Some Manitoba Women Who Did First Things
MHS Transactions, Series 3, No. 4, 1947-48
In preparing a paper on Manitoba women who left some mark on their time, I was confronted with such an abundance of material I realized I must choose a small segment and keep within the bounds I set myself. So I decided to write only of women who are dead and who during their life in Manitoba did something that had never been done here before.
This paper, however, makes no claim to being a complete record, but is merely an account of some women who did First Things.
Men are the adventurers. Women follow them or accompany them to strange lands because of their love for them. So it was in Rupert's Land. The first white woman followed her lover from the Orkney Islands. She dressed as a man and took service with the Hudson's Bay Company. For a long time her sex was not discovered, but for some reason she never caught up with her lover.
This made her terribly unhappy, and a man by the name of John Scart, who thought she was a boy, befriended her. They lived in the same hut. When Scart returned at night he frequently found his companion crying. He thought the boy was homesick and excused him when he did very little work. Later they were sent down to Brandon House on the Assiniboine River.
It was there one evening, when Scart returned from having a drink with the chief factor that he discovered his boy companion was a woman.
Scart said he must tell the chief factor at once, but the girl fell on her knees and begged him to keep her secret. Finally her importunities overcame his scruples and he promised that he would not tell anyone.
Donald Murray, who knew John Scart well, says he lived with the girl as they had lived before, and it was much later that she lost her honour. However that may be, she and Scart were separated when she was sent to Pembina to cook for a man called Mad McKay. It was when there she discovered her condition. She went to Alexander Henry's trading post at the mouth of the Pembina River.
In his journal Henry records, without giving the girl's name, that she gave birth to a fine boy. This evidently caused much astonishment to most people in the country who had never suspected the sex of "the boy." No further mention is made of her except that the next summer she returned to Scotland with her baby.
This will be regarded by many as merely a sordid account of a reckless girl. But some day, someone with imagination and a strong pen, will make this story the basis of a romantic novel, a story that will no doubt give us a truer picture of those early days than we have yet had. It will certainly be a story of a great love and great courage.
Mrs. A. G. B. Bannatyne
Historians, writing of the early days in the Red River settlement, gave small place to women. When they are mentioned it is usually in connection with something that was considered a womanly occupation, such as teaching in a ladies' school or leading in the dance at a ball. There were apparently no villains. Two women did, however, become somewhat involved in the political struggle at the time of the Red River Revolt. In fact, it was Mrs. A. G. B. Bannatyne who struck the first blow in the struggle for representative government at Red River, although she was striking it for quite another reason.
An old lady, over eighty, who was born here, told me that she remembered hearing, by word of mouth, about the articles written by Mair, a young surveyor from Canada. They appeared in the Toronto Globe. The young man had accepted, and apparently enjoyed, the hospitality of the women of Red River, but this did not deter him from describing them as crude, dirty and homely. No doubt he felt that the Red River was so far from civilization no one there would see what he had written.
My informant said that Mair and his companion, Snow, were in the habit of going into Bannatyne's store. Unfortunately for them, Mrs. Bannatyne had read the article. When the surveyors appeared she turned to the clerk and, pointing to the wall on which hung the harness, she said, "Dick, hand me that horse whip."
Dick handed her the whip, which she was able to use efficiently, and she let the young men feel her wrath, first around their shoulders and then around their legs. They ran from the store. Some historians say they had to hide from the wrath of the citizens. However that may be, Mrs. Bannatyne struck the first blow in the struggle that was completely to change the Red River settlement.
Mrs. John Sutherland (Janet MacBeth)
Mrs. John Sutherland, mother of John Hugh Sutherland, who was shot by the young Metis, Parisien, is mentioned by all the early historians as being one of a deputation of Selkirk settlers who came to beg Riel and his supporters to free the citizens they had imprisoned in Fort Garry.
Hill, in his history of Manitoba, mentions Mrs. Sutherland, who entreated Riel by the blood of her own son to spare Major Boulton's life. Riel finally agreed to postpone the executions. So Mrs. Sutherland was on at least two deputations and was not a silent member.
