Norma Skilling

Agnes Norma Skilling was born in Teeswater, Ontario on July 25, 1896 and officially registered on July 26th. She called herself Norma Agnes although her names were registered in the reverse order. She was the 5th daughter and 9th living child of Agnes Ruxton and John Skilling. Her oldest sister Floss had left home by then and was working as a milliner in Aurora, Ontario. Maude was 16, already teaching music, and away from home a lot.
Norma was always keenly aware of her birth order in the family as one of the youngest. She was treated as a bit of a nuisance by the older ones perhaps simply because she was one of the younger ones. She was surrounded by bright musical older siblings and often felt the comparison and the high standards set. She loved the musical harmony when they all sang together, she along with Maude in soprano. She loved her mother and admired her older siblings, especially Bill and Gert who were very good to her while growing up. By the time Norma was about 10, most of the older sisters and brothers had left home except Bill and Harold. She, as the only girl would have had to help her mother with household chores. Her father was often away conducting choirs or on the road selling musical instruments.
Norma completed her primary and secondary education in Teeswater, Ontario. She must have been a good student because her brother Bill tried to persuade their father to send her to university, though it wasn’t common in those days for women to go. Her father objected as he lacked the means to support her and thought it unnecessary for a woman.

 In 1917 she entered Normal School and lived with her father’s sister Aggie and her husband Richard Offord in Stratford, Ontario. She enjoyed being with Aunt Aggie and studying to be a teacher.
But before she finished her year, at Easter on March 31st, 1918, Norma had an attack of appendicitis and was rushed to hospital for immediate surgery. She developed serious complications from a bowel perforation and gangrene. This required a second operation. Norma was delirious and extremely ill in hospital for a month and did not return to Stratford until late June. She had to write some of her exams in bed but managed to pass.
Her sister Mae paid her board to Aunt Aggie and her fees to Normal School. She also supported and encouraged her to take her exams in bed in a private room of the hospital. Norma passed her exams and began her teaching career September 1918 in a rural one room school on RR#3 in Mildmay, Ontario.
The following summer of 1919 she attended the Summer session at the University of Toronto and received her Interim Certificate in Elementary Vocal Music.
She visited her oldest sister Floss and Will in Neepawa the summer of 1920.
In November 1920 while still teaching in Mildmay, she received her Permanent Public School Second-Class Certificate.
In 1921 Norma’s sister Gert encouraged her to come out to Winnipeg to teach. With her certificates and letters of recommendation from a former Normal School Music teacher, J. Bottomley, and a W. A. Wilkinson, Methodist Pastor from Mildmay who described her as “excellent in character, versatile in gifts, and worthy of the confidence of all”, Norma was able to get a one year Manitoba Teaching Certificate and a contract to teach at River Heights Public School (later renamed Robert H. Smith School) in Winnipeg for which she was paid $1200 for the year. 

River Heights School 1919
Winnipeg School Division photo
She gives her address on the Teacher’s Agreement as 72 Niagara Street, which may have been the Kavaner’s address at the time. During this time she had some success with her vocal music program and discovered her talent for conducting choirs.
After her one year contract with the Winnipeg School District was over, Norma returned to Toronto and taught on an occasional basis until she got a full-time job at Rosedale Public School. Once again her class was singled out in April 1923 for its musical achievement in the local newspaper, Rosedale Topics.
While living in Teeswater, going to the Methodist Church and going to primary and secondary school, she met the Jackson family who were living on a farm just outside of town. One summer around 1910 when she was about 14, Mrs. Jackson asked her to come to their Sauble Beach cottage with them to work as a mother’s helper. Her job was to help with the housework and look after the younger Jackson kids, Irene and Jud.
She got to know the older Jackson boys while at Sauble Beach, if she hadn’t already, and was kind of sweet on Bert at first. Later, Ray won her heart and, when he enlisted in 1916 at the age of 17 (he lied and said he was 18) and went overseas, Norma wrote to him, sent parcels and waited patiently for him to return.  He was wounded in the shoulder on August 30, 1918 and spent a long time convalescing in England in the days before the wonders of penicillin.

When he returned to Canada they were married at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church on April 24, 1926 in Toronto. Witnesses were her brother William M. Skilling and Anna J. Thompson. She was 29 and he was 28. Her sister Maude catered the wedding supper for 30 guests. As there was no refrigeration, the plates were all taken down to the cool basement and carried up again for the meal.
Although Norma loved teaching at Rosedale Public School, she was required to resign once she married. In 1926 married women weren’t allowed to teach as the Board believed they were taking a job away from a man who really needed it to support his family.
Norma and Ray were thrilled to be expecting their first child the following year. Barbara Ann Jackson was born on October 30, 1928, a perfectly beautiful and healthy baby girl. Before Norma could take her home from the Toronto General Hospital, Barbara Ann developed an infection. Lacking modern drugs like penicillin, the baby was unable to resist and died 19 days later. They buried her in Park Lawn Cemetery and tried to resume their lives.
Norma was shattered and couldn’t believe what had happened through no fault of her own. She had waited so long for this child. Her anger at the Toronto General Hospital was suppressed. Condolences of disbelief from family and friends poured in and she kept every card and every note. This loss altered her very core and she worried about having more children. She was now 33.
Finally she became pregnant again and, just after her 34th birthday, gave birth to a son, John David on September 25th, 1930. She and Ray were over the moon with joy. She adored him and wanted to do the best for him. She studied the latest theories of infant and child rearing and followed them to a ‘T’, even when it went against her instincts, so committed was she to doing the right thing. 
Four years later a daughter, Rosemary Elizabeth was born on August 24th, 1934 and Ray and Norma were delighted their family was now complete. 
to be continued...