Grace McVey Scarabelli

Grace Katherine Scarabelli, née McVey. 14 May 1923- 22 Nov 2022, 99+ years.
Grace lived her life as an exciting adventure, with the world to explore, new people to befriend, languages to learn, dinners to create, causes to take on, and many wrongs to right. She was a wonderful mother and matriarch to her large extended family, a social activist, a business woman, a renowned cook and entertainer, and an all-round bonne vivante!
She almost made it to 100, which was her goal, and as determined as she was, probably annoys her still.

The eldest of 10 children and a fourth generation Canadian, Grace was born in Marvelville, a farming community in South Eastern Ontario, to J.B. McVey, a farmer and businessman, and Anne King, a school teacher. Grace spent much of her early years entertaining her younger siblings with made up stories and her own daring exploits. She was known to be impetuous and a bit of a daredevil, and was nicknamed Peter by a cousin, a United Church minister, after the saint known for his impulsiveness. The nickname stuck, and all her family would call her Pete (or Aunt Pete) from then on.

As an adventurous 14-year old, her irrepressible spirit and open mind took her from the family farm to Brampton, Ontario, where she spent her teen age years and graduated high school.  She joined the army in 1942, at 19. and moved to Kingston, Ont., studying at the Royal Military College as one of the first women accepted into the officer training program. As a CWAC (Can. Women’s Army Corps) with the second highest IQ test recorded (though she’d be embarrassed hearing us brag about it), she served in the Canadian Army Intelligence Corps.
After the war she moved to Montreal where she earned her commission as a second lieutenant. She loved Montreal with all its exciting, multicultural life and there met her future husband, Rudy J Scarabelli, a civil engineer (1923 –2015), and raised her two children, Michele and Carlo.
In 1958, Grace and her young children moved to Venezuela to join her husband, arriving in the middle of that country’s revolution, machine gun fire a common occurrence. She made the most of living in the oil camp of Maracaibo, learning the language and culture and befriending all kinds of interesting people, and generally challenging the status quo.

Back in Montreal in the 1960’s, she insisted her children attend French schools, much to the consternation of some of her more conventional friends and family…and she learned French right along with them. She also expanded her cooking repertoire, and became known for her fabulous dinner parties, under the tutelage of her father in law, Carlo Scarabelli, who had just retired as Exec. Chef at the Chateau Laurier.
As her children became more independent, she focused on her own education, studying at Dawson College, where she aced all of her essays on everything from Early Irish Renaissance Lit., to Sociology. Though now in her mid-40’s, her gregariousness won over her younger classmates and professors, no matter the age difference. She went on to graduate with distinction from Concordia University in Applied Social Science.

Throughout that period, Grace worked with women in need and co-founded the New Woman Centre/Centre de la Femme Nouvelle – the first federally funded women’s services center in Canada. As an activist, she fought to establish Chez Doris, Montreal’s first women’s shelter; and in 1977, after 2 years of lobbying various government bodies, she led the first group of Canadian civilians allowed into China to learn of that country’s family planning practices.
In the late 70s, Grace was accepted into McGill University’s Master of Social Work program, but decided to hang up her academic hat when her husband was offered another job in Venezuela. In Caracas, Grace worked privately as a counsellor, and, as a member of the NGO group Las Madrinas, raised funds to establish a school in the barrios (slums) of the city.

Returning to Canada in the 1980, she finally decided to put down her sword for social change, and became an award-winning real estate agent in Montreal and Ottawa, finding homes for many a fellow vet and her large extended family of siblings and nieces and nephews, who all knew to turn to “Aunt Pete” for advice and help. But trudging through the snow to stick a sign in the frozen ground finally lost its appeal, and it was time to head to a warmer climate. Upon moving to Victoria to “retire” in 1994, she became the president of the Newcomers Club of Greater Victoria, as well as an active member on the board of the Unitarian Church, throwing herself into fund raising activities with her usual enthusiasm, business savy and creativity.

In Grace’s eyes and heart, no one was a stranger…just an individual to befriend, and everyone she met invariably felt they were heard and appreciated. She had an incredible joy for life and fun, and a wonderful sense of humour till the very end. She encouraged, guided, and was our champion with tireless love and devotion…With all of her achievements, in the end she always said she loved being a mother first and foremost.

