Brian Keith

Brian Keith

I was born some time ago to Margaret and Evan Keith, who lived on the Second Concession of Kinloss Township, in Bruce County near Lucknow, Ontario (population 1,000). They had bought a 250-acre beef farm two years earlier from my grandfather. My parents are both of Scottish descent, their ancestors having moved to the wilderness of rural Ontario in the 1830's.

I was the eldest child; my sister Sandra and brother Murray came along later.

Starting at the age of 6, I walked over a mile each way to a one-room school in which eight grades were taught by one teacher. The school was called S.S. No. 7 Kinloss and was in a small wood-frame building heated with a wood stove. I attended there until Grade 2, then moved to Kinloss Central Public School for Grades 3-8. That meant taking the bus for many miles through the countryside.

I enjoyed living on the farm. We grew cattle and pigs, hay and grain, as well as apples, pears and cherries. I helped out from a young age. We used to harvest the grain using a binder that made sheaves of straw which we assembled by hand into stooks (the same method the Mennonites use). I started driving Dad's Massey-Ferguson tractor when I was 8 years old.

My four grandparents lived close by and we had frequent visits from them and my aunts, uncles and cousins. My dad had seven brothers and sisters so I had 26 cousins, who all got together at my grandparents' house on Christmas Day. We made a lot of noise!

Speaking of noise, I started to play the piano at age 6 and then took piano and accordion lessons. My uncle loaned me an electronic organ to use and in high school, I joined the brass band and learned the flute. Besides music, I was interested in photography, science and math. Everyone figured I would become a scientist.

For grades 10-13, I took the school bus to Wingham (12 miles away) to attend F.E. Madill Secondary School, where I did well in the all-male Industrial Arts class. The focus was on engineering subjects like drafting, electronics and chemistry. I also learned how to type, which was a good thing in retrospect. I was selected for the school's "Reach for the Top" team and was on CKNX TV Wingham two or three times. My first overseas trip was a week in Paris and London, organized by the school. The small-town guys from Wingham hung around some big-city girls from Toronto who were on the same trip.

Rural to Urban Migration

I could have attended university but at age 19, moved to Rexdale to take the 3-year Public Relations program at Humber community college. After growing up in the country, adjusting to the city (especially on social aspects) was not easy. I stayed in Toronto during the summers and depended on my family for money and support. I gradually made new friends of many different nationalities. I had my own apartment on Weston Road for the second and third year of college, and graduated with honours in 1975. I then took a one-month backpacking trip to England and Scotland.

Returning to Toronto and a tiny attic room, I started getting free-lance assignments writing business articles about office equipment. That led to a full-time job with Whitsed Publishing, where I spent the next five years on the 25th floor of 2 Bloor Street West. My work as editor of "Canadian Office", a monthly magazine, took me all over Canada and the States, which was very stressful but I learned a lot about office machines, typesetting and printing, and magazine layout and design. I also had a great time with my coworkers.

In my spare time, I met Louise Coneybeare who was from Toronto and a relative of Rod Coneybeare (the voice of Jerome the Giraffe on The Friendly Giant TV show). We first lived in a rooming house in Forest Hill, then moved to an apartment in a house near Yonge and St. Clair. We got married at a small family wedding in 1978, preceded by a two-week honeymoon in Spain -- it was very hot there in July!

In 1981, I left Whitsed Publishing and we travelled to England for a month. We bought a condominium at Don Mills and Eglinton but Louise didn't like living on the 19th floor, so after a year, we moved to a semi-detached house at Bayview and Davisville. I also bought my first car, a new Honda Civic which I drove for the next 11 years (112,000 miles). We took lots of weekend camping trips and driving trips all over Ontario and the nearby States.

After writing office procedures for a couple of years, I settled on the new (to me) field of technical writing, specializing in software instructions. I got a few contracts doing that in Toronto, starting at the Rothmans Tobacco Company and later at Honeywell in Scarborough. I joined and volunteered for the technical writing society -- a smart move because the contacts helped me get several jobs later on. We took vacations in the eastern USA, the Caribbean and Central America.

To Canada's Capital - and Points East

In 1987, Louise was keen to move from Toronto so I got a job as a technical writer at Senstar in Carp, west of Ottawa. We sold our house in Toronto and bought a four-bedroom house with a swimming pool in Ottawa. I also invested in a real estate project which went bust -- but I volunteered as an investors' representative and learned lots about legal matters.

