Harold Robert Helfenstein, born in Carshalton, England July 17, 1931, passed away in Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia and found peace at last from the ravages of cancer during the early morning of April 11, 2023.
Harold predeceased his three siblings in Switzerland: sister Lottie Gehrig (Heinz deceased) brothers Jack (Janet deceased) and Marc (Ursi); predeceased by his parents Robert and Charlotte Helfenstein of Switzerland.
Harry – as he was called in Canada, leaves to mourn his beloved wife and partner in life, Carolyn Elizabeth (Muir) born in St. John’s, Newfoundland, also their three children: daughter Suzanne, her twin brother Robert, and second son, David. As a family, they enjoyed the togetherness of growing up and working on what became a very successful dairy farm, fondly called Belle Farm. Eventually all three chose their own careers. Suzanne a physiotherapist and her two brothers, both professional pilots, one military, one commercial. Now parents, all three continue to share their farm memories through the tales they tell their own children: Connor and Aidan, Sophie and Nathan, Melanie, Jasmine and Megane.
Harry continued to follow all their careers, both their children’s and now their grandchildren’s, with great pride. Not only had he achieved his first goal - as a farmer - their lives had become an important part of his life that would span 91 remarkable years.
Harry liked to look back to his youth, war years, where they as a family lived in a small village north of London called Much Hadham, in Morris Cottage known for its history going back to the 1600s. It was there as a boy he enjoyed working on local farms. He declared to his dad, a businessman, that he wanted to own a farm one day and his father suggested he might be wise to spend a while on Swiss mountain farms to test his endurance first.
His Swiss grandmother was horrified that her grandson would want to farm, but the mountain experience proved his stamina and despite the fact he had discovered how rugged farm life could be, he was determined to proceed.
Fortunately, on his return to England he was accepted into a demanding program at Merrist Wood College in agriculture and horticulture near Guildford – England. However, that was preceded unfortunately by a close call with a scythe that required extensive hand surgery performed by a refugee surgeon from war-torn Europe. Regardless, Harry aced the programs at college, graduated topnotch in the program and was ready to farm. His destiny lay ahead.
He eventually boarded an ocean liner bound for Canada and celebrated his 21st birthday in style at sea during the crossing - landing in a port along the St. Lawrence River at Quebec City. There he learned the Canadian government would be taking all his belongings except the clothes on his back; it was 1952, ‘foot, and mouth disease’ was causing worldwide fears. This ruling they explained to anyone aboard the ship who had visited or lived on a farm that year; and Harry was one. He was allowed to travel on by train as far as Toronto while his clothes were being fumigated. The clothes did arrive a week later and then he was ready. His Canadian adventure was about to begin. With that, Harry would look forward to an amazing 70 years of good health and great adventures.
Harry never forgot his early years in Canada: wooden seats he sat on to get to Saskatchewan, raking fields of grain that went on forever, riding a horse with a cowboy saddle to round up cattle, and meeting Canadian girls, but only one with red hair became his choice! And just when they had enough money for a down payment on a farm, his dad presented them with two passages on a freighter boat. It looked big, but it wasn’t. It looked sturdy but on the ocean it wasn’t. Carolyn spoke only English; the crew spoke only German. But with only 12 passengers, they ate and drank with the captain, first class, every night. The Helfenstein Seniors were waiting at their home on Lake Zurich, arms out to greet Harry’s bride, Carolyn. They accepted the funny Newfoundland girl with no proper dinner habits. Harry told her that night in bed, she had passed the test.
Back in Canada they faced an old barn and a musty house, And mice. Fortunately, it came with running water, and a toilet. Carolyn loved dogs and horses, but Holstein cows were new to her. One night Harry turned to his wife of three years and told her she had beautiful big brown cow-like eyes. She hit him! Nine months later they rushed to the hospital, a baby was coming. Instead, they came home with twins. Harry knew then theirs would be an exciting marriage, never constant, always an adventure.
Together they had learned to say, whenever an opportunity came along, “Why not?”
Later, when buying a local newspaper after selling the farm, they shocked most of their friends and his parents too. As together they learned the new skills, soon the paper began winning prizes across Ontario and Harry’s special edition won first prize in Canada. As Carolyn’s editorials were acceptable, Harry’s had followers that loved his weekly ideas. Together they covered some earth-shattering news: the death of an infant child left in January snow to die, and a young woman’s disappearance (which is still a mystery today), and 40,000 disheartened farmers from across Canada marching upon government officials in Ottawa.
However, it was the exceptionally long hours ten years later, and changing times that resulted in a decision to close the paper, although both knew they would miss the excitement of producing what was called the Teeswater News.
Having designed a dream log home near Lake Huron’s shores, they realized that turning their new home into a B and B would be Harry’s legacy, as he had often visited his grandmother’s Swiss hotel as a young man. Carolyn learned to step back and admire how their guests enjoyed watching her 80-year-old husband present them with his unique Swiss muesli, followed by a fry-up of eggs and bacon, his homemade bread and strong coffee.
Harry finally shared the stories of the war years when they moved to Nova Scotia, the 62nd year of their marriage. The screen was finally pulled back and like soldiers sharing a past, Carolyn was finally able to see her husband over those years when he was just a boy and then a teen with a dream.
“We Never Imagined”
With word of his cancer diagnosis, daughter Suzanne, flew to Halifax regularly to be at her father’s side and was able to provide him with incredible care. David was always nearby to manage the trips to hospitals, joined on a final occasion by his brother Robert.
Living in Hammonds Plains, David’s wife Myriam and daughters prepared nutritious soups for their Pa hoping to tantalize his fading appetite. Nevertheless, their brief visits brightened Harry’s waning days.
As always, the grandchildren took great joy in entertaining their “Pa” as often as possible; playing board games and listening to the stories Pa told them of the dairy farm, and his first home in England; stories that would remain with them for years to come.
Rob’s wife Mireille, a career flight attendant, arranged a flight to Halifax to see her adored father-in-law and Carolyn. Over dinner they shared so many good memories. Of course, Harry was keen to learn of Sophie and Nathan’s latest hockey scores.
As much as older grandsons - Aidan Hughes and Connor Hughes, and his wife Cara, wanted to be with Pa, Harry’s stern final words that dictated they should ‘attend to one’s obligations’ ‘continue the course, work hard, and raise a toast to their Pa,’ was followed.
Suzanne administered the final medications that doctors and VON nurses had prescribed, night and day to give her dad the relief he needed.
To the end, Suzanne, Robert and David were there for his needs even as they watched over their mother. They understood her anguish, theirs had been an amazing marriage of over 64 years.
Carolyn and Harry appreciated the kindness of their new friends in Nova Scotia and the support from Dwayne and Patti during his final months. Harry had come to feel so much at home in Nova Scotia. Carolyn too appreciated the kind words and the concern that perfect strangers showed, names unknown, offering help when help was needed.
Again, and again Harry’s family spoke of the endless kindness of the doctors, nurses and pharmacists, they treated Harold like a favorite uncle. He loved it!
Dear Friends: Not long ago, Harry and I chatted about how researchers today give their whole lives to finding a way to eradicate the scourge of cancer from our world. Could the cure be found this year? we wondered.
Harry sensed it might be soon. Please donate now to help Harry’s wish come true. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Carolyn Helfenstein
A TIME TO SHARE MEMORIES
Will happen in May with arrangements for
a gathering with
Friends and family
at Shiraz Gardens.
and elsewhere in Ontario,
to be announced at a later
Date and time to be announced SOON
Cremation followed at Harold’s request.