Tag Archives: Lindsay Labrador mission schools

Miss Lindsay’s Last Letter

Marguerite Lindsay wrote a letter from Cartwright, Labrador, to her brother in Montreal, Quebec. The letter was postmarked July 29, 1922. Six days later she was dead.

Marguerite, 26, volunteered as a summer teacher in 1922 with the Grenfell Mission1 at Rev. Henry Gordon’s orphanage school in Muddy Bay six miles from Cartwright. She ran the recreation program for Rev. Gordon and taught the older girls sports such as swimming and introduced the game of french cricket which the boys played as well.

In her long newsy letter to her brother, she mentioned the gunfire from the previous night which announced the arrival of the “Bayeskimo2” in Cartwright. It had taken the ship just a week to come from a very hot Montreal. She wrote: “It is really cold here and foggy quite often, but very bracing, and I like it much better than heat; also when it is cold, there are no flies, and that means a great deal.” Then she described the local bug problem with a delightful sense of humour:

“We bathe in citronella. About 50 of them were getting free transportation on different portions of my anatomy … and there is a species of black fly, and their teamwork with the mosquito is extraordinary. They don’t bother to pierce your epidermis for themselves but follow exactly in the footsteps of the mosquitoes, and they hurt. I could hardly turn my head for a day, the back of my neck was so bitten.”

Perhaps that explains the white hat with a neck flap she wore in the photo of the children and staff sitting on the steps of the school. In another effort to protect herself at night, she cleverly tacked up strips of cotton gauze in the screen-less windows.

1922 – Rev. Henry Gordon’s Orphage School in Cartwright, Labrador (top row L to R: Rev. & Mrs. Gordon, three others, Annette and Marguerite)

Annette Stiles, the other summer volunteer and nutritionist for the school, became close friends with Marguerite. In her letter, Marguerite wrote: “We were bewailing our inadequacies about things we had to tackle; but Annette very truly remarked, that anything we could do was an improvement.” Between them, they cared for about 28 orphaned children3 and gratefully “the children’s enthusiasm was very contagious – a great contrast to the boredom of some in more civilized places.”4

These unfortunate children had multiple health issues as well – many of them suffering from tuberculosis and/or scurvy and berri-berri5 – mostly due to their poor diet. It appeared that the boys were much brighter than the girls and the adult ratio in the community was four men to every woman.

She continued her letter with a brief description of her daily routine: “We are teaching the children to swim; the water is not as cold as you might think…and you would be amused to see me giving the children drill, and getting them to breathe through their noses.”

The friendly duo happily shared their combined duties. “We really have been working awfully hard, but Annette is amusing to work with. We are cooking for some 30 odd people… and some of the experiments would turn your hair grey!”

Overall she adapted to the local food: “The salmon is in now, and we get over 100 a day in the net just off the point. It is very good; am also getting used to condensed milk.” She lamented the lack of ice, but mentioned that any attempts to capture young icebergs were foiled, as it proved too difficult to tow them home behind a boat without them breaking free.

As a reward for all their hard work, Rev. Gordon gave the two volunteers the day off, to accompany a fisherman and some boys on an expedition for firewood across Sandwich Bay. It took three hours to cover the 18 treacherous miles across the stormy waters. The “fisherfolk” at the point of White Bear River welcomed them warmly upon arrival and kindly provided food and a place to stay.

White Bear River (west coast) 18 miles across Sandwich Bay to Muddy Bay (east coast)

“We had expected to sleep on the floor, so had brought rugs; but Annette and I were given a bunk in a room about the size of a dugout, which was really comfortable after we had skilfully removed a pane of glass with a knife, the window being purely for ornament. They provided us a feather bed in the bunk, warm and dry rugs, and fed us with smoked salmon and cariboo meat. It was loads of fun.”

The next morning, they walked up White Bear River for a few hours…”as pretty a place as you could find” before safely returning to Muddy Bay later the same night with ”a perfect run right into the sunset”.

A few days before Marguerite mailed her letter, she met Dr. Grenfell himself (the head of the Mission) when the year’s supplies arrived by steamer. He made such an impression on her that she wrote – “he certainly has a great personality and has accomplished more than would seem possible.” Although Rev. Gordon and the men were away Marguerite told Dr. Grenfell: “Oh we can work just as well as men. You must treat us as such.” and the two girls insisted on rolling barrels and carrying boxes with the rest of the crew.

Soon after Marguerite’s death, Dr. Grenfell wrote a letter of condolence to her mother and spoke of “…the pleasure of meeting and knowing the joyous spirit of your daughter and the full measure of energy she was so gladly giving to help others.”

On August 4, 1922, six days after mailing her last letter home, Marguerite died accidentally while on a walk in the nearby woods.

