Glassco, Willa (Price)
Willa Glassco 1902- 1991
Florence Blanche Willa Price, a much longed-for daughter, was born on a hot 24th of August in 1902 in her parent’s home at #575 Grand Allée in Quebec City. Her birth would have been celebrated by her older brothers Jack, Coosie, and Charlie, and her parents, Sir William and Lady Amelia Blanche (Nee Carrington-Smith).
A fair-skinned red-head, Willa was as comfortable wrestling with her brothers and climbing trees as she was learning the arts of the fairer sex. She loved to dance and sing by her father’s side at the piano and there was much music in the ever-expanding family. By the time she was 4, the family was completed by Dick and her sister Jean. At only 6, a bout of Scarlet Fever left Willa quite deaf, and turned this rambunctious child timid.
Summers were spent in Tadoussac where her mother had insisted Sir William turn what had been a bawdy boarding house for his Price Brothers’ managers into a family retreat. After extensive renovations, Fletcher cottage became the club house for the six Price children and their raft of cousins and friends. Governesses would be charged with organising picnics and hikes and swimming, boating, and fishing trips. Meals would be simply prepared and served to the children on the porch on the northeast side of the house with the children sleeping in bunks in the open porch above. There are names still in evidence, carved into the cedar shingles on the outside of the porch. Lady Price and her friends would play bridge, tennis, golf, go to church, have costume parties and cocktail parties. The summers were long. From May to the end of September and they would travel up on the steamer from Quebec with trunks and staff.
Willa’s education in Quebec would have been in English, Victorian in tone, and with little expectation of her going to college or university. She, along with many of her peers at eighteen, was sent to England to be presented at court to King George V and Queen Mary and then enjoyed a leisurely tour of Europe and all its sites.
At age 22, tragedy struck the family. Sir William, her much loved father, was killed in a landslide in Kenogami. It changed everything for her siblings and mother and Willa dedicated herself to the care of her mother. At 25, Willa met and married Grant Glassco, a promising young businessman from Winnipeg who had just begun his career as a chartered accountant, and they settled in Forest Hill in Toronto. They went on to have four children, June, Gay, Dick, and Bill with Willa insisting she return to Quebec for each pregnancy to have her care and delivery at her mother’s house. And then, like her mother before her, she brought her family every summer to Tadoussac. Tennis, golf, church, picnics, swims.
After the second world war, Grant and Willa purchased a working farm near Kleinberg, just north of Toronto, and the family spent weekends there, where driving a tractor was as important a skill as any in this family. Willa was involved in her communities and church, forming long attachments to her neighbours. She was a woman who had fierce, loyal friendships that lasted her long life. These she had at the farm, in town, and in Tadoussac. Up until her last year, when in Tadoussac she would always make a point to go and have tea with her brother Coosie, her cousins, and her many childhood friends still living in the village. Her French was perfectly tuned to the familiar Tadoussac dialect.
Grant and Willa had help at home, bringing Eva Drain into the family in the 1950s. Eva, an orphan, had come to Canada from London’s East End as a Bernardos baby, starting her employment at age 8 with her brother at a Montreal match factory. After serving as a maid with the Reverend Scott, she started with Willa and Grant and stayed with Willa all her life. Eva was devoted to the whole family and as grandchildren we have many memories of Eva, the devout storyteller and dog lover who was so much a part of our family.
Willa beamed. Her smile was infectious and she often threw her head back laughing. She could control her brood and twenty grandchildren with a firm hand but she was more at home being the optimist with an insatiable sense of adventure. She was an avid traveller, she and Grant travelling and living in Brazil in their 40s and 50s where he had business interests. She loved the theatre and when her youngest son, Billy, a theatre director, started Tarragon Theatre in Toronto she proudly attended every performance, no matter how scandalous the plays might be.
Grant contracted lung cancer and died at only 63, leaving Willa a widow for the next twenty-three years. She experienced a sort of renaissance. Released from her domestic duties she travelled to England to visit her sister, Jean and family, she spent months in Tadoussac and up at the farm. She dated a number of very charming gentlemen and spent time with friends. She would hold a yearly picnic at the farm for the Canadian Hearing society, a charity she was active in all her life. The family would be wrangled into putting on a massive spread as families of the hard of hearing would converge for an annual outdoor gathering that was the highlight of the season.
Willa was always up for an adventure, for a dance, she wrote in her journal every day and recounts a life that was truly well spent.
She tragically died driving back from the farm just days after her 89th birthday. She went through a stop sign. She surely had another good decade in her at least and it was a blow to everyone when she left.
She was warm, loving, and attentive. Intelligent and curious. She had a very strong sense of right or wrong and believed the best in people. Though tiny in stature and frame she could hug the breath out of a grown grandson. She is missed.