by Sandra McHugh
I particularly like the series Downton Abbey. It portrays the upstairs and downstairs of the upper classes during the beginning of the twentieth century. I like to imagine what it would have been like to work as part of the domestic staff. In 1922, my grandmother, Grace Graham Hunter, worked as a domestic, probably a cook, in Edinburgh for Dr. W. Kelman MacDonald, an osteopath.1 She was young and unmarried and looking for adventure.
Her experience as a cook in one of the homes of the upper class of Edinburgh surely stood her in good stead when she became head cook at the McGill University Faculty Club in Montreal. When my grandmother was looking for adventure, Canada badly needed domestic workers. The Canadian government favoured immigrants from Great Britain to ensure the predominance of British values. The British Parliament passed the Empire Settlement Act, which entitled my grandmother to free third-class passage from Scotland to Canada.2
Given that the need for domestic workers was acute, government hostels, partially financed by both the Canadian government and the provinces, welcomed these immigrants to the major urban centres of Canada and referred them to Employment Services of Canada who then found them employment.3
The McGill University Faculty Club was established in 1923. I assume that my grandmother was one of the first employees as this is the year she met my grandfather and she used to tell me stories of letting him come in the back door to eat a dessert or two.
My grandmother also used to tell me many stories of the people who were members of the Faculty Club and their guests and of the pressure of preparing the food just right. I used to wonder about the famous people who dined there, who they shared their meals with, and what they discussed.
The Faculty Club was originally located on University Street. It was only in 1935 that it was moved to its current location in the Baumgarten House on McTavish Street, the former resident of Sir Arthur Currie. 4 It was only when it moved that the Faculty Club allowed women members. Notably, Maude Abbott became the first woman member of the Faculty Club. She was a remarkable Montreal citizen. She started practising medicine in 1894. In 1910, McGill University awarded her an honorary degree and a lectureship in the Department of Pathology.5 In 1924, she founded the Federation of Medical Women of Canada. 6 Somehow, it seems fitting that such an extraordinary woman should be the first woman member of the McGill University Faculty Club.
1 This is derived from my grandmother’s address on the passenger list of the S.S. Montclare that sailed from Greenock, Scotland to Saint-John, New Brunswick on February 16, 1922. Her address was listed as 41 Drumshegh Gardens, Edinburgh. Dr. W. Kelman MacDonald, Osteopath, is listed as the owner linked to architectural drawings of work that was done in 1922. As my grandmother’s job was a domestic, I assume that she worked for Dr. MacDonald.
2Immigration Form 30-A of Grace Graham Hunter.
3 Crawford, Ruth, 1924, “Canada’s Program for Assimilation”, The Rotarian, May 1924, p. 16