Suzanne Maria Claire Schuurman (nee Pawlowska)

Suzanne Maria Clara Schuurman was born in Krakow, Poland on July 19, 1933. She was a part of the landed aristocracy, a gentry class that had less than a decade remaining in Poland. Her mother, Ola Pawlowska, was a strong and dominant personality, full of ideas, endless energy, and enormous inner strength. Her father Waclav Pawlowski was a renowned theatre actor. He was also the parent who deeply wanted Suzanne,  played with her, and cherished his  time with her.
In 1937, Waclav and Ola were sailing in the North Sea, when a storm emerged and capsized the boat. He gave her the only life jacket, and she survived in the ocean holding his body until she no longer had the strength to do so. An hour later, she was rescued by fishermen.
Soon after, Ola took a job, a rare thing for a woman of her stature to do in 1939. And moved with Suzanne to Denmark, where they were when the war broke out. The Polish government in exile later moved to Nice, France. Where my mother and her mother spent two war years.  Ola understood that when Vichy France fell, they were no longer safe. She arranged for them to take the last train from friends to Spain, and then Portugal.
In Portugal they waited through a cold, cold winter, while Ola arranged for them to take a boat to Canada.

And that is how our mother arrived in Canada during World War II. They started in Hamilton, then moved to Winnipeg. Our mom grew up in Winnipeg, home to many eastern European immigrants during that period. They were very poor after my grandmother quit her job working for the Polish Consulate when Poland was taken over by the communists. They lived in two different houses in Winnipeg, usually in one or two rooms, sometimes only with a hot plate to cook on. But they were alive, and they were safe.

Later my mother attended University in Saskatoon, and then finished her degree in anthropology at the University of Toronto. During her student years at the University of Toronto, she worked for a while for Kay Graham, an artist, and lived in her house. They remained friends for the rest of Kay’s life. Later in that period, Suzanne roomed with Marguerite Hunt, another friend for life.

During their time in Winnipeg, both my mother and her mother became Baha’is. This spiritual turn influenced the rest of their lives. Suzanne was deeply devoted to the teachings of the Baha’i faith, and turned to the writings and prayers of the Baha’i faith every day, and throughout every difficult moment of her life. It was the Baha’i faith thay animated my mother, and shaped her worldview.

After university, my mother joined Ola in Saint Pierre and Miquelon for a year. From there, she moved to St. Anthony, Newfoundland to take a job as a schoolteacher. A year later, Mom moved again to Nain, Labrador, where she acted as a principal in an Innu school run by the Grenfell Mission. 

During a sojourn  in Happy valley Goose bay in Labrador, our mother met our father, Hubert Schuurman. They married in St. John’s Newfoundland in October of 1959. There, at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Suzanne completed her second Degree in education. Two daughters were also born, Nadine and Hedda.

In 1962, with a 1-1/2 year old and a newborn in tow, Suzanne and Hubert moved to St. Paul, Minnesota for Hubert to complete his Masters in Sociology. They were in Minnesota for two years, and from there, moved to Ottawa briefly to prepare for their next great adventure.

In 1964 they found themselves in the Canadian Arctic, living just outside Frobisher Bay (now Iqaluit). Hubert was working for the federal government and Suzanne was pregnant again. This third pregnancy was very difficult and when Tristan was born in August 1964, it was clear that he had serious health challenges.

Nine days later, the whole family shipped out to Igloolik, 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle. A small government plane transported the family. Upon arrival, a line of men tossed each of the children from man to man across the ice floes. 

They were only a handful of Caucasian families in that small remote arctic settlement. Increasingly it became clear that Tristan was ill, and would need to be treated at a hospital in the south. But in the winter, there was no easy way to get to a major hospital. Suzanne wrapped Tristan in every blanket they had and set off on a bombardier to Frobisher bay and from there to Montreal where she spent six weeks with him in the hospital. Eventually she realized she would have to return without her son, as he was too sick to transport back to the Arctic, but the rest of her young family needed her.

Tristan did return, and through the love and ministrations of his mother, slowly became well enough to walk,  to talk, read and write. But he would always be a slow learner, and need special care. A year later the whole family returned to Frobisher Bay - which was a metropolis compared to Igloolik. 

