A man of many nicknames

Mervyn Sheppard grew up on a farm in North Gower, where he liked to play baseball with his childhood friends, including Lorne Kelly.  When Mervyn’s older brother Gordon signed up to join the military as soon as he graduated from high school, Merv felt tremendous pressure to stay on the farm and make his contribution to the war effort that way.

Meanwhile, another North Gower family by the name of Jago had a daughter named Helen.  Merv describes her as a very talented, beautiful girl, and I guess the writing was on the wall.  Her father had supervised the building of Highway 16 – quite a responsible position and had held a high rank in the military during WWII.  Merv knew in his heart that before he could ask Helen to marry him he would have to be earning a good living or Mr. Jago would not approve.  So Merv contacted a friend of his who was working for Canada Packers at the Maple Leaf Foods plant in Hull.  This life-long friend set up a meeting with the company manager.

The interview lasted more than an hour and Mr. Malaney told Merv that he didn’t get to meet too many young men like him, although Merv knew that there were many young men working in the plant.  As the interview was ending, Mr. Malaney asked Merv when he could start work.  Merv told him that it was up to him and so Mr. Malaney said he would see him on Monday morning.  Merv worked in all parts of the business from buying meat, to processing and packing, to sales.  Even though temptations of higher paying or more senior positions in other cities were offered to Merv, he stayed at the Hull plant for 40 years because Helen had a job that she loved at the National Research Council.

With a secure job, they were married.  Helen always addressed him using the affectionate nickname of Vyny or Vyn.  They rented for a while, but soon bought a piece of property which was part of the McKellar Golf Course.  Once it became known in the area that the Sheppards were setting up their home there, they received a visit from Ken Cowan, the Rector of St. Martin’s.  “Would Shepp like to join the building Committee for the new church?”

Shepp had known Ken from the AYPA (for those too young to know, this was the Anglican Young People’s Association) and readily agreed to join in.  Merv revealed to me that Ken was known as The Builder since he had already been involved in several church building projects.  Merv remembers the first meeting of this committee, “lots of people from the village were taking part”.  He also remembers the big gathering for the laying of the cornerstone.

As we chatted Merv confessed that many people in different parts of his life didn’t really like the name Mervyn – thus they coined Vyny, Shepp, Merv, but the topper was the name given to him by his sister Avis who was eleven years younger.  Merv reminisced that she was not in school at the time and would be with him and his father as they worked around the farm.  She took to calling him Joe – a nickname that she and her son continue to use.  Merv has no idea why except that she liked the name Joe and not the name Mervyn.  Of course he is Dad to his children and Grandpa to his two grandchildren.

Marilyn Collins