The Ottawa winters were very cold and snowy. We liked going cross-country skiing and skating on the Rideau canal. I got laid off from Senstar in 1991, so went to help my parents move from their farm to Goderich. The following year, we spent a month touring around England, France and Holland. I then joined Northern Telecom (later Nortel Networks) in its big technical writing department. I ended up staying for five years and then got a big break -- a company-paid transfer to Maidenhead, England to do the same job on a new UK team. In the middle of 1996, following six weeks of familiarization in Raleigh, North Carolina, we sold our house in Ottawa and moved to a much smaller two-bedroom apartment in Maidenhead.

That gave us the chance to embark on all sorts of adventures. We took the train to London every weekend and saw all the museums. We really liked bicycling around the beautiful Thames Valley. We bought a car and went camping and explored a lot of National Trust properties. Living close to the airport, we could get away to Europe for the weekend and took vacations farther afield, such as Morocco, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Thailand. My biggest interest was the Wurlitzer theatre organ, so I took lessons from two very good teachers, entered contests and won an award for amateur players in 2003.

I decided to leave Nortel in 2001 and got a new job as the technical author for Compass Management Consulting in Guildford. We bought an apartment there so I could bicycle to work. That job came to a premature end in 2003. I got another big break in October 2004 when we packed up and moved to Trinidad. My job as Documentation Manager with Fujitsu started with a three-month contract but then stretched to a full year. I found it challenging but rewarding. We loved the tropical forests in Trinidad and swimming at all the beaches.

Louise was mainly stuck at home and as time went on, found it more difficult to cope with the chaotic conditions. We took a few driving trips around the island and flew to Tobago and other Caribbean islands for weekend breaks (I didn't take any holidays in my year there). My contract concluded in October 2005 so we visited Florida and Ontario before returning to England to look for work. We stayed in a rented cottage on the south coast of England and got our apartment fixed up to rent out a second time.

I was then hired by Nangate, a specialty software company in Copenhagen, and moved to Denmark in March, 2006. We never bought a car but used bicycles, buses and trains to get everywhere. In November of that year, I had the misfortune to encounter an out of control car when cycling. That accident led to a lengthy hospital stay, the first time I'd broken any bones, but I have now recovered.

My main activities in Denmark included attending expat parties, leading the Allcanuck club for Canadian expats, and latterly, working for the Maersk Shipping company. I decided to retire at the beginning of 2015 and we moved back to Canada in May. Since then, we have settled in London, Ontario and are involved in retirement activities around home and the city.

I'm glad I stuck with the field of technical writing. It suited my personality and I'm satisfied with what I accomplished. I'm one of very few technical writers in the world who has worked in eight countries and been moved internationally three times.

What Have I Learned in All This Time?

  • It is worthwhile to join associations (especially professional ones), as I've gotten at least three good jobs through my professional network.
  • When I got into an accident in November 2006, I was astounded at the expressions of support (get-well cards, presents, visits) from English-speaking expatriates in Denmark.
  • It makes sense to spend time analyzing and planning -- we now review our progress and failures each year and plan for the next.
  • It's good to get proper (professional) advice, even if you have to pay for it.
  • You can turn the worst circumstances into learning experiences.
  • You can recover after being laid off from your job -- it might turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
  • It made sense to me to get a job first and then move close to it (I've done that at least 5 times.)
  • Finding work after the age of 45 is more difficult -- but that didn't seem to be a problem in Denmark.
  • There are benefits to volunteer work -- I have learned much from serving at the Distress Centre and mediating between neighbours' disputes.
  • Adapting to a new country and coping with the initial culture shock is a learned skill; coping in a country where you don't speak the language can be very difficult.
  • Formal education is fine but the real learning comes from working (I don't have a university degree and have never been asked for one).
  • There's no point worrying about the future -- it's better to wonder what might happen.
  • I used to think I was shy but have learned otherwise (I get the greatest joy from interacting with others).

Louise Keith

Louise Keith

Family Background

My father's family moved from Devon, England to Canada in about 1865. My grandmother, Amy Batchelor, married Arthur Coneybeare, a real-estate agent in Toronto; they moved to Haliburton, Ont. and had 5 children. Arthur went to fight in France in World War I, but 6 months after returning home, he died from mustard gas poisoning. My grandmother was then left to bring up 5 young children in a house with no electricity, running water or telephone. She later remarried, moved to Minden, Ont. and lived to the age of 88.

