Bari Kerton, Née Wagenaar
Born: Malang, Java, 4 Dec., 1941
Died: Toronto, Ontario, 21 May, 2023
The odds for survival were not good for 4-month-old Bari (nor for her sister Irene and mother Corrie) when WWII landed on their doorstep, and they were suddenly confined to a Japanese POW camp in central Java (March 1942). The brutality of that incarceration is hard to imagine. When the war ended three and a half years later, the three were taken to Singapore where the Red Cross used the Raffles Hotel to reunite families. They were overjoyed to learn their father survived his POW camp and was in Thailand. They went there to join him in 1945, where he worked to rebuild bridges with the army corps of engineers. Next, a move to Holland for 18 months. But the devastation of the war left few resources there, so on to (Dutch) Guyana and, in 1950, a final migration to Canada. Maybe this challenging start and fortuitous landing helped create our energetic Bari who could only ever be optimistic and ‘keep on the sunny side’. Of course, Bari didn’t stand still as an adult: She was indeed a happy wanderer: living in six additional countries as an adult, and spending time in more than 55, with dear friends in many – and sometimes even traveling across the borders on foot!
Bari will be deeply missed by her husband of 58 years, Robert, by son Rob, (Andrea, granddaughter Chloe, grandson Maxwell) in Toronto, son Derek (Elizabeth and granddaughters Rae and Cora) in California, and her dear sisters Irene Watchorn (Garnet) and Lucy Morey (John). Predeceased by brother Robert in 1997. Also bereaved are sisters-in-law, Nancy O’Higgins (Eric), Beth Mariglia (Vince) and Shirley Kerton (Court) and many nieces and nephews.
Bari attended high school in Pickering where she served as editor of the school newspaper. She played basketball for PDHS, earned badminton trophies, and was selected by the school to attend the Ontario Athletic Leadership Camp at Couchiching. She worked at Grace Hospital part time while attending university, graduating in Pharmacy (1965).
Bari was fiercely proud of her family, beginning with sons Rob and Derek extending to their extraordinary wives Andrea and Liz and to families of dear sisters Irene and Lucy, brother Robert, and all relatives. She also cherished sharing her broad, global viewpoint with her family, living in Megève, Paris, Oslo, Jamaica, Penang, Durham NC, and Brussels. She loved her euro-tradition of savouring time in a bistro with her favourite café crème. Bari was a resolute Canadian, none the less proud of her links to Holland. Rob and Derek were frequently immersed in Dutch, beginning with aap, noot, mies … and both connected with relatives in the Netherlands. The boys marveled at how she seemed to speak the language in whichever country they were in, in one case, having to explain (in German) that she was in fact not Angie Dickinson.
A serial entrepreneur, Bari created seven pharmacies from scratch, six in the greater Waterloo region, selling each one when it achieved viability as a business. She had a chemist’s interest in manipulating flavours. Bari studied in Paris at a demanding école de cuisine, La Varenne, and returned to found the Creative Touch Cooking School in Waterloo. The school’s main path to success was Bari’s knack for identifying local teaching talent, but she brought in great specialists. The premier Visiting Chef was Jacques Pepin, formerly the personal chef to Charles de Gaulle and two other Presidents of France. The Creative Touch Cooking School elevated the quality of dining for many. Bari eventually sold the School to The Hudson’s Bay Co.
In the 1980s, she founded Fam Focus and self-published a monthly magazine to provide travel agents with highly organized information on familiarization tours, becoming a travel agent for travel agents. Then, mixing publishing and cooking, she self-published three cookbooks. One (with Susan McEwen), was reprinted several times, with every ring-bound book bearing the improbable title “Yuppie Yummies”.
Building off her pharmacy and healthcare knowledge, Bari sought a license as operator of an oxygen for healthcare business. New qualifications were needed, so Bari went back to university for the expertise required. She then created Canucare Oxygen in 1990 delivering prescription oxygen to the homes of patients with lung damage. She sold the business to a larger health care firm in 1993.
These entrepreneurial successes suggest that Bari aced every serve in her business life, but she absolutely didn’t. She had failed initiatives which only reveal the best of her character: She was full of ideas, and never afraid to make a genuine try, yet she accepted failure as a routine cost of doing business, immediately put it behind her, and pursued another venture she already had in her mind. Sons Rob and Derek, both now working at their own firms, credit their mom for the example. Derek says “It’s not that she taught me to be an entrepreneur. It’s more that I never learned to be afraid. Starting a business just seemed like a thing people did. Often.”
Bari derived much pleasure from helping customers while she filled their prescriptions. But our pharmacist loved to discuss health improvements not related to purchasing anything at all from her own store. Much of her time as a pharmacist was for other stores, working shifts around her family obligations, her startups, and working extra whenever she wanted to fund a family holiday. For example, she’d work extra shifts to fund & organize distant ski vacations every year with the family.
