Playing the cards she’s been dealt

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

It was after they lost their home because of a flood in Winnipeg that June Smith, 98, and her husband came to Fort Frances, where she became an involved member of the community.

“I was born in Winnipeg,” Smith said. “We lived in an area called St. Vital and we lived down the river bank. I was very fortunate in having parents that taught me well. Anytime I met a difficult situation I did as best as I could.”

Smith married her first husband, Jack, in 1944. Jack was a lawyer and after they got back from their honeymoon, he decided to get into private practice.

“I met Jack at the Great-West Life Assurance Company,” Smith said. “I think he was a person with very high principles. He was always making sure that people not only kept the law, but also observed it.”

Jack was initially hired by the Great-West Life Assurance Company to set up a legal department. But it never came to fruition, then he worked in an area called the mortgage department, Smith added.

“He was a very definite person, I must say, so he just decided that he would look for some way to get back into private practice,” Smith said.

It was financially tight when the couple moved to Fort Frances in 1951. Jack was called to the Ontario Bar Association exam that cost $2,500.

“I can’t think of where we found that $2,500 because all we owned was a new car,” Smith said. “To this day, I can’t remember how we got the rest of it. I was married to Jack until he died after he had just retired. But not only did he have his own practice, but for the last 10 years of his life, he was the Crown Attorney here. He passed away in 1980.”

June Smith is quick to talk about her family’s accomplishments, but has made significant contributions of her own. She was a passionate advocate for the mentally challenged, even earning a Queen’s Jubilee Medal. – Merna Emara photo

On top of having to navigate through financial hardships, Smith gave birth to her son Cam in 1946 who had special needs. While it was difficult because there was no support in the community for her son, Smith chose to do something about it and it led her to initiate the local Fort Frances and Rainy River District Association of the Mentally Retarded.

“He had an IQ of about 52. There was some doubt that he would be able to go to school here,” Smith said. “I went to Smith Falls and it was to see whether Cam needed to go to school and could not do it here, he would be an applicant for living in [Smith Falls].”

Smith was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal after she travelled to many communities in northwestern Ontario in order to speak to groups about the importance of early recognition of learning disabilities.

Cam passed away in 2009.

In 1982, Smith married Frank Newstead.

“He was from Kenora, but I dragged him down here,” Smith chuckled. “We did a lot of travelling. We had many cruises and we used to go away in the winter for about 22 years.

Some of the countries Smith visited include Belgium, France, Switzerland, Paris, Russia, Kenya, Greece, China, Japan and Taiwan.

“It was a chance to go places where you’ve never been so you learned something about them,” Smith said. “My favourite time to travel was in the winter because we could get away from the climate here.”

Smith said her role model is her mother.

“My mom had a very positive influence on me,” Smith said. “My father was not around much. He would go to the pub after work and would not come home, so my mother was left to look after us.”

Therefore, whenever she was in a state where she needed help, Smith said she would think about what her mother would have done.

“I just think that I’ve been a very fortunate person because I’ve been able to weather any storm that came along,” Smith said. “I just did the best I could with whatever the situation was. Life deals you some good and bad things.”