New Brunswick

Remembering Jon Oliver: A quilt that knits people closer together

Inspired by what she calls a "huge collection of shirts," a Fredericton fabric artist decided to pay tribute to Jon Oliver, a well-known character in the city, by making a quilt — one that would eventually be given to his grandson. 

Jon Oliver of Fredericton was an architect, humanitarian and the 2011 recipient of the YMCA's Peace Medal

A quilt made from Jon Oliver's shirts was presented to his family seven years after his death. (Submitted by Janet Crawford)

Inspired by what she calls a "huge collection of shirts," a Fredericton fabric artist decided to pay tribute to Jon Oliver, a well-known character in the city, by making a quilt that would eventually become a gift to his grandson. 

Oliver was an architect, civil libertarian and activist. In 2011, he received the YMCA Peace Medal just two months before his death. He died on Jan. 8, 2012, from multiple myeloma when he was 73.

Bronwen Cunningham, a quilter and friend, said Oliver told her he was worried that his young grandson, Kiran, wouldn't remember him.

So Cunningham asked if she could use his shirts to make a quilt that could be given to his grandson. 

Oliver, an architect, civil libertarian and activist, died in 2012 from multiple myeloma. (In Memoriam)

"He offered me the pick of his shirts and I showed him some of the quilt blocks when I started doing it when he was in the hospital," Cunningham said. "So he got to see how the quilt was shaping up before he died."

Cunningham was one of about 25 artists who worked on the quilt. They used about 20 shirts for the king-size quilt, which is mostly orange, Oliver's favourite colour. 

"It's particularly nice to be able to make things for other people so that they get some use and enjoyment out of them," Cunningham said, who started the quilt seven years ago. 

Cunningham said she wanted to make sure she kept her promise to Oliver. 

About 25 quilters, including Sheila Cameron, Charlene Coburn, Bronwen Cunningham and Sabine Campbell, worked on the quilt made from Jon Oliver's shirts over six years. (Submitted by Janet Crawford)

"He was somebody that I had a lot of respect and affection for," she said. "And his grandson was so young and he was so attached to him, it was nice to be able to make that gesture and hope to make that connection."

The quilt pattern displays houses and people, as a way to represent Oliver, Cunningham said. 

"He was a person who believed in building community … he always had a house full of people," she said.

Oliver would host spaghetti suppers on Thursday evenings and invite people over for scones on Sunday mornings, which is exactly what his family and friends did when the quilt was presented to Kiran, who is now 13, on the weekend.

To know that a bunch of people came together to make this happen because they cared about my dad … it was,  it's really heartwarming.- Joe Oliver

Kiran's father, Joe Oliver, said he choked up when he saw the quilt for the first time because it reminded him of the relationship his son had with his father. 

"When we had my son, my father showed up almost every weekend to hang out with my son," Joe said. 

"And actually, in his passing, that was the biggest kick to the teeth, that he wouldn't be there for when my son started school, when my son graduated, all of those milestones with my son, because he really gave it all into being a granddad."

But Joe said that at least once a month, Kiran tells him he misses his grandfather. 

The quilt made from Jon Oliver's shirts was given to his grandson Kiran on Sunday. (Submitted by Joe Oliver)

"They were really close and then to have this and to see the way my son is reacting to it, because he's quite touched by it, it really impressed me yesterday," Joe said.

After seeing the quilt, Joe thought about finding a way to display it, but some of the quilters told him that "the greatest reward for somebody that's made a quilt is to see it in tatters."

So he decided the quilt belongs on Kiran's bed. 

"He needs to use it to sleep," Joe said. "And I think that's his plan for it too."

Sabine Campbell, left, and Janet Crawford worked on the quilt, with about 23 other quilters, over six years. (Submitted by Janet Crawford)

Joe said he's thankful for the people who worked on the quilt in memory of his father. 

"It is such a beautiful blanket," Joe said. "And to know that a bunch of people came together to make this happen because they cared about my dad … it's really heartwarming." 

And Cunningham said she's happy the quilt is finally where it belongs.

"When somebody who's important in people's lives passes, it's very nice for them to be able to come together and do something like make a quilt," she said. 

"It's a nice way to remember somebody and to also knit people closer together and make new friendships."

About the Author

Cassidy Chisholm is a reporter at CBC New Brunswick. Have a story tip? Email her at cassidy.chisholm@cbc.ca.

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