Grace died peacefully in Victoria, B.C., her children by her side. She is also survived by two siblings, Helen McVey and Barry McVey and by many loving nieces and nephews.

Her family would like to offer a special note of gratitude to all her caregivers and the wonderful staff at Highgate Lodge, where she lived happily for the last 6 years of her life; to Jonah Vijandre and her parents for their remarkable kindness and loving care; and to her good friend, Grant Marven, who plied her with chocolate while recording many of her amazing stories, some of which you can find below, along with video clips shared by Nancy A..

As an expression of sympathy, a donation in Grace’s honour to your local Red Cross would be appreciated.

Grace’s Stories:

First Pair of Skates:

Grace Joins the Army

Roselawn Barracks w Escaped Prisoner

In Venezuela with Lady

Video clips:

Muffins for the Russell Fair:

Walking to school with with Peggy

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Condolence Messages

  1. Valentia Harnarine

    Since childhood, I have so many wonderful memories of Aunt Pete. There were many fond memories shared during our visits in Montreal, Mont Tremblant, Acton, and Victoria. I loved her stories, cooking with her, and playing Scrabble. I remember one time I was very sick and had to stay back in Montreal. Aunt Pete lovingly took care of me. She was very talented at knitting and I fondly cherish the clothes that she made for me. Aunt Pete was thoughtful, intelligent and fun loving. I can still picture her at the breakfast table eating her shredded wheat and doing her crossword puzzles. Aunt Pete will be cherished in my memory forever. Carlo and Michele, thank you for caring for Aunt Pete. We are thinking of you during this challenging time.

    • Thanks so much for your kind and loving words, Valentia. She was so happy to hear from you. She often spoke of how much she enjoyed knitting for all of us – but that mauve coat was really an achievement…and she loved that you still wore it years later!

  2. Aunt Pete will forever live on in my memories. She was such an empathetic, caring, charismatic individual, who was always willing to share her experiences and knowledge. From hearing about her experiences in Montreal to Venezuela, I always found her stories fascinating. In those stories, I always admired Aunt Pete’s tenacity and willingness to fight for social justice and change. Aunt Pete was a culinary genius. I have enjoyed many of her delicious meals and she has graciously provided me with the recipes. I am grateful to have spent time with Aunt Pete. She always warmly embraced us with her hospitality whenever we visited. I will cherish all the recipes that have been passed down, the many stories that were shared, the laughter and Aunt Pete’s kindness. Aunt Pete was a one of a kind woman and I don’t know if anyone else will ever Grace us with a similar presence again. Michele and Carlo, I send my deepest sympathies on the passing of your mother. Aunt Pete will live on in each of our hearts.

    • Dear Nina
      Thank you so much for your kind words. She spoke of you with much admiration and love and was always glad to hear from you…and sharing her recipes gave her great joy!

      Sending you much love,

  3. Aunt Pete meant so much to our family! She made a difference in this world and touched so many people that she met. I loved her spirit, her sense of humour, her strength and her stories. Sending love to you all💕

  4. Grace was an amazing person and a great friend.
    I met Grace while I lived at Highgate Lodge when I was recuperating
    from a bad traffic accident which prevented me from living at home. I
    lived there for 3 months then I went back home, but we stayed in
    touch these past 5 years.

    Grace was a light of positive energy and people gravitated towards her.
    She entertained; she listened; she was a great story teller; she laughed and got others to laugh with her; she wanted everyone to be involved and included; and I think above all she really cared about people. She was great example and role model.

    I love my time around her, playing scrabble, playing bridge, listening
    to music, hearing her stories and having great conversations.
    When I phoned, she always started the call with, “How are you doing”
    and meant it. We had a lot of fun together and yes, she always liked the chocolates that I brought.

    I am really glad I met her and we became great friends.


    • Dear Grant
      I’m so happy you came into her – and our lives. You were a ray of light and a testament to how Mom was always open to engaging new people and picking the gems for true friendship.
      Thanks again for recording her memories – though still hard for me to listen to them without coming to tears – some of which will be preserved in the The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
      Warm regards,

  5. Aunt Pete, simply one of a kind. I always remember when I would see Pete and Rudy as a child but my fondest memories will be spending time together in Victoria for almost 3 years. Pete opened up her home and heart to me like we never missed a beat and always made me feel like nothing else mattered except me when I was there. We got to cooking together and I would always help her in the kitchen when I visited. She loved the fact that cooking was my profession.

