Born Gwendoyln Nash in Reston, MB on November 22, 1931 to Walter and Muriel, from the time Gwen could read and write a book or journal was never far from her side. As the only daughter and the third child she had a unique perspective and role in the family. With two older brothers serving in the Second World War and another brother 12 years younger, Gwen found it quite appealing being the apple of everyone’s eye. It gave her more time to read, write and live carefree. Norman and Fred gave her countless vivid stories of wartime and she often delighted in retelling the mischief she’d gotten away thanks to her family position and role as doting big sister to young Keith. Growing up the daughter of farmers in Reston in the 1930s was a struggle and even through stories of hardship and loss, Gwen was always in awe of what she’d experienced. She was grateful for it; she just wanted others to be grateful, too.
At 16 she sought out a special permit to teach and finding she was quite good at keeping the peace and sharing her thirst for knowledge, she decided to stick with it. A year later, she attended Normal School in Winnipeg and later practiced in Homewood, where she met the love of her life, Reg Last. They were married in 1953 and raised their five children, Deb, Joy, Cheryl, Craig and Kelly on the farm at Homewood and then Carman.
Her favourite pastimes were working outside in the large gardens of flowers, produce and trees. Once the work of tending the garden and making preserves was done, Gwen would spend hours reading among the greenery. It might be here that she honed her love of all flora and fauna. Gwen thought every proper home should have gardens and houseplants and potted plants, especially petunias. She studied the names and characteristics of plants and had a natural green thumb.
Gwen’s love of learning and teaching is evident all through her life. She was a member and leader of the Carman Garden Club, 4-H, Cubs, she was a Sunday School teacher, a Toastmaster and an active member at St. John’s Anglican Church and she loved to write. She produced countless journals and was a family historian who meticulously documented the Nash and Last family histories and created personalized journals for each of her children. She documented her philosophies, her goals, favourite songs and to-do lists and she wove colourful stories into family history; these are just some of her teachings we’ll cherish forever.
Gwen also worked for Statistics Canada collecting census information and travelling southern Manitoba doing what she loved, meeting people, asking questions and driving rural roads. She often invited one of the children along for the journey and she was known for talking the whole way, sharing what she knew about different cultures and communities and teaching whoever would listen how to read a rural map.
In 1975, Reg and Gwen bought the Texaco Fuel station in Carman. They worked easily as a team with Gwen doing books and managing the office and inventory. But Gwen always needed a challenge and a little sparkle in her life, so in 1985, when the opportunity presented itself, she became the owner of the Carman Flower Shop. Gwen’s arrival at “the shop” was a culmination of her favourite things -- flowers, connecting with her customers and learning about the floral business. She was an active member of Flowers Canada and loved attending design shows and finding new ways to connect with her customers. Every couple choosing their wedding flowers was special and every special event was unique and her business thrived with her personal touch. Her creative spirit and love of Christmas led to the founding of the shop’s Christmas “open house” event, which she proudly hosted at their home on Main Street for nine years. In 1994 she sold the shop to daughter Cheryl, who also carried on the holiday open house tradition.
Gwen was a tireless caregiver to Reg as he struggled with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy and lived at the Boyne Lodge. During this time she volunteered at the Lodge and gave presentations and hosted conversations with residents on current and historical events. After Reg’s passing, she started a new chapter of her life at Riverview Apartments where she met many new friends. She participated in every social activity and especially loved cards, lively debate and live music. Gwen rediscovered art during her time at Riverview and started painting, sketching and charcoal. She painted intricate pet portraits and landscapes on rocks, she sketched beach scenes, painted birds and family portraits. Gwen embraced all mediums and showed us all that you can learn something new at any age. In her final weeks, all her family were given keepsakes of her impressive volume of work.
During these challenging times, Gwen stayed connected with friends and family near and far through social media and text messages. She was confident on her iPad and was known for her long texts and use of emojis. On her 88th birthday, she enjoyed an online call with all of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and she got to hear them speak of Christmas plans, working from home and how this year had forced most to return to a more simple way of life. Gwen always listened intently in a crowd, but especially among family. If you asked her, she would say it was, “Just because I love to hear all the laughter and see their faces.”
The pandemic made it impossible for her to see either Kelly and Deb for a whole year, something that had never happened before and was difficult for everyone. Thank you to all who kept in contact with Gwen, especially this past year. She sincerely loved every phone call and she received from friends and family.
Thank you to In Good Hands -- Marnie you and your girls helped her to stay in her apartment a little longer and she loved your company. Thank you to the Home Care staff, your care is essential and so appreciated. To Ken and Isabelle Last and to Ellen Hancox your friendship with Mom was so very special to her and to us.
Gwen treated everyone like family and a friend, in her memory please write a note to a friend or send a flower or a donation to the Carman and Area Foundation.
The sound of her voice rings in our ears. She found a lesson in everything and spent hours sharing her experiences. She was a dreamer and she had a thirst for knowledge that lasted until her very last days. We rest easy knowing her stories haven’t stopped at all, she’s just writing the next chapter somewhere even more beautiful.
Gwen was predeceased by her husband Reg in 2006, grandson Drew Bartley 1983.
Left with great memories: Deb (Dan) Cosgrove, Colleen (Shane) and Huxley.
Joy (Dave) Stewart, Tyler (Crystal) and Harper, Dustin (Leah).
Cheryl (Ron) Bartley, Britni (Steve), Chase and Bria. Andrew (Nikki), Jaxon, Bekka.
Craig (Donna), Sydney (Brody), Tyson.
Kelly (Anna), Andria (Devon), Rylie, Brendan, Evan (Carley), Emyrson, Lauren (Dane)