Actor, writer, artist, philanthropist, board member, PhD, puppeteer, motivational speaker, reflexologist, soprano, art lover, volunteer, world traveller, avid lawn bowler, gardener, reader.
If you haven’t met Pancheta Barnett yet, it’s not surprising.
She’s a busy woman.
“I like learning and that’s why life is so interesting. Learning and doing – always finding something to do.”
She has no problem doing that.
Barnett is currently the president of the East York Historical Society and the vice-chair of the Toronto and East York Community Preservation Panel.
She’s been volunteering with the Historical Society for more than five years, acting as president since 2013. The mission is to bring together people interested in the diverse heritage of East York, and research, preserve and present historical data pertaining to the region. She is working hard to build it up and make it better known.
“Heritage to me is all part of history and geography,” she says. “I thought I could learn something. Once you know about your geography, you know who you are.”
Barnett wasn’t exactly happy with her relocation to Leaside. She moved into an apartment on Eglinton Ave. in 2006 and cried all the time.
She missed her more spacious home near the Bridle Path and was coping with her husband who was ill. She says even her dog didn’t like his new digs, which had no yard, so he would yank at his leash to get her to walk past their address.
What made her snap out of it? Getting involved. She says she needed to find something to do in Leaside. And that’s been her mantra all her life.
“Involving oneself is what keeps me going.”
She got involved with Neighbourhood Watch, went to community meetings and began researching the Lea family for her book. That’s right. She’s now writing a book on Leaside.
Some asked her why she’d want to write a book on Leaside when there already is one.
To which she responded, “Why shouldn’t I? Leaside is interesting, it has a history and is still growing and it continues to have a history of its own. History doesn’t stay stagnate in one book. Things are changing all the time.” She hopes to finish it in a couple years.
Barnett is also big on giving back. “I’ve always found some way somehow to give.”
Now a widow, she continues to serve on boards and is a member of several art and film institutions and women’s groups. She volunteers with Sprint Senior Care, checking in on seniors seven days a week, even if she’s on vacation. Every Christmas, she makes a donation and knits a hat or scarf for every client at Casey House.
She wrote her PhD thesis on alcoholism and now uses her vast knowledge for community outreach, as a speaker for Al-Anon which supports families impacted by the devastating illness. She also takes its 12-step program into the men’s prison in Scarborough.
In 2012, Barnett was recognized for her volunteerism with an award from now Premier Kathleen Wynne.
Before getting involved with heritage work, she was on the big screen. She played the role of God in the film Another Planet in 1999, and was in Norman Jewison’s Bogus, which starred Whoopi Goldberg. Along with acting, she worked with The Concerned Kids as a puppeteer for the multiculturalism program in Toronto schools.
“Every one of these things that I’ve gone into is with the intentions of higher learning about something, somebody, someplace, somewhere.”
And now it may be time for people to learn more about her. She’s been approached by someone who wants to write a book about her. She jokes that she hasn’t even told the writer half her stories yet. No doubt it will be a colourful tale of a woman who gets involved and makes a difference. “It’s going to be really juicy.”
Do you ever sleep?
A few people have asked me that. Yes I do and I get good sleep too!
What would you change about the neighbourhood?
I would make sure there were more open areas, parks, more child friendly things.
I don’t plan. You just find some way of getting involved and find something to do. I’m thinking of taking a course at U of T. I’ll always be doing whatever I can do, the very best.
What’s something about you that people don’t know?
Why would I tell you? (Laughs.)