Genealogy, Montreal, Newfoundland, Newspapers, Volunteering

Miss Lindsay – Part 1

In June 1922, young Marguerite Lindsay travelled from Montreal, Quebec to Cartwright, Labrador, for a summer of volunteer work. Two months later she went for an afternoon walk and disappeared.

Marguerite, aged 25, had volunteered as a teacher with The Grenfell Mission in Cartwright. The International Grenfell Mission is a non-profit organization that was formed in 1892 by British medical missionary Sir Wilfred T. Grenfell to provide healthcare, education, religious services, rehabilitation and other social services to the fisherman and coastal communities of northern Newfoundland and Labrador.1

She taught the older girls sports such as swimming and cricket and ran the recreation program at the Labrador Public School at Muddy Bay, 10 km from Cartwright. Miss Annette Stiles, an American and the other summer volunteer, worked as the school’s nutritionist and cook.

Marguerite was my grandfather’s baby sister. The youngest of six children born to Mary Heloise Bagg and Robert Lindsay, she grew up privileged in a prominent English Montreal family. Her brother, my grandfather, was an Anglican priest in Montreal.The Priest

Marguerite Lindsay and her brother Sydenham circa 1922
Marguerite Lindsay and her brother Sydenham – photo taken in Montreal, Quebec – circa 1922

An article in The Montreal Standard newspaper described Marguerite as being “popular in Boston, London and Montreal Society.” She attended a girls’ school near Boston and, in 1918, actively took part in The Sewing Circle (making quilts for charity) and The Vincent Club (supporting women’s health issues). Later she attended St. Andrew’s College in England. Her fine education and choice of social circles were evidence of not only her elite upbringing but her ingrained kindness towards others.

In June 1921, a year before her departure for Labrador, Marguerite returned home by ship after a three month visit to England. She was only 24 years old at that time and most likely already considered a spinster!

Her marriage prospects were not good, since after The Great War, there was an excess of females over males of about 5,500 in English Montreal alone. 2 The women’s rights movement had already made progress for women’s suffrage, education and entry into the workplace. Might these changes in society have encouraged Marguerite’s decision to pursue her teaching? Perhaps she learned about The Grenfell Mission itself during her last trip to England. But how on earth did she convince her protective parents to allow such an adventure? Did her brother (the priest) approve of the idea, support her calling and aid in her plea?

Marguerite Lindsay 1922
The Grenfell Mission photo of volunteer Miss Helen  Frances Marguerite Lindsay

The two young volunteers, Marguerite and Annette, were under the direction of the Reverend Henry Gordon. He and his wife ran the school in Muddy Bay. Annette, perhaps a little homesick, described the area as “a bay surrounded by spruce-clad hills, resembling Lake George (New York), warmly sheltered from the Arctic winds.”3

Annette wrote an article depicting some of her experiences with Marguerite and the local people. It was published in an issue of the journal Among the Deep Sea Fishers. She described food demonstrations held for the adults and nature outings with the children in their collective care noting that “the children’s enthusiasm was very contagious – a great contrast to the boredom of some in more civilized places.” And then she continued:

Miss Lindsay was a very good swimmer and the older children loved her teaching them this as well as loving to work with her in the mornings … even on cold days they would beg to go in (the water) and the little ones would join in the chorus: “O! Miss, take I in swimmin’ too!”

It was a hot day on August 4, 1922, when Marguerite left her fellow teacher and friend in Cartwright possibly to go for a swim somewhere along the Sandwich Bay shores. She often took walks alone and was known to be a young lady very capable of taking care of herself. However, that evening when she hadn’t returned in time for the evening meal, a search party was organized immediately.

Miss Lindsay was missing!

1FindingGrenfell.ca – accessed October 19, 2019

2Westley, Margaret W. Remembrance of Grandeur–The Anglo-Protestant Elite of Montreal 1900-1950, p. 126

3 Stiles, Annette – “The Cartwright Expert Cook” – Among the Deep Sea Fishers, January 1923

Genealogy, Quebec

The Maiden Aunts

Aunt Kay and Aunt Vi. Their names were always said as a unit for as children we saw them as inseparable. Their lives were also lived as a unit, lives devoted to family, career and an insatiable love for travel.

