Helen Somerville
Helen Somerville

Obituary of Helen Elizabeth Somerville

Helen Elizabeth Somerville (nee Johnstone)


On Sunday, May 30, 2021, at North Bay Regional Health Centre, North Bay, Ontario, after four months of deteriorating health.


Helen was born to Gerald Lawson Johnstone and Gertrude Edith Lockwood on August 6, 1929, in Windsor, Ontario. Helen was a cherished daughter and a bright and accomplished student; she entered the University of Toronto at the age of sixteen. Her years at St Hilda’s were rich with music, studies, dialogue and social events. In 1954, Helen married Don Somerville. Together they travelled through Europe by car and across Ontario in their Cessna airplane, with Helen as navigator. Helen built a career in social work as she raised a family and supported Don’s career as a dentist in Toronto, Manitouwadge, Inuvik, and North Bay.


Helen was an active mom; she taught her children to ski and swim; she cooked for the dirt biking crowd, and hosted toboggan parties and picnics. Her home was one of reading aloud, singing and picnicking. She encouraged her children to pursue their passions for sports, diving, flying, music, drama and fashion. She was a loving grandmother who took interest and pride in the lives of her five granddaughters.


Helen cared deeply about people. She had a long career with youth initially through Browndale Homes and then for many years with the Children's Aid Society of the District of Nipissing and Parry Sound. Helen was a talented and instinctual clinical social worker who supported teen mothers and also children and families recovering from sexual abuse. She was a mentor to other social workers and a model of compassion and professionalism. She truly enjoyed her work.


Helen’s love of music began with extended family singalongs on Sundays nights around the piano in her Grandmother's barn. She shared this love with other children as a long standing Brownie Leader and then through her many years with the North Bay Choral Society. 


Helen valued the time and friendships associated with her community activities: the Recorder Group, Living Fit, Aqua fit at the Y, The Heritage Gardeners, The Canadian Federation of University Women, Marina Point, and most recently, the North Bay Duplicate Bridge Club. Helen was an animal lover; some will recall the challenges of her successively large dogs. Helen supported the arts locally, and in annual trips to the Shaw, Stratford and beyond.  


Helen was an intellectual woman with a remarkable memory; she enjoyed discussions of politics and literature. We will remember that Helen’s table included everyone, her conversation was lively, and her tactful questioning could provoke discussion and reflection. She treated children and adults as equals. Helen is famous for her fundraising production of marmalade and her personal cookie tins at Christmas. She was a wonderful cook and hostess, an unyielding opponent in board games or cards.


Helen is survived by her three children, Kerry and her husband Stephen Hart of Astorville, ON, Tim and his wife Laurel (deceased) and their daughters Hannah and Megan of Lantzville, BC, Dawson and his partner Lara and their daughters Mackenzie, Zoe and Hunter of Lethbridge, AB. Helen was also the cherished Aunt Helen to Mary Scott, Jeff Scott, Callum, Marret and Sullivan Scott. Helen was predeceased by her younger sister, Judith. She was a beloved aunt, godmother and friend to many. We regret that many goodbyes were missed in her final days.


While isolated during the Covid-19 pandemic, Helen’s old acquaintance of breast cancer did manage to find her. In remembering Helen, please ensure that your loved ones young and old are supported in accessing a mammogram.


The family would like to thank Helen’s friends for all the ways they connected with her in the last months with books, food, emails, texts, and stories. We would also like to thank Dr. Joel Carter and the doctors, nurses and staff in the medical and rehab units of the North Bay Regional Health Centre. Thank you to Home and Community Care for all of their hard work in getting Helen back into her apartment at Marina Point, even for a short time. Thank you to Kerry Somerville and Mary Scott, Helen’s essential caregiver team at the hospital these last months. A celebration of Helen’s life will take place at a time when it is possible to gather to share stories and music. 


Helen supported many charities. Those wishing to make a contribution in her memory might consider The North Bay Regional Health Centre (www.nbrhc.on.ca/foundation) or The North Bay Symphony (www.northbaysymphony.org). Please call the Martyn Funeral Home at 705-472-8810, if you wish to make a donation by cheque.

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