You probably wondered who lived in that adorable stone house on the corner of Kildare and Ontario in Olde Walkerville. Chances are she took your parents’ or grandparents’ portrait and you didn’t even know it.
She was Pat Sturn, a local photographer, whose studio in the Canada Building on Ouellette Avenue in downtown Windsor was described as something out of Greenwich Village in New York.
She was born in Romania in 1910 and emigrated to Canada in the 1930s. I don’t know how long she lived in the stone house but she was there when I was growing up in the 1960s on nearby Devonshire Road. My brother used to mow her grass. My only memory of her from those days is the doll on the roof of her house. Someone must have tossed it there. It stayed put for quite some time and I would always look for it when I walked to Ottawa Street.
I was lucky to get to know her after she contacted me one day about ten years ago to let me know how much she enjoyed “The Walkerville Times”, which we used to have delivered to everyone in Walkerville for free. I used to go visit her in her little house which was crammed with beautiful treasures that she had collected over the years. She enjoyed meeting my children who were quite enchanted by her.
She had taken a portrait of my dad when he was in the Mayor’s office. It’s my favorite photo of him.
I longed to write a story about her but she was such a private person, she preferred that I didn’t. Happily, she didn’t mind me taking her photo.
A few years ago, Pat asked me to help her sort through her studio photos. She had many unclaimed old portraits and now had an overwhelming urge to organize them and perhaps see that the subjects or their families received them. She wasn’t quite sure how.
While Pat sat in a comfortable chair and leaned forward on her cane, I steadily showed her each photo to see if she could remember who it was, a rather daunting undertaking as she was relying purely on memory to identify these faces from so long ago.
Ever the photographer, she snapped photos of me with a disposable camera while I sat on an ottoman in her study surrounded by her photos. As I picked my way through the piles, every now and then she would recognize someone and I could see how happy that made her. I would write the name on the back and then group the photo according to whether it was a man, woman or child.
When I came across the stunning portrait at the top of this story, I knew the woman must have been very special. She asked if I could guess who it was. I studied the tilt of the eyes and the full lips.
“This is you, Pat.”
She was pleased and I think maybe a bit surprised that I had guessed right. She described how the photographer she apprenticed for when she came to Windsor had asked her to model for him so he could practice his skills.
When I left that day, she asked me to take the photo with me. I was thrilled. I framed it and have it hanging in my living room.
Pat died last week on March 15, 2011. She was 100 years old.
I wish she could have lived forever.