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  • Writer's picturePat Browne

Sandy and Susie Lawson

Turning tragedy into a new beginning.

Life was forever changed for Sandy and Susie Lawson after a horrific car crash took the life of a son and brother. When tragedy stuck, the home we had lived in for 35 years was no longer a place of sanctuary.

“I wanted a new start,” said Sandy. “My youngest son had died in a car crash and my marriage was ending. We needed to find a new home. I had it in my head that I wanted a townhouse.”

“I grew up in Toronto. I remember the milkman, the breadman and the coalman delivering to our homes by horse and cart. After I got married, we moved to the Don Mills area when the DVP stopped at Eglinton (it wouldn’t be completed to Sheppard Ave until 1966).”

We moved first to the Underhill area and then a little further west to Denlow Blvd where we stayed for 35 years. It’s where I raised my family. “But even after all that time, we didn’t have a sense of community. We hardly knew our neighbours,” said Susie. “As soon as the weather got warmer, Geoffrey and I would pack our peanut butter sandwiches and disappear into the ravine at Branbury Park. We played outside for hours on end.”

“As a family we had lots of life adventures,” said Sandy. “We had traveled for my husband’s work (ENT surgeon) starting with Vic’s post doc studies at UCLA to even picnicking in the Khyber Pass just two weeks before the Russians pulled out. As Vic consulted at area hospitals, I was able to immerse myself in the culture and people of Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

“I’ll never forget going to a market in the Khyber in the Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan where fruits and vegetables huddled for space beside baskets of ammunition and automatic weapons.”

Back at home the family led the typical Toronto lifestyle. We had our home in the city and a family cottage on Balsam Lake in the Kawartha area. We added to the cottage lifestyle when we bought a farm that sat on the route to the cottage in 1973. The farm came with a dozen sheep, a donkey named Carmen, ducks and a goat named Chives.

Each summer we would head up to the farm. We learned about gardening and a simpler life. The children took care of the house garden, a quarter acre plot where irrigation was a hand-pump and buckets. We also learned about rearing orphaned lambs. Our first was called Francis. “Knowing nothing about the hand-rearing of sheep (and this was before the internet), I immediately headed to the library. We had to feed the lamb regularly so into the back of the car went Francis for a trip to the city,” says Sandy.

“We had thought we would keep Francis outside in our garden,” added Susie, “But it was mere moments before Frances joined us in the living room, sitting on the sofa watching TV.”

“It should be noted that not once did Francis (or any of the lambs that followed) soil in the house,” said Sandy. “They are amazing animals that bond very quickly with their humans.”

Francis went on to the stage staring alongside Angela Lansbury in Gypsy at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. Francis didn’t get quite the public acclaim, but he did get to ride with Angela each day in a taxi to the theatre.

“After Geoffrey died, we needed a change,” said Sandy. “A children’s clothing store that I owned with my daughter Susie on Yonge Street was also coming to an end. The children were grown. We no longer needed such a big house. It was time to find a new place to call home.”

We looked all over the city. We wanted to find a home that fit for us. “We really needed two rooms large enough to accommodate us,” said Sandy. “Susie was coming with me and as an adult woman, she needed her own space. We loved the large space of these homes. They were big enough to accommodate our existing furniture.”

“We saw these houses while driving up the DVP. There is a moment when they are visible,” said Sandy. “Our real estate agent first brought us here to look at one of the smaller houses. But while we were looking, the sales agent told us about the houses on the park. Things were starting to move quickly at the time. The original house we looked at sold before we could make an offer. Fortunately, we were offered the home that we have.”

“I can’t tell you enough about how amazing this neighbourhood has been for us,” says Sandy. “It started even before we officially moved in. We were at the house for the final inspection when a young man came over – he would turn out to be our neighbour two doors down – he didn’t know us but stuck out his hand and offered “if you need anything, we’re here to help.” That was Sunil Chand, and he set the tone for the entire neighbourhood.”

“Even though we had lived in Don Mills for decades, I had no idea how convenient this little section is. We can be downtown in minutes,” says Susie.

“It is truly amazing here. I have never felt patronized, I’ve always felt respected,” says Sandy. “Being here has kept me young. We love the diversity of the neighbourhood. It has been an education learning about our neighbours. We’ve kept our fence onto the park low and open. I want to see who’s coming by and invite them in. Having the patio out back is like being on permanent vacation.”

“This neighbourhood is a home with neighbours who are like family,” says Susie. “I love watching the children growing up here. They’re playing in the ravine and park system just as Geoffrey and I did as children.”

“This is the most incredible neighbourhood that we’ve lived in,” says Sandy.

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