At the end of a video for Connected: Our Land Our Stories, Leopoldina Dobrzensky says, “people come and go but the land is forever.”
The woman affectionately known as “Leo” passed away March 18. She leaves a legacy that includes the Barnum Creek Nature Reserve; two works of historical non-fiction; a municipal impact as well as contributions to the local arts and literature scenes.
In an obituary on the Haliburton Community Funeral Home website, the family said they were mourning “this exceptional woman who overcame tremendous upheavals throughout her life and always with dignity and courage. Her generous and warm-hearted spirit found enjoyment in countless areas – but especially, in gardening, painting and in classical music.
“She loved and embraced the Haliburton Highlands – whose natural beauty and people inspired her to write two books on its history: Fragments of a Dream – Pioneering in Dysart Township and Haliburton Village and They Worked and Prayed Together – Italians in Haliburton County.
Leo and her husband, Jenda Dobrzensky, came to Canada with three children as refugees from the former Czechoslovakia in 1951. Initially they settled in Richmond Hills but after a visit to the Haliburton Highlands found scenery and people that reminded them of home. They purchased farmland just outside of Haliburton village.
In the Don Smith video that was produced by Sticks and Stones, Leo recalls the original farmhouse being inhabited by racoons and snowmobilers driving through it. Surrounded by moose, bear, wolves, turtles, owls and frogs, she and Jenda set about making it a home and “they were the 10 happiest years of our married life.”
In the video she talks about being angry that not enough had been written about some of Haliburton County’s pioneering history, so she set about to correct that.
The Haliburton County Historical Society’s Larry Giles paid tribute, saying they had lost a valuable supporter. “As a founding member, Leo was a guiding light in the early days of the society. She willingly shared her stories and memories on numerous occasions. She will be greatly missed.”
Leo was also known for organizing and heading the Haliburton Information Centre, while her love of literature and the arts led her in many directions: as a board member for outreach literacy at the John Howard Society and as a board member for the Guild of Fine Arts.
Perhaps the greatest gift of all was Leo and her daughter Margaret’s decision in 2018 to donate 600 acres to the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust.
The Land Trust’s Sheila Zyman said, “Margaret and Leo wanted to create a nature reserve for all to enjoy. They wished to name it Barnum Creek Nature Reserve. During the opening ceremonies on Oct. 15, 2020, Leo extolled people to come out and walk the property to get a dose of Vitamin N (nature).”
Zyman added, “Leo’s life wasn’t always easy and she suffered many hardships, from the death of a son and daughter to the upheaval of leaving Czechoslovakia after the war when she and her young family came to Canada as refugees.
“But Leo was resilient and had a dignity and grace that I will always remember. At 94, she still lived in her home and never left it without being impeccably dressed, greeting the world with curiosity, compassion, and a keen intelligence. She was a wonderful woman and a fantastic role model for all who knew her. I will miss her.”
For information on visitation and mass of Christian burial, see the Haliburton Community Funeral Home website.
- Please see the March 25 Highlander for the full story.