In the late summer of 1965, the Schuurman  family moved to Rawdon, a small town outside of Montreal, so that Hubert could pursue his PhD at McGill University. During that period, they adopted a 4th child, Lisa.  They spent almost 2 years there, before Hubert realized that with four young children, he needed to return to work. In addition, another pressure was that his own health was frail. And Tristan could benefit from specialized care only available proximate to large cities.

And so in 1967, they moved again to a small community outside Ottawa - where Hubert would work for the federal government again. Those were the halycon days, with trips to the lake in the summer, ice-skating in the winter, and many Bahai activities.

Suzanne was the sort of parent  that more neglected children yearn for. She told her children stories, always let them know that they were her crown jewels, and she read to them constantly. During car trips, she would teach all of us ten new words a day. And then she would retell the stories from adult books that she was reading to us as magnificent yarns.

Hubert longed for more adventure and eventually secured an appointment in Greenland for just over one year. In the fall of 1970, the whole family decamped for some weeks in Europe, and from Denmark to Greenland.

There Hubert made a film about the political transition that Greenland was going through. And the rest of the family explored the Arctic, and made new friends. Suzanne made one especially good friend, Else Boeson, who became a Baha’i and was a friend until the end of her life.

Suzanne had always been an amazing knitter, knitting her children sweaters with designs from many parts of the world. Scandinavian knitting culture greatly inspired her. And in Greenland, she began a long love affair with Fair Isle and Norwegian patterns. This is around the time that Kaff Faaset published his books showing the amazing possibilities of knitting. He revealed it to be a true art, and Suzanne took up the call to transform knitting from classic traditions to modern art. 

In 1971, the whole family moved back to Ottawa, for a year and then made another move to Westport, just outside of Kingston. Westport was a launching point for another arctic adventure to Norway in 1975. There Hubert made two films about the Laplanders for Northern affairs and Indian development.

During each of these magnificent adventures, Suzanne and Hubert enjoyed the novelty of new cultures, learning new languages, and simply being outside of their comfort zone. A number of moves would follow over the next several decades. In the early 1980s, they found themselves  back in Happy Valley Goose Bay ib Labrador. Sadly Tristan died there, of complications related to his liver and kidney damage. It was there while Suzanne was working as a teacher, that she wrote her first book, Tristan.

Tristan was the story of her son who had suffered so much damage before he was born, but blossomed  into a fully developed and beautiful human being. It is a story that compels parents of children with special needs to understand the gift they have been given. Tristan was translated into 13 languages, and went through several reprints. Suzanne’s story of her son spoke to many people. Suzanne would later write another book about her mother, Ola, who served as a Baha’i pioneer in Zaire for many decades. 

After Tristan died, they left Labrador for a stint in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. And then In their  50s and 60s, they made British Columbia their home, living in Edgewood, Nakusp and finally Castlegar. 

But Hedda and her husband Peter had settled in Newfoundland and had one child, Isolde and another, Max, on the way. Suzanne and Hubert decided to move back to the east, where they had met, in order to be closer to their grandchildren. Back in St. John’s, they enjoyed several years watching the grandchildren grow up, until Hedda and Peter made a move to Hong Kong where they remained for 20 years.

Freed from family in Newfoundland, they moved back to Wolfville in the early 2000s. There Suzanne really found her knitting groove. For decades, she had been knitting amazing, unusual, and highly artistic sweaters. Now, she had a community of knitters and hookers, who shared her love of artistry. 

She stayed in Wolfville with Hubert until the end of her life in 2021. There she was surrounded by a close knit group of friends, Joanne, Marilyn, Mariana, Betsy and Mike, and many many many others. Though they had moved dozens of times, Wolfville was the town where they found themselves most at home. Mom’s friends fully accepted her as a knitting artist, a Baha’i and one of the most giving and thoughtful people who ever lived on this planet. 

She is deeply, deeply missed by her husband Hubert, her daughters Nadine and Hedda. And by her two much loved grandchildren, Isolde and Max. She is also missed by her friends in the community of Wolfville and surrounds. She was a beacon of light to all who knew her. Rest In Peace gentle soul. 

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