Saying farewell to a Barry’s Bay pioneer


BARRY’S BAY – Things did not come easily for Gwendolyn Woermke, who led a challenging, yet inspirational life.  

Gwen, as she preferred to be called, was born at the Pembroke General Hospital in 1922, weighing an impressive 13 pounds. Her father worked at the LCBO and her mother was a homemaker. Gwen has deep roots in the community; her grandparents established and operated the Balmoral Hotel. Gwen essentially grew up in the hotel and she learned to cook by helping head cook Julia Burchat.

In 1935, when Gwen was only 13 years old, her mother died. Gwen took on the role of her mother in the family, helping to raise her three younger brothers and helping her father out. She wasn’t completely alone, as she had the help of her grandmother and aunt Stasia (Billings) Dunnigan.

At the same time, she was attending St. Joseph’s school in Barry’s Bay. She later attended St. Joseph’s all-girls school in North Bay for approximately one year. Gwen returned to Barry’s Bay and heard that the Canadian National Railway (CNR) was hiring women to replace the men who enlisted in World War II. She wrote a letter, and the hiring manager was so impressed with her penmanship that they hired her.

However, on her first day on the job, the station agent handed her a broom and a dustpan. She told the agent that was not what she was hired to do, and reminded the gentleman that she was hired to be a freight clerk. The role meant she would look after all the incoming and outgoing freight by recording and registering the material before it was loaded onto boxcars.

Get your December 21, 2016 edition of The Valley Gazette for many more photos.