Jewel

Jewel Collins (née Loach) passed away peacefully at Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay, Ontario, on March 27, 2024, predeceased by the love of her life, Len Collins (who died in January 2020).

Like many great stories, Jewel’s early life was far from idyllic. The eldest child of Julia (Collis) and Fred Loach, her childhood years were a patchwork of different homes, guardians, and foster care. She spent some of those years in the care of her paternal grandparents, Ingrid (Persson) and George Loach, who instilled in her the quality of compassion that would become the foundation of her life and work. When living with her mother, Jewel often became an unofficial guardian to her three younger siblings: Donna (deceased), Freda, and the youngest, her little brother Bert (Susan). While little more than a child herself, she did what she could to help her sisters and especially Bert, whom she guided from infancy to his own start as a young man embarking on a successful personal and professional life.

Life stabilized when Jewel’s mother met and married a WW II veteran, Victor Norburn, in 1948, but Jewel had already begun designing her own life. When she was fifteen, she met Leonard Collins.

Len hailed from a prominent family, the youngest son of the Fire Chief in the city of Scarborough. He was instantly smitten by Jewel’s beauty and grace, but it was her strength and compassion that would ultimately become the backbone of their relationship. They married in 1953 and started their own family.

Jewel was smart. Though she had bounced between many different schools each academic year, she graduated elementary school as class valedictorian. But her hard-scrabble beginnings instilled in her the importance of tenacity, and she seized every opportunity to succeed while still dedicating much of her attention to helping others.

She and Len raised not only their own three children, Julie MacLeish (Tom), Len Jr. (Anne), and Jesse (Viviana), but also an extended family of foster children through her decades-long work with the Children’s Aid Society. Jewel and Len spent much of their lives providing shelter and love to dozens of kids who had been subjected to the same difficult start as Jewel.

Jewel and Len had a penchant for adventure. They built their first house with their own hands in Scarborough at the age of eighteen but soon moved north to the Stouffville area. Then, in 1968, Len was given a document at his workplace that stated he would retire in the year 2000. In the late sixties, the year “2000” must have seemed almost fictional. Seemingly out of character with Jewel’s practicality and pragmatism, they impulsively decided to uproot, sell the small farm they owned, and emigrate to Great Britain. With their three kids in tow, they crossed the ocean like explorers — on the last trip of the famous ocean-liner, the Queen Elizabeth I. But it was only the first trip of their adventurous lives.

After some time living on the Isle of Wight, they longed to return to Canada and bought an old Victorian home in Cannington, Ontario. Jewel had been a real estate agent – her lifelong passion – and together they began a journey of buying and selling properties, renovating fixer-uppers, and eventually designing and building unique custom homes. The first house they built, and all of the custom homes they built after, still stand as testaments to their creativity and work ethic.

Though Jewel never had the opportunity to finish high school, she returned to academics as a mature student (in her early fifties) for over a decade at Trent University. She focused on History, with an emphasis on Black Studies and the Holocaust. She felt a kinship with those whom society had disregarded or segregated, and her educational interests reflected her belief in a more just society.

Jewel considered her life blessed. She loved community involvement, serving on the Land Division Committee for decades, and she had a keen interest in current affairs and politics, including a run for public office in her thirties. They had a large circle of dear friends that celebrated often in one of the authentic pubs that would be outfitted in many of the homes that they built. Their parties were legendary.

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But her most important role was as the head of her family, whom she loved beyond all else. She ruled the roost with her direct manner, her huge heart, and her keen mind. She provided balance to Len’s wild imagination and spontaneity, and provided the ingenuity to help him realize their dreams.

Her family is her legacy, and her loss is widely felt by her grandchildren: Scott and Jesse (Maryanne) MacLeish, Maureen (Bob Bianchet), Caileigh (Kyle Orlowski), Brandon Collins, and Liam Collins; as well as her great-grandchildren, Caleb and Ethan MacLeish; Noah, Madalyn, Georgia, and Lenni May MacLeish; Joe, George, and Jameson Bianchet; and Kieran and Declan Orlowski.

Instead of flowers, the family requests that you please take some time today to perform a random act of kindness. For a stranger or a loved one, to the best of your means and ability, make someone’s life a little better. It would be the most appropriate celebration of Jewel’s life, spent in consideration of others, to the very last moment of her earthly being.