Friday, December 31, 2010


For two years now, Ivaan's navy cashmere overcoat has been hanging in the closet.  That overcoat, together with a stylish navy fedora, was Ivaan's standard outer attire for occasions requiring a little je ne sais quoi in the sartorial department:  church, weddings, funerals or an evening at the opera. As overcoats go, it's a classic.

Truthfully, much of Ivaan's style over the years has revolved around items of attire.  In the 1970s he wore a black hat with a wide brim and some rustic looking bells and beads around the crown.  He wore the jeans I've described in an earlier blog.  He once had a pair of red velvet trousers made for himself, inspired apparently by what my father was wearing on the occasion they first met.   He's had two black leather jackets with his classic Ivaan signature in red chenille on the back.  (That's what the lettering on varsity-type leather jackets is called.)  In recent years, he was best known for a brown sheepskin aviator jacket, which he wore winter and summer, claiming that it was like insulation: it kept him at the perfect temperature.  Our nephew, Angus, who is a pilot, now wears this jacket in tribute to his uncle.

Ivaan's shoes were a source of wonder to members of our family.  He collected beautiful, expensive and stylish shoes and several members of our family who share a common shoe size have Ivaan to thank for their best footwear.

But the navy cashmere overcoat hung in the closet, unclaimed, and each time a family member tried it on I was secretly relieved that it didn't fit.  I wasn't ready to give it up.  Around the second anniversary of Ivaan's death, a chance remark by our close friend, Chris Robinson, about one of her daughters-in-law, suddenly woke me up to the destiny of the cashmere overcoat.    Chris has really, really good taste in daughters-in-law.  As a matter of fact, if you have sons of marriageable age, I urge you to consult with Chris about how to influence the most wonderful young women to join your family.

Chris' middle son, Gareth, is married to a drop-dead gorgeous, incredibly talented and utterly fabulous young woman named Meghan.  Among her many talents is the fact that she's a brilliant, inspired and accomplished costume maker.  Need I say more?  One quick email to Meghan - who adored Ivaan - had her and Gareth at my door.  I showed her the coat, told her what I was hoping for, and voila!  Last evening Meghan dropped over with the navy cashmere overcoat, completely taken apart and remade to fit me like a glove.

I love how I look in it.  I feel when I'm wearing it that I'm in Ivaan's warm embrace.   Now, I know that with Meghan's talents, if anyone else asked her to remake a man's overcoat into a woman's, she'd say, "Uh, no."  But this was a labour of love and she has made me (and Ivaan) very, very proud.  Thank you, Meg.  You are a peach.  I will post some photos as soon as I get someone to point a camera in my direction.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


(c) Estate of Nick Gavinchuk
In 1949 Ivaan, his sister Nadia and their parents arrived in Canada from Germany, where they had lived for four years following their release from the Nazi forced labour camp where they were interned and in which Ivaan was born.   After the liberation, they had lived as refugees in a Displaced Persons camp for four years, until the Red Cross was able to find a sponsor for them, to enable them to immigrate to Canada.

Their sponsor was Alex Tywoniuk (pronounced Ti-von-YOOK).  He was the local blacksmith in the town of Smoky Lake, Alberta.  He had been a childhood friend of Ivaan's father in Ukraine, and had emigrated to Canada before the Second World War.  The Tywoniuk family arranged a place for the Kotulsky family to live, helped the parents find employment and get settled in their new country.  Ivaan often watched Mr. Tywoniuk at work in his blacksmith shop and became fascinated with the properties of molten metal.

The town is located about 90 minutes north-east of Edmonton. Winters aren't easy in Smoky Lake and Ivaan's father was already frail from years of forced labour in Nazi Germany.  When the local Ukrainian Orthodox Priest, Reverend Foty, was reassigned to the St. Volodymyr parish in Toronto in 1951, he urged Ivaan's parents to follow him to Toronto, where they'd be able to find employment that was less physically demanding, become part of his congregation, and join the already burgeoning Ukrainian community in Toronto.  It was good advice, and within a year or two, Ivaan's parents were able to buy their first modest home on Wyatt Avenue.

Flash forward to 1969.  Ivaan was working as a photographer for Chatelaine magazine when he was sent to Alberta on assignment.  While there, he made a point of stopping by Smoky Lake and visiting the Tywoniuk family.  Again, his fascination with metalsmithing was awakened, and when Ivaan returned to Toronto, he started experimenting with metal work.  By December of that year, he was so engrossed in his new passion that he often stayed up all night working on a project.  Although he kept working at Maclean Hunter until 1973, his love of metal work eventually won out; he quit his job at Maclean Hunter to devote himself full time to his newfound career.

Ivaan and his sister Nadia often reminisced about Smoky Lake, and by 2000 Ivaan had decided they were going to make a pilgrimage back there. However, Ivaan suffered his first stroke in March of that year and Nadia's husband, Nick, suffered a heart attack in May.  Their trip to Smoky Lake  was postponed till the following year, which happened to be the 75th anniversary of the town.   Ivaan and Nadia arrived in the midst of the anniversary celebrations, and received a warm welcome.  The local newspaper wrote a feature article about them.  They visited Alex Tywoniuk in the nursing home where he lived.  They visited the cemetery where his wife was buried.  They visited the old blacksmith shop.  They ate peach bread - which, they were quick to point out, contains no peaches. They were chauffeured around by Alex Tywoniuk's son Walter and his wife Lucie.   And incredibly, 50 years after they left, the townspeople still remembered them with affection.   It was an emotional experience for both Nadia and Ivaan, and a bonding experience too.  They often talked nostalgically about their return to Smoky Lake, and even years later, it always seemed they were talking about an event that had happened just last week.

