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April 11, 2023

Harold Robert “Harry” Helfenstein, formerly of Teeswater and Point Clark, died April 11, 2023, in Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia. He was 91. Dear husband of Carolyn Elizabeth (Muir) for 64 years. Loving father of Suzanne, Robert, and David; and grandfather of Connor and Aidan, Sophie and Nathan, Melanie, Jasmine and Megane. Also survived by his three siblings, Lottie Gehrig (Heinz deceased), Jack (Janet deceased), and Marc (Ursi), all of Switzerland. Predeceased by his parents, Robert and Charlotte Helfenstein. Born July 17, 1931, in Carshalton, England, Harry liked to look back at his youth and the war years, when he and his family lived in a small village north of London called Much Hadham, in Morris Cottage, known for its history going back to the 1600s. It was there as a boy he enjoyed working on local farms. He declared to his dad, a businessman, that he wanted to own a farm one day and his father suggested he might be wise to spend a while on Swiss mountain farms to test his endurance first. His Swiss grandmother was horrified that her grandson would want to farm, but the mountain experience proved his stamina and despite the fact he had discovered how rugged farm life could be, he was determined to proceed. Fortunately, on his return to England, he was accepted into a demanding program at Merrist Wood College in agriculture and horticulture near Guildford, England. However, that was preceded, unfortunately, by a close call with a scythe that required extensive hand surgery performed by a refugee surgeon from war-torn Europe. Regardless, Harry aced the programs at college, graduated topnotch in the program and was ready to farm. His destiny lay ahead. He eventually boarded an ocean liner bound for Canada and celebrated his 21st birthday in style at sea during the crossing, landing in a port along the St. Lawrence River at Quebec City. There, he learned the Canadian government would be taking all his belongings except the clothes on his back; it was 1952, ‘foot, and mouth disease’ was causing worldwide fears. This ruling they explained to anyone aboard the ship who had visited or lived on a farm that year; and Harry was one. Harry was allowed to travel on by train as far as Toronto while his clothes were being fumigated. The clothes arrived a week later and his Canadian adventure was about to begin. He never forgot his early years in Canada: wooden seats he sat on to get to Saskatchewan, raking fields of grain that went on forever, riding a horse with a cowboy saddle to round up cattle, and meeting Canadian girls, but only one with red hair became his choice! And just when they had enough money for a down-payment on a farm, his dad presented them with two passages on a freighter boat. His bride, Carolyn, spoke only English; the crew spoke only German. But with only 12 passengers, they ate and drank with the captain, first-class, every night. The Helfenstein seniors were waiting at their home on Lake Zurich, arms out to greet Harry’s wife. They accepted the funny Newfoundland girl with no proper dinner habits. Back in Canada, they faced an old barn and a musty house, And mice. Fortunately, it came with running water, and a toilet. Carolyn loved dogs and horses, but Holstein cows were new to her. One night. Harry turned to his wife of three years and told her she had beautiful, big, brown, cow-like eyes. She hit him! Nine months later, they rushed to the hospital, a baby was coming. Instead, they came home with twins. Harry knew then that theirs would be an exciting marriage, never constant, always an adventure. As a family, they enjoyed the togetherness of growing up and working on what became a very successful dairy farm, fondly called Belle Farm. Eventually, their three children chose their own careers. Suzanne, a physiotherapist; and her two brothers, both professional pilots, one military, one commercial. Now parents, all three continue to share their farm memories through the tales they tell their own children. Harry and Carolyn had learned to say, whenever an opportunity came along, “Why not?” Later, when buying a local newspaper after selling the farm, they shocked most of their friends and his parents too. As together they learned the new skills, soon the “Teeswater News” began winning prizes across Ontario and Harry’s special edition won first prize in Canada. As Carolyn’s editorials were acceptable, Harry’s had followers that loved his weekly ideas. Together, they covered some earth-shattering news: the death of an infant child left in January snow to die, and a young woman’s disappearance (which is still a mystery today), and 40,000 disheartened farmers from across Canada marching upon government officials in Ottawa. However, it was the exceptionally long hours 10 years later, and changing times, that resulted in a decision to close the paper. Having designed a dream log home near Lake Huron’s shores, they realized that turning their new home into a bed-and-breakfast would be Harry’s legacy, as he had often visited his grandmother’s Swiss hotel as a young man. Carolyn learned to step back and admire how their guests enjoyed watching her 80-year-old husband present them with his unique Swiss muesli, followed by a fry-up of eggs and bacon, his homemade bread and strong coffee. Harry finally shared the stories of the war years when they moved to Nova Scotia, the 62nd year of their marriage. The screen was pulled back and like soldiers sharing a past, Carolyn was able to see her husband over those years when he was just a boy and then a teen with a dream. Then, with word of his cancer diagnosis, the family rallied and made regular visits. Over dinner, they shared so many good memories. Carolyn and Harry appreciated the kindness of their new friends in Nova Scotia and the support from Dwayne and Patti during his final months. Harry had come to feel so much at home in Nova Scotia. Carolyn, too, appreciated the kind words and the concern that perfect strangers showed, names unknown, offering help when help was needed. Again, and again Harry’s family spoke of the endless kindness of the doctors, nurses and pharmacists who treated him like a favourite uncle. He loved it! As per Harry’s request, cremation has taken place. There is a gathering in Nova Scotia, May 13, and a time to share memories in Ontario later this month. In his will, he wrote, Friends, at the next party, lift a drink (of wine, preferably) as you think of me, and add "Cheers to Harry." Memorial donations to cancer research would be appreciated by the family.