Anyone who lives, shops or works, in downtown Port Perry, certainly knows Wagg Funeral home and its owner, Myles O’Riordan.
Myles was elected President of the Ontario Funeral Services Association in 2010, a position which put him at the head of an organization, made up of 235 funeral homes as members.
The funeral home business is not something Myles had intended to be involved with. In fact, in his high school years, Myles had his heart set on electronic technology. Myles, whose father worked for Christie’s bread company, was born in Toronto, but grew up in Aurora. During his high school years he had several part time jobs, working at dry cleaners, gas stations, Canadian Tire, and the Beer store.
Myles’ childhood had its hurdles. When he was 10 years old his brother Rory passed away, and at 15 his father died, leaving Myles, his two sisters and his mother all alone. After his first year of Electronics, an opening came up in the Funeral Services Education at Humber College, and Myles thought it might be interesting.
He persevered with it, and found the topic fascinating. His marks were very good, and he was asked to intern at Marshall Funeral Home in Richmond Hill. After the apprenticeship was completed, Myles stayed on with Marshall for another six years, but wanted to explore life in the big city. He worked for two years in Toronto.
An opportunity arose in Port Perry when Harold Wagg wanted to retire. Myles jumped at the chance, and with financial help from his mother, he purchased the business. “I thought about changing the name,” he explained. “But no one knew O’Riordan. In fact, many people can’t even pronounce it,” he chuckled.
In 2000, Myles went on a blind date with Susan Timms, a school teacher. The following year the couple were wed. “It was a real whirlwind romance,” Myles said. “We met in December, became engaged in February, and were married in August”. A year and a half later, the couple was blessed with a son, who was named after Myles’ deceased brother.
The name of the funeral home has not changed since Myles bought it. In fact, when he expanded the business in 1999, and added a chapel, it was named after former owners McDermott-Panabaker. The building has been a funeral home since 1846.
Myles O’Riordan is very involved in Port Perry. Not only does he, Susan, and Rory live in town, he was past president of the Rotary Club, is a member of the Oddfellows and the Knights of Columbus. Every Sunday morning he plays hockey with ‘a bunch of the guys’. “I love the exercise and the Comradery,” Myles explained. “We have been playing for more than a dozen years, and it’s great.”
Three years ago, Myles and Susan purchased Thorne Funeral Home in Cannington. They are now able to service Cannington, Sunderland, and Port Perry.
Travelling is big on their list, and in the past 12 months, Myles has visited Ireland four times, in search of his roots. “My dad’s brother is 91 and has fantastic stories to tell. I sit and listen for hours,” Myles explains.
Myles O’Riordan is one of those rare individuals who constantly strive to be the best he can be, to everyone he meets. His attitude shows in the success of his business. Owning and operating a funeral home may seem different from most businesses, but Myles and Susan have made service to the community a priority in their lives.
Port Perry is one of those towns, where many of its residents were born, grew up and remained. One such person is 82 year old, Barbara Festeryga… that is, until now. Barbara is moving, and, at a time when many people of her age shop around for retirement homes, she has decided to not only move to a different province, but also open an Air B&B.
Born on Mary Street, “I’m not sure what number it was, because we didn’t use numbers back then,” Barbara explained, laughingly. She grew up in a farming environment. Her father, John Cliff Love, was in the Holstein business and bought a property, affectionately named the Love Ranch, in 1942. The 113 acres, located at the top of the hill on Highway 7A, across from Island Road, was previously inhabited by the Mississaugas of Scugog Island, First Nation.
In 1991, Barbara and husband George Festeryga took over the ranch. They kept the name, the C.J. Love Ranch, and began catering to tourism. You may recall George Festeryga’s name from football, as he played for the Montreal Alouettes in 1949. He was an integral part of their first Grey Cup championship and later played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, finishing his career in 1952, after two seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos.
Barbara, an only child, knew her way around Scugog. Her father was a Councillor and Deputy Reeve, as well as Chair of the Hospital board. After graduating from Port Perry High School, Barbara attended the University of Western Ontario, and graduated with the intent of teaching. Her career took her to Fort Erie, Collingwood and New Brunswick. “I enjoyed teaching,” Barbara said, “and loved English, History and Art.”
Barbara and George raised three boys, two of who still live in the area. When George passed away, most people at that stage in life, would have started to wind things down. Barbara is different from most people, as she explained. “Life doesn’t have a best-before date. People expect 70-somethings to be all about spoiling their grandchildren and reminding their kids they don’t know how good they have it.
“While getting older, I haven’t shrunk or started using a walker. As a person, I’ve grown. I don’t wear an adult diaper, and my life hasn’t been whittled down to a nursing home, and the smell of old people. I’ve become so much more than I thought I could be.””
What makes Barbara Festeryga so strong? She was raised in the Depression, when women were expected to be stay-at-home moms, nurses or teachers. If they had dreams of running their own businesses, they kept them to themselves. Many back then, were not risk takers. They were a home-cooked meal, a warm house and laundry on the line. Behind every successful man was a loving wife.
“So when my husband died, three years ago, I was lost. I suddenly had to decide on a new direction in life, with a bustling farm and a lonely heart. The house and I both felt empty. It was partly my grandchildren who gave me the idea of following my dreams of becoming an entrepreneur. They love my farm, and I think it’s as much a sanctuary for them as it is for me. What if I could share that sanctuary?”
She started a Bed and Breakfast at the Ranch, in Port Perry. “Starting this business was the best decision I ever made. The productivity helps me keep up my morale. It has enriched me: I use the barn as a stable and an art gallery, where I display and promote my friends’ artwork; I travel the world through my patrons’ experiences, and I’ve taken risks because I’m not afraid to fail anymore; Hosting gives me a happy glow, and I’ve made an army of friends.”
She is constantly looking after her horses, most of which are Italian Miniature Ponies, bred as war horses, with a combination of strength, endurance and determination. The farm, a beautiful property, with spectacular views, is what kept her going.
So, why would anyone at 82, want to move to Prince Edward Island and start a Bed and Breakfast? A big draw is one of her sons lives there. “When I saw the property last year I immediately fell in love with it. He has 60 acres and I found a spot, not far from where he lives, right on the water.”
She has sold her Port Perry property, the C.J. Love Ranch, and has packed her belongings. As you read this column, Barbara is on her way to begin the next chapter in her life. If you find your way to P.E.I. and need a great place to stay, visit her at Ocean Shore Retreat (check out airb&b.com) in Cardigan, P.E.I.
In Barbara’s words, “Every stage of life has its pros and cons, and even if you sometimes long to be 10 or 30 years younger, eventually you start to realize that 20 is never coming back, and just be happy where you are. Life doesn’t stop at 70 or even 80… as long as you don’t.”
Jonathan van Bilsen is an award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Follow his adventures at photosNtravel.com
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Jonathan van Bilsen
Join Jonathan van Bilsen in the Standard as he begins a series of feature articles on prominent residents of North Durham in his new column, The Story Behind The Person.