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The Morawetz Clan

Like many parents, Morawetz' father Richard worried every time his young children fought that they would grow up not being close to one another. In fact, he need not have worried, as the Morawetz relatives grew to be a large and extremely close-knit family. This closeness originated from Morawetz' maternal Glaser grandparents, who brought their family together (all of their seven children, their spouses and their children) for weekly Sunday dinners in their apartment in Prague. These weekly get-togethers produced a strong bond between Morawetz and his cousins, which was further reinforced by the time they all spent together in the summers in Světlá.

Nov. 17, 1925: Adolf Glaser's 70th birthday.

Top: Rudi Glaser, Herbert Bondy, Harry Glaser, Richard Morawetz, Paul Glaser, Mitzi Bondy, Oswald Stein, Jetti Stein, Alfred Glaser
Middle: Frida Morawetz, Eli Glaser, Herbert Morawetz, Adolf Glaser, Victor Glaser, Hedwig Glaser, Annemarie Bondy, Vilma Glaser, Hana Glaser, Walter Stein, Ina Glaser, Annie Glaser
Bottom: Sacha Glaser, Sonja Morawetz, John Morawetz, Tommy Glaser, Eva Stein, Renate Bondy, Peter Glaser, Herbert Glaser, Oskar Morawetz


When Morawetz and his siblings began having children (there are 14 grandchildren in all), there were more and more reasons for large family get-togethers: a milestone birthday, a wedding, an honorary degree bestowed upon a member of the family, even some distant relative visiting town was reason for a get-together.

Christmas continued to be celebrated in Canada just as in Europe. For many years, Richard and Frida invited all their relatives that lived in Toronto on December 24th to enjoy a Christmas feast, and presents were exchanged between members of the family. Frida continued these yearly celebrations until she was well into her 80s (Frida lived to be 103!). Their son John and his wife, Maureen, began their annual family and friends Christmas dinner on December 25th, which continued into the 1990s.

Apart from Christmas, there were always many reasons throughout the year for the family to join together. Although Morawetz' brother, Herbert, raised his family in New York, the 14 grandchildren grew up knowing each other as well as if they were all neighbours. This is mostly due to the many family reunions, but also in large part to the island in Muskoka, Belle Isle.

Belle Isle

In 1955, Morawetz' brother John and his cousin Eva and their families decided to rent a summer place together. The families found a property with two cottages at Fairmount in Muskoka and continued to rent it every summer. In 1960, another cottage on the property became available, and Morawetz' brother Herbert's family joined them. In the summer of 1964, the owner of Fairmount died, and so the Morawetz family decided they would look to see if they could buy a property of their own.

Belle Isle, on Lake Muskoka

They were told about Belle Isle, which was a 21 acre island with two very old cottages on it. However, everyone who knew the place discouraged the Morawetz family from buying the island. They said that the cottages were in terrible shape, and would need to be torn down, and something else would need to be built in its place. Furthermore, islands were not popular at the time: they were inaccessible in the winter, and damage caused by ice could run up huge repair bills. Nonetheless, the Morawetz family were not discouraged by these dire warnings.

Eva and her family were not interested in being a part of the island purchase. Morawetz declined to be part owner, his early marital difficulties partly dictating this would not be a wise move. However his sister Sonja and husband Ric Sinclair, who had recently moved back to Toronto, and his brother Herbert and wife Cathleen, who lived in New York, agreed to join in the venture with John and his wife Maureen. Thus in October of 1964 the island was purchased by the three families for the sum total of $21,000!

The joint ownership was another decision they were strongly advised against, as precedent had shown that such agreements often resulted in family relationships crumbling. However the Morawetz family stood the test of time, and the sharing of the one family island only served to bring the family closer together.

At the time, Richard Morawetz was very ill with cancer, and in fact died a year later. However, he was shown pictures of Belle Isle and was overjoyed that there would be a place for the family to unite in the summers, just as they had done years before in the summer castle in Světlá, and that the family ties would remain strong.

The "big house" on Belle Isle

Once again, going against the advice of other cottage owners, the Morawetz family decided not to tear down the two old houses on the island, but instead to invest in the repairs to make them once again habitable. And because three families had purchased the island with only two houses, they had a pre-fabricated chalet built, which was ready to be moved into for the 1965 summer season. It was agreed that since Herbert's family travelled all the way from the States, they would permanently occupy the "far house", which was the smaller of the two original houses on the island. The families of John and Sonja would share the "big house" and the small chalet, swapping mid-way through the summer, at the end of July. This swapping of houses was kept up until 1981, when John and Maureen, with their ever-growing family of five children and their spouses, and eventually 11 grandchildren, decided to find a larger place of their own, and to sell their portion of the island to the other two families.

A walking bridge was built to connect the little island, dubbed "Artist's Island" adjoining Belle Isle, which later became the destination for picnics, blueberry picking and a small beach. In 1966, a red-clay surface tennis court was built near the big house and the chalet.

