Whitney – The legacy of a Whitney woman known for her involvement in helping those less fortunate is continuing today through the efforts of her husband and daughter.

Shirley and Sid James owned The Nipissing Shop in Whitney for many years and after closing the store, Mrs. James launched an initiative in 2001 to assist local agencies to provide winter clothes for needy families.

And although she passed away in 2016, her legacy of kindness is continuing through the efforts of her husband and their daughter, Cricket Fleming of Beachburg.

“My wife and I had a gift and souvenir shop here in Whitney,” he said. “When business started to decline in the early 2000s, it was just not viable to keep the store open.”

When they operated the store, they noticed there was no place in Whitney to purchase books, rather than magazines, so they used to purchase job lots of books from auctions and sell them in the store.

“When we closed the store, my wife said she missed the people and she wondered if we could open up a bit of a used bookstore,” he explained. “So, I purchased one of these temporary shelters and we set up in our side yard with some shelves and she started to sell books.

“This gave her contact with people, but it was not-a rush-off-your-feet business,” he added.

Mrs. James loved to knit and sew, so in her spare time she would knit toques, gloves, mitts, slippers and scarves, which she also sold in the bookstore.

“Then she would take the proceeds of the used sales and after Labour Day we would shop around for clothing,” he recalled. “We went on that way for a few years, but it was never big.”

At that time, they were donating the clothing they purchased to the OPP Snowsuit Fund in Bancroft.

“That was her pleasure and her joy,” he remarked, “She thoroughly enjoyed what she was doing.

“And I can say from my experience with her, it is a marvellous feeling when you go into these places and drop off several articles of winter clothing,” he added. “They are accustomed to getting hand-me-downs and they were getting brand new gear from my wife every year.”

As time went on and they got more involved with their donations, they realized the more opportune time to shop for the clothing at stores like Walmart, Giant Tiger and Hart was at the end of February or early March when they offered huge discounts on the winter lines.

“We would go shopping and buy things 50, 60 percent, sometimes better than that off,” he said. “We got more bang for the buck. That’s what it came down to.” 

Although Mrs. James was dealing with cancer prior to her passing in December 2016, Mr. James said he never heard her complain despite what she was going through.

“I’d say she just acquiesced,” he said. “That’s the way it was. There was nothing to de done about it and she just went along with it.”

They had made the purchases for 2016 and had delivered them in November to the Community Resource Centre in Killaloe, their charity of choice for about the last 10 years.

Carrying On Legacy

After Mrs. James passed in December, their daughter suggested to her father they keep her legacy of giving alive.

“And I whole-heartedly supported that. And Cricket has always been a knitter as well, so she picked up the slack where her mother used to do the knitting.”

Ms. Fleming did the knitting on her own time and Mr. James continued to purchase the clothing with out-of-pocket money. He had closed the bookstore because he was busy elsewhere, including being a member of municipal council and the fire department.

“But nonetheless, I felt it was a worthy cause. I had the greatest respect and love for my wife, believe me.”        

He said he currently has 41 articles of clothing purchased for this winter’s donation, ranging from infant’s suits, up to suits, coats and accessories for up to a 12-year-old.

“They’re all in a closet here and I will box them up in November and take them over to Killaloe. And they’re greatly appreciated there, believe me.

“And I’ll be there with the knitting,” Ms. Fleming added.

Mr. James said he is incredibly proud to know their daughter was more than willing to step in and help him continue her mother’s legacy.

He knows his late wife would be more than pleased they are continuing her legacy of helping those less fortunate.

“I can recall, on several occasions, when I visited her in hospital, near the end, the common question was, ‘What are you going to do with all the books’? She still had her heart into that right up to her last moment.”

He said his wife was always involved in helping children, adding when they previously lived in Burlington, she was heavily involved as a leader in the Brownies and Girl Guides and in the Anglican church’s Pagan Girls In Training program. She was an active volunteer at the Joseph Brant Museum in Burlington for 15-plus years and instituted a program where she taught Native culture to the students. Although it was not officially known, Mr. James believes both he and his wife have Aboriginal ancestry.

He has no idea of how many items of winter clothing they have donated since they began, saying it averages 40 pieces annually.

“Sometimes it’s a bit more, sometimes it’s closer to 50. In the closet right now, I have 38 pieces and I have another four pieces in a storage box to give me a little more room in the closet.”    

Now 84, Mr. James plans to continue as long as he is able to.

“I suffer from depression and I have two joys in my life. One is the memory of my late wife.”

He has a picture of his wife taken in 1951on his entertainment centre when he first met her and another photo of her in 2016, two months before her passing.
“That’s what keeps me going, it’s for her,” he remarked.     

His second passion is as a volunteer at the Logging Museum in nearby Algonquin Park, two days a week for the tourist season.

He explained there is a bench on the trail dedicated to his wife’s memory and last year, a woman donated $10 after walking the trail and seeing the bench.

The plaque on the bench, which he wrote, reads:

“Shirley James 1935-2016,

Passed this way with her husband on many a day,

Now he is sad to have to say,

His beautiful wife has passed away.

As with this bench her memory will stay,

Until her family’s final day.

Eternal love, Sid, son Sheldon, daughter Cricket.”

He said as a longtime member of the Boy Scout organization, he remembers things of importance, like the wording on the plaque.

“As a scout, I made the promise many times, ‘On my honour, I promise to do my best, to do my duty to God and the Queen, to help other people at all times. I’ve lived by that all my life’.”

Despite being a senior on a fixed income, he feels obligated to continue his wife’s passion for helping others.

“I love, not loved, that woman, and I will until the day that I die. And I’m proud to carry on what she so gladly undertook on her own.

“I will admit it has become more and more difficult financially these years, but when you get to my age, you don’t spend a lot of money on pleasure, because there’s not a lot of pleasure to be had at that age.”   

Occasionally, when he is out talking to people who used to patronize the store, his late wife is often mentioned in the conversations.

“I will advise them of what I’m doing in her memory and probably in the course of the year, I probably get $100 to $150 given to me from customers of the store. That all goes to the cause.”

Ms. Fleming said she is extremely pleased to be able to help her father carry on her mother’s legacy.

“It’s an honour to do it in my mom’s name, for sure, in her memory,” she said. “There’s lot of kids out there that need help.

“The fact that people would donate used is wonderful, but a lot of places, after COVID, wouldn’t take anything used anyway,” she added. “I enjoy knitting, so to be able to take that over and contribute mitts and hats to kids is just wonderful to me.”

Extremely Grateful For Donations

Bil Smith, executive director at the CRC in Killaloe, said it’s amazing what the James’ have done and continue to do over the years.

“They’ve just been so, so generous to the Toy Drive over the years by every year donating dozens and dozens of snowsuits, snowpants and hats and mitts they have knit. And it’s all brand new; it’s overwhelming.

“It means that so many children in our community can get brand new snowsuits,” he added. “Their generosity is really overwhelming.”

Mr. Smith said it’s obvious how much the donations mean to Mr. James each year.

“You can see on his face just how important it is,” he noted. “He’s just full of joy when he’s doing it.

“They’ve been doing it for years,” he added. “And when his wife passed, his daughter picked up the task of doing the knitting.”