Memories and Celebrations of Life:
Celebrating the Beautiful Life of Monika Halina Orzechowska
On Monday, March 23, with her family at her side, Monika Halina Orzechowska passed away peacefully at the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre after a long and courageous journey living with cancer. She was 62 years old.
Monika leaves behind many people to honour her, especially her partner George Hoggarth and their blended family: Mikolaj, Shooma and Migwin Orzechowska; and Sarah Monaco, Emily (Nathan) Monaco, and Mark (Cara) Hoggarth and three grandchildren, Nodin, Niska and Lily. Also left to honour her are Monika’s siblings: Ewa Orzechowska in Baranowo, Poland, Alina (John) Hall, nephew Marek and niece Kiera in Sioux Lookout, Sebastian Bialkowski, and niece Hania in Hamilton, as well as 7 step brothers and sisters whom she grew up with in England. Monika is predeceased by her mother Hania Lodge, her much loved maternal grandmother Jadwiga Tomaszewska, and her father Janusz (Audrey) Orzechowski.
Monika’s family roots stem from Poland, but after World War II, her family (having been in prison camps) took refuge in the United Kingdom where Monika was born. She spent her childhood in rural Wales and teen years in Southern England. In 1974, at 17, Monika and her family immigrated to Canada. She moved to Sioux Lookout in 1990.
Monika was a teacher, a mentor, an environmentalist, and a social activist. She was a musician, a dancer, a singer, a beadwork artist. She was a gardener, a birder, an outdoor-lover. Monika had style.
She had grace. She was kind and compassionate. Enthusiastic. Fearless. Curious. Unstoppable. She was a vegetarian. She loved life. Monika was a woman of conviction who exemplified “walking the talk”. She set the standard for how to live well and fully.
By far the most important part of Monika’s life was her family. Every day began with morning coffee with George. George and Monika were a team, participating in countless organizations and community events together. And where they went, their children were with them. It was part of Monika’s nature that she was intimately involved with her family while being completely enmeshed in work and community. Homeschooling her three children was one of her top priorities until they reached high school. Monika coordinated with other home school families to give her and their children a broad educational experience, rich in outdoor learning. Many have seen Monika at one of the local coffee shops, books and papers spread around her, learning and preparing lessons for work or home.
At the same time, Monika always found time for friends and good times. She and George created a home that is warm and welcoming for all. It is a magical place full of games, books, musical instruments, yummy, healthy, home-made food, and great coffee, and a dress-up box full of costumes of every description. A completely comfy place to be.
As a young woman, Monika completed a Masters degree in Geography at McGill University and in her 50’s went back to school to earn a Bachelor of Education from Lakehead University. She had a varied and rich working career which mirrored her passions and interests and much of which was in support of First Nations language, learning and culture. Some of her accomplishments include:
In the late 80’s she worked as Band Manager for the Neskapi Cree First Nation in Northern Quebec.
Working for the Sioux-Hudson Literacy Council, where she started the Frontier Bookshop, a fundraising and community service initiative. The book store was a busy, local hub promoting literacy and cross-cultural learning and co-operation.
She ran a home-based catering service, including home-made soup and bread lunches where everyone felt welcome, especially children.
Monika designed and led a Grade One education pilot project at Sioux Mountain Public School teaching environmental and life skills in an outdoor context.
She worked with colleague, Judy Kay, to produce FASD booklets in English and syllabics; Working as a Technology Lead for Kwayaciiwin Education Resource Centre for seven years, she facilitated the use of 3D printing, robotics, coding, and digital storytelling in the classroom. She provided support to teachers in First Nations schools and took on special projects like the First Nations Inuit Youth Employment Strategy program, Non-Violent Crisis Intervention Training,
First Nations Student Nutrition, archiving Stories and Photos with Anishinabek Voices.
She edited Grade seven and eight History and Geography texts for Indigenous content.
Monika’s exceptional community activism made her an important contributor to Sioux Lookout’s reputation as a progressive northern town. She was involved in Sioux Lookout’s Anti-Racism Committee - especially through the conflict resolution project, Gay Pride support, and the annual Multi-Cultural Feasts. She worked tirelessly for right relations and environmental justice. She was an active volunteer with Friends of Cedar Bay’s Lakeshore Committee, leading annual night-time Owl Prowls each spring, helping with Cozy Cabin on cold winter weekends, and sharing her vast self-taught knowledge of bird
and frog identification. She conducted annual bird surveys for the North American Breeding Bird Survey.
Monika loved all living things and had recently become a volunteer with the Sioux Lookout For Paws.
She was a member of the Sexual Assault Support Team and a long-time volunteer with the Salvation Army Thrift Store. She was a community radio CBLS co-host with Florence Woolner. She and George enthusiastically supported the Sioux-Hudson Entertainment Series and Kids Kaleidoscope shows, the Christmas parades, the Blueberry Festivals, and many more.
Monika loved colour and creativity and art. She was always experimenting, always teaching herself new artsy things. But her enduring passion was for music – performing it, watching it and supporting it. She played guitar, accordion, harmonica, banjo, clarinet, chello, dijera doo, and she sang. She played with the Sioux Mountain Midnight Howlers, the Moonlight Mamas, and as a mother/daughter duo with her youngest - Migwin. She participated in countless informal groups, sing-alongs and coffee houses. She attended every music festival and event she could. She and George were Environment Crew Leaders at the Trout Forest Music Festival in Ear Falls for years. And at every event, Monika and George were the first to get up and dance, and often the last to stop.
Monika was never happier than when she was active out of doors. She loved time spent, winter or summer, at her cabin on the Marchington River where she could be seen diving fearlessly into the lake as late as October. She loved canoeing, skiing, swimming and cycling. She joined the women’s hockey league in her mid forties and worked diligently to hone her skating skills. She and George may have the record for the number of walks to and from Cedar Bay. She was also a world traveller, making trips to Europe, Hawaii and Africa, often with one or more of her children. And she cherished her Polish heritage, which had such a strong influence on the confirmed “peacenik” she was to become. Over the past 20 years Monika made many trips to Poland to visit her sister and extended family. During those visits she immersed herself in the community and her sister’s farm, she made friends, participated in musical events, and was involved in the local youth theatre group.
Monika’s family would like to extend their heartfelt thanks to the staff of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Cancer Centre especially Doctors - Vergides, Chan, Simpson, and Ibrahim. Sincere thanks are extended as well to Doctors - O’Driscoll, Morgan, and England and the staff of Meno Ya Win Health Centre, especially nurses Denise Wojciechowski, John Davis, Karen Mulville, and Rebecca Baas for their compassionate care. They would also like to thank Brian and Collin (formerly) at Remedy’s RX in Sioux Lookout for going above and beyond their duties to care for Monika. As well as the countless other medical professionals that treated Monika with kindness and respect.
George and his family value the love and continued support from Monika’s friends and neighbours near and far. They also want to thank everyone who posted memories, comments and photos on the open Facebook page - Celebrating Monika’s Beautiful Life, all of which has helped them find strength at this difficult time.
Monika is dearly missed by her family and friends who will keep her memory alive by doing the things she loved best: dancing, being in nature, and supporting other people. Due to Covid-19 a date has not yet been set for a Celebration of Monika’s Life. Her family would like the event to be open to all of those who knew Monika, therefore the celebration will not be able to take place until it is safe to do so.
In her ongoing search for healthy ways to overcome her illness, Monika discovered the Onco-genome Project, a cutting edge cancer treatment being piloted by the BC Cancer Foundation. It was her hope to be a candidate for this treatment.
Donations in memory of Monika may be made, with thanks, to the BC Cancer Foundation Personalized Onco-genome Project.