Mrs. William Kennedy
A very outstanding woman in those early days was Mrs. William Kennedy, wife of Captain Kennedy, who was the son of an officer of the Hudson's Bay Company. The captain decided to become a missionary and went to England for a holiday before taking up his new work. There he met the girl who became his wife.
Mrs. Kennedy was well educated, gifted artistically and socially, and attractive in appearance. She was a woman who would have made her mark in any society, and in the simple and rather crude setting at Red River, she was like an orchid in a bunch of wild roses. She taught music at Miss Davis' school for girls. She played the organ in St. Andrew's Church. She trained the choir and led the singing. When arrangements were being made to entertain Lord and Lady Dufferin, Mrs. Kennedy knew the right way to do things, and to her was given the honor of going in to lunch on the arm of Lord Dufferin.
But it is not for any of these things that I am including Mrs. Kennedy in my list. It is because, when her husband became an invalid and she needed money, she went into business. She kept a store, selling ladies' and children's wear, and there is no evidence that she considered trade beneath her. She imported dresses, hats, gloves and ribbons, as well as children's wear from London and later even from Paris. I believe that the women in the Red River settlement felt that when they were able to buy what they wanted from Mrs. Kennedy, they knew they had the very latest fashion.
Most of you will remember Mary Kennedy, only daughter of Mrs. Kennedy. I did not know her at all well, but I remember her as a dignified woman with some gifts. But always she appeared to be struggling against a handicap. It seemed that the brilliance of her mother, lingered even long after her death, to dim the less outstanding gifts of her daughter.
In this brief summary I am including two women who never lived in the Red River settlement. I am including them because their influence on the West illustrates how small the world was even in those days, when there were no roads, no means of travel except by the rivers and lakes and the trails of the buffalo and the deer. I am referring to Florence Nightingale and Lady Dufferin.
Florence Nightingale fell in love with her cousin, John Smithurst. Her family was shocked and she was sent to the continent to recover from her foolishness. However, she did not recover and neither did John, but they were persuaded that it would be sinful for them to marry.
Florence had been reading about foreign missions, and had become greatly interested in the Indians. She persuaded John to study to be a missionary to the Indians, while she would study to be a nurse. They both hoped that by service to others they would heal the wounds in their own hearts. John Smith, first came as a missionary to the Red River settlement, and in the records of the Indian missions he gave a good, if not spectacular account of himself. To Florence Nightingale we are indebted for his presence here.
Lord and Lady Dufferin came to visit the West in 1877. Lady Dufferin in her letters to her mother, published much later, gave a more intimate picture of conditions in Red River than anyone else. She was so human and natural that when you have read her diary you know the people and the place as well or better than you would had you been there. Her account is of great value.
Describing the prairie, she said, "It is covered with long grasses and wild flowers and is flat as the sea. It has a peculiar smell and there is a delightful air upon it, and one begins to feel the freedom of the savage raising one's spirit."
She was particularly impressed by our sudden thunder showers. She wrote: "I never saw such a climate. One may be wet through on the finest day."
She had a rare sense of humor. She tells of going to St. Boniface to see a rifle match. She had to open the match by firing the first shot. She wrote, "I fired a shot which was off the target but which was marked a bull's eye, and the match began."
As a rule she was most kindly in her comments about their entertainment, but on one occasion when they had to attend a concert she wrote, "The concert was classical, and its great merit was the shortness of it."
Lady Dufferin's attitude toward her own sex may be judged from the following description of her little daughter, Nellie. She wrote, "Nellie was very anxious to get Colonel Littleton to tell her the Freemason secrets. Failing, Nellie said with a hopeful sigh, 'Well, I daresay when women get their rights we shall know them:'"
Writing about the servant problem, one night when they were camping out, she said, "My maid was ill. To her everything was very horrid. Camp bed too hard, tin cups nasty. She touched things with the tips of her fingers and made a face at everything she tasted." Lady Dufferin said she made four beds and plucked a duck for dinner, herself, and she seemed proud of it.
We need another Lady Dufferin to encourage tourist traffic. She stirred in me a desire to see more of our own province when she wrote of that trip and said: "The Winnipeg surpasses all rivers I have ever seen, being so much more beautiful than the other rivers and lakes I have been to."
