We lost an important person last week. Jane Irwin dead.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  February 9, 2013  She’s gone.  A little lady, short,  who stood with a bit of a bend to her upper body but stood tall nevertheless.  You would see her in the same green pant suit with her running shoes.  The hair style never changed, her glasses were functional, not fashionable.  Fashion and being au courant were not things that mattered to her. There was always that strong gaze in her eye and if you’ve made a mistake about the history of Burlington, a city she adopted, she was quick to let you know.

She was the strongest supporter of the city’s historic homes and its cultural heritage.  She and her husband Richard ran the Different Drummer bookstore from 1986 and grew it into one of the best in the country.

Jane Irwin telling city council that the city’s heritage properties were being hollowed out – that the city was bland and known as “Borington”  It was her last delegation; she died two days later.

Jane Irwin died Thursday evening.  She had experienced a stroke last year.

Whenever she spoke at city council you sat up a little straighter and listened carefully.  She delivered some of the most pointed and cogent commentary this council, and all of those before it, had occasion to hear.

When she finished her delegation last Monday evening there were no questions.  Council just sat there except for Councillor Craven, chair of the Development and Infrastructure meeting that was hearing the delegation. He summed it all up when he said: “I guess she said it all.”

Before starting her delegation Jane Irwin pointed out to Council members that they were all sitting there in comfortable chairs while older people who used a walker and a cane had to stand for extended period of time. “That is something you might want to note and do something about at some time” she admonished them.

As a young lady she once told us, she used to travel to Burlington to take in an event at the Burlington Inn. She knew everything there was to know about heritage properties in the city and understood fully the importance of keeping as many of those buildings as possible.

There were occasions when we at OurBurlington didn’t get it right – and it seldom took Jane Irwin very long to write and give us a good sharp rap in the knuckles.  If you were going to talk about heritage homes – then do it right, was the way she treated us.

She was often talking into the wind – and she knew it; but the importance of what she was saying was what mattered and she just kept on doing what she did best.

At one of her many delegations she told council she was going to give them “five scotches” in five minutes and then proceeded to lecture then  – and that is what she really did. She laid it all out for them in simple easy to understand language,  which many of them still didn’t get.  That was a classic Jane Irwin performance.

When a house in Kilbride with some historical significance was about to be removed from one of the lists that protects heritage properties, Irwin drove to the Courthouse in Milton and pulled up the document that gave the full provenance of the building.  Jane Irwin was the kind of person who believed that the facts mattered and on more than one occasion during the many years she lived in this city – she was the one who dug out and brought forward the facts.

Jane Irwin’s husband Richard giving her a pat of affection as she prepares to delegate to city council three days before she died.

There is no one on the horizon that can replace what she was and what she gave to this city.  There will be no funeral but we are advised that there will be a celebration/wake.

She will be missed by her husband, her children and those who worked with her at the Burlington Historical Society and the Friends of Freeman Station.  A stalwart if there ever was one.  She will be missed not only for her graciousness and her intellectual integrity but for her constant efforts to help Burlington help itself.

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2 comments to We lost an important person last week. Jane Irwin dead.

  • Pam Freeman

    I served on the Board of Friends of Freeman Station with Jane. Her steely determination and generous gifts of time and expertise made such an impression. Reading about her final delegation to city council days before death has brought tears to my eyes. Burlington was lucky to have her.

  • I am devastated with the loss of Jane. Over the last year she has worked endlessly in identifying Burlington veterans of the War of 1812 for the Gravesite Recognition programme. We were both looking forward to funding finally being available in March so we could finish the project together. Now I must finish without the enthusiasm and expertise of this great lady guiding me along. Tears in my eyes. Jane will be missed…there is sorrow in the hearts of those who shared her passion for Burlington’s history. Safe home Jane.