If you’ve heard the saying, “how’s your belly for spots?” or “how’s your feet for balls?” or maybe even “not worth a pinch of coon shit” there is a good chance you have crossed paths with the comical and loving personality of Peg Leifso.
Sarah Margaret (Peg) Leifso (nee McGillivray) was born April 21,1934 in Port Elgin, Ontario to parents Alexander Calvin and Christina (McDonald) McGillivray. She was the middle child, with two older brothers, Jack (1929) and Stewart (1932), a younger brother, Glen (1936) and younger sister, Edith (1939). Her family lived on a mixed farm outside of Paisley on the 12th of Bruce, and this rural lifestyle had a profound effect on her life.
Peg encountered and overcame numerous experiences, both amusing and difficult. One of the first obstacles Peg faced at the tender age of four was rheumatic fever. Unfortunately, she woke up one day and found she could no longer walk; she had to be both carried and fed by others. Fortunately, she recovered from this illness and began school a year later. Peg began at S.S. #14 Bruce Township, a one-room schoolhouse, 1 ¼ mile from her home. Her family was in charge of caretaking for the schoolhouse.
Living on the farm, everybody helped and Peg had a number of responsibilities. Two jobs she never particularly enjoyed were making butter and milking the cows. Surprisingly, she did like cleaning out the stables because to empty out the wheelbarrow she needed to walk it out on a plank, occasionally falling off!
Chores aside, Peg’s family always made time for fun. A big part of her family’s life was music. While not in school, Peg and a friend performed the Highland fling with a marching band at different fall fairs and on special occasions. Music was so important she made the effort to walk to her music teacher’s home for lessons. She learned to play the violin, guitar, piano, and could even play many tunes by ear. With her mother, father, neighbour (Bruce McGillvray) and brother (Stewart), she went to Toronto to perform a skit about a farm family; Peg played the guitar and sang with her brother. They spent two or three days in Toronto and were very excited to ride the elevator up and down at the King Edward (“Eddie”) Hotel. A musician and an athlete, Peg was also a member of a baseball team that travelled to different schools.
Peg graduated elementary school in June 1947 when she was thirteen years old and continued her education at Port Elgin High School. During the winters, Peg boarded with a woman in town for $2 a week because getting to school from the farm was too difficult. Two girls and two boys boarded at this house, which was without running water. The borders had to bring their own food from the farm, such as milk, eggs, and bread to last them through the week. Peg loved school and especially enjoyed learning History, English, and agriculture. In high school, Peg continued to show her passion for sports and was the junior champion at high jump at Port Elgin High School in 1949.
As a teenager, when not in school, Peg enjoyed socializing. She went to box socials, pie socials, card games and the beach. She also loved to attend dances, especially if there was waltzing and square dancing. Skating was a popular pastime in the winter, but Peg had to borrow skates.
Peg was the president of the Port Elgin Girls Junior Farmers. In 1950, this gave her an opportunity to travel with Home Economists to different organizations. Continuing with her love of dance, Peg was partners with her older brother Jack in the Junior Farmers Square Dance competition at the University of Guelph, placing third in all of Ontario.
Peg’s other older brother Stewart was the president of Bruce County Junior Farmers and was invited to all of the different functions held in the area. He invited her to be his guest to an event in Chesley, Ontario. It was at this event she first caught the eye of Donald (Don) Leifso and he overheard her saying something about a dance in Paisley. Unfortunately, Peg had plans to meet another young gentleman there but, as fate would have it, this particular man did not dance. Don seized this opportunity. Don and Peg danced the night away together and, as they say, the rest is history.
Peg and Don were married on April 26, 1952 at Tolmie Presbyterian Church, Port Elgin by Rev. Hart. Their wedding gifts from their parents? Why, fours cows and a sow of course! One of the first difficulties they faced as a married couple (both physically and financially) was fixing up their house in Malcolm which had previously been used as a hotel, and later for storing grain. There was no running water, only about four useable rooms, and heat was provided through a space heater in the corner of the living room. Don continued farming and drove an oil truck for extra income. They were very cautious about spending, and never bought anything they could not pay for. Peg sewed clothes for her children from old skirts and coats because they could not afford fabric. They were an industrious and determined pair.
Just over a year later Don and Peg welcomed their son Brian (August 31, 1953) and three years later their daughter Donna (April 9, 1956). Living and working on a farm and raising a family was more than a full-time job. At this time some of her responsibilities on the farm, besides looking after her two children along with nieces and nephews included: packing lunches, doing laundry, baking, and cleaning. Outside of the house she drove the tractor and baler, and also milked and fed the cows. Usually, all the chores would be completed by 11 p.m. There was little time for rest as they would wake up at 6 a.m. to do it all over again.