Lady Dufferin describes going to St. Boniface to drive a spike in the Pembina branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the first railway in this part of the world. The chief engineer, a Mr. Whitehead, who had been a stoker on the first line of railway in England, had gone to try and get the engine to St. Boniface for the Dufferins to start it. He had failed in that, but Lady Dufferin noted that he was going to open the first line in the Northwest.
Lady Dufferin had a quality that was greatly admired in a wife at that time, and no doubt still is. She had a wonderful admiration for her husband's speeches and made lengthy quotations from them in her letters to her mother. One is of special interest to us, where in his farewell speech, Lord Dufferin, who had a fine vocabulary, tried to give an idea of the size of the Dominion of Canada.
According to his wife, he said: "It was here that Canada, emerging from her woods and forests, first gazed upon the rolling prairies and unexplored Northwest, and learned as by an unexpected revelation that her historical territories of the Canadas, her eastern seaboards of New Brunswick, Labrador and Nova Scotia, her Laurentian lakes and valleys, corn lands and pastures, though themselves more extensive than half a dozen European kingdoms, were but the vestibules and antechambers to that to then undreamed of Dominion, whose illimitable dimensions alike confound the arithmetic of the surveyor and the verification of the explorer."
There was considerably more of it, but this gives an idea of Lady Dufferin's quotations. When she did not quote, she over and over assured her mother that her husband's speeches had been well received.
To show the delightful humanness of this woman, a couple of quotations may be given from her letter about sailing away up the Red River. "There is a cinnamon bear on board, a tame pig which answers to the name of Dick, and a dog. The bear sometimes hugs the pig and the dog rushes to the rescue. Someone tied a bun to the pig's tail today, which the bear seized. But while he was leisurely arranging himself to enjoy it, the pig seized it and ate it up."
They arrived at Fisher's Landing in the night, but Lady Dufferin wrote, "We went ashore and saw the engine, No.2 of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It is going to Winnipeg with a train of railway truck and it is to be called the "Lady Dufferin."
Manitoba was organized as a province of the Dominion of Canada. Winnipeg became the capital and life at the Forks changed completely. There were steel natural barriers to be overcome, but immigrants were beginning to arrive in great numbers, and the social problems soon overshadowed everything else for women of vision.
Among the immigrants were a large number of Icelanders. These people were capable, adaptable and self-reliant. Instead of asking for help to get a foothold in such new surroundings, they at once began to organize to help each other.
Mrs. Lara Bjarnason, a very capable and public spirited Icelandic woman, with her husband, Dr. Jon Bjarnason, founder of the First Lutheran Church in Winnipeg, did a most remarkable work among her own countrymen.
As well as the usual duties of the wife of a minister, Mrs. Bjarnason taught music. She compiled a volume of music for community singing. Her home was practically a university for newcomers to the country. She and her husband taught both public and high school subjects, but above and beyond that, Mrs. Bjarnason had to be included here because she taught newcomers how to adapt themselves to the new conditions they had to face.
We have all been very proud of the success of the Icelanders in Canada, and a study of the life of Lara Bjarnason unfolds the secret of that success. While she wished her people to retain the culture they had, she taught that it was not to make them a people apart. It was to be added to the culture of the country to which they had come in order that, from the mingling of all, something new and finer would evolve.
Mrs. Bjarnason had no children, but she adopted and raised three. She died in 1921.
A woman to whom our Icelandic citizens like to give credit is Goudrin Johanasson. She wrote short stories in Icelandic that were published both in Iceland and in Manitoba. She used Manitoba settings for many of her stories, but in them she has kept alive many traditions of her race. This gifted woman also lectured on the ancient history and early culture of Iceland.
When you talk to the Icelanders about their outstanding women, so many lusty pioneers, each strong and creative in her own field, come to mind, that it is difficult to choose, so I will name only one more, Olina Earlendson, who lived in the Arborg district.
Mrs. Earlendson was well informed on all public questions. She could speak on almost any subject without notice. She was in great demand, and when possible she went where she was needed.
The roads, however, were bad. Walking was the only means of transportation to many places. Undaunted, Mrs. Earlendson walked. It was said of her that she always carried an extra pair of stockings, knowing she would need them. She was the first woman orator of her race in Manitoba.
