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Friday, April 19, 2024
Shervills were a precious slice of NOTL

Ross Robinson
Special to The Lake Report

We love our wee town where the Niagara River flows into Lake Ontario. So much beauty and so many unique and interesting people enrich our lives here every day.

We all moved here for different reasons, from different parts of the world, and established ourselves  in the first capital of Upper Canada. How about a grateful moment as the global pandemic continues to dominate our daily lives? 

Let's look back and smile, thinking of Pauline and Derek Shervill, two Brits who graced our streets for so many years. Understated and locally ubiquitous, and always on top of local issues and the national Canadian news.

On Monday, March 8, International Women's Day, Pauline died peacefully in Abbotsford, B.C. Since moving west last year after Derek died in October, she had been surrounded by the love of her granddaughter Natalie Ocean and her husband Cameron.

She was so happy to be with her 16-month-old great-grandson Azaryah. Young Rya cuddled and entertained his Nana and each morning they had a cup of orange pekoe tea together while looking at the beautiful British Columbia mountain scenery.

Pauline and Derek grew up in southeast London, witnessing and surviving The Blitz during the Second World War. If asked, they would limn the horrifying scene as the high-pitched whizzing of Doodlebugs told everyone to get indoors. Children would be dragged into the nearest open doorway, sometimes not knowing whose house or shop it was.

They sometimes saw the German planes and several times could see the eyes of the attacking pilot. Backyard bomb shelters with metal roofs, dug out of the soil, with food and water rations for eight people for a few days.  After the “All clear,” they kids would go out on the streets and scavenge for sellable shrapnel.

When old enough, Pauline got a job and Derek joined the army.  He became a lightweight boxing champion and never lost his wiry toughness.  Married in 1955, they emigrated to Canada in 1957. A printing business in Leaside, hockey, they became such fine Canadians. Derek worked part-time at a Vic Tanny's gym and he never stopped lifting weights to maintain his lean and mean body.

Then, the big retirement move in the late 1980s, when they found their little piece of paradise after some 30 years in the big city. They bought their dream home on Vincent Avenue in downtown Chautauqua, just a short dog walking wander to Ryerson Park and the bluff overlooking a Great Lake.  Not many days went by without a walk or two, or three, with their precious dogs to make certain all was good with the neighbourhood and their neighbours.

They truly had their ears to the ground and their eyes alertly observed what was going on. They loved to chat with people in the park. Pauline would provide her comments on the TV sports from the previous night. Derek was just a little bit cynical, believing, “There is no new news. Just different people doing the same things to different people.”  

One summer day back in 1996, Derek was pictured on the front page of the Niagara Advance as part of a protest group, holding a sign opposing a local issue. Two weeks later, I noticed him again on the front page, this time holding a sign in support of a group supporting the same issue.

When  I questioned this blatant flip-flop, Derek pondered, took a draw on his pipe, and replied, “I think that if people believe strongly enough to get out and protest, I should support them.” Who could argue with that logic and  conviction?

Indeed, this Shervill vignette is not funny, but it is funny. In about 1998, a local teenager was sometimes driving too fast along our narrow Vincent Avenue. One morning, Sherv yelled at him to slow down…  The good-sized kid got out of his car and lipped off to his golden aged neighbour, assuming an aggressive stance. Our Sherv, with his pipe in his right hand, knocked the kid on his butt with a sharp left uppercut. The police came, wrote up the necessary report, and that ended the speeding on Vincent Avenue.

Pauline was always improving their garden, never too busy for a happy and not short chinwag with a passerby.  Front and back, their English gardens and fish ponds were so beautiful, and such a joy to lucky us.

They were both waiting when we arrived home from the hospital with our baby son Scott in 1996, and held him so lovingly. They babysat, and watched out, understanding “it takes a village to raise a child.”

Same thing in 2000 when baby Carrie made her Chautauqua debut. They cradled her, sang to her and, yes, watched over her and her friends as they grew up. They never missed a christening with Father Montague, or a birthday party, or a Christmas Eve. Such wonderful people living across the street.

If they were in town on a Thursday, they were at the Legion for fish and chips. “You can take the Brits out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the Brits.”  While Saturday night singalongs were big at the Oban Inn, Derek would serenade the crowd around the piano, looking lovingly at Pauline as he crooned, “If you were the only girl in the world.”  

In 1997 and 1998, aging gracefully, they proudly sat in the festive and gaily decorated Sentineal carriage, as honorary marshals of our annual Chautauqua Christmas Carol Stroll. They dressed warmly, and enjoyed cold and snowy carolling along our neighbourhood streets. Santa would arrive, there was hot chocolate, and marshmallows were toasted over hot coals. All was good with the world.

Last year, Derek left us suddenly after 88 eventful, brave and friend-filled years. 

We miss the Shervills so much, a steadying presence in our eclectic and unique corner of NOTL. We have been so fortunate, and yes, we continue to be so fortunate.

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