Smoky Lake is a little, cold town in northern Alberta.  It's the place where Nadia fell in love with books and Ivaan fell in love with metal arts. But for this small family,  who had resided there for less than two years, Smoky Lake was - and remains - the warmest place on earth.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


(c) 2010 Trillium Gift of Life Network
I wrote recently about the fact that I'd been asked to be photographed for the 2011 Trillium Gift of Life Network calendar. (I'm "Miss March".)  Well, here's some shameless self-promotion: they also put me on one of their posters.  The green card I'm holding contains their new slogan, which exhorts health care professionals to speak with families about end-of-life patients being screened as possible organ and tissue donors and to call TGLN to make the connection between possible organ and tissue donors and patients in urgent need of a transplant.  I've been volunteering with TGLN for six years now and I'm really passionate about organ and tissue donation.  It's the only way after our own lives are over that we can continue to make a positive physical difference here on earth.  Most of us never have the chance in our lifetimes to save a life, to be a hero.  Unless we're a firefighter, a paramedic or other health care professional, a lifeguard or a volunteer on a suicide prevention hotline, for whom heroism is daily life, our opportunity to make this kind of difference in an unknown person's life is very limited.

Ivaan was a donor.  He'd made this decision of his own accord and I admire him tremendously for it.  He always said he wasn't a courageous sort of person, but he's my hero.  He knew it would make a huge positive difference to some unknown other families.  He was right.  It did.

If you're thinking you want to make this kind of difference, there are three things you need to do:

(1) Talk to your family about it, and tell them expressly what your wishes are.  You may not be conscious at the end of your life, so they need to know.  They don't have to agree with your decision, but they need to know.

(2)  Register your consent.  You can download the form from the Trillium Gift of Life website, - - fill it out, sign it and send it in.  You can't apply online, but you can get the blank forms online.

(3) It's nice to carry a wallet card, but it's even better to go to the Health Card renewal place (ServiceOntario), tell them you want to register your consent to be a donor, and they will arrange to have your consent entered in the Ministry of Health database AND indicated on your Health Card.

And now, Poster Girl had better swivel herself around on the piano bench and get some practising done.  I'll bet my piano teacher wants to know why I appear to have turned my back on music.

If you're in a health care facility in 2011 and you see me smiling down at you from a poster, smile back.  And consider registering your consent to be a donor.  Please.  Thank you from Ivaan and from me.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Connie's Ring
(c) Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky

Today is the second anniversary of Ivaan's having left the planet, so I thought I'd use this occasion to write about someone else who left the planet and her enduring legacy.

Connie was a colleague of mine at Old City Hall, which is a courthouse in downtown Toronto, where I worked from 1988 until 1997.  She had a lot of style, and I often thought she could have had a successful theatrical career.  She had a handsome face, a strong voice, perfect elocution, a large vocabulary and considerable dramatic flair.  She was also what used to be called "well bred", a fact which probably mitigated against her taking up a career on the stage.  Connie had two young adult daughters, of whom she was justifiably proud.  They shared her strong good looks and had clearly inherited her sharp intellect and quick wit.

Connie loved Ivaan's jewellery, and one of the things on her to-do list was to get bracelets by Ivaan for her daughters, Vanessa and Tanya.  One of the very funny stories she used to tell was of the time when she decided to go to Ivaan's Queen Street West studio and look at bracelets.  Not realizing that Ivaan kept very erratic hours, she showed up one day and found the studio door locked.  Thinking he'd be back momentarily, Connie went into the local Greek restaurant to have a cup of tea and read the newspaper while she awaited his return.  She was busy doing both when she noticed the previously noisy restaurant had become silent.  Looking up, she quickly realized that she was the only female in the restaurant, that all the male customers and staff were watching her intently...and she began to suspect  that the coffee cups in front of them may have contained something stronger than coffee.  Clearly, it was a case of mistaken identity on two counts:  they thought Connie was an undercover cop, and she would cheerfully have joined them in something stronger than coffee if she'd known it was being served!

Connie never got to see any bracelets that day, but she told this story with great glee for months afterwards.

Six years ago, Connie felt that her life was becoming an increasingly uphill struggle, and she made the decision to end it.  Fiercely independent, she planned her exit so as to leave the planet with grace, dignity and a sense of purpose.  A few days later, Ivaan and I heard the news from another of my colleagues.  Ivaan, already quite ill himself, was very moved by her death and asked me to try to contact her daughters.  He wanted to offer each of them a piece of his jewellery, as a gift from their mother, to "close the loop" on the bracelet story. The problem was, both daughters were married and I couldn't recall their surnames and didn't know how to reach them.

When Ivaan died in December, 2008, contacting  Connie's daughters was still an item on his to-do list.  One day, out of the blue, the surname of her younger daughter, Tanya, suddenly came to mind and I was able to reach her through Facebook.  Tanya came to see All That Matters, the 40-year retrospective of Ivaan's work at the Ukrainian Museum of Canada, loved his work, and chose a ring which would be her mother's gift to her.   She asked her sister, Vanessa, to look at Ivaan's website and choose something for herself. Tanya and Vanessa are very different people.  Though they share many of Connie's attributes, they are complete individuals.  Yet, incredibly, they both chose exactly the same ring.

I hope that Ivaan and Connie are enjoying something a bit stronger than coffee in The World To Come and I'm sure they are probably still laughing over the bracelet story.  Both Tanya and Vanessa feel strongly connected to their rings and to their mother's legacy.  They are both fabulous, devoted mothers themselves.  They - and I - remember Connie with affection, pride and admiration.  Like Ivaan, she was larger than life.