A Life's Story
April 23, 2022
From wood to written word, a life well-built
David Square, 71, was ‘so creative and so capable’
By: Jen Zoratti
David Square’s life was an adventure. Never conventional, never boring.
A Renaissance man, Square was many things: novelist, journalist, artist, builder, carpenter, designer, silversmith, small-engine mechanic. He threw himself into every role, especially those of husband, father and friend.
Square died of cancer Aug. 26, 2021, at 71. By his side was his wife of 50 years, Penny Jones Square.
Her husband was talented, kind, thoughtful, funny and "a real thinker," Penny says. "He cared a lot."
The pair met as teenagers at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg.
"What drew me to him was his goofiness. He was very light and filled with mirth, and I was pretty serious," Penny says. "I was attracted to that."
They dated for five years before getting married in 1971. The early days of their relationship were tumultuous, the way young love often is, but they kept finding their way back to each other.
"Whenever we were apart, then I knew we couldn’t be," Penny says. "It was one of those relationships."
They built a life together, literally and figuratively. In the early 1970s, after Square earned his bachelor of arts in English literature from the University of Manitoba, the couple took on the herculean task of building a log home in the woods near Tyndall.
The learning curve was steep for a young couple in an era before YouTube tutorials.
"I found (the process) to be miraculous, wonderful, beautiful in each and every way — him, not so much," Penny says with a laugh. "It was everything I ever wanted all my life. And he was a believer in that back-to-the-land movement, too. He wanted to not be burdened with a mortgage."
It took the first year to clear the site and get the concrete foundation piles poured. The next year, they spent cutting and peeling all of the logs — "Well, we thought all the logs," Penny says.
"My dad looked at where we had them stacked and he said, ‘You don’t have enough logs.’ It turned out that we only had enough to do the first four rounds."
Eventually, though, their home would not only be completed but go on to be photographed for all manner of magazine features. Square built all the interior cabinetry, as well as put in the wiring and plumbing. The spiralling cedar staircase was one of many artistic flourishes he added.
The couple raised chickens, split firewood, and grew a massive garden — a self-sustaining lifestyle that allowed them to pursue their art. From 1978 to 1995, they made one-of-a-kind furniture, which was exhibited across North America and resides in collections all over the world.
In 1984, Square was commissioned by the government of Manitoba to design and make a presentation case for the gold medallion given to the Queen during a royal visit. In 1989, a sculptural container he designed and made was presented to Russian human rights activists and Nobel Peace Prize winners Andrei Sakharov and Yelena Bonner.
A daughter, Bryn, was born in 1986.
"That was a miracle," Penny says. "Totally unexpected. We just assumed we couldn’t have kids, so it was pretty amazing. I was 37, so most of my friends’ kids were in university. She’s been the biggest blessing in our lives, for sure."
Square relished fatherhood.
"They’re so, so tight. He loved her to death, and she loves him," Penny says. "That lightness that attracted me to him, he lost that a little over time. Struggling with our career, having to give that up. He had some issues, and he never lost it with Bryn.
"They could joke and laugh and banter. It was really fun to see that."
Bryn has her father’s smile. She recalls him teaching her how to ride a two-wheeler, and eventually, to drive a car. He was her shoulder and sounding board.
"He was just always goofy and lighthearted — but then super empathetic and grounded at the same time," Bryn says. "I just always remember him like big grin, and making jokes and just always making me laugh. But also, the love for me was so visibly unconditional. I could count on him for everything. And we talked about everything."
Square was a naturally curious person, which lent well to his career as a writer and journalist. He had regular bylines in many publications — including the Free Press, where he served as a reporter in the 1970s, and, in the 2010s, as a renovation columnist.
Square also published books, including the 2007 historical fiction novel When Falcons Fly: the Story of the World’s First Olympic Gold Hockey Team, which is under option for a film to be produced in partnership by Pegasus in Iceland and Buffalo Gal Pictures in Winnipeg.
"He was so brilliant," Bryn says. "He’s just such a beautiful writer."
Even after he got sick, Square felt more comfortable "doing" rather than simply "being."
"He wasn’t good at slowing down," Penny says. "He was still doing renovations for friends. He couldn’t stop working. He could do everything."
But Square could be hard on himself, too; the self-doubt could creep in, and he set the personal bar sky high.
"He was so creative and so capable," Penny says. "And I really hope that he really knew that about himself. He was not the most confident person for all of that, which is always so mystifying."
Their daughter agrees.
"He was really self-conscious in many ways and shy, but no one would know it," she says. "He was just so charming, and everyone loved him, all the women loved him — I think every one of mum’s friends and my friends had a crush on him. He was so humble and modest while having such genius and talent. I always found that amazing, too, that someone with such palpable talent and genius could feel the things that he felt."
Before he died last summer, Square finished one last building project: a tree house for Penny.
"It’s something I’ve been yammering on about forever," she says. "We found a ladder that we had used for some structure for Bryn. I just leaned it against a tree and said, ‘See, look how great it would be.’
"So, he helped, but I don’t think he loved it the way I did."
Maybe not, but it’s obvious he loved her.
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