Filipino-Canadians in Focus: the Gayos and the McLarens

By , on September 2, 2014

The Gayos and the McLarens during Leanne's graduation. From left, Esmie, Daniel, Michael, Leanne, Rose and Ed.
The Gayos and the McLarens during Leanne’s graduation. From left, Esmie,
Daniel, Michael, Leanne, Rose and Ed.

Leanne Gayo McLaren’s voice—exquisite and divine—soared and lifted everyone’s spirits. For a moment there, it penetrated the fog of grief that hung heavily in the room.

It was grief, however, that refused to fester; because more than anything, the Gayo and McLaren families sought to find solace in their happy memories.

It was not a moment for goodbyes.

Esmie, the daughter, and Leanne, the granddaughter, knew Rosalina “Rose” Gayo, their mother-confidante-friend, would rather they revel in the promise of the future.

Spring, summer and autumn were her seasons; the garden, her domain.

This time, it will bloom as it has never bloomed before because it will speak of Rose’s moments, and her story.

And they will remember.

THROWBACK. Rose and Ed Gayo with their children, Esmie, Thelma, Myrna and Ross.
THROWBACK. Rose and Ed Gayo with their children, Esmie, Thelma, Myrna and
The beginning

Rose and her husband Segismundo “Ed” Gayo had to part—albeit, for a short while— when Ed decided to seek greener pastures for the family.

“After seeing job postings for teachers and other professionals in North America, my dad applied to a few places.  He was offered teaching positions in California, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.  Liking the Alberta job offer best, he set out to Fort Assiniboine, Alberta, in 1968,” Esmie said.

Their four children—Esmie, Thelma, Myrna and Ross—were left in the care of their mother and grandmother.

Two years after, they were able to join Ed.

Esmie was 12 years old at that time and she remembers their arrival vividly.

“ Fort Assiniboine was a small village when we arrived there, with only a corner store, a general store, a post office, a motel, and a pub,” she wistfully recalls.

Although Ed had employment, Rose stayed home with the kids.  After two years in the backcountry, she sought a job in Edmonton and was hired as a nursing aide.

It was tough times for the Gayos. Rose was in Edmonton; the rest of the family in Fort Assiniboine because Ed would lose his teaching status if he moved to the city. Even through “icy and blizzardy winters,” Ed and the children visited Rose every weekend and holidays.

Edmonton was over 100 miles away.

The family reunited in 1976.


“Mom and Dad enjoyed gardening and fishing together.  Mom also was a good seamstress and sewed a lot of our clothes when we were growing up, with a few treasured ones made for the grandchildren. They also both loved to cook,” Esmie recalls.

Leanne divulges, “I used to go to the basement to talk to Lolo and Lola about everything.  There was a guy that I really liked a lot and didn’t just want him to notice me, I wanted to impress him in a big way.  So I asked Lolo and Lola what a man looks for in a partner.  I love Lola’s answer because it is very dated but she was so excited to be asked for relationship advice and she made the best faces and gestures in explaining her response to me.  It was comical and very endearing.  She said ‘to impress him you have to take care of him.  Cook for him, clean for him, do the laundry and raise his children well.  You can already cook and clean so show him!’  Then Lolo chimed in with how impressed he was to see Lola so beautiful as she did her house chores.  I loved asking their advice.”

Esmie adds, “We both experienced challenges of balancing discipline with encouragement, protection without smothering, and giving unconditional love through all of life’s difficulties. Mom and I, in each generation, also saw that each child required a different approach and that encouraging them to do what they love kept them from finding other things to fill their time.  Both Mom and I were blessed with supportive husbands who are wonderful fathers.”

Leanne shares, “I like to think that I have turned out quite well,” she gives a toothy grin, “So I intend to use my upbringing as a model for my own children. Both Mom and Lola parent with heart.  As society and customs change with time, rules and norms of parenting also change.  If Mom wanted to do something when she was younger that Lola didn’t feel comfortable with, Lola just said no.  And because of the culture and the times, Lola says no, Mom says fine, and that’s the end.  When I wanted to do something that Mom wasn’t comfortable with, at first it was no, then as I got older it became “we really, really, really don’t think you should do that, but in the end you are an adult and it is your decision.” (as long as it wasn’t wildly dangerous).  I understand that parenting is a dynamic thing and that when I have children, it will be different again.  But as long as I can parent with the same love that Lola and Mom did, I think we’ll be just fine.”

Esmie and Leanne

Esmie is an exhibiting artist and is one of Vancouver’s premiere Filipino-Canadian painters. Her paintings are “anecdotes of life, infused with action and emotion.” Like her mother, she has a passion for gardening and imbues her paintings—usually of birds and flowers and dance—with vivid colours. It was her dad and grandfather, however, who taught her to develop her gift.

Esmie’s art education was mostly through self-directed studies through books and workshops.

In 2008, she received her Fine Arts Techniques Certificate from Emily Carr University.

Not many people know, however, that once in her life, Esmie considered the path of her mom.

“I worked as a volunteer in the extended care facility that my Mom worked at.  This is where I saw her in action.  Mom always went the extra mile to provide care for those who can’t do for themselves.  She always smiled and talked to the patients, and even if they were very heavy or very grumpy, she would always make sure that they got out of bed or that they got bathed properly.  She also believed that everyone deserves tender loving care, especially those who had no one visiting them.”

Her creative spirit won out in the end, however.  Her award-winning work is collected widely and is represented by Jeunesse Gallery of Fine Arts in Vancouver.

Leanne veered from the visual arts and the medical field and followed her dad’s footsteps into engineering.  She is now a Geotechnical Engineering graduate of the University of British Columbia and is working for BGC, one of the finest international consulting firms in applied sciences.  Energetic and effervescent, Leanne says she wants “ to work with integrity and passion” so she can help her company and community.

“I hope to have a family that I can surround with love every day and who will explore the world with me.  I hope to be healthy and to keep my family healthy and happy for as long as I live,” she says.

She also wants her life to be defined by music.

“I hope that music will always be a part of my life and that I will always have opportunities to sing.”

Three generations

“My mom and daughter are like me in caring for people and nurturing family relationships.  They are also like me in stubbornness and perseverance,” Esmie says.

A message from Esmie to Leanne:  “I want her to take good care of herself so that she can find that balance in work/play/family/community.  Like with most parents, the best thing that the children can do for us is to find joy and fulfillment in their lives.

“Marriage and family is not a ‘try then decide’ issue.  Be sure you’ve taken important things into account before you commit, then decide, then do everything in your power to nurture that decision.

Unexpected challenges will appear and need to be overcome, but so will appear unexpected joy.

“I wish for our children, Daniel and Leanne, spiritual peace, joy in their families, success in their careers, and generosity in spirit.  May they experience as much happiness as they have brought Michael and I.”

A message from Leanne to Esmie: “In terms of at this point in my life: I need my Mom to trust the choices I have made.  I am so grateful for her love and support, and I hope that she can continue to be proud of me as I start my new career and begin my life.”

While death may have put their happiness asunder, daughter and granddaughter chose, along with the rest of their family, to celebrate Rose Gayo’s life, and to remember, intensely, how she loved and lived.

“All three of us share a fierceness in our hearts.  A fire that has helped us to persevere through difficult times and to experience joy as thoroughly as pain and sadness and love.  Our fire exhibits itself in different ways.  Lola was quiet and gracious but determined with a strong belief in family values.  Mom uses her creativity and perseverance to help others and build bridges.  I hope to learn from both so that I can meld my own ambitions and interests with their grace, creativity, caring and love,” says Leanne.