Bari’s interest in health, cooking, and nutrition had yet another impact in Waterloo Region. With her friend Sharon Kalbfleisch and federal grants, the two created a Nutrition Improvement Program, (NIP) in the mid 70s, offering free public talks to seniors at the Adult Recreation Centre in Waterloo. It was a dynamic duo, holding up samples of grocery items that were highly nutritional, modestly acceptable, or fabulously feckless. On occasion, excess attendees waited outside for a second session.
In the late 90s to about 2015, she was doing less regular pharmacy work, but found fun adventure in serving two-week stints as an urgent replacement pharmacist in Canada’s far north. This gave her unexpected pleasure from being included in local events, first nations celebrations, and making new friends, and seeing new places, with Rankin Inlet as her favourite.
Music was a core part of Bari’s life, early on with dear sister Irene. Self-taught on harmonica and guitar, she picked and sang with partner Joyce in the early years of Yorkville coffee houses. For decades, she sang with a fun-loving K-W guitar group: The Strummers. All four grandchildren basked in the joy of Nomi’s songs. The slightest excuse justified choral celebrations. Birthdays were major festivals that always included the Dutch standard, lang zal ze (hij) leven.
As a joyful hostess, from 1999 to 2006, Bari treated 35 or more devoted staff in Arts at the University of Waterloo to an annual 5-course sit-down lunch, each one haute cuisine – and each based on a different multi-cultural menu. For friends, Bari organized a legendary Christmas Carol Fest in the Kaufman Flats home in Waterloo, an annual event protected in the calendars of people who loved to sing. The magical evening began with a sumptuous meal orchestrated by Bari and supported by skilled collaborators. After one of these parties, a thank you note intoned: “And then before a glowing fire, she turned the crowd into a choir.”
In 2004, Bari reasoned that if the home in Waterloo were sold, a 4-season cottage could be built in Muskoka … a destination that would ensure extended visits by grandchildren. The strategy was a magnificent success as four grandchildren spent their summers having, and offering, abundant lakeside joy. Stephens Bay was a sharing community with many activities - including an annual competitive regatta where grandkids made her proud. The move north benefited the family and enabled new friendships. Bari was a keen member of the Stephens Bay Association, providing leadership with petitions to avoid environmental harm. She took her turn organizing the annual barbeque and helped coordinate a Trash Bash to clean up Stagecoach Road.
In 2010, Bari walked the 790 km Camino de Santiago from France across northern Spain. She enjoyed the camaraderie so much she returned three times in subsequent years to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port for 2-week spells as a volunteer, registering and counselling pilgrims commencing the walk. One Camino custom is to bring a pebble or rock as a symbol of your burden. Many pilgrims gain marvellous spiritual relief when they place their rock at the destination iron cross at Cruz de Ferro. Bari listened to heart-wrenching stories of pilgrims with challenging burdens and recognized she was blessed, she said, to have “no burden but the stone itself” – which she quietly jettisoned early. Her cheerfulness was contagious, and she made long-term friendships among her fellow pilgrims.
Over the last four years, Bari was stolen from us by Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. Among many ill effects, the disease eventually silenced the vocal cords that had sung joyfully for so many years.
More than two decades ago, Bari stated that when she departed, she wanted everyone to know her happiness came from her dear family and, she specified, from fond friends. On that point, many years ago Bari asked that we share a particular song at her funeral. Written by Jane Voss, and sung by Dave Van Ronk, in part, it goes:
To all my friends in far flung places
(Who saved my life, who made it fun)
May I stay in your good graces?
Hold me in your memory
And when you do not hear from me
Don't think that out of sight is out of mind
For though our lives may lead apart
You are always in my heart.
The family is extremely grateful to health care providers operating with kindness and skill in demanding conditions. This includes our G.P., the Geriatric team at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Toronto, Baycrest, Bracebridge Hospital, Granite Ridge, neurological expertise at Toronto Western Hospital, and the proficiency of empathetic care workers at Kipling Acres Care Home.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to one of the following agencies that assisted Bari as a young migrant displaced by war (and who still do the same for modern-day refugees): the Salvation Army and the Red Cross. A gift to any health unit mentioned above or St. Joseph’s Hospital in Toronto is also appropriate to honour Bari.
A Celebration of Bari’s Life will be held on a drop-in basis at any time between 1 PM and 4 PM on June 10 at Erb and Good Family Funeral Home, 171 King St. South in Waterloo, ON. (519)745-8445. Informal attire.
Bari your relentless cheer is here - in all you held so dear. The life you lived continues, measured in family and friends you treasured.