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Date of Passing: Apr 24, 2021

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1959 – 2021

Katherine Barber, aka Canada's Word Lady, died on April 24, 2021, at Bridgepoint Healthcare Centre in Toronto. It was a beautiful spring day with flowers beginning to bloom - as appropriate to such an avid gardener. Katherine was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer that took her life a mere two weeks after its diagnosis.
A woman of prodigious intellect and achievement, she was a true Renaissance woman, deeply knowledgeable and in love with the English language, ballet, flowers, baking, Gilbert & Sullivan, international travel, choral church music, and most of all, her cats. She was fluent in French and German and conversant in Italian. Her greatest achievement was being the inspiration and founding editor of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary - the first dictionary of its kind and a lasting contribution to the development of Canadian culture. She also wrote a couple of best-selling books on aspects of the English language and was well-known for her witty radio spots, lectures, and blogs about the history of the English language and the many unique aspects of Canadian English.
Subsequently, she founded Tours en l'Air, a company that provided guided tours for balletomanes to see performances by the world's leading ballet companies in Europe and North America. Through her excellent networking she was able to arrange backstage visits with the dancers as well as tours to local museums and cultural sites.
Katherine loved to sing and was a dedicated member of the St. Thomas's Anglican choir. She cherished the opportunity to sing with her choir in Toronto as well as a visiting choir in Westminster Abbey, Salisbury Cathedral and Canterbury Cathedral.
Born in England, she moved to Canada at age eight and grew up in Winnipeg. Upon graduation from the University of Winnipeg she taught English for a year in Rouen, France then subsequently moved to Ottawa and Toronto to pursue her career in lexicography.
She was predeceased by her father, Gordon, and mother, Patricia. Left to mourn are her sister, Martha (Bob), brothers, Josh (Cheryl) and Peter (Sherry), nephews, Daniel (Lindsay), Michael (Bronte), Stephen, Gabriel and Tristan (Carly), niece Beth (Jerren), and great-niece Molly. She was surrounded by a multitude of devoted friends.
Funeral service will be held in Toronto on May 4, at 10.00 a.m. (Winnipeg time). It will be livestreamed at Burial at a future date in Hartney, MB amid her Barber forebears.
A memorial page is at Trull Funeral Home.
Those who wish may make a donation in her memory to Royal Winnipeg Ballet or to the Patricia Barber Scholarship Fund at West Kildonan Collegiate, through the Seven Oaks Education Foundation accessed via

As published in Winnipeg Free Press on May 01, 2021

Condolences & Memories (7 entries)

  • I am so sorry to hear of Kate's untimely passing. She was a bright and lovely student. I'm so incredibly impressed with her success. As Canada's Word Lady, it was a joy to listen to her. She created an incredible life pursuing the things she loved. She will be remembered fondly. My condolences to Josh, Martha and my classmate, Peter and their families. - Posted by: Cheryl Gordon (School mate ) on: May 03, 2021

  • I am deeply sorry to hear of the untimely death of Kate. Her life certainly had been well-lived and of great worth to, her family, community and the world. When the Canadian dictionary came out, I was able to say, "I knew her when..." as we lived across the street on Southall Drive in Winnipeg for many years. Please accept my condolences. - Posted by: Ishbel Moore (Turnbull) (old neighbour) on: May 02, 2021

  • Condolences for the family. Went to Jr. High and High School with Katherine. She was the smart one. Yet soft and kind as well. Best wishes everyone. - Posted by: Dennis Yaeger (High school friend) on: May 01, 2021

  • Ms Barber was the unquestionable intellectual leader of our grade at EP, and later Weskay. Of all the people in that environment she unknowingly and modestly gave the rest of us a bar to strive toward. We could only measure our own abilities by how close we came. None surpassed. Hers was a career arc worth following, as a former classmate, and as a silent cheerleader. This news, so soon after Mrs. P Barber’s passing, is devastating. Condolences to her family, and her close friends. - Posted by: Raymond Torbiak (Friendly schoolhood riival) on: May 01, 2021

  • Dearest Martha, Josh & Peter & family, how my heart aches for you all. Such sad news to read of Kate’s sudden passing. She was a remarkable women who accomplished so much in her journey of life. I use to listen to her on CBC radio “The word Lady” as she shared her vast knowledge of the English language with much wit & humour. I fondly remember Kate pirouetting throughout her family home after ballet classes. Strength & Love to you all. Rest peacefully Dear Katherine 🙏🏼🕯💗 (Donna Strazewski friend of Peter Barber) - Posted by: Danuta Strebly (High school colleague ) on: May 01, 2021

  • So sorry to hear about Katherine's passing. I last saw Katherine at her book launch here in Winnipeg and purchased a few dictionaries for family members and my school. I'm not surprised by anything that is written about Katherine. She was brilliant, interesting and witty when I knew her in high school. Such a very tough year for all of you; losing your beloved mother (a fine and inspiring teacher) and then Katherine. My deepest condolences to all of you. Diana - Posted by: Diana Bradbury (Glass) (school friend) on: May 01, 2021

  • I was sad to hear of your mom's passing, but to read this morning of Katherine's passing, brought me to tears. There are no words. - Posted by: Erica Schultz (Friend ) on: May 01, 2021

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