A collection of letters that William Sutherland wrote to Minnie Eagle before their marriage has survived. They carried on a long-distance relationship. She was living in Toronto with her mother and sister while William had moved to Montreal for an engineering job with Montreal Water and Power. I do wonder what happened to Minnie’s letters to William. He kept them initially and reread them, “five and six times,” as he often referred to her previous letters. Did Minnie not want her private thoughts around after they were married?
They are very sweet letters showing the developing love between two people and the preparations for a life together. William and Minnie met at Cooke’s Presbyterian Church in Toronto in the early 1900’s. This was the church both their families attended.
William was immediately smitten but Minnie took coaxing. He was thrilled when Minnie finally agreed to marry him. “There was one line in your letter, Minnie that did me more good than all the rest put together and that is saying a good deal. It was “I don’t think I want to wait so long.” These little phrases dropped now and again are the strongest assurances that you are now looking forward to being with me as I have been so long to being with you.”
How often did he ask? His parents thought highly of her. His father, a man of few words said, “ You should marry that girl right away.” His mother was his confidant.
Their September 1907 wedding was almost immediately called off, as Will went out to a tavern with his work colleagues. Minnie was part of the temperance movement and totally against alcohol. “I am rather astonished that you felt so deeply about that little question about going into the bars. But you need have no worry on that score. My position is so well known among the boys here, that not one of them ever think of asking me to have a real drink.”
Will was full of plans for their life. He and a friend Mr Schwartz owned a couple of lots in Outremont and were designing semi-detached houses they hoped to build. He sent his drawings to Minnie asking for her opinion. “One objection to this plan was the big kitchen. Some people think that it makes more work but Mrs Schwartz says, the bigger the better.” The houses were never built. “Our house building plans may fall through as there is very persistent talk of the company selling to the city and if they do I don’t know whether I would stay in Montreal or not.” The Montreal Water and Power company was later sold to the city but William did stay. He and Clare Dryden started a plumbing company.
There was some talk about how soon they should be married. He wondered if she thought she should learn to cook and keep a house first or should they learn together. “The greatest pleasure we get in this life is planning and arranging and looking forward and this I think we ought to do together. We are in the formative period of our lives now and I think we should be together. We have much to learn from each other and much to unlearn if we are to live smoothly and happily in each others company.” I don’t think she ever learned to cook well.
Their wedding was postponed from the fall to the summer and then to the next year. Minnie was in hospital April of 1908. He didn’t immediately know she was ill. “Your consideration of me is so characteristic of your own dear self and I love you for it. I should have been terribly anxious if I had known.” He didn’t rush off to Toronto to see her but her mother kept him informed about her progress. He even waited to send flowers as she already had 12 bouquets!
Further wedding plans didn’t go smoothly as there was a problem with her sister Amy. Exactly what, was never stated but Amy was upset that Minnie was to be married and move away. They both worked at Ryrie Bros. Jewellers but neither worked after the wedding. Will sometimes stayed away while they tried to bring Amy around. “I understand the situation all right little girl; a visit to Toronto would be rather a failure under present circumstances and I am more than tickled to think that you look at it that way also.”
The wedding finally took place June 02, 1909. They had a honeymoon trip up the Saguenay River and then moved into an upper duplex on Chomedy Street in Montreal. A friend of Will’s was going to have a border to save expenses but that was not what he wanted. “If it took half my salary for rent I would have you all to myself and nobody else around, for the first year anyway. Yours as ever with best love, Billy”
Letters from William Sutherland to Minnie Eagle, 69 Seaton Street, Toronto, Ontario. From September 10, 1907, to February 16, 1909. In the possession of the author.
William Harkness Sutherland (1879 – 1942)
Minnie Eagle (1883 – 1967)
Amy Elizabeth Sutherland van Loben Sels (1911 – 2005)
Dorothy Alice Sutherland (1914 – 1955)
Donald William Sutherland (1917 – 1996)