My mother's background was very different. She grew up in Toronto in a long-established family. The Cawthras came to Canada in 1803 via the USA, and founded a dry-goods business in downtown Toronto. My grandfather graduated as a barrister from Cambridge University in England. I never knew him because he died in 1951. My grandmother was a widow for more than 40 years and died at age 89 after having a stroke.

My Parents

My parents, John Coneybeare and Ann Cawthra, were married in 1952 at St. James' Cathedral in Toronto. Both of them graduated from the University of Toronto -- my father in theology and my mother in classical music. My father was the only university graduate of all his brothers and sisters. Following work periods in the Yukon Territory and Port Perry, Ont., he was appointed rector of All Saints Anglican Church in Niagara Falls, Ont.

My dad was a great story-teller and raconteur. He liked to tell the same stories over and over, making them funnier every time. He wrote many short stories which were read on CBC Radio. His hobbies were gardening, fishing, reading and history. He liked writing sermons but not making small talk or dealing with church politics.

Thus, my family background was not very traditional. My mother's family was upper-class, like transplanted British gentry, while my father's origins were more working-class.

The Eldest of 3 Children

I was born in 1954 in Greater Niagara Falls General Hospital. I was the first of three children. I don't remember very much about Niagara Falls, because my father was moved to Dunnville, Ont. in 1956 to become rector of St. Paul's Anglican Church.

My brother Joseph was born in 1956. He excelled at math and liked playing board games and always won against me. He went on to become Head Boy at Upper Canada College in Toronto and was top student in Grade 13. He got his Bachelor of Commerce from Queen's University, travelled around the world twice, then got his MBA from the University of Toronto. He worked in the Treasury Department at Nortel Networks for almost 20 years, then retired and got his financial planners' certificate.

My sister Andrea was born in Dunnville in 1959. After the age of 6, she began to show delayed development. Later in Toronto, she was diagnosed with schizophenia. She was admitted to the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry. She then moved to Midland, Ont. to live in a group home (Browndale) and in 1982, moved to Penetanguishene where she still is today. She was finally diagnosed as severely autistic.

Growing Up

Dunnville was a nice small town, good for raising children. I started Kindergarten in 1959 and stayed at Dunnville Public School until Grade 5. Once, I nearly got the strap for entering the Catholic school yard across the street. I was spared the strap because the school Principal attended my father's church.

We used to enjoy going to Lake Erie for three weeks every summer, courtesy of Dr. Rigg who let us use his cottage. We took lots of Sunday drives around southern Ontario and always had treats of ice cream or potato chips.

In the age before computers and electronic games, my brother and I made our own fun. We had a big family of teddy bears which we named and took all over town. I got stuck in quicksand in Dunnville and also attracted attention by climbing up the fire escape on the side of a 6-storey factory.

Sometimes, my mother's old governess, Henrietta Walton (nicknamed Easse), came to look after us while mother and her mother went to Great Britain for three weeks at a time.

In 1959, my parents bought a summer cottage called Tanglewood on Balsam Lake in the Kawartha Lakes. The cottage was one of Sir William MacKenzie's five cottages that he built for his five daughters. We had 15 wonderful summers there, with my father spending every July with us and my grandmother staying the month of August. Later, I used to go to Tanamakoon girls' camp in Algonquin Park, and my brother went to Kilcoo Camp near Minden.

The cottage life introduced us to such fun outdoor activities as walking, swimming, boating and fishing. Again we had to use our imagination and invent games. I also developed a dreaded fear of lake weeds, because I once fell into the water and imagined getting tangled up. We used to love it when our cousins (the Hethringtons) came east from Vancouver every two years.

Then We Moved to Toronto

In 1965, we were moved to Etobicoke (Toronto) to a new rectory. The move from small-town Ontario to the big city brought many difficult changes -- different schools, a different type of church environment, and getting used to life in the big city.

I went to public school in Etobicoke, then started at St. Clements Girls' School. After one year, I transferred to Branksome Hall Girls' School in Rosedale, where my mother and her sister Grace had attended. I had to take public transit there, which took an hour and 20 minutes each way. It was difficult enduring the long commute, especially in the winter. I didn't like team sports but excelled at swimming and got my bronze medallion. I also enjoyed tennis, art, French and photography. I made alot of friends at school and went to lots of parties and dances.

