Patricia Howden 1921-2011

It’s a rather sad day here on the farm. This is a family farm. My great grandmother bought it in 1949, and left it to her daughter, my great aunt Pat, when she died. Last night, Pat passed away in her sleep.

Pat was, well…. kind of different. She grew up in a moderately wealthy Toronto family, the youngest child, and probably a little spoiled. When she was sixteen (which would have been around 1937-38), she drove her Baby Austin from Toronto to California. By herself. She hit a dust storm somewhere in Kansas, and it abraded the windshield so badly that she had to have a replacement shipped in from civilization. She said it took a couple of weeks for it to arrive. But it did eventually and she carried on westward. Then she spent some time working odd jobs in California (picking peas among other things) before driving home again.

Pat as an ambulance driver in WWII

When World War II arrived, she joined the Red Cross and later the Canadian Army and was an ambulance driver for four years. She had many stories about that. Some of which I’m sure were rather tall tales. She had a fiance who was killed fighting overseas, and never found anyone else who interested her. So she never married.

After the war she went up to Muskoka to live. She bred Samoyed dogs and trained sled teams for a few years. Her favorite dog was her lead dog, Toby. She called him a free leader, which means he basically didn’t do a lick of work… just ran out in front of the team, leading the way. I remember the Sams from my childhood. Lovely, sweet, amiable dogs. My grandmother shared Pat’s passion for them and bred them as well. So my mother’s childhood and mine were filled with big friendly white powderpuff dogs.

Pat's sister, Romaine, riding their horse Maybelle

Throughout all this time, Pat rode horses too. I suspect more because it was the thing that all well bred wealthy young ladies of the time did at the local hunt club. But she did develop a love of horses as well as dogs (though dogs were always closer to her heart). One of the horses she (and her sister, my grandmother Romaine) learned ride on was Maybelle. I don’t have any photos of Pat riding, so that’s my grandmother on Maybelle in the photo.

She had other horses, a rather rawboned gelding named Bill who she rode quite a bit in Muskoka. An apparently rather ugly little mare that she allowed her nieces (my mother and aunt) to name “Tootsie Rose Patricia”, which I always thought made her an exceptional and very tolerant sort of aunt. Mist was an gentle old field hunter that Pat bought from Lady Eaton. My mother learned to ride on him. She remembers having a lesson from Pat one day and going around in circles so long that she fell asleep and toppled off Mist. He was quite concerned for her well being and mortified that she’d fallen off him.

Oh and Eagle! Yes… Pat bought Eagle as a weanling. She was being kept in what Pat described as a small, dark, horrible stall. Although Pat had no need for a weanling, she couldn’t resist Eagle and brought her home. She thought the filly was lonely so she brought her in the house. Eagle was rather easily house-broken so that was not a problem. But one day Eagle sat on the couch. And it sort of broke. Eagle was trapped there with her butt down deep in the cushions, hind legs up in the air, floundering. Pat had to get up on the back of the couch and lever her out of the couch with her feet. She decided that day that Eagle had to go live in the barn with the rest of the horses.

Pat's mother, my great-grandmother, riding Castle side-saddle

Her favorite horse though was Castle. She was a Hackney or part-Hackney mare that she both rode and drove. Her mother (my great grandmother) rode Castle sidesaddle sometimes as well. That’s who is riding her in the photo. I never knew Castle, but I sure heard about her a lot. Towards the end, even as Pat became less and less able to remember or understand what was going on around her, she would still remember Castle and how kind a mare she’d been.

Pat told many tall tales. She bought every tool ever invented, wrote books that she never even tried to have published, played classical guitar, smoked shamelessly, hated alcohol, lacked tact, and spouted odd political opinions. And she didn’t care one bit what anyone thought of her. She drove us all completely insane sometimes. But it will not be the same without her.