Although Morawetz did not take part in the purchase of Belle Isle, he and his family were invited up to the island by one or the other of his three siblings so often that it felt as if it was his summer home also. Almost as many family gatherings took place on the island as in the city, and this is, in particular, how the grandchildren got to know each other so well. The island was a place for swimming, water-skiing, canoeing, sailing, tennis, and later wind-surfing, as well as a place for hikes around the island, the "Tarzan rope" where children could swing from a high rock letting go over the water, and discoveries of orchids as well as poison ivy.  Family traditions were initiated on the island such as throwing the birthday boy or girl in the lake, midnight skinny dips, the infamous guest books, inscribing poems and pictures on dried fungi, and games of "Oh Hell!"

Click here to view more pictures of Belle Isle


The Mikhail Barishnikov story

Barishnikov learns to water ski

Belle Isle also made its mark in history as one of the places that provided refuge for a brief time to the great Russian ballet dancer, Mikhail Barishnikov shortly after his defection to America.

In 1974, Morawetz' brother Herbert (who lives in New York) received a phone call from a man whose wife was the editor of Dance in America. He told Herbert, under oath of secrecy, that Barishnikov was performing in Toronto and planned to defect. However as there had just been an unfortunate case of a Russian sailor who had tried to defect in New York and who had been caught and forced to return to his ship, Barishnikov wanted to be sure that Canada would not allow something similar to happen to him. This man asked Herbert if he could use his family connections to find out what were the attitudes of the Canadian authorities.

Herbert called his sister Sonja, who through her earlier work with the government knew many people in Ottawa. She made some inquiries as to whether there would be any danger that Barishnikov might be extradited, to which she received assurances that this would not happen. The family then invited Barishnikov to come to Belle Isle.

After the ballet performance, Barishnikov signed a few autographs, and then suddenly turned to a waiting car. However, as it was by then too late to drive all the way to Belle Isle, Barishnikov spent the first two nights in a home outside Toronto.

He then came to Belle Isle and stayed the following two days in the big house. He came with two women, one of whom was his interpreter, the other his would-be lover. At the time, Belle Isle still had a party line between the three houses, and once when Herbert lifted the receiver to make a call, he heard the following exchange: "What is it like there?", to which Barishnikov replied: "The people are nice but it is very boring." No doubt he appreciated the efforts made and the hospitality of the Morawetz family, but much preferred the city life!

During his stay, Barishnikov learned to water ski and to play pool, and he racked up a $200. telephone bill! The bill was, however, repaid by the interpreter. Later, Herbert received an invitation to his first performance in New York. The performance was followed by a reception with all kinds of celebrities including Jacqueline Onassis and her children.


The Bumbrlíček Celebrations

Morawetz' mother, Frida was born on Friday, July 13, 1894. Contrary to her frequent pronouncements that she was born on an ill-fated Friday the 13th, she celebrated many happy birthdays until the age of 103. Her birthdays were a good pretext for the family to get together. These gatherings were not only elaborate and imaginative affairs, but they also functioned as another way to keep the ever-growing family in close contact.

The Bumbrlíček Tree

On her 80th birthday, a celebration was held for her on Belle Isle, and with great pomp and circumstance, she led a procession of all her relatives and friends down the stairs in front of the big house to the spot where the Bumbrlíček tree was planted in her honour. Bumbrlíček, pronounced Boom-brlee-chek, is an endearing name adopted for Frida. Her great-grandchildren, in order not to cause confusion with the name they used for their own grandparents, adopted the diminutive form "Boom-boom" for her, or "Babi" for short.


For her 85th birthday, her son Oskar made a special tribute to his mother and late father. In the late '70s, the Toronto Symphony decided that Massey Hall was an antiquated venue, and was raising money to build a new home for the orchestra. Fundraising for the new Roy Thomson Hall included a Seat Endowment Campaign. Morawetz "bought" two seats for the new symphony hall, which to this day have seat plaques which read:
Click here to read more about the Richard and Frida seat endowment.


Frida kicking off tennis tournament

Frida presenting tennis trophy to Morawetz

On July 13, 1980, a large celebration was planned for her on Belle Isle, where all the relatives were invited and her favourite rich, Czech desserts would be included on the menu. The celebration lasted all day, and started with the Bumbrlíček Tennis Tournament, which was dubbed the Boom-Boom Invitational.  Frida kicked-off the tournament with the first ball throw. Her granddaughter Helen's husband, Jamie, an avid tennis player, had organized the pairs match. With no exception, except for Frida herself, he ranked every birthday attendee's tennis ability, and then matched the top-most ranked with the bottom-most ranked, then the second-highest with the second-lowest ranked, and so forth until everyone had a partner. Some of the tennis matches were hilarious to watch, and at the end of the day, humorous trophies were presented, such as Most Balls Missed, or Most Ingenious Way to Return A Ball.

