Women leave behind lasting legacy for recreation in Ingonish

Small rural communities often have difficulty raising funds for recreation facilities that larger areas may take for granted, but that’s no longer a problem for residents of Ingonish, N.S.

A pair of longtime residents who died left the community on Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail with a substantial amount of money in trust, to be used only for local sports and recreation.

“They were wonderful citizens of this area,” said Allister MacLeod, who was friends with Mary Ross Barker and Irene Gettas, and is now a trustee of the private fund the women left behind.

Mary Ross Barker was inducted as a builder in 2012 to the John P. Metras Sports Museum at the University of Western Ontario for teaching and coaching from 1935 to 1948. (John P. Metras Sports Museum/University of Western Ontario)

Ross Barker was born in 1905 in Toronto and died in Ingonish in 2004, about six months shy of her 100th birthday. A recipient of the Order of Canada, she pioneered physical education for women in the 1930s, teaching phys ed at private schools in Toronto and at the University of Western Ontario, as well as the YWCA.

In 1957, Ross Barker — whose mother was originally from Little Bras d’Or, N.S. — retired to Ingonish with her lifelong companion, Irene Gettas. While living in Cape Breton, Ross Barker continued to champion sports and youth activities.  

Irene Gettas inherited Mary Ross Barker’s estate after her death in 2004, and then Gettas left her estate to the community of Ingonish after her death in 2016. (Submitted by Allister MacLeod)

Gettas was born in 1918, also in Ontario. She died in 2016. Her obituary says she, too, promoted youth sports in Ingonish and was a keen gardener and supporter of the Buchanan Memorial Hospital Women’s Auxiliary in Neils Harbour and the Neils Harbour Community Dental Clinic.

“Mary was more active than Irene,” said MacLeod. “Irene was interested in the property and having little gardens, and she cultivated various kinds of heather, which she imported.

“But Mary was very outgoing and social, and she was active politically. She was a strong Liberal and supported the party.”

MacLeod said Ross Barker left her estate to Gettas, who then came up with the idea of leaving a lasting legacy to the community after her death.

He said this is the first year the trust fund has been able to disperse money to community recreation groups.

So far, the trust has helped Cabot High School just outside Neils Harbour with a new scoreboard, and junior golfers at the Highlands Links course.

It’s great for a small community that doesn’t have much.– Adam Sams, Ingonish Baseball Association

It has also provided funds for the local karate club, the tennis courts at Ingonish Beach, equipment and season passes for youth at Ski Cape Smokey, and a large donation to the Ingonish Baseball Association.

The head of that association, Adam Sams, said the ball field just north of the North Bay Beach parking lot is being completely rebuilt with a generous donation of $215,000 from the trust.

“It’s great for a small community that doesn’t have much,” he said.

“We have an outdoor rink that’s hard to keep going and the ball field was in dire need, so now we’ll have that up and running and there’s talks of a beach volleyball court being put up.”

Trust fund is private

MacLeod said the trust fund is private and does not advertise or make its financial information public.

However, he said, the trust has already paid out more than $330,000 and it will continue to fund local sports and recreation for some time to come.

“It’s a private trust so we don’t publish that information, but it will last for years, yes, several years.”

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