For more than a decade, Sudbury’s Erna de Burger-Fex shared stories in her Northern Life newspaper column about topics as diverse as life as an immigrant to Canada, the joys and sadnesses of family life and the challenges of aging.
When Northern Life (the predecessor publication of Sudbury.com) ceased publication a year ago, so did de Burger-Fex’s column “Reflections.”
“There are many people that I meet, including our parish priest, who say ‘Oh, I miss your columns,’” said de Burger-Fex.
“There’s a lady that cut out every one. She had them in an envelope. When she saw me, she’d give them to me. I developed quite a following. That was not something I expected, but it was a wonderful side effect.”
But the writer and retired teacher, who turns 80 this year, didn’t let her keyboard collect dust.
Polishing up her impressive collection of columns (you can still read most of her “Reflections” columns on Sudbury.com) and writing several new stories, de Burger-Fex recently put out a self-published, 260-page personal memoir called “Behind the Green Door.”
She said she enjoyed writing the Northern Life column, especially befriending Mark Gentili, the newspaper’s last managing editor (he’s now the community editor of Sudbury.com).
Gentili wrote a forward for de Burger-Fex’s book:
“I’ve always had a great fondness for Erna’s column,” said Gentili's forward. “Personal, poignant and often irreverent, she brought readers into her home, her family and her heart with her reflections on life, love and family. After nearly 50 years, the Northern Life newspaper printed its final edition in March 2020. I’m so pleased that Erna’s singular viewpoint that graced our pages for so many years will live on for a new generation of readers to enjoy.”
De Burger-Fex came to Canada from Holland with her family at the age of 10. Her book’s title refers to her family’s home in the old country, which had a green door.
She writes about the de Burger family’s early years here, including living in the village of Creighton Mine, a community formerly located near Lively that was dismantled by Inco in the 1980s.
It was in Creighton Mine that de Burger-Fex got her first job as a teacher in the early 1960s (she taught on and off for a cumulative 20 years until finally retiring in 1996).
After the birth of her first daughter, teachers were in such demand that she was called back to work as a substitute only a few months later — at the time, teachers were expected to quit after they got pregnant.
She also writes about family tragedies, including the deaths of her infant sister Marianne and her brother Willy, who was killed by a drunk driver as a teen.
Family is a favourite topic of conversation for de Burger-Fex, who, along with husband Alex, has three children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
She said her favourite story is called “My Father’s Hands,” about reflecting on how her father’s hands told his life story - his mother held his hands as a baby, he worked hard with them throughout his life, and he held his wife’s hands as she was dying.
“He did many, many things with those hands in his lifetime,” de Burger-Fex said. “That is my absolute favourite story, and it’s been published in several publications.”
If you’d like to purchase a copy of the book, it’s available through Friesen Press from $16.99 to $36.99, depending on format.
You can also get a copy through de Burger-Fex. Email her at email@example.com or phone her at 705-671-2711.