For the whole story on Marguerite please read:

Miss Lindsay – Part 1

Miss Lindsay – Part 2

Miss Lindsay – Part 3

how i came to write miss lindsay’s tale

1https://www.findinggrenfell.ca/home/files/pg/panel-people-v4-large.jpg as referenced 2021-08-07.

2 Ship Bayeskimo – https://wiki2.org/en/Hudson%27s_Bay_Company_vessels as of 2021-07-15

3Most of the children were orphans due to the Spanish Flu Epidemic in the area

4Among The Deep Sea Fishers, The Cartwright Expert Cook by Annette Stiles, p. 127.

5Beriberi is a disease of the nervous system caused by a person not getting enough thiamine B(vitamin B1) in the diet

Great Granny Bagg (Kittens on the Wedding Dress)

Mary Heloise Bagg Lindsay (1854-1938)

The Anglican Church and her philanthropy were most likely what grounded Mary Lindsay and enabled her to properly cope with her family. It is my belief that as the educated daughter of a wealthy Montreal family, the wife of a successful Montreal stockbroker and a busy mother – she appreciated the solitude of her Sunday morning church service and the rewarding challenges of her chosen charities. Her obituary, in 1938, summarized Mary Heloise Bagg Lindsay’s life as having “been a life member of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Church of England, Governor of the Royal Victoria Montreal Maternity Hospital and Children’s Memorial Hospital and greatly involved in a great many charities. She also regularly attended services at The Church of St. John the Evangelist1.

My great grandmother, Mary, was one of four surviving daughters of Stanley Clark Bagg and Catherine Mitcheson. Born in 1854 at the Fairmount Villa, in the Golden Square Mile of Montreal, she grew up to marry Robert Lindsay in 1881. Her only brother, Robert Stanley Bagg, was heir to the family fortune, her two older sisters married men in the clergy and her younger sister married a scandalous real estate tycoon who mysteriously disappeared when his debts caught up with him.

Robert and Mary Heloise Wedding day
Mr and Mrs Robert Lindsay -1881

Her first matrimonial home, in 1881, was located at 436 St-Urbain2, which was a subdivision of a very large villa lot stretching down to Sherbrooke, near the Fairmount Villa where her mother still lived. Eventually she and Robert moved to 6 Prince of Wales Terrace3, at 455 Sherbrooke Street West (the address later became 1009 Sherbrooke Street West) where she raised her family and lived there until she died in 1938 at age 84.

Mr & Mrs R Lindsay - 6 Prince of Wales Terr -1917
Mr & Mrs R Lindsay – 6 Prince of Wales Terrace – 1917

Although Mary was petite in size and considered “frail” she and Robert had six healthy children.

Ada was her firstborn child. On her wedding day, it was discovered that the family cat had had her litter of kittens on the wedding dress that had been laid out on the bed!4 Somehow they were able to acquire another dress.  

This still remains one of my favourite family tales.

Ada - wedding - 1911
Ada Lindsay Griffith – 1911

Lionel, her eldest son, studied medicine all over Europe and became a well-loved family doctor in Montreal after he retired from the Canadian Army Medical Corps in 1915. Her second son, Sydenham, (my grandfather) The Priest became a well known Anglican Priest in the Montreal area, despite the warning from his stockbroker father that there was “Not much money in it!”

Her last three children did not marry.

1891-Children of RobertLindsay&MaryHBagg
Ada, Marjorie, Lionel, Stanley and Sydenham – 1891 (Marguerite was born in 1896)

Stanley served as a captain in WWI and survived the Battle at Ypres in 1915. Afterward he returned home to follow in his father’s footsteps and became another successful Montreal stockbroker. He remained the bachelor uncle who enjoyed doting on his nieces (especially my mother) and nephews. Beautiful Marjorie, however, remained a spinster when permission to marry her one true love across the Atlantic was denied for her own safety5. And sadly, Mary’s youngest child, Marguerite, died at age 26 as a summer volunteer with the Grenfell Mission in Labrador.Miss Lindsay – Part 1

Mary must have drawn great strength and comfort from her faith to support her adventurous children in their respective challenging worlds.

Updated and edited – 2023-03-27 by author

1 The Montreal Gazette, August 15, 1938.

2 Lovell’s 1890 – 1906.

3Commissioned 1860 to honour the Prince of Wales, Prince of Wales Terrace consisted of a row of nine houses which presented a unified, Montreal limestone facade in the Classical Greek style.

4 As told to me by my aunt, Katharin Lindsay Welch, telephone conversation – June 2013

5 As told to me by my aunt, Katharin Lindsay Welch, telephone conversation – June 2013