Dr. Charlotte Whitehead Ross was the first practising woman doctor in Manitoba. Dr. Ross was born in Darlington, England, on July 15th, 1842. It seems to banish distance when you recall that a few pages back, Lady Dufferin mentioned Joseph Whitehead as the engineer who would bring the first engine and train of cars to Manitoba. He had also been the stoker on the first train in England, and he was the father of Dr. Charlotte Ross.
Mr. Whitehead brought his family to Quebec. Charlotte studied at a convent, and at that convent she was taught singing by Madam Albani's father. She did not become noted as a singer, but she did lead the singing in the Sunday school and church where she and her husband became devoted workers.
At eighteen Charlotte Whitehead married David Ross, a young Scotsman, who was engaged in building railroads and lumbering with her father. David Ross was much away from home and often in surroundings where no doctors were available, and where there were many accidents.
Records differ as to why Charlotte Ross studied medicine, such a revolutionary thing for a woman, and a married woman and a mother, to do at that time. But study medicine she did, although she had to go to the United States for her degree, because Canadian medical colleges would not accept women.
It took Charlotte Ross ten years to complete her course. This was not because she was dull, but because she was raising her family, having more children and taking care of the sick and needy who claimed her help. When she finally graduated, she practised as the first woman doctor in Montreal. She was quite a success.
To both Charlotte and her husband living was more important than either money or a career. They wanted a settled home where they could be together with their family. So David finally established a lumber mill at Whitemouth, in Manitoba. He built a log house and brought his family out.
Charlotte thought she would not practise medicine, but the very day she arrived some men brought in a companion who was very ill. David told them a doctor had arrived and she would look after him. When they saw a woman doctor, they were more afraid of her than of the sickness. With David's help, however, their fears were held in abeyance, and when the man recovered, his faith in Dr. Charlotte was boundless. It is said that all during her life in White' mouth, when her husband was away, that man was right there, to do what a friend and neighbor could, in case of need.
In 1883, when there was all the excitement about the boundary between Manitoba and Ontario, Dr. Ross applied to the Manitoba legislature for a permit to practise medicine in Manitoba, instead of applying to the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and her request was granted. It may have been that the legislators feared there was going to be great need for doctors and they wished to be ready.
As an example of the heroic nature of Dr. Ross's life, one incident gives an idea of the pattern. Her own wee son of four years took mortally ill. Dr. Ross knew her skill could not save him. No other doctor was available. As his few remaining hours were wearing away, word came that a woman who was expecting a child needed her badly.
Big women make big decisions. Dr. Charlotte Ross left her dying child and went to bring another child into the world. I was relieved to read that she returned to be with her own child when he died. That was in March. In May she bore another child herself.
Transportation in those days from Whitemouth was by locomotive, by hand, car, by canoe, by a wagon or sleigh drawn by horses or oxen, or by walking. Dr. Ross was never daunted by any of the hazards of pioneer life. She believed in finding away , or making it. I mentioned that Mrs. Earlendsen, in the Arborg district, carried an extra pair of stockings. It was said of Charlotte Ross that she carried a shovel.
None of Dr. Ross's children wished to be doctors, but one of her daughters married a man by the same name, and her daughter, Edith Ross, became a doctor. When Edith graduated from Manitoba Medical College in 1913, she won the O'Donnell gold medal in obstetrics, a great triumph for a woman student at that time.
Her grandmother, Dr. Charlotte Ross, was very proud of her and wrote her a letter exhorting her to carry on the fine tradition of her profession. Dr. Charlotte died in 1916, aged seventy-four years.
From the Manitoba Medical Association Bulletin, in 1928, I have copied the following tribute to Dr. Charlotte Ross: "If, as some say, the family physician is of the ships that are passing, then let us bow our heads in respect to a noble, self, sacrificing physician, who held it her highest honor that she was a general practitioner, and if it be true that only pioneer conditions can develop such characters, then has civilization lost factors it may well regret."
Another outstanding woman in Manitoba was Dr. Amelia Yeomans. Dr. Yeomans was born in Quebec in the same year as Dr. Ross, 1842. At eighteen she married Augustus A. Yeomans of Belleville, Ont. After his death she studied medicine and graduated from the University of Michigan in 1883.