Violet, born 1904 1, and Kathleen, born 1907 2, were the daughters of George Hudson Willett and his wife Isabelle of Caplan, Quebec. George was a farmer and a seasonal guide for hunters and fishermen 3. Money was tight. From the beginning the girls wanted more than a life on the Gaspe coast.

By the time she was seventeen Violet was living in Montreal with her older sister Madge and working as a stenographer 4. Kathleen joined her a few years later. In 1927 Kay signed her first contract with the Lachine School Commission, later to become part of the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal 5. Kay’s career was that of a teacher, a consultant, a principal and ultimately an adjunct professor at McGill. Violet spent her entire career at the Bank of Montreal retiring as an executive secretary.

Initially the sisters lived in a lodging house in downtown Montreal 6. Early in my childhood they moved to an apartment in Montreal West. The apartment was small: living room, kitchen and one bedroom with twin beds. Beautiful rugs, furniture, and treasures from their travels made the space appear luxurious. Kay kept a meticulous inventory of their possessions 7. The sisters entertained friends and family simply but elegantly. A drop leaf table at one end of the living room opened to seat six with place settings of silver, crystal and fine china. As children we learned to eat with proper table manners when visiting our aunts!

The sisters never married although family legend claims that Violet left a heart-broken suitor in the Gaspe, a man who wrote to her every Christmas until her death. Kathleen had many male friends and colleagues but there were no rumours of love affairs. Both women were slim and beautiful and dressed with style. Vi was a redhead; Kay was a brunette with a distinctive white streak. Later in life she dyed her hair and the streak became blue, an idiosyncrasy that fascinated me.

Both women were devoted to their nine nieces and nephews. They spent time with each one, individually or in family groupings, in the city or at the farm in the Gaspe. Family photos are witness to cousins and aunts enjoying time together at the beach 8.

More than the beach, however, I loved going to lunch with them in Montreal at the Eaton’s dining room on the ninth floor. It always included a shopping trip! Their joint gifts to all of us over the years included clothes, books, educational toys, university fees, and travel experiences. They gave me a piece of the silverware every birthday and Christmas from the time I was very young. You can imagine how excited I was as a four year old opening the gift of a fork! Today that silverware is a treasured memory of their love.

The sisters lived together their entire lives except for the four years that Kay taught in Germany. Even then Vi joined Kay to holiday with her in Europe. In the end it was Alzheimer’s disease that separated them. Vi succumbed first. When Kay could no longer look after her, she was placed in a home where she died in 1983 at the age of eighty 9. As in their youth, Kay followed several years later. She died in a nursing home in 1991 at the age of eighty five 10.

Thus ended the era of the maiden aunts. Their legacy lives on in the achievements of their nieces and nephews, achievements fueled in large part by the values they imbued in us.

 

 Research Notes

This family story is based on my own memories of my aunts and the stories my mother told of her older sisters in conversation with me. Where I can document specific facts, I have used the Evernote Clipper and stored the clips in an Evernote notebook labeled Family History.

  1. Violet Gwendolyn Willett – Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection) 1621-91967
  2. Kathleen MacDonald Willett – Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection) 1621-91967
  3. Library and Archives Canada. Sixth Census of Canada, 1921. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada, 2013. Series RG31. Statistics Canada Fonds. Reference Number: RG 31; Folder Number: 108; Census Place: St Charles de Caplan West (Parish), Bonaventure, Quebec; Page Number: 1
  4. Library and Archives Canada.Sixth Census of Canada, 1921. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada, 2013. Series RG31. Statistics Canada Fonds. Reference Number: RG 31; Folder Number: 124; Census Place: Outremont (Town), Montreal (Laurier-Outremont), Quebec; Page Number: 11
  5. Teacher’s Engagement document – on file with author
  6. Library and Archives Canada.Sixth Census of Canada, 1921. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada, 2013. Series RG31. Statistics Canada Fonds. Reference Number: RG 31; Folder Number: 124; Census Place: Outremