with additional research by Justin Bur
Some of my female ancestors are almost invisible. They got married, had children and left no other traces of their lives. But a few left paper trails such as letters, journals and drawings. My two-times great-aunt Amelia Josephine Bagg (1852-1943) was one of them. Married twice but with no children of her own, she became deeply involved in the family real estate business.
Amelia was the third of the five children (one boy, four girls) of Montreal landowner Stanley Clark Bagg (SCB) and his wife, Catharine Mitcheson Bagg. The children grew up in the family home, Fairmount Villa, near what is now the corner of Sherbrooke and St. Urbain streets. There, they had a big garden to play in and no doubt a nanny to care for them when they were little and a governess to educate them.
Unlike many women of her time and class, Amelia found the opportunity to use her education.
SCB had inherited several large properties on the Island of Montreal, extended along the west side of St. Lawrence Street (now busy Boulevard Saint-Laurent). During his lifetime, this was agricultural land and, although he was trained as a notary, SCB made his income by leasing his properties to farmers.
He died unexpectedly at age 53, in 1873, when Amelia was just 21. SCB named his wife and her brother (who was a Philadelphia lawyer) as executors of his estate.1 Son Robert Stanley Bagg (RSB), a recent law graduate from McGill University, took on the responsibility of managing it. Over the years, the widowed Catharine and her daughters had a great deal of input into decisions about the estate, with Amelia being the daughter who took the greatest interest.
Around the end of the century, Montreal grew rapidly. Business leaders developed new industries, founded banks and built railways, and immigrants arrived to fill newly created jobs. Property belonging to SCB’s estate could now be divided into lots and sold to people who wanted to build homes or invest in rental housing. Around 1890, some legal hurdles prevented the family from selling the most valuable properties, however, the family managed to resolve these problems. That will be a story for another time.
With these issues resolved, Amelia and her siblings divided up some of the land and became owners of lots that they could sell or buildings they could rent out themselves. Amelia became an independently wealthy woman.
She also developed an interest in the details of the family real estate business, keeping track of land prices, interest rates and other factors influencing real estate sales. In the fall of 1890,2 while her brother took his wife and children on an extended trip to England, Amelia coordinated decisions on new property sales. She wrote to ask for his advice and to bring him up-to-date on family news.3
“Fairmount, Nov. 6th
“My dear Brother,
“I thought I would write and tell you that we are about to sell some lots on the ‘Clark Estate’ but I do not know whether you will be quite satisfied or not. They are twelve lots on St. Urbain Street, from Guilbault St. down, and we are taking 50 cents “en bloc” for the twelve lots. I know that you said 60 cents per foot for single lots but as this is for twelve lots we thought perhaps it was better not to lose the sale.4 Bob said that you told him we could take less than the price named, and McMann said he was selling lots of Park Avenue for 45cts.7 I hesitated for a long time as I did not wish to make a sale that you would not approve, but Kate was in favor of selling, so also was Bob, and Helen and I did not know what to do….5
“Vipond has paid his interest today which I will deposit in Merchant’s Bank. Thomson has not yet paid but I had sent him another bill before hearing from you. Of course for the present all money both interest and capital will be deposited in the bank, but when you return we think it would be better for us to draw the interest and leave only the capital in the bank.….”
Much of the Bagg estate was still leased out to farmers at that time, and one day a month was reserved for tenants to deliver the rent. In the same letter, Amelia referred to this so-called reception day, but she was actually describing the arrival of her sister Mary Heloise Lindsay’s fifth child on Nov. 3, 1890. Mary and her husband Robert Lindsay lived at 436 St. Urbain. Amelia told her brother:
“Kate and I made out the Nov. statements of rents due and gave the list to Bob so that when the people paid he could check them off. We were surprised at an unexpected arrival at 436 St. Urbain Street on Monday. It is true that is the reception day there now, but this particular visitor was not expected just then. It was a dear fat little girl! She arrived at 8 o’clock in the evening.”
Amelia also kept track of the sales of lots from the estate between 1890 and 1900 in a hardcover ledger with ruled pages. My mother eventually inherited that ledger. Her cousin had given numerous family letters, business records and other documents to the McCord Stewart Museum (a Montreal museum of social history) some years earlier, but my mother hung on to the ledger. After she died, I found it in a desk drawer in the spare bedroom.
When I started to research the Bagg family and their role in Montreal history, the ledger’s importance as a record of those land transactions became clear, so I donated it to the McCord.6 I hope Amelia would have approved.
This article is also posted on http://www.writinguptheancestors.ca.
Janice Hamilton, “Stanley Clark Bagg’s Four Forgotten Daughters,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Sept. 30,2017, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2017/09/stanley-clark-baggs-four-forgotten.html
Janice Hamilton, “My Great-Great Aunts, Montreal Real Estate Developers,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Oct. 11, 2017, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2017/10/my-great-great-great-aunts-montreal.html
Janice Hamilton, “John Clark, 19th Century Real-Estate Visionary,” Writing Up the Ancestors, May 22, 2019, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/category/john-clark
Notes and Sources
- City of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). Register of Wills Office; Wills, No 772-802, 1887, Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1683-1993 [database on-line, entry for Catharine Mitcheson Bagg, accessed April 2, 2023], original data: Pennsylvania County, District and Probate Courts. This is a copy of the will that is very easy to read. It was probably copied in Philadelphia because McGregor J. Mitcheson, Catharine’s brother and an executor of SCB’s will, died in 1886. About a month after SCB’s 1873 death, notary J. A. Labadie deposited at the land registry office in Montreal a copy of the 1866 will and the 1870 codicil and a declaration of death. Bureau d’enregistrement Montréal-Ouest, no 74545, registered 6 September 1873; at Registre foncier du Québec, online.
- Amelia did not note the year on her letter, but we know it was written in written in 1890 because that was the year her niece Marjorie Mary Clark Lindsay was born.
3. Correspondance de la famille Bagg. McCord Museum, Fonds Bagg, P070/B08, https://collections.musee-mccord-stewart.ca/en/objects/416400/correspondance p. 43 (accessed April 3, 2023)
4. RSB must have told them to hold out for the full price. The lots were not sold until the following year. On Nov. 18, 1891, real estate agent and furrier Robert Lamb purchased not just the 12 lots mentioned here, but an extended row of 22 lots, paying 60 cents a square foot.
5. The people mentioned here are probably Amelia’s sisters Katherine Sophia Mills and Helen Frances Lewis. Bob was likely Robert Lindsay, her sister Mary’s husband. McCann was a real estate agent.
6. Amelia Josephine Bagg Mulholland, Grand livre, 1891-1927, McCord Museum, Fonds Bagg, P070/B07,1. https://collections.musee-mccord-stewart.ca/en/objects/293626/a-j-mulholland-ledger (accessed April 3, 2023)