Dr. Yeomans came to Winnipeg, passed the examinations of the Medical Board, and was appointed a member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons. She practised in Winnipeg for sixteen years, specializing in diseases of women and children.
It is not, however, as a medical doctor that Dr. Yeomans has gained admission to my First Women. It is as an orator, as the founder of the first women's equal suffrage organization, and as a temperance worker, that she is to be remembered.
Dr. Yeomans had the gift of leadership. Among her admirers was Miss, later Dr., E. Cora Hind, who forever damped the enthusiasm of the workers in the Political Equality League of Manitoba, the organization of later date, by comparing it most unfavorably with that first brilliant group of women. To Miss Hind the Political Equality League, which secured for Manitoba women the suffrage first of all provinces in Canada, was but a pale, anemic shadow of that first society. Who knows? Perhaps those women laid a foundation to which we of the League owed our success.
At any rate, a woman who could inspire the loyalty that Dr. Yeomans did, had a tremendous power. She died in Calgary in 1913.
Margaret Scott was a First Woman and, so far as I have heard, there has been no second to her. She was born in 1856 in Colborne, Ont. Her father was judge of the county court and her mother came of Loyalist stock. With such a background one might have expected of her a brilliant career along well, worn trails. Margaret had a brilliant career, but she made the trail herself.
In the story of Margaret Scott an influence may be traced throughout her life, from her early school days to the very end, when Winnipeg was to gain tremendously, not only from what she did but from what she stood for. This is one life to which a whole evening could be devoted, a life about which a book should be written. I cannot in these few minutes do justice to Margaret Scott. But I will give a few highlights.
While at school in Campbellford, she became friends with an orphan girl who had lived for some years m the famous Muller Home for Children, in Bristol, England. It was maintained for many years on a very large scale, depending entirely on intercessory prayer for the necessary funds. Margaret was deeply impressed by this fact, but that it was going to influence her life in any marked degree, she had no idea.
She fell in love and married a prominent lawyer and politician. He died in 1881. Margaret was still only twenty-five.
Through friends she secured a position with the Midland Railway, in Peterborough. Later she was transferred to Montreal, to a very much more responsible position. Here her health failed, no doubt because she had great gifts she was not using.
In 1886 Margaret Scott came to Winnipeg. She entered office work and was said to be the most expert stenographer of her time in Winnipeg. But that work did not satisfy her. Among her friends was Ernest Taylor, a bank manager, who must have had some idea of the spiritual quality of the young woman. He advised her to go and see Rev. C. C. Owen of Holy Trinity Church, who was doing remarkable relief work.
Margaret went and offered to help with office work. She was gladly accepted as a helper after her usual day's work, and for some time handled the correspondence. But, as time went on, Margaret's mind was busy. Memories of her friend from the Muller Home came back to her. She said to herself that, if God could answer prayers in Bristol, surely he could answer them in Winnipeg. It was one thing, however, to have such thoughts, another to step out on faith.
Margaret had the faith. She took a small room in the Coffee House that was being run at that time. She refused to take any salary. She cast herself without reserve on the Lord, and so far as the record reveals, He never failed her.
Margaret Scott never sought money, or publicity, or endeavored to expand her work. She had put her hand on a growing need, and strength was given her to follow through.
In reading of the life of Margaret Scott, I was greatly impressed by her sound common sense accompanied by so much idealism. It seemed that no sooner had she seen a need and pointed it out than the city or the government was ready to provide for it. Such was a nurse to work for the city, for which the Council paid; a worker among the immigrants, for which the Federal Government paid; a child's hygiene department, which was taken over by the School Board; a wood yard, which was taken over by the city. So it went.
In 1904 the Margaret Scott Nursing Mission was formed, focussing and crowning her work for many years. In 1931 Margaret Scott died and was buried in St. John's Cemetery. She has been called Saint Margaret of Winnipeg, or by some, the Florence Nightingale of Manitoba.
