As sunlight gently fills Diane Ford‘s spacious Etobicoke home, it is there where Ontario Premier Doug Ford laments the loss of his beloved mother days after she died following an intense battle with cancer.
“This was the hangout house,” he said while sifting through a large container full of photo albums and packets, chuckling at the sight of orange shag carpet that was all too familiar in the 1970s.
“My parents’ theory was very simple: If everyone was hanging out here, they would know where we are.”
The Weston Wood Road property, nestled next to a park named after Douglas Ford Sr. — the family patriarch who was a business owner and served as an Etobicoke MPP before his death — has been the scene of many significant political events since the family moved there in 1972, after living near Kipling Avenue and The Westway beginning in the mid-1950s.
For instance, the premier launched his Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leadership campaign at the home in 2018.
Diane also played host multiple times for the family’s Ford Fest event, an annual political celebration for supporters. It was estimated tens of thousands of visitors passed through the property over the years.
“She would make a point of meeting every single person that walked through that backyard, that walked through this door,” Doug said, adding she was never concerned by the vast number of people coming by.
“The only thing she was worried about was her flowers — she loved flowers.”
For Doug, he said his mother’s home was synonymous with her love and kindness.
“My mom stood for family, community, generosity — those were her kind of three stable things that she focused on in life, always giving back,” he told Global News during a sitdown conversation on Wednesday.
“We had four kids in the house, but there were always two additional kids or two additional people living here at one time or another.
“When you think back, how many women, mothers, would open their house just to have additional people living here constantly? She thought nothing of it.”
Throughout the past couple of decades, Diane’s home has also played host to journalists covering controversies involving members of the Ford family — and it was where she would often provide a vigorous defence of her late son and former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, as well as Doug.
“She was like the mama bear, but don’t kid yourself. If we did something wrong, she wouldn’t pull any punches. She wouldn’t do it publicly, but she would straighten our ‘little red wagon out’ as she would say,” he recalled.
In March 2016, Rob died after an 18-month battle with an aggressive and rare form of cancer. Doug said it was a tremendous loss that devastated the mother of four.
“She never got over Rob’s passing. That was her little baby of the family. She never got over it, which most parents don’t. It’s just not the way things are supposed to happen,” he said, noting how much she missed him.
“She would talk about him every day and all the things. It was very painful. She was at a point of going up to visit him at the gravesite on a daily basis … She’d be up there putting up flowers.”
In her obituary, Diane was described as “a rock” for the family — a sentiment echoed by Doug.
“She was very pragmatic on every decision and always looked not just through a political lens,” he said.
“She never liked the fighting in politics — she didn’t like it at all. She didn’t like it when Rob and I would get, I guess, a little rambunctious.
“Put politics aside, we’re all human. We all may have our different views, but we’re all here to make our country, our province and our city the best in the world.”
Despite successfully battling breast cancer in the past, Doug said it wasn’t until more recently that the disease returned.
“In June, we hosted all the consul generals here. In June she was dancing by the pool and then six months later… it really went through her the last few months. It’s a terrible disease, the treatments… it was brutal, absolutely brutal,” he said.
“Cancer is such a terrible disease that has affected every family or person in Canada who knows someone … it’s just terrible. She went through a lot of pain over the last couple of months and we’re glad she’s out of the pain.”
Doug said true to being “a rock,” she tried to remain strong for her family and opted for privacy in her final months.
“She told me, ‘Don’t be upset, but just fix the province.’ I broke out laughing when she said that,” he said.
“She didn’t want anyone to know. She said, ‘I don’t want any sympathy. I don’t want any calls. I just want to continue on.’
“She wanted to stay here. She wanted to pass here in her room with her family around her, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Doug said his mother’s experience with treatments and care has imparted important lessons to himself.
“When something like this affects you, on a political side you think, ‘You know how important home health care is? Being treated at home… people don’t want to go to a hospital,” he said.
“We’re doing it and we’re using technology as well. But it’s so critical we take care of loved ones in a loving atmosphere, and that’s at home. And the nurses and the caregivers were absolutely incredible. I just think the world of the nurses and they deserve every penny they get.”
Meanwhile, when asked what he’ll miss most about his mother, he replied without hesitation.
“Calling her and talking to her. (I would) call her every day, twice a day. Lately I feel like picking up the phone and calling her, and she’s not there,” he said.
Diane died on Sunday at the age of 85. She is survived by children Doug, Kathy, and Randy, along with 10 grandchildren. Diane was predeceased by her husband of 50 years, Douglas, and her son Rob.
A visitation for family, friends, and well-wishers is being held at the Newediuk Funeral Home on Kipling Avenue on Thursday and Friday and a funeral will be held at the Toronto Congress Centre on Dixon Road Saturday morning.