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Celebrating legendary community volunteer and advocate Joyce Hill

This edition of Journeys takes a look at the life well lived of Rockwood volunteer and community activist Joyce Hill
Bill and Joyce Hill.

She was feisty and fearless, and just like her red hair, Joyce Hill had a personality full of colour and courage.  

On January 28, Hill passed away at her farm, just outside Rockwood, surrounded by family. She was 86.

“Joyce and her husband Bill owned, managed, and loved a beautiful heritage farm just outside Rockwood for 53 years, and were keen to share its place in Eramosa’s history,” said Hill’s close friend, Linda Sword, also from Rockwood.

“Joyce and Bill, who was a mining engineer, were crucial players in the effort to stop the hidden quarry, proposed to be blasted on their heritage 6th Line Eramosa, and that job filled the last decade of their lives.”

It was a seven-year battle to stop the hidden quarry. Sword says a passion for the cause was an understatement for Hill.

“I got to know Joyce and her husband because of the quarry fight. I was in her kitchen for that very first meeting. It was a packed house,” Sword said. 

“I still remember this little woman, with her fist up in the air, saying this will not happen, and asking “do we want to stop this quarry or not? She was our champion and always was."

About 35 people attended that first meeting and the Concerned Residents’ Coalition (CRC) was formed.

Susan Johnson says Hill was a lifelong volunteer, the kind of person every community should have, because from day one, she wanted to help people.

“I first met Joyce a very long time ago at church but more so later at the CRC fight against the gravel pit. That’s when I really got to know her,” Johnson said.

“The generosity, it was so true. You could not leave her home without having a cup of tea and some cookies or cakes that she had just made. It was amazing how she made you feel.”

An avid gardener, Hill organized a garage sale, adding a large number of plants from her own garden in support of the CRC.

“She became a master gardener. Many community gatherings featured a sale of plants she had nurtured, from the annual Christmas Craft Sale at the Eden Mills Community Hall, to the many CRC fundraisers,” Johnson said.

A total of $750,000 was raised to fight the application.

“While the CRC lost the fight against hidden quarry, sufficient safeguards were put in place that the quarry is yet to go ahead,” Johnson said.

Hill also volunteered at St. John’s Church in Rockwood, where she was quickly made a warden.

When the church roof needed to be replaced in 1978, Hill convinced local artist Yosef Drenters to open the Rockwood Academy for a tour and a Strawberry Festival to raise the money required.

The Academy, later made famous as the location of the 1986 film Agnes of God, attracted hundreds of visitors.

Stephen Truchan of Elora, a family friend for over fifty years, and organist and choir master at Rockwood, arranged a concert by the boys’ choir from St. John’s Church in Elora.

“Eye-catching in their red cassocks and white neck ruffs, the choir paraded down the street to the Academy. Enough money was raised in the one day to cover the cost of re- roofing the local church,” Johnson said.

When the Elora Book Sale began thirty years ago, which last year raised $30,000 for the Elora Festival Singers, Hill was there to help sort books, arrange tables, and cash out customers.

Johnson says whenever Hill got involved in a project, she always jumped in early, and went the extra mile.

“For Remembrance Day in 2021, St. John’s Church in Elora famously displayed a cascade of knitted poppies over the front of the church, celebrating 100 years of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance.  Joyce had knitted at least 100 of them,” Johnson said.

Trained as a nurse at Wellesley Hospital School of Nursing, Hill began her career in Toronto. She loved working in the operating room at the Hospital for Sick Children and later in the emergency department of the Deep River and District Hospital.

She remained lifelong friends with a number of her classmates. After the untimely death of her first husband, John David Currie, one of her friends arranged a blind date with William Hill who became her second husband.

In 1976, the couple and their four children moved into the old Pasmore Farm, just outside of Rockwood, as a weekend getaway. It soon became their permanent home, and they spent the next 53 years restoring it.

Hill was a lifelong music lover. She had studied piano as a child, and continued playing as an adult, instilling a love of music in her children and grandchildren.

Nothing mattered more to Joyce and Bill than their family of four children and their spouses, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandson.

“Joyce also had great physical courage. While she rarely talked about it, she was diagnosed in 1986 with breast cancer, which had metastasized to her lungs. To many that would have been a death sentence, but Joyce fought through her chemotherapy treatment and continued her community work,” Johnson said.

The cancer returned in 2007, but Hill continued her volunteer work. It was only when her beloved husband Bill died in August of 2022, that she began to decline.

“It wasn’t the cancer that killed her,” says her daughter Mary. “She died of a broken heart.”

Johnson says Joyce Hill was a person of great insight, and a true problem solver, being able to complete the Globe and Mail cryptic crossword with ease.

And of course, Sword says, there was so much hospitality from both Joyce and Bill.

"They were great conversationalists. And Joyce, had a way of telling stories, it was mesmerizing. It was almost as though these stories were written in her mind. She had an amazing memory, full of so many stories," Sword said.

“And I can still see this picture of her standing on that hill at the farm, fighting the hidden quarry. And then Joyce and Bill would rush off and do good deeds across the county.”

According to friends, Hill’s volunteer work is legendary.

“She was always kind and generous,” Johnson said.

“If every community had a tireless volunteer like Joyce, the world would be a happier place.”