In the Children's Hospital in Winnipeg, there is a recently unveiled plaque on which you may read: "Annie A. Bond, 1854 to 1943, Founder of the Children's Hospital of Winnipeg. A tribute to her inspiring leadership, by the Board and Guilds of the Hospital. She is the true citizen, who claims as her first right, the privilege of helping others."
My first memory of Mrs. Bond was derived from one afternoon I was strolling down Portage Avenue many years ago, when you could stroll down that street without being shoved around. I was window shopping, and quickened my steps as I passed many empty stores whose windows looked out at me like dead eyes.
In one of those there was a faint sign of life. It was an invitation to go in and have a cup of tea in aid of a Children 's Hospital. I forget the exact wording, but that was the idea. I went in. There was a table, some kitchen chairs and some few dishes. It was a bare, unattractive place, or at least it would have been unattractive if a middle-aged woman, with a warm smile, had not been there.
There were no signs of the Royal Red Cross awarded to her, of the Egyptian medals and the Victoria medal. She had served as a nurse in Zululand when experiments had been made as to how near a nurse could be sent to a battle zone. She had been in South Africa and in New Zealand-she had been right in the centre of some of the biggest events of her time, and played no mean part.
But here she was, in an empty store on Portage Avenue, looking like any ordinary housewife, trying to earn a few cents by serving tea and sandwiches and cookies, for a hospital for other people's babies. As she prepared me a cup of tea, she told me how much a hospital was needed.
As I look back to that day, I know I was not much interested in the needs of the babies, but I was interested in the woman who was making tea for me. Memory brings back a kind of cheapness that I felt in letting her serve me. So does a great personality reach out of any environment and leave a lasting impression.
Mrs. Bond, like Margaret Scott, had a great faith. She said of the work she was promoting, "The work is bigger than we are. It will go on." That was her invariable answer in times of doubt and discouragement.
Annie A. Bond has been honored by her sister nurses, by the doctors, by the army, by the church and by her country, her adopted country. It is a very satisfying thought that her last hours were spent in the institution she had founded, surrounded by all the love and care that was humanly possible.
It was not only in Winnipeg that women were trying to improve conditions of living. Women's Institutes were organized in the rural districts, and women organized their own groups in the farmers' movement. Leading women who come at once to my mind are Mrs. Wood of Oakville, Mrs. Watt of Birtle, and Mrs. Dayton of Virden. A whole evening should be devoted to the work that has been done by such women. However, before leaving this section I must give some time to Mrs. A. D. MacKay, who left her impress on both the country and the city in a very definite way. Mrs. MacKay was born in Nova Scotia and came to Neepawa, Manitoba, as a bride. She had to change trains ten times and then arrived at a few shacks in thirty-five below zero weather. But she had a husband and a shack, and she made a home! Her public work began at the time of the Saskatchewan Rebellion. She was in Portage la Prairie, and while she saw the Red Coats marching, she also saw the squaws and the papooses peeking from the pouches on the backs of their mothers. To her came the thought that these first Canadians had a claim on the later comers, and she talked it over with her friends. As a result, a day school for Indians was opened, the school which now flourishes as an Indian Residential School.
In 1893 Mr. MacKay was moved to Winnipeg. Mrs. MacKay at once felt around her the swirl of new life in a province just beginning to feel the power in its veins. It is interesting that Mrs. MacKay felt the same need as Mrs. Bjarnason had felt, a need for someone to help the strangers coming in to learn the ways of a new country. She felt that a centre should be opened for them to which they could go for advice and help.
It was the little one-roomed mission she was instrumental in establishing that grew into the Robertson Memorial Institute.
"Why do you bother about these people?" a citizen asked when she appealed for aid.
Her reply was, "If we do not reckon with these people, in a few years they will reckon with us."
Mrs. MacKay served for many years on the board of the Free Kindergarten, the Y.W.C.A., and she served on all her church activities. She died at the fine old age of eighty-four, a splendid Manitoban.
In this paper I would like to honor the women who made the first homes in the West. Their contribution was so important they should not be over-looked, but we find very little about them in the records we have. I am, however, going to mention one woman who was typical of many in her generous hospitality, and her home was frequently mentioned by early historians. I am referring to Madame Narcisse Marion.
