History Lives Here – Past and Present Residents of the Golden Dawn Senior Citizen Home: Juanita Ashcroft (Munson)

290
Photo: Juanita showing off her Canadian pride at Lion’s Head Beach, 1989.

Submitted by Christie Amyot, Volunteer/Director, Golden Dawn Senior Citizen Home
and Dona Ashcroft, co-author 

Our Mission: Golden Dawn is a hub
of support and empowerment
for adults seeking care
and those who care for them.

This brief story is one in a series of articles featuring past and present residents of the Golden Dawn Senior Citizen Home in Lion’s Head, ON. Summarizing almost a century of life for any one person is intimidating, but given the rich and storied lives of our Golden Dawn residents and their amazing contributions as pioneers of the Bruce, please consider that every effort has been taken to research and honor our interviewees in sharing a brief snippet of their personal life story. 

Juanita Ashcroft (Munson)

Juanita Ashcroft (Munson) was born in Bronxville, New York, in 1928, where she spent most of her childhood years. Throughout her lifetime there were several major worldwide events. She lived through the depression and World War II, and her brother Harry, four years her junior, served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. WWII had a direct impact on Juanita’s family. Her father was working in New York state at a job that he loved, but due to the war efforts in the United States, his job became redundant and other work was very hard to find. It was at that time that her family moved to Clinton, Connecticut, where her father found employment. Juanita loved school, and sports, and easily made new friends in Clinton, where she played field hockey, volleyball, softball and basketball.

As fate would have it, dear reader, in the early 1950s, Juanita was living in Florida where she met, and fell in love with, a handsome Canadian sailor by the name of Douglas Ashcroft. Doug was visiting his parents who were wintering in Florida. Juanita loved to dance, and Doug, a beautiful dancer, was attending a weekly dance with his parents. According to Juanita’s daughters Dona and Debbie, “she fell in love with him when they danced the Tennessee Waltz”. Doug and his three sisters were raised on a farm in Albemarle township, in South Bruce. He was a farmer, but he also sailed the Great Lakes for Texaco, working his way up to the position of First Mate; he gave up sailing in 1956 to farm full time.

Photo: Juanita (center) as a bridesmaid for one of her good friends. Taken in Connecticut in the late 1940s.

Juanita and Doug married in 1953. The New England girl suddenly found herself living on a farm in rural Ontario. It was a far cry from the New England coast, and the warm climate of Florida. Some people learn another language by being immersed in it. Juanita learned farming by being immersed in it – with the help of her new neighbours and friends, and Doug’s family. “Here I was on a farm, and I didn’t know one end of a cattlebeast from the other!” Doug was a sailor and this took him away from the farm for months at a time, leaving Juanita to look after the farm, feed the farmhands, and care for their six children.

Photo: Juanita with her six children.

Juanita was a quick learner, and came to love farm life. She learned how to “burn out” the chimney with kerosene-soaked rags, to sew and quilt, can and preserve fruits and vegetables, and everything else related to living on the farm. At this time, reader, let’s not forget that this, for Juanita, included hauling water from Judge’s Creek in the summer months, and melting snow in the winter, as the household did not have running water. She planted a huge vegetable garden that would grow enough produce to carry the farm through the winter. In those days, most of the shopping was done at Steip’s in Mar, and Tucker’s in Barrow Bay (which later became Eichenberger’s). 

Winters could be harsh. One winter in particular, the roads were blocked with snow for 14 days straight – with the banks being as high as the telephone wires.

Doug and Juanita’s farm was on the Barrow Bay Road. The house was a 4 bedroom and featured a 2-seater outhouse. Until 1961, when the house was raised, and a root cellar was added, the house was prone to flooding in the spring. It was sometimes necessary to wear rubber boots inside the house to keep feet dry. This was part of living on the Eastnor flats. The farmland was excellent, but very wet in the spring. In winter, the fields would freeze, and the kids could skate from the farmhouse to highway 6. On windy days, it was difficult to make it home. In the spring, the kids could row around the property in the overflowing ditches in a small rowboat.

Farming was hard but wholesome work. As a teenager, Juanita would have never guessed that she would become a farmer in Canada, but she often said that she wouldn’t have had it any other way. She loved the farm, and she loved animals (except bantam roosters – they would attack her every time she entered the barn!) Juanita has always been dedicated to, and a strong advocate for the community. When it came time to construct a barn on a farm property on the peninsula, the local community would gather together to build the barn. The men would work on the building, and the women would look after the meals. The barn building efforts were social gatherings – everyone coming together to get the job done. Juanita participated in several quilting bees, where women from the community would come together, usually at the Limberlost school house, to assist each other in finishing quilts.

For medical reasons, Doug had to back away from the physical work associated with farming, and moved to Toronto to start a new career as a stock broker. He travelled back and forth to the peninsula and continued farming on a part-time basis. Juanita moved into Lion’s Head. Even though they lived separately, they maintained a close relationship. Doug passed away suddenly in 1987 at the age of 60.

In the early 70s, Juanita sought employment outside the home and became the Assistant Clerk Treasurer for the Township of Eastnor. She took training to further her education in municipal matters, and in 1976 became Clerk Treasurer for the Village of Lion’s Head. She retired in 1987.

Juanita purchased the Menary home at 64 Main Street and ran it as The Cat’s Pajamas Bed and Breakfast for 14 years. She didn’t always charge her guests. One time there was a group of four young women who were camping at the Lion’s Head Beach campground who became ill with food poisoning. When Juanita heard of this, she went down to their campsite, gathered them and their belongings up and took them in, where they stayed free until they recovered. In another instance, a young man who was staying nearby was involved in a motor vehicle accident where his car was seriously damaged. Juanita invited him to stay at the B & B until he could get back to his home in Windsor. Over the 14 years of The Cat’s Pajamas, many people experienced Juanita’s kindness.

