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Celebrating 100 Glorious Years!

“One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn't as individuals.” – Jean Vanier

Celebrating 100 Glorious Years!

By Susanna Biro

For our Windsor Park neighbours who may not have heard, I’m delighted to let you know that we have a
freshly minted centenarian in our midst! My mother, Melanie Biro, celebrates her 100 th birthday this year; in
honour of the occasion, I’d like to share a few words about a truly remarkable lady and her memories of early
WP and Edmonton history.

Melanie was born in Slovakia in January 1924. Her parents, Joseph and Anna Rosenberger were both
adventurous and brave; they decided to emigrate to Canada during Europe’s uncertain times following the
devastation of the First World War. After crossing the Atlantic on the HMS Montrose, the family arrived in
Halifax in 1929. My grandmother, having withstood the lengthy train journey westward, declared that she was
not going a step further when they arrived at Edmonton’s main station. (It’s noteworthy that my mother and
grandmother crossed the ocean by ship on two more occasions: they sailed on the Empress of Ireland from
Quebec City to Liverpool in 1948, and returned on the Queen Mary from Cherbourg to New York City in 1949.
All of Melanie’s subsequent trips to Europe were, thankfully, by plane.)

The family initially lived in Edmonton’s core on 92 Street; Melanie attended Sacred Heart and Norwood
Schools, followed by high school at Victoria Composite. She studied at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of
Education to earn her teaching degree. Her fond memories of those years include the Tuck Shop (and its
infamous cinnamon buns), singing in the U of A Mixed Chorus (whose rehearsals were held in a zoology lab),
volunteering with the Studio Theatre’s set design crew, and withstanding the harrowing daily commute to
classes. The streetcar ran south from downtown and back north using the western and eastern outside rails
atop the High Level Bridge; the third set of rails in the centre were sized only for CN and CP trains. Melanie
recalls the terrifying sheer drop to the river below, as seen through the streetcar’s windows!

At the start of Melanie’s university studies, Windsor Park was largely an undeveloped natural area. She recalls
just two houses that were located approximately on today’s 116 Street; the remaining area was forested.
Following her graduation in 1949, Melanie taught in rural Alberta communities (Eckville for 1 year, then
Lacombe for 3 years) before returning to the city to teach high school for over 30 years (at Old Scona, Bonnie
Doon, Vic Comp, and McNally). Her majors were French and Visual Arts: she also taught English and Social
Studies (as well as Law for one memorable semester!).

Following the Second World War, my grandparents heard that lots were soon to be available for purchase in a
new neighbourhood: Windsor Park. The rumour mill of the day had it that the university was offered the entire
parcel of land for a half million dollars. Clearly, the university opted not to purchase, so the parcel was
subdivided and offered to the public. In 1949, my grandparents purchased one of the remaining lots for $800.
Fekete Construction poured the foundation, framed the house, and installed plumbing and electricals; my
grandfather then completed the insulation and stucco on the exterior and customized the interior by handling
the woodworking, cabinet-making, carpeting, plastering, painting, and stone masonry. My grandmother was
responsible for the landscaping and gardening, as well as designing and sewing soft furnishings for the rooms.
When the house was finished in 1950, the family became Windsor Park residents.

Melanie married my father, Dr. Béla Biro, at Garneau United Church in 1956. They had two daughters (yours
truly and my sister, Ilona). Up to the later 1960s, our home included three generations of family, until my
grandfather purchased a retirement property west of Edmonton. Melanie kept the home fires burning, as the
saying goes, and created a warm and happy environment for us all.

In addition to her busy teaching schedule, Melanie was a long-time member of the Edmonton Potters Guild
(her work and that of her colleagues decorates our home to this day) and the Orchid Society of Edmonton. She
also volunteered extensively with the Hungarian Cultural Society of Edmonton (where my father served for
decades in a number of board positions) and in our city’s small Slovak community at festivals and other events.
Since her retirement from teaching, Melanie has continued to be active and involved:

 She has travelled across Canada, visiting every region except PEI and the northern territories.
Memorably, she and my father led a class of 20-plus students on a trip to Montreal for Expo ’67.
 With the ElderHostel program, she travelled to eastern Canada, Portugal, and Morocco.
 With family, she has visited countries throughout Europe; much of Mexico; and many parts of the U.S.
(including the entire western half plus Alaska and Hawai’i, and New York state and Vermont in the
 She taught conversational French as a volunteer for 4 years with SAGE, meeting many seniors and
improving their skills en Francais.
 She was a proud member of Edmonton’s Raging Grannies, performing with the group for over a
 She was a member of La Petite Cercle Francaise for 30-plus years, enjoying monthly meetings filled
with French conversation and guest speakers.
 She travelled to Toronto frequently to spend time with Ilona and her partner Oscar, and with two
beloved grandchildren: Max and Maya.
 Following the fall of the Iron Curtain in eastern Europe, she volunteered as an ESL teacher in Slovakia,
and assisted her niece’s establishment of a permanent language school there.
 She enjoyed her many years of membership with the Strathcona Place weaving club, producing
gorgeous runners, pillow covers, blankets, and throws.
 And she annually displayed her prowess as an expert jam maker, ensuring the robust harvest from the
back yard was fully utilized (and passing on these skills to me, thank goodness!)

Over the years, Melanie has pursued diverse hobbies, including wood turning, furniture making, silversmithing,
embroidery, sewing sweatshirts, solving Suduko puzzles, reading mysteries, gardening, and oil and
watercolour painting. Her zest for life and her curiosity are ever-present: I’m fascinated every day by a
memory she shares, a bit of wisdom she has found online, or an article she has devoured. With her trusty iPad,
she stays in touch with dozens of family members in Europe, maintaining her Slovak language skills. She
regularly trounces her daughters at Yahtzee and Wordle, and chats weekly with a host of friends, old and new.
I’m thrilled to share my family’s celebration of this milestone with our community: Melanie is truly a wonder and
our source of family lore, sage advice, and enduring wisdom.
Happy birthday, dear Mom!