Frida and her family (Morawetz with son and daughter, front row, left), 1984.


When Frida turned 90, it was cause for a great celebration for reaching such an amazing age - who knew at that time that she would live to become a centenarian! The ballroom at the Granite Club was rented, and guests included friends and relatives, some of whom travelled from as far away as Australia, England, Germany and Austria for the occasion. The evening was meticulously orchestrated, from the menu and entertainment, to a program of events, photo displays and photographers. The entertainment was provided by members of the family, and songs and stories from Frida's early years were translated, and re-enacted by her descendants. Morawetz transcribed many of the popular tunes.

Oskar, Sonja, John, Herbert with mother Frida, 1984.

The celebration did not end with the evening festivities. The following day, the immediate Morawetz family had another get-together where a family photo of Frida and all her descendants was taken. Then this photograph, along with photographs from the previous evening were collated together into a souvenir booklet, and distributed to all those who had attended the birthday party.

Click here to view the invitation, program of events, songs, and photos from Frida's 90th birthday celebration.



At the age of 100, Frida's immediate descendants and spouses were invited to celebrate her becoming a centenarian. Congratulation letters were received from the prime minister, the premier of Ontario, President Havel of Czechoslovakia and the Queen. Although Frida was by this time in a wheelchair and her hearing was failing, she was in otherwise good health and enjoyed the celebration.

For the occasion, a potluck supper was provided by the grandchildren. One hundred small cookies were baked, each one depicting a different part of her life. The traditional Morawetz family walnut cake was also prepared, surrounded by one hundred candles.

The Morawetz Clan: July 13, 1994
On the occasion of the 100th birthday of Frida Morawetz

Back row: Helen Sinclair, Michael Sinclair, Virginia Coatsworth, Claudia Morawetz, Kevin Tate, Leslie Sinclair, Tony Sinclair, Lida Jeck, Manny Vargas, Pegeen Rubinstein, Nancy Morawetz, John Morawetz, Ted Moriarty, Kathryn Morawetz, Justin Morawetz, Sonja Morawetz, Steve Blevins, Peter Morawetz
Middle row: Jamie Coatsworth, Richard Sinclair, Oskar Morawetz, Sonja Sinclair, Frida Morawetz, Herbert Morawetz, Cathleen Morawetz, John Morawetz, Maureen Morawetz, Sylvia Henderson, Michelle Morawetz
Seated in front: Jonathan Henderson, William Jeck, Matthew Rubinstein, Eric Rubinstein, Ben Sinclair, Laura Sinclair, Daniel Jeck, Christian Henderson, Kathryn Coatsworth, Zoe Morawetz, David Morawetz, Signy Coatsworth, Jennifer Henderson, Anna Coatsworth, Mark Coatsworth


Even in death, Frida was a cause for the gathering of the family. On August 30, 1997 at the age of 103, she passed away peacefully. A few weeks later, on September 13th, family gathered once again to participate in In Celebration of the Life of Frida Morawetz. Words of remembrance were spoken by various members of the family, and Morawetz and his daughter, Claudia, provided the musical interludes of well-known Czech songs. The eulogy was delivered by Frida's son, John.

Click here to view the program from the memorial service.

Click here to read a Globe and Mail article written by Frida's daughter, Sonja, in her memory.


In Celebration of Richard Morawetz' 100th

In 1981, if Morawetz' father had still been alive, he would have been 100 years old. However the fact that he had been dead for 16 years did not deter the Morawetz family from having another cause for celebration. The Richard Morawetz Centennial Celebration was held in the home of his widow, Frida, and the grandchildren were divided into two groups, one half to supply the meal, and the other to supply entertainment.

Click here to read more about the Richard Morawetz Centennial Celebration.


The Family Enquirer

Shortly after the Richard Morawetz Centennial Celebration, a new publication was created entitled The Family Enquirer. Its publisher was at first a mystery, but soon discovered to be the concoction of the Coatsworth connection in the family (two of Morawetz' nieces married two Coatsworth brothers). It was delivered to all members of the family and is basically a humorous family gossip newsletter. The publications came out sporadically for about 10 years before ceasing altogether. Here are some samples:

May 1981 issue:
December 1981 issue:
1982 issue:
1988 issue:

The Family Toast

All Morawetz Clan reunions are designed to celebrate some occasion. Usually at some point in the merriment, a toast is made. This is followed by the guests all standing and singing, glasses in hand, a Serbian toast that was adopted by the Czechs. This toast has become another Morawetz family tradition. The music and words are below:


Serbian words of toast:

Živijó, živijó, živijó, živijó!
Mnoga leta, mnoga leta, mnoga leta živijó
Mnoga leta, mnoga leta, mnoga leta
Živijó, živijó, živijó, živijó!


Živijó = May you live

mnoga leta = many years