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‘She is one of the most energetic people I’ve ever known’

November 29, 2018   ·   0 Comments

Written By KIRA WRONSKA DORWARD

At the tender age of 97 and three quarters, June Laver is a compact bundle of energy and a force of nature. Currently the eldest practitioner of tai-chi in Ontario, June and her two Siamese cats Bluebell and Tinkerbell demonstrate her famous hospitality by offering me tea and delicious macaroons the moment I come through the door. The house is bare, except for the kitchen table and space heaters on the floor from which she has to occasionally shoo her cats.

After 33 years of living in the house her husband Keith designed and built “to the highest quality,” June was the first person by fifteen minutes to sign up for residence at Bolton Mills, the new luxury retirement home in Caledon. Residents move in on Jan. 2 and, rather than being sentimental about leaving her old home, June cannot wait to start this next chapter of her life. “I’ve had a wonderful time here,” says the almost centurion, “and I feel I’m closing one door and opening another.” Asked what attracted her to the residence, June admitted she knew she would need extra care with her rheumatoid arthritis, but was delighted the building was only four stories tall and that she may bring her two lifetime pet cats to her two-bedroom suite. In addition, the second floor of Bolton Mills has a full-service kitchen area which will both allow her to cook and, even more than that, allow her to teach others how to cook … “Which I’m sure she’ll be doing!” quips her friend, tai-chi instructor Susan Richards.

The death of her husband Keith in 2010 after 67 years of marriage did not slow June down. She took up tai-chi three times a week and continued her work in the community, fundraising for St. James Anglican Church in Caledon East. The real legacy June and her husband leave is their contributions to horticulture, and specifically roses. The two met on a blind date at the Ontario Agricultural College, which become part of the University of Guelph. Keith was in his fourth year of horticultural studies and June was taking homemaker courses. Their marriage would produce not only children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, but over a hundred new cultivars of roses created by Keith, including a saffron-yellow rose named for June, which is distributed worldwide. At one point, Keith was Canada’s only rose breeder, cultivating different species and eventually specializing in miniature roses, usually planted in four-inch pots, growing from 10 to 18 inches tall. After moving to Caledon from Mississauga, with over 10,000 hectares to their name, the couple established three state-of-the-art greenhouses under the name Springwood Consultants.

All of this was eventually donated to the University of Guelph, along with farming equipment and whatever the University could use. A large financial donation also saw the couple awarded the Order of the Ontario Agricultural College. In addition, as members of the World Federation of Rose Societies, June and Keith took a tour bus trip with other international breeders in New Zealand in 1994, where some of Keith’s cultivars were being grown. Keith had agents all over the world who distributed his roses, including Holland, Denmark, Germany, and New Zealand, and the Lavers travelled to all these countries to admire their handiwork, for which June still receives royalties.

June used her international connections through the World Federation of Rose Societies to collect recipes from members of different countries, which she then turned into a cookbook in 1975. The cookbook contains the member’s favourite recipe beside their favourite rose, with an explanation as to why they preferred both the rose and the recipe. Her next cookbook explained ways to prepare the great varieties of vegetables and fruits that the Lavers were growing on their property.  A third volume, a lovely little book with pictures of her gladiolas on the front, as well as a picture of the June Laver rose, records recipes that are all adaptable to gluten free, vegetarian and vegan diets.

June’s specialty, besides cookbooks, was and is gladiolas. Despite her age and rheumatoid arthritis, this year June was out first thing in the morning cutting the thousand gladiolas she has grown on her property and organizing them into bunches for sale at Foodland and Rock Garden. The year before, she cultivated and cut 2,000 on her own but decided to pare down by half. “That was nothing; that was peanuts. The most I ever cut in one day was 4,000. And I was tired after that!” Seemingly indefatigable, June would first cut the flowers and put them into buckets, which she then drove back to her house and put into cold storage. Then she arranged and distributed mixed bunches, with seven varieties of gladiolas to each bunch. In the last few years she has distributed many of her bunches among friends and the church, spreading the joy she has always found in her and her late husband’s work.

As for her future at Bolton Mills, June says, “I hope to help Carmelina, who is the wonderful general manager, and do a demonstration in the kitchen of how to make anti-pesto. I hope someday they will have tai-chi at Bolton Mills. It helps with five things beginning with B – balance, blood, back, brain, and bones, and I feel I have benefitted terrifically from it.” Despite turning 98 in March, June still plans on attending services at the St. James Anglican church in Caledon East, and attending the tai-chi classes run by her friend Susan. She also intends to bring her “superb” collection of Andre Rieu dvds to Bolton Mills, where she hopes they will be shown as entertainment to the other residents.

It’s a certainty that June will be the life of the party at her new residence. As Susan says, “Wherever she goes, she has so many friends. She is one of the most energetic people I’ve ever known; an entertainer and a fundraiser. She’s always remembering birthdays and organizing parties, and is an extremely hard worker. June is glad to tell you what to do. She makes an impression for sure.”

         

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