    I would help Pete get to some of her doctors appointments in Victoria and some of those excursions were pretty comical with the banter going on between Pete and Rudy. But after hey appointments, we would always go out for food and just enjoy our time together.

    Best of all were all the stories Pete would tell me about my grandfather and her when they were younger or simply telling me things about her brother that I didn’t know (and no one else will ever know) and that meant so much to me as she knew how tight of a bond I had with him. It brings me to tears of joy and a little sadness every time I think of all my awesome times together with Aunt Pete. ❤️


  6. Aunt Pete…. there are 3 words to describe what you meant to me. I love you.

    But for entertainment value, I’ll detail why. Aunt Pete was a mainstay in my life. I saw her often, beginning with her yearly summer visits to Kelowna. She would cook and if I wasn’t swimming I’d be hanging in the kitchen with her. As time progressed Mom was able to get us to Montreal every couple of years – summer and / or winter. Summers at “The Chalet” meant love, family and food. The generosity that was shown to all family was above and beyond, and Uncle Rudy had a lot to do with that as well.

    Aunt Pete’s love of family was equal to her love of life and food, the trifecta for many. She included me in all three, and for that, I am honoured and eternally grateful. Her sense of humour was infamous – sometimes naughty – and one of the last times I spoke to her she was still quite naughty – but so funny!

    I think being the oldest of 10 taught her many valuable skills and she took those skills and honed them well during her incredible life. Most who met Aunt Pete loved her and felt sincere friendship.

    Aunt Pete is missed by many, especially her children, but her spirit is indomitable and lives on with all that knew her well. I love you Aunt Pete.

  7. Grace was such a wonderful friend during our stay in Caracas. Her work with Las Madrinas was exceptional and somewhat dangerous. She taught me to make the perfect lasagna. And she showed many of us how strong and powerful a woman a powerful a woman can be.

    • Michele Scarabelli

      Thank you Donna. She always rememberd the fun she had working with eveyone at Lepage.

  8. Lynda Campbell

    Michele and Carlo,
    I just recently heard from Doris that our dear friend and fellow Realtor Grace has passed. I had tried to reach her a few times, as we are still in Ottawa, but she was seldom in her room..Out doing what she did best, entertaining and delighting the Folks where she was living.
    We did spend some delightful times together when we visited Victoria, and Doris has always kept me up to date on what Grace was up to NOW!!
    An amazing ,Wonderful,Caring and Loving LADY!!! I loved her like my own Mom,whom I lost at an early age..Grace always offered very sage advice, and her many interesting stories of her life kept us in regales of laughter in the office and in the kitchen in Orleans.
    Thinking of you both and sending my Deepest condolences. You will both miss her greatly, but what wonderful Memories you have.. She was always keeping us up to date as to what the two of you were up to and was so proud of both of you!! Sending you HUGS.. a wonderful Friend, never to be forgotten!! Lynda Campbell–Ottawa

  9. Michele and Carlo, my deepest condolences on the passing of your mom. She was a fine lady, always lighting up the room she entered.
    I worked with your mom at Royal LePage in Orleans, Ontario and what a pleasure that was.
    It was so nice to have her join our wonderful, fun loving team.
    Although I haven’t seen her in many years, I think of her often. And yes, she was very proud of you both! Rest in peace dear Grace and I am so happy I read the story of her Long life and these loving tributes.

    • Michele Scarabelli

      Thank you for your condolescences. She really enjoyed her time at Royal Lepage…and had lots of great memories of the fun you all had together.

  10. Doris Dafney and Leopold Robergee

    Very special is the best way to describe my dear friend Grace. She was like a big sister and I loved her dearly.
    We first met in Ottawa where we worked for several years selling real estate.
    after we retired to our little island in the Pacific, we often joked that she and I would take a cruise for her 100th birthday.
    That won’t happen now bt, it might be for the best.

    She worked very hard-
    She traveled far-
    She has earned he rest!
    Bye for now my friend!

    Doris Dafney and Leopold Roberge

  11. Michele Scarabelli

    Dear Doris and Lee
    Thank you for your kind, thoughtful condolescences. You were both dear to her, and good friends.

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