It was at The Cat’s Pajamas that a long-standing tradition began. Every spring, family and friends looked forward to the annual Easter egg hunt. Full of fun, Juanita would hide 400 jelly beans throughout the house. Participants were paired off and tied together at the wrists. When Juanita said “GO!”, the teams took off throughout the house to every room (except the bathrooms!). There were no rules other than having to stay tied to your partner, so there was usually full body contact and deviant behaviour (for example, putting a hole in the competition’s bag). When the time ran out, the teams gathered in the kitchen to count their beans. The winning team always won a cake – baked and decorated by Juanita. For months following the hunt, the odd jellybean would be found, still hidden. After the house was sold, the tradition was continued. It moved outside to a bush trail and included a hotdog roast. The tradition continues today and is hosted by the Firth and Elliot families – who participated in the first days of the hunt at Juanita’s house. The grand prize is still a home-baked decorated cake.

Another holiday that Juanita enjoyed celebrating at The Cat’s Pajamas was Halloween. She took great pleasure in dressing up and scaring the kids when they came to the door. Some of those “kids”, now grown with children of their own, still talk about being scared by Juanita. One year, there was a Halloween dance at the Rotary Hall, which was across the road from The Cat’s Pajamas. Juanita dressed up as a hobo, got herself into a sleeping bag, and walked into the dance. She went to the front of the room by the stage, without saying a word to anyone, and laid down on the floor. She stayed there for the entire dance and nobody knew who she was.

Juanita loved to travel, but was terrified of flying. Her longest flight was to the UK, where they flew over some of the places that Doug had seen when he served during WWII. It’s a wonder that Juanita ever flew again. When the plane landed in London England, Juanita had to be assisted to get off the plane. She was traumatized when the plane hit an air pocket and dropped several hundred feet. Most of Juanita’s travels were by driving or by coach bus tours. She also did two cruises; one to Alaska and one through the Panama canal. Most of Juanita’s trips were planned, but not always. One time she left a note on the kitchen table that read, “Gone to Toronto, might go to Florida”. She did indeed drive down to Florida and arrived home three weeks later.

The Red Cross Beach Party and Auction Sale, held on Civic Holiday weekend in Lion’s Head was an annual event that attracted hundreds of people. The work involved in putting on this event was done by community organizations and volunteers. One of Juanita’s contributions was making the coleslaw, or at least chopping the cabbage for it. Juanita, the kids (the ones old enough to not chop their fingers off), and other community women would chop enough cabbage to fill at least ten big garbage bags in preparation for the meal. Over the years, the Civic Holiday weekend events evolved and changed. When the Ferndale slow-pitch tournament was introduced as one of the weekend activities, Juanita got her umpire’s ticket so that she could participate. She was a Charter member of the Ferndale and District Lioness Club, now known as the S.W.A.N.S. In recognition of her community contributions, she received awards such as the Helen Keller Award (Lions Club), the Paul Harris Fellow award (Rotary Club), and the Volunteer Award (Municipality).

Photo: Juanita on her 80th birthday.

Juanita is kind and compassionate. Throughout her life, there have been many random acts of kindness. When she could, she would do them secretly, and the recipient would never know. Even now, if she can do something by herself, she will, and gets frustrated when she needs assistance. Her sense of humour has served her well, and still does. She loves to joke and tease the staff of Golden Dawn, and they give it right back to her. Sometimes you can’t tell if she is joking or not, then you’ll see a twinkle in her eyes, or a smirk spread across her face. Some of her favourite sayings include: “Count your blessings”, “To thine own self be true”, and “There but for the grace of God go I”, and “You’re a pain in the a$$.”

In 2018, Juanita started losing her joie de vivre. She wasn’t eating properly, losing interest in things that she once loved. She was getting more forgetful, and, in spite of efforts to help her improve, her decline continued and she ended up in the Lion’s Head hospital for several weeks in the summer of 2019. It was from there that she moved to long-term care in the Golden Dawn Senior Citizen Home in August 2019. It was a very difficult, but necessary move. It was hard and confusing for Juanita, and hard for her family. But, at the Golden Dawn, she could be in a safe environment and receive the care that she needed. She had always been one to look at a tough situation and talk herself through it. She made the best of her situation and adjusted. Then Covid hit and all long-term care homes went into lockdown. That was extremely difficult for everyone – residents and family, but especially staff. 

It’s been almost four years now that Juanita has been a resident of Golden Dawn. She is comfortable in her room, and her sense of humour continues to serve her well. The staff members are kind and compassionate, and treat her with dignity and respect. Her favourite things are going for drives and ice cream and singing – in particular, reader, she loves “The Old Grey Mare”, and at that, I will sign off! If I’ve inadvertently put that little tune in your head, please sing it with a smile and a cheer for Juanita!

About Golden Dawn

Golden Dawn Senior Citizen Home is a non-profit, registered charity – the only long-term care home and senior apartments complex in Northern Bruce. Located in the village of Lion’s Head, Ontario, it is also the largest year-round employer in Northern Bruce. 

Be a part of our History! As we embark upon this critical redevelopment, please consider supporting the Golden Dawn in continuing to provide care and support for our residents, families and caregivers, staff and volunteers in the present while we make plans for the future. Ways you can contribute:

-Charitable gifts

-Monthly giving

-Estate planning/bequests

-Fundraising

-Volunteering

For more information, please contact: Christie Amyot, Volunteer/Director, 519-636-8505, christieamyot1@gmail.com or follow the redevelopment prompts on our website: www.goldendawn.ca