After graduating in 1972, I took general arts and science at Humber College in Rexdale. I left home in 1973 and moved into the YWCA girls' residence for two years. I learned to become independent and met lots of girlfriends, some whom I still have to this day. I worked for two summers as a camp cook, starting at Blue Mountain camp for crippled children, then later worked in northern Ontario and Merrywood camp near Smiths Falls.

In 1974, I went to Glendon College, a liberal arts school with a beautiful campus in the Don Valley. I lived in residence and met Gayle Herrington, and in the spring of 1975, we went out west to work at Hidden Ridge Resort in Banff, Alberta. Part-way through the summer, I embarked on a 6-week grand tour of North America. I left Banff and set off west with a girl I met at a party. We hitchhiked with two fellows to Vancouver and I visited the Hethringtons. Marnie and I were picked up by a truck driver who took us through Washington and Oregon. One morning when I woke up, I discovered that Marnie and the truck driver had gone. Not giving up, I met someone in the truck stop cafe who was going south. I then hitchhiked with a family in a camper van and went the rest of the way to Oakland, California where I visited relatives for four days.

I bought a Greyhound Bus pass for $99 which gave me unlimited travel. I travelled day and night for six weeks, starting from San Francisco to Albuquerque and Las Vegas, then crossed Texas to Mobile, Alabama and took a week-long break in Key West, Florida. I then went up the coast to Washington, New York, Vermont, Maine and Montreal. I took the bus to northern Quebec to try getting to the James Bay hydro dam. The bus only went as far as Amos, Quebec, but I met a woman and we decided to drive up there. However, I didn't realize she had been drinking all afternoon. Half-way to James Bay, we got into a bad car accident. The car rolled over 5 times and ended up in the ditch. The ambulance took me back to Amos where I spent the next week in the Red Cross outpost clinic. I then returned to Toronto and began a secretarial course at Shaw's business school in September. I then enrolled at Marvel Beauty School and got my hairdressing trade certificate in 1976.

Settled Down, But Not For Long

I met my future husband in March 1975 after I'd just broken up with a boyfriend who, like my brother, had been head boy at Upper Canada College. Brian and I met at a party. We started our relationship in September, 1975 after I returned from travelling and have now been together for more than 40 years. We were married in 1978 by my uncle Rev. Frank Edney at St. Philips Anglican Church, Unionville, Ont.

I began my hairdressing career at the University of Toronto Hart House barber shop. We decided to buy Ben's Unisex Hair Salon on College Street and I was in business for myself for over a year. We bought a condominium in 1981 and then moved to a semi-detached house on Belsize Drive. We lived in Toronto until we moved to Ottawa in 1987. We had a good, stable life in Ottawa, fixed up our house and took many car and camping trips. I worked on and off as a hairstylist, but stopped when we moved to Maidenhead, England in 1996. We rented a "flat" for five years in Maidenhead, a pretty town in the Thames Valley known as the "Jewel of the Thames". It was traumatic packing up our house in Ottawa and trying to fit everything into our small apartment. I worked for an ironing service and then started my own business. We adopted an English lifestyle, getting used to the smaller living spaces and smaller roads. I really enjoyed painting and fixing our apartment in Guildford when we moved there in 2001.

In my spare time, I did volunteer work -- working on elections, fund-raising, helping at the hospital, etc. We had nine action-packed, memorable years living in Maidenhead and Guildford. We travelled extensively and drove all up and down the British Isles. We also took interesting courses and made good friends.

In October 2004 we moved to Port of Spain, Trinidad for Brian's job. It was a real third-world experience. We had to cope in difficult circumstances, such as no water on many days. We had to slow down and accept the more laid-back life. After one year, we took a well-deserved holiday in St. Petersburg, Florida, then a four-week visit to Canada. Our stay in Rustington, West Sussex (England) was frustrating while Brian looked for work. With our British passports, we can work anywhere in Europe, and this helped get us into Denmark. I've reverted to being a traditional housewife for now, enjoying such hobbies as family history, photography, gardening, knitting and even using the internet on my own. One of my favourite activities is participating in a weekly knitting group with the Ladies International Network of Copenhagen. After nine years in Denmark, we're glad to be back in Canada.

My philosophy is to live each day as if it's your last. I think it's important to have a positive outlook and show concern for others. My approach to life is to prepare for what might be ahead, but not worry, take a deep breath and go for it.

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Page last updated: July 2, 2024