Mother Would be Proud


The plan was to fill the Church in Island Harbour and lay her to rest, have a lunch and then a party in the garden.

Make Mother proud and then make her laugh and shake her head.

Rita (nee Squires) McKenna raised ten boys in a tiny house in Island Harbour. Her husband Leo McKenna worked in the woods and later on boats and she was this modern times “turn around” wife. Practically a single mom  with father away and a house full of boys she had lots of work, tears and worries and also lots of stories that would leave you laughing and shaking your head an hour later.

A young Rita McKenna, Island Harbour.
A young Rita McKenna, Island Harbour.

Widowed young when Leo (Sr.) died of a heart attack at sea on a boat, she carried on and eventually moved to Ontario with her son Dorman, later to be by joined by Paul. With her oldest, Gus in the Newmarket area they kept their Island Harbour traditions and stories alive.

With regular deliveries from Cyril’s seasonal stays to work in the Ontario ‘Nut Factory’ (Compass Foods) even the menu remained salt cod, tongues and bakeapple based.

Cyril cutting out cod tongues for Mother. 2013
Cyril cutting out cod tongues for Mother. 2013

In the twenty plus years since I met her, she’d been a kind and gentle soul who could tell the most heart wrenching stories of her childhood and married life and then wave her hand and say “Oh, but never mind that” and then talk about the time one of the boys did something bad or funny and completely change the mood.

Leo (Jr.) and I travelled several times to visit her in Ontario and were delighted the past 10 years to be able to pick her up at the airport and spend a night with her before she’d go to Fogo Island for a few weeks. More than once we thought it might be her last trip home and more than once, she surprised us the next year, often only calling a day or two before to let us know she needed to be picked up from a flight.

Thanksgiving 2010. Met at the airport in St. John's, it was the first time she rode from St. John's to Gander and had no idea how long it was.
Thanksgiving 2010. Met at the airport in St. John’s, it was the first time she rode from St. John’s to Gander and had no idea how long it was.

Rita passed away on the sixth of February 2015 and as were done for sons Paul and Gus who predeceased her, a funeral service was held in Newmarket with family and friends and her remains were cremated to be returned home. The boys, Gus and Paul, had both been buried with their father in the Catholic cemetery in Island Harbour.

Dorm made his first trip to Newfoundland in 30 years to bring her home. Rita wished to be buried with her mother, who she had lost as a child and her only sister who also died as a child. With ten men raised, many did not realize that her first child was a girl, also buried in this plot. After all those years with the ruckus of men, she is planning on quietly resting with the women and girls nearby.

We had a mass on August 8 and filled the little church in Island Harbour with family and friends. Mother was buried as per her requests in the plot with her mother, sister and daughter. It was a perfect sunny day with family all around. No doubt she was proud.

The choir and Father Joy brought great comfort to the family during mass and as well as great help in contributing food and energy to make a wonderful  lunch in the hall attended by about fifty people who were only able to eat about half the food provided. Guests were encouraged to pack a lunch and a number did, to take to others who could not attend. The rest was packed to go to Cyril’s as would be the tradition.

With some discussion beforehand we had planned and advertised the day to end with a few drinks and a gathering in the ‘garden’. We weren’t sure if people would be able to come but we were joined in fine numbers.

Leo often tells the stories of growing up with one hundred kids in the garden and they were all either his brother or his first cousin. As children they played games of cowboys and Indians up over the hills and games of ball involving many broken windows, all to be mended by Rita.

She told the story of her father going to Fogo and asking if she needed anything. She asked for twenty-five panes of glass and only had one left when she finished mending the windows.

Great Grandchildren Chloe and Patrick met for the first time in the garden.
Great Grandchildren Chloe and Patrick met for the first time in the garden.

The garden, house and shed were filled with sons, grandchildren and great grandchildren and their families and in numbers we had never dreamed off. Cousins and neighbours came and stayed all evening and some even went home for their supper and came back.

Little kids and grown men took turns swinging from the rope in the shed to see how strong they were and standing on the rock to admire Cyril’s land, the view or have a chat.

The hump in the garden. Island Harbour, Fogo Island
The hump in the garden. Island Harbour, Fogo Island

Stories were told in the house and shed and sandwiches and salads were picked at and eventually polished off before the dancing broke out. For a moment, we were all going to crash the beach fire on Thistles Point but realized it was a long walk and ate our hotdogs off the BBQ instead.

There were still a few stragglers when we left. Some were a short distance from home and some already had rides on the way. Thanks too to the dedicated designated drivers.

It was a wonderful day and night with no windows broken. It was often said during the day that we need to do this more often, not just at sad times, and we will.

Let’s do it again next year. The Saturday between the festivals, let’s have a Garden Party at Cyril’s.

I’ll bring the hotdogs. Somebody tell Cyril.


8 thoughts on “Mother Would be Proud

    1. Such an absolutely beautiful tribute to a beautiful and sweet lady, cousin and family friend. You are at peace with all your loved ones in heaven now sweet Rita and they are so happy to have you home!


  1. I sure wish I could have been there for my Family.. I spent many an hour at my Aunts house growing up… My Dad’s sister…we played 500’s with my poppy Squires and he didn’t like it when we cheated!!!! I remember wel the Ghost stories that my Uncle Leo would tell us of Raw Head And Bloody Bones!!!! We ran like hack across that Garden at dark!!! Lots of great memories for sure!!!!xoxo


  2. A most beautiful tribute to a beautiful lady; thanks for sharing Diane, I haven’t met you, but have known Rita and the family since I was born. I am Serena’s aunt and Marguerite’s sister, Carol-Anne.


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