planner for long-term care.
They bought a farm near Windermere, raised
sheep and their sons were born. Ben was born in 1988, lives in Ottawa and works
in sales, and Charlie was born in 1991 and is in his third of four years at
The family loved their lives on the farm, “though
neither of us had either been farmers and as a result there were hilarious,
While at the farm, Beth became executive
director of Willow Breast Cancer Support Canada, spending three days a week in
The work for Willow was tremendously
rewarding for Beth but she missed her family and wanted to be with them. The
opportunity came with the chance to open Leisure World in Gravenhurst.
The job was a challenge she gladly met, but
in the process it became clear to Beth that her heart was in the not-for-profit
And so she became the executive director of
Community Living Huntsville.
“There I learned what it really means when
people say we all have gifts to share … the people community living supports
taught me so much.”
Beth gives the example of a man who “never
ever spoke.” But he always greeted her with a smile.
“Some days that was the best gift of all.”
From there she did another stint commuting
to Toronto and freelanced for a while writing grant proposals and consulting.
“I’m passionate about writing good grants,
getting non-profits get the funds they need.”
And throughout her busy life, Beth has
always been there to lend a hand with groups like the Muskoka Women’s Advocacy
Group, Interval House and Macauley Tree House Day Nursery.
“Women’s issues have been a thread
throughout my work.”
Which led her, two years ago, to her
current job as executive director for YWCA Muskoka.
She said the group’s touchstones of “passion,
possibility and choice” speak to her own ideals and she connects with the
YWCA’s non-judgemental approach to helping people understand their
“There’s nothing prescriptive, no right or
She said the organization is about
supporting women and girls in Muskoka, something she feels is vital in this
community where she finds few advocates for women, compared to larger
As for the future, she ‘s committed to her
work with the YWCA and to embracing the great outdoors, whether it’s hiking in
the Yukon or paddling a canoe through Algonquin.
She said she would like to think more
deeply about the connections between the natural world and women’s health.
And she wants to have a huge party and
invite all the incredible women of Muskoka.
“In my dream each woman would bring a
flower. I would bring a gerbera daisy - big and bold.”
Beth Ward is a columnist for the Huntsville
Forester, appearing on our Opinions page.