Of course, this did not mean Peg wouldn’t make time for fun. There were still plenty of house parties and country-western dances at Sauble Beach. Having to wake up early never stopped Peg from dancing and having a good time with her friends and family. She loved spending time with the people she loved and she was often the life of the party. Peg also continued her involvement with rural organizations. She was one of the founding members of the Malcolm Women’s Institute and she attended farm forums with Don.
As her children grew old enough to help out on the farm, Peg grew restless. She had a deep desire to work. One day when Don was at the Royal Bank in Hanover the manager suggested he take an application for Peg. She started working at the Royal Bank on August 1, 1969 and had a very successful career there for 20 years. She loved her job and was the Savings Manager for 15 years. Although her family was initially unsure about her working, they soon became extremely proud of Peg’s career. One of her accomplishments was opening a weekly branch in a senior’s residence. Peg loved working with and helping people in her job.
A few years later Peg and Don’s family started growing again with the marriages of Donna and Rick and Brian and Susanne. They shared many laughs and created many memories together. It wasn’t long before the grandchildren started rolling in.
Peg loved to travel (and collect spoons!). She has been far and wide to places like Tennessee, Washington, California, Florida, Greece, France, and throughout Canada. While vacationing in Romania Peg even met former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien! In recent years, Peg’s favourite vacations were cruising the sunny south with her travel companion, her daughter Donna.
After she retired in 1989, she began volunteering at the Saugeen Villa Nursing Home where she earned a 20-year pin for volunteer work from the province of Ontario. Peg also enjoyed crocheting afghans, attending auction and antique sales (of which Don did not always know about) and hitting the jackpot at the slots. In addition, she was a proud sales representative for Noni and Amway over the years.
She was also a very busy and proud grandma at this point in her life to Melissa, Sarah, Sabrina, Crystal, Brandon and Rob. She shared all of her passions with her beloved grandkids and she always made time for them. Family meant the world to Peg which is why she was always willing to drop everything to help out and why she hosted countless family dinners and holidays to keep everyone close and family ties strong.
The final 20 years of Peg’s life were bittersweet. She celebrated graduations and weddings for her grandkids (not to mention those of many cherished nieces and nephews too), but she also faced the passing of her loving husband Don and the heartbreaking loss of her son Brian. Thankfully this season of life also saw her adding a “great” to her grandma status. Her first great-grandchild arrived in 2010 and Peg’s family continues to grow today. Her heart melted with the arrival of each new grandbaby and they each were the light of her life. Even as her health declined, nothing buoyed her spirits more than to know the great-grandkids were coming for a visit.
In 2017 Peg made the difficult decision to downsize, selling the farm and moving to The Village in Hanover. Here she continued her love of socializing welcoming old friends and making new friends (including many of the staff who supported her). Peg was a friend to all she met whether at the bank, on a cruise or down the road or hall. She was someone who could be counted on to keep in touch, just ask her high school classmates who she eagerly looked forward to seeing each year at their annual class reunion. (She attended right up until 2018—70 years later!—and it was only her poor health that prevented her from attending this year.)
Sadly, in recent months Peg’s health continued to decline and on Thursday, July 18, 2019 she passed away surrounded by the love of her family in Chesley at South Bruce Grey Health Centre. Peg was in her 86th year.
Loving mother of Donna (Rick) Hatten of R.R. #1 Chesley and mother-in-law of Susanne Leifso of Elmwood. Beloved grandmother of Sarah (Terry) Rogers, Crystal (Brian) Heenan, Rob (Lynn) Hatten, Melissa Leifso, Sabrina (Steve) Mousseau and Brandon Leifso (Kayla Joyce). Cherished “GG” of Allie, Hannah, Georgia, Chloe, Hunter, Annie, Blake and Stella. Peg will be fondly remembered by her sisters-in-law Ruth Kuenzig, Helen MacGillivray, Alice Dempsey and Donelda McGillivray. She was predeceased by her husband Don (2007), son Brian (2011), brothers Jack, Stewart, Glen MacGillivray, sister Edith Gordon and her parents Alexander and Christina (McDonald) McGillivray.
And just like her father, her parting words to us all are, “Keep the faith!”
Visitation will be held at Rhody Family Funeral Home, Chesley on Tuesday from 5 - 8 p.m. A funeral service celebrating Peg’s life will be held at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Elmwood on Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at 11 a.m. Inurnment in St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery, Elmwood at a later date.
Memorial donations to St. John’s Lutheran Church or SickKids Foundation would be appreciated as expressions of sympathy.Send to friend