Averill Whitfield – educator, historian, musical and creative volunteer, mother, Nana, beloved wife and business partner of Ralph – passed away peacefully on December 15, 2022 with family by her side. Averill lives on through her family and the legacy of contributions she made to her community of Souris, Manitoba.
Averill was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba to Evelyn ‘May’ and George Iliffe on April 2, 1938. She was the baby sister to brothers Jack (Barbara) and Barry ‘Bar’ (Donna). Despite growing up through the Second World War, there was no shortage of inventive and creative fun in the Iliffe house on Niagara Street.
After graduating with an Associate of Manitoba Music – Piano Performer, and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Manitoba, Averill was hired to teach at Souris Collegiate. She arrived in Souris in 1959 and fell in love with the community, and the local pharmacist, Ralph Whitfield. The two married in 1960 and before they knew it, Ralph and Averill were raising four children while operating their business ventures of Whitfield Drugs, Woodsong Farms Simmental Breeders and Whitfield Enterprises. Averill held the integral roles of business manager and secretary-treasurer and was avidly involved in all aspects of each business, from behind-the-scenes to the front store operations. Her kindhearted nature and cheerful smile welcomed every person who walked through the doors of Whitfield Drugs. She ensured the drugstore staff upheld the standards of customer service, leading by example and reminding them to “Smile through the phone when you answer it”. When Woodsong Farms held the annual bull and female sales, she supported Ralph as hostess, ensuring everyone was well fed at the lunches that she prepared and served, and then oversaw all the cattle transactions.
It is difficult to describe the impact that Averill had on Souris and the greater community of Southwest Manitoba. She was a devoted historian, feminist, nature lover, environmentalist, and infinitely creative with storytelling, writing, music, sets and costumes. The history of Souris is preserved in the Hillcrest Museum and The Plum – 1883 Souris Heritage Church Museum, both of which Averill played an integral part in salvaging from demolition and turning into self-sustaining charitable organizations. Averill wrote a number of musicals for The Plum that depicted the heritage of Souris and surrounding area. It was a great joy for her to bring these stories to life and share community heritage with the young staff of The Plum and with visitors both local and from around the world. Averill chaired the Souris and District Heritage Club from its inception in 1988 for almost 30 years and led the club’s research and procurement processes. This resulted in the full restoration of The Plum, which opened to the public in 1993 as a designated Canadian Heritage site.
Averill was a founding member of the Southwest Trails Association for Regional Tourism – now known as Tourism Westman – where she introduced collaborative marketing strategies to draw tourism to Souris and surrounding municipalities. Through Averill’s time on the Executive of the Souris Figure Skating Club, she directed the annual ice show, chaired the Hobbycraft Sale, and originated the name ‘The Souris Sophistiskates’ for the synchronized skating team. She shared her love of music through teaching music in Souris School as a volunteer for a pilot project until a school music teacher position was created; leading The Merry Wives and the St. Luke’s Anglican Church Choir; writing and directing Christmas concerts and pageants; and organizing endless opportunities for youth to experience the joy of music, such as the Souris Valley Festival for Music and the Arts. In 1968 Averill introduced Brownies to Souris and she subsequently led Girl Guides, Cadets, and Sparks for the next 36 years. She encouraged girls and women to be all-round citizens through the creation of countless opportunities to explore the Girl Guide Motto, Promise and Laws, and later introduced the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. She led camping, wilderness and music training; acts of service such as visits to Victoria Park Lodge to record and publish stories of elders ( “Stories Old and New”, etc.); initiated the town spring clean-up, paper and bottle drives, and water conservation projects. She also promoted international awareness and arranged opportunities to connect with Girl Guides and Girl Scouts from other countries. Her mission was to ensure that each Spark, Brownie, Guide and Cadet in her care gained knowledge, confidence and skills to be leaders in their community. Averill is an Honorary Life Member of the Provincial and National Council, Girl Guides of Canada.
Averill always felt that volunteerism was her leisure, that it provided a feeling of time well spent. She received many prestigious awards for her volunteer work but would always gratefully acknowledge the support of the Heritage Club members and fellow volunteers of the Figure Skating Club, Guiding and her family.
Averill was honoured to be recognized as a Brandon YWCA Woman of Distinction in 2011, and to receive the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.
Ralph and Averill sold their businesses in 2005 and 2006, and slowly shifted into a life of retirement. It seemed that although Averill was supposedly retired, she never really hung up her volunteering hat and stayed involved with the Heritage Club for as long as she could. Ralph and Averill moved into the Souris Personal Care Home in January 2017, where Averill was very happy. She enjoyed activities that included music or singing. Her face would light up to familiar music – Girl Guide songs, The Sound of Music, and hymns. She loved the carols of Christmas.
Averill is survived by her husband Ralph and children Pam Whitfield, Daphne Schmidt (Grant) and Rod Whitfield (Melissa). She is reunited with her late son, Chris, who died December 22, 2008.
Averill and Ralph have seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren: Caleigh Walker Pambrun (Gabriel, with children Evelyne, Kadin and JS), Brynna Walker (Harry Curtin), Seth Walker; Spencer Schmidt and Carissa Schmidt; Reese Whitfield and Benjamin Whitfield.
The family extends sincere appreciation to the staff of the Souris Personal Care Home and Dr. David Cram who cared for Averill during her final years. You showed great kindness, respect and care, so she could live in comfort and joy. Thank you with all our hearts.
Funeral service was held at St. Paul’s United Church, Souris, Manitoba on Wednesday, December 28, 2022 with The Ven. Jonathan Hoskin officiating. Private interment in the Souris & Glenwood Cemetery.
In memory of Averill, donations may be made to the Souris and District Heritage Club c/o Municipality of Souris-Glenwood, PO Box 518, Souris MB, R0K 2C0, or to a local charity of your choice.