and Community - Stories
with permission of the author, Ron Csillag. Originally published in
The Globe and Mail on Saturday, February 8, 2021))
Bujold had a simple dream: to live in her own place, by her own
rules. She did that for a year — a glorious year of independent
living — before succumbing to a stroke and a cancerous brain tumour
on January 5 at the age of 35.
paper, Ms. Bujold certainly didn’t seem intellectually disabled: She
traveled from Toronto to see her parents in Quebec by herself,
switching trains in Montreal; worked four days a week as a
receptionist, enjoyed chop-socky action films; and spoke both
English and French with no trace of an accent.
she knew her limitations. “It doesn’t bother me,” she said a few
years ago of her disability. “I know what it means. It means I’m
handicapped. That I have ways of not understanding things. Of not
other hand, she eagerly and happily undertook that which so many
“normal” people consider their most knee-weakening phobia: public
speaking. Before hundreds of people, she regularly expounded, with
clarity and can four, on her life experiences to supporters — both
established and potential — of the United Way and Community Living
Toronto (until recently, the Toronto Association for Community
Living), for which she became something of a poster girl for the
successful integration of the intellectually disabled into
Bujold was an eloquent spokeswoman/fundraiser for community living,
helping to dispel the myth that the mentally retarded, as they were
once called, need to be warehoused or relegated to sheltered
articulation skills were wonderful, and she felt she had a real
story to tell,” said Sheila Magee of Community Living Toronto.
Bujold needed no cajoling. She volunteered for the speakers’ bureaus
of both CLT and the United Way, for which she addressed three or
four lunches a year for three years, easily fielding questions from
fact, life wasn’t easy for her. She was born in New Richmond, a
small community in the Gaspe region of Quebec, the eldest of three
age of 3, after a hospital stay for a bout of measles, “she asked me
where those lights were,” recalled her mother, Delena. Tests in
Montreal revealed a plum-sized brain tumour, which surgeons removed.
She developed epileptic seizures, which were controlled by
medication. But which in turn made her overweight. She withdrew,
taking up quiet activities such as drawing.
school, the other children would tease her as “retarded,” she would
later recall. “They’d tease me because I’m big. They would make me
brother Joey concurs. “She was picked on a lot But she never argued
back. She never complained, no matter what.
after failing Grade 5, she soldiered on, graduating from high school
in a vocational stream, and dreaming of the big city. Her reluctant
parents, aware of the lack of social services in the Gaspe, let her
move in with an aunt in Toronto at the age of 17. Over the next 16
years, she lived in a group home and with two foster families,
volunteering for a variety of programs and weaving a wide web of
Ms. Bujold who helped others worse off than she. “Sheila would help
them at lunchtime to open their can of pop, put sandwiches on a
plate or stir their coffee or tea,” Ms. Magee said. “When it was
time to go home, Sheila would button coats, tie scarves and help in
any way she could.”
put her artistic skills to good use with homemade birthday cards for
everyone in her workshop, using a large calendar to keep track. She
made 172 cards a year, complete with verse, in addition to
hand-knitted baby booties and blankets for anyone who asked.
had a way of winning over people,” said her brother Joey. “She had
natural charisma.” She often crooned her favourite song, Bette
Midler’s The Rose.
Although limited in her math skills, “she knew the value of a dollar
better than anyone,” her mother said.
had to, surviving on a token salary of $1 an hour and a monthly
disability cheque from which she paid rent, bought a transit pass
and saw the occasional Jackie Chan flick.
had two boyfriends, but ever the pragmatist, was careful about not
getting pregnant. “She used to say, ‘Mum, I have so many problems
looking after myself, I couldn’t look after a baby,’” her mother
was reminded of her disability almost daily. Following work, when
she boarded the bus with her co-workers, some of whom had visible
defects, she would hear the barbs. “I wish people would not call us
stupid,” she said. “God made me this way. I have a heart and
sweet smile and ever-present charm belied her grit and gumption. She
locked onto her life dream like a missile, and after waiting for an
independent-living space for years, Ms. Bujold finally moved into a
basement apartment in Toronto in December, 2000, sometimes joining
her landlady for a cup of tea and some TV. She was giddy with joy,
and had “a great social life,” according to Ms. Magee.
just a year later, she was felled by a stroke. Doctors removed about
half of the mass from her brain, and further tests showed the return
of brain cancer. Although paralyzed on her right side, she rallied
somewhat, but died a year after her surgery.
was the subject of a Lunch With column by the Globe and
Mail’s Jan Wong in September, 1998, following which Ms. Bujold faxed
in a handwritten thank-you note: “My sister Chantal said she had
went to see her doctor and he had seen the article and he said, ‘Is
Sheila Bujold your sister?” And Chantal had said yes, why? Well, I
think she’s a smart sister!”
Sheila Bujold, volunteer, spokeswoman for
community living; born in Montreal, June 21, 1967; died in Toronto
Jan. 5, 2003.
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