John Edward Barker December 4, 1935 – May 6, 2023
John came a long way from Henry Street where he entered the world at home, 87 years ago. An uncle before he was born, and left fatherless by the age of nine, John was raised by his feisty mother, Flo, who once threatened an intruder with a frying pan. The 1947 Labour government meant John could attend a grammar school if he passed the entrance exam, and Flo made sure he did. He went to Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School in Rochester. Athletic, tall, and skinny, John was a natural cricket bowler with a wicked arm. He also loved soccer. At 17, Flo insisted he leave England for a better life. Used to rationing, John was delighted when he arrived at the airport in Gander, to be allowed to put as much sugar in his tea as he wanted. He joined his war-bride sister Rene and her husband Jim on their orchard in St. Catharines. His first day on the farm, John assured his brother-in-law that he could drive a tractor, then promptly dumped half a load of carrots in the dirt when he gunned it.
John and the love of his life, Yvonne, got together over a blown fuse. Yvonne was dating someone else, but thought John more likely to respond cheerfully to a request for help when the lights went out in her apartment. She was right. He arrived in record time. John became a Chartered Accountant, working first as an auditor for the tax department, then General Motors and the Bay, moving the family from St. Catharines to Oshawa, then to Winnipeg and Toronto. At every house, he built decks, sometimes fences, and happily used his daughters as cheap labour, teaching them to mix concrete and drive nails straight by the time they were six. Things didn’t always go to plan, however. At their Kawarthas cottage, a 15-foot section of steps lay rotting on the forest floor for close to 30 years, left there by John in an explosion of curses and as a monument to epic SNAFUS.
John always backed Yvonne, never questioning her immediate return to teaching after having children. He did not, however, cook (apart from attending the barbeque), or do laundry, or change a diaper because it was the late 60s and 1970s. Self-employed at the end of his career, John got a chance to see parts of the Canadian North, which he loved. They moved to Cobourg when Yvonne neared retirement and changed houses again, which meant still more deck building. In 2015 John and Yvonne moved to North Bay where they loved being near their grandchildren.
He enjoyed meeting people and hearing about their lives. On vacations to Grand Manan, Yvonne would find him chatting with local fisherman. John was quick to laugh. One of his favourite expressions was “what the hell!” usually given with a shrug and a smile that meant yes, let’s have ice cream, or a pint, or start a business. John was generous to a fault. He was forever slipping his grandkids a fiver, a 20—whatever he had on him. John enjoyed getting together over good food with great friends. He will be missed by many.
John was predeceased by his parents George and Flo, his sisters Lil, Rene and Bly and his brother, George. He leaves his wife Yvonne, his daughters Jane (Randall), Kate (Kim), and grandchildren Ellen and Leo. He also leaves many nephews and nieces in both Canada and the U.K. John died peacefully in his sleep at Cedar Lodge North Bay Regional Health Centre. Many thanks to the wonderful staff there, the staff at The Empire Living Centre and the care of Dr. Wendy Graham. There will not be a memorial. Donations in John’s memory can be made to KidSport Canada or The Humane Society.