The Marion home was in St. Boniface. It seemed that most newcomers arriving there soon turned up at the home of Narcisse Marion. Among them was Rev. John Black, the first Presbyterian minister in the Red River settlement. Forty years the Selkirk Settlers had prayed for a minister of their own faith, and when he arrived he was not expected. Madame Marion entertained him until he was rested and refreshed. Mr. Marion then took him to his new home.
A very good description of the kind of home Madame Marion kept is given by J. W. Radiger, Head Clerk of the Hudson's Bay Company. He wrote: "In a beautiful setting of trees, water and wild flowers I reached a spot where a peaceful and cosy home was standing. I knocked at the front door and was welcomed by a brown-eyed maiden wearing a dainty merino dress and a spotless white pinafore. With a winning smile and an inviting courtesy she introduced me to a tall, strong and healthy gentleman, the real type of a Canadian from old Quebec. After a few inquiries I was invited to have dinner with the family. There was the father, M. Narcisse Marion, the mother, a tall, stately woman, and their three daughters, Josephine, Elise and Rosalie. A young maid by the name of Maggie waited on table.
"A strict etiquette was displayed in the preparation and the serving of the food-the latter done to perfection. I was amused by the fact that the head of the family was not quite familiar with the English language, and this made me realize how perfectly the young ladies spoke it.
"I did appreciate their respectful and delicate manners when necessary errors in speech had to be corrected, to make the meaning clear.
"On leaving I expressed my surprise, my thanks and admiration to those I now number among my best friends in the West. Really I could not have found in my own country more refined or better educated people than those I have met here today."
One can imagine the influence of such a home, and honour the women who kept up such a standard.
Later on, in 1899, the women of St. Boniface organized Les dames patroness des oeuvres de charite de St.-Boniface. This organization served need in any form and provided an opportunity for many women to do first things for the poor . Among the women who have passed on but who are remembered for their outstanding work for others are: Madame S. A. D. Bertrande, Madame Longpre, Madame Jean Guilbault, Madame Lambert, Madame Alfred Leveque, Madame E. Cyr, Madame Prud'homme, Madame Prendergast, Madame Adjutor Lemieux, Madame Miles McDermot, Madame T. A. Bernier, Madame George Couture and Madame Roger Marion. This list merely gives a few of the outstanding women who began social service work in St. Boniface.
Madame R. E. Painchaud
Another outstanding woman, who is remembered with affection because of her untiring work in the Cercle Ste.-Elizabeth, is Madame R. E. Painchaud, who has been called "the mother of the poor."
Coming down to more modern times, a woman who must have a place in this paper is Mrs. Jane Hample. It was in the home of Mrs. Hample that the Political Equality League of Manitoba was organized. Mrs. Hample stood back of that organization like a rock, in its moments of discouragement. Her home was always open for meetings. Her purse was always open for anything that might help the cause of women. We owed Mrs. Hample more than we were ever able to express.
I am glad to be able to say that Mrs. Hample was elected the first woman member of the Winnipeg School Board, and she did a job of which we had reason to be proud.
My paper falls naturally into three sections. My first section I call the romantic period, which ended with Lady Dufferin. My second section is the realistic period, which ends here with this very inadequate account of the social activities of our early days.
I have reached the time when Manitoba was overcoming the problems of climate and transportation. We were facing the problems raised by living together, but that leaves another need that we have not yet touch, the need of our minds.
Back of most things in a democracy is a story, but our history is largely an uninteresting account of what happened, with the story left out. In the following account of a column in the Free Press newspaper, called "A Reader's Notes" and signed, The Bookman, the story is the thing.
Mrs. H. J. Parker was born in Nova Scotia in 1856. She came with her husband to Winnipeg and brought a well stored mind and a great love for good literature. Words were a delight to her, and when she heard that a young woman was going to give an evening's entertainment reading Browning, she resolved to be there. That young woman was Miss Edna Sutherland.
Mrs. Parker was thrilled and inspired. Winnipeg was certainly looking up culturally when such a talented young woman would choose it as her home. But next morning, when Mrs. Parker read a colourless and uninspired account of that evening in the press, she was indignant, and when Mrs. Parker was indignant she did more than talk about it.
Mrs. Parker put on her coat and bonnet and went to the newspaper office. She demanded to see the editor.
Mr. Dafoe listened to her and, without any argument, told her to write an article that suited her and, if he liked it, he would publish it.
Mrs. Parker wrote the article. It was published and Mr. Dafoe asked for more articles. So "A Reader's Notes" and "The Bookman" were born. For thirty-six years Mrs. Parker kept up her column. Publishers and authors were soon delighted to have her mention their books and articles, because they had to be worth while to find a place in "A Reader's Notes."
Mrs. Parker had correspondents in all parts of the world. Many men and women, well known in the literary world, wrote to her. To have a talk with her was as stimulating as visiting a great publishing centre. She knew, not only the serious works, but the literary gossip, the little human touches that brought that whole world to life.
Mrs. Parker was not one-sided. She was interested in every phase of life, especially as it was being lived in her own city and province. When she was unable to go far afield, she took a great interest in her garden, in the trees and shrubs and flowers and birds and insects. Life never lost its savor, and when her hearing became dulled she said, with a laugh, that she had doubtless heard enough anyway.
A brave, courageous, gifted woman, Winnipeg is richer because she lived.
For years there was a little sheet called Town Topics, published every Saturday. To many of us the most interesting part was the dramatic section, reviews and comments on plays and players. It was written by Hattie Walker, Mrs. C. P. Walker.
Mrs. Walker had been on the stage for many years in light opera, until her voice failed, but her interest in the drama never grew less. All who heard it will remember with pleasure her production of The Chimes of Normandy and also many other plays. She was always eager to help local groups in selecting and producing plays. No group, no individual, was too insignificant to get her very best.
Mrs. Walker assisted her husband, C. P. Walker, who had built the Walker Theatre and was bringing many of the world's outstanding actors and actresses to Winnipeg. That was the golden age of the theatre in Winnipeg, although we did not know it.
But as the years passed, down in a small theatre on Main Street was a squeaky box called a flicker and later a movie. We laughed at this thing that was grotesque to look at and terrible to have to listen to, and we continued to dress in our evening clothes and go to the Walker Theatre.
Before long it was evident something was the matter. That squeaky box was losing its squeak and the pictures were improving. People in increasing numbers were going to the movies. Mr. and Mrs. Walker bravely would not yield. Their dream could not bow before that miserable mechanical contraption. It was a fad. It would pass. But it did not pass. It blew the heart right out of the Walker Theatre.
The Walkers went down fighting, but they have left many memories of gay nights in the Walker Theatre. Sometimes yet when I go there, I imagine I see Mrs. Walker sitting well up to the left, where she generally sat and back of and beyond all that is going on around me I hear the tinkle of The Chimes of Normandy.
Any list of women who did First Things in Manitoba would be incomplete without the name of Dr. E. Cora Hind. But Kenneth Haig has written her biography so recently in Brave Harvest, and it has been so widely read that it is not necessary for me to do more than refer you to that book for the intimate details of her life.
Ella Cora Hind was born in Ontario in 1861. She died in Winnipeg in 1942. Her death ended a newspaper career of forty-one years. Every newspaper in Canada carried the story. The London Times and the New York Times gave space to it. She was no longer just a Winnipeg woman or just a Canadian journalist. She had become a world figure because of her knowledge of wheat.
It was no accident that made E. Cora Hind the first woman typist in Winnipeg, the first woman agricultural editor, one of the first workers for the franchise for women. She was made of the stuff that was forever reaching out for new horizons.
As I near the end of my time and this paper, many other faces pass like rosy lights in memory. Their contribution cannot be mentioned, let alone measured. But who can measure goodness! Names that come readily to mind are Mrs. Edward Brown, Mrs. T. R. Deacon, Mrs. A. M. Campbell, Miss Winona Lightcap, Mrs. McQuillan, Mrs. Little, Mrs. Herbert Sellers, Mrs. Edith Rogers, Miss Eva Jones.
I may be accused of following in the tradition of the early historians and mentioning only the good that women have done. But we are still young-youth is so strong in our veins that we believe the good women do lives after them, and the evil is oft interred with their bones.
Page revised: 18 May 2013Back to top of page