Katherine Patricia Mary BARBER

8 September, 195924 April, 2021

Katherine Barber, aka Canada’s Word Lady, died on 24 April at Bridgepoint Healthcare Centre in Toronto. It was a beautiful spring day with flowers beginning to bloom - as appropriate for such an avid gardener. Katherine was diagnosed with a particularly virulent and rapid form of brain cancer that took her life a mere two weeks after its diagnosis. A woman of prodigious intellect and achievement, she was a true Renaissance woman, deeply knowledgeable and in love with the English language, ballet, flowers, baking, Gilbert & Sullivan, international travel, choral church music, and most of all, her cats. She was fluent in French and German and conversant in Italian. Her greatest achievement was being the inspiration and founding editor of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary - the first dictionary of its kind and a lasting contribution to the development of Canadian culture. She also wrote a couple of best-selling books on aspects of the English language and was well-known for her witty radio spots, lectures, and blogs about the history of the English language and the many unique aspects of Canadian English. Katherine loved ballet and danced with expression and enthusiasm in ballet classes all her adult life. Through this she made many lifelong friends. Subsequently, she founded Tours en l’Air, a company that provided guided tours for balletomanes to see performances by the world’s leading ballet companies in Europe and North America. Through her excellent networking she was able to arrange backstage visits with the dancers as well as tours to local museums and cultural sites. She also loved to sing and was a dedicated Alto in the St. Thomas’s Anglican choir. She cherished the opportunity to sing with her choir in Toronto as well as a visiting choir in Westminster Abbey, Salisbury Cathedral, and Canterbury Cathedral. Born in England, she moved to Canada at age eight and grew up in Winnipeg. Upon graduation from the University of Winnipeg she taught English for a year in Rouen, France then subsequently moved to Ottawa and Toronto to pursue her career in lexicography. She was predeceased by her father, Gordon, and mother, Patricia. Left to mourn are her sister, Martha (Bob), brothers Josh (Cheryl) and Peter (Sherry), nephews Daniel (Lindsay), Michael (Bronte), Stephen, Gabriel and Tristan (Carly), niece Beth (Jerren), and great-niece Molly. She was surrounded by a multitude of devoted friends. We cannot thank enough the many kindnesses showed to Katherine by her many friends and neighbours. Especial thanks, to her dear friends Katherine Karbownik and Peng Chiang for their endless support during the difficult last weeks, and to the medical teams at Mount Sinai Hospital and Bridgepoint Health Care. No Visitation will be possible in present circumstances but, pandemic permitting, the family hope to hold a Memorial Service on 8 September. Funeral service to be held at St. Thomas’s Anglican Church on 4 May at 11.00 am. In person attendance will be limited to immediate family members but the service will be livestreamed via FuneraWeb at an on-line memorial site is at Trull Funeral Home’s website. Burial to take place at a later date in Manitoba amidst her family forebears. Donations in her memory may be made to the National Ballet of Canada, St. Thomas’s Anglican Church in Toronto, or the Canadian Cancer Society.



Katherine Patricia Mary BARBER

have a memory or condolence to add?

Roger Clarke

11 May 2021

My wife and sister in law and I had great time several years ago when we went on one of Katherine's ballet tours. Subsequently, we enjoyed her Wordlady emails which were both arcane and educational, and certainly never dull. She was never dull, either. Her death was huge surprise.

Geoff Forguson

4 May 2021

Katherine made a difference to Canadian culture and will be remembered forever for her work on the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. I was proud to have worked with Katherine at Oxford Canada, and her commitment to this important project was unwavering. She will be missed.

Pauline Chan-Thimas

4 May 2021

My deepest condolences to the family of Katherine Barber. We have all lost such a gift to Canada’s arts community. It was wonderful to hear such beautiful live music at the funeral. She would have loved that. My last memory of Katherine was joking back and forth with her about the benefits of taking online ballet classes, even if you couldn’t understand the language of the instructor - provided he was sufficiently beautiful of foot and of face! She brought joy and laughter to so many of us. I will forever regret not going overseas on one of her fabulous Tours en L’air trips. I will miss you deeply my friend.

Paula McKay

4 May 2021

Katherine will be remembered for living her life to the fullest and sharing it with everyone.
Our deepest condolences to the family.
Paula McKay and family

Leah LeDrew

4 May 2021

I will miss your words.

Carol Lang

3 May 2021

RIP dear Katherine Barber . I personally watched your wonderful ballet trips grow on my three wonderful trips to Europe with you. Because of you, you and I were able to sneak off to Notre Dame Cathedral on Easter morning in Paris and got front row standing places as we celebrated Easter Mass, Bishop of Paris, Presiding.
Because of you, I got to watch in person, the Vienna Boys choir in Vienna.
Because of you, I visited places I may otherwise not visited. The beautiful city of Bruges, the Little Mermaid statue in Denmark, "the Castle" in Prague (which I'm sure Kafka had in mind when writing the novel of the same name.
Because of you, the St.Thomas's. Evensong Choir was made all the more beautiful.
I'm shocked, saddened and hurt by your passing.
My deepest sympathies to your family and other friends.
Too soon, too young.
I will miss you very, very much. Love Carol.

David Rettie

3 May 2021

I was a student of Katherine's in the translation program at the University of Ottawa in the early 90s. Her wisdom, wit, and wordsmithery were a joy and inspiration to so many students, and later to others through her media contributions, not to mention her beloved dictionary. I was truly saddened to learn of her most untimely death. Ave atque vale. David Rettie.

Helen Bagshaw

3 May 2021

I had the great pleasure of working with Katherine on her "Word Lady" column on Metro Morning in the 1990s. She had a great sense of humour and a true love of all the Canadianisms that she had tracked through her work on the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. She contributed so much through her volunteer activities as well: The National Ballet of Canada and choral singing. She had so many talents including fine needlework and owned the moniker "Lady" in so many ways. It is a sad loss to the country. My condolences to her loved ones.

Chuck Baker

2 May 2021

It is with great sadness that I learnt of Katherine’s untimely passing. I grew to know her through her CBC ‘Word Lady’ talks and a history of English course she gave at Glendon Campus of York U in Toronto. More recently I greatly enjoyed reading her blog on derivations of English words and expressions; the last posting arriving as recently as March 4/21.
Katherine possessed all the wonderful characteristics that people have written about in this space. And so many peoples’ lives were enriched by her. Thank you Katherine for a life well lived.
My condolences to her family and close friends.

Jody Gomber

1 May 2021

It breaks my heart that Katherine is gone from us. She was such a vibrant presence, from her entertaining and informative ballet lectures, to her delightful Wordlady blog, her incredibly well organized Tours-en-l'air ballet trips, and all the ballet newsletters she sent to be sure we didn't miss anything great. I have many memories of Katherine, but my favourite is the time she showed up wearing a tutu and tights to the Learning in Retirement class she gave at Carleton , and said, "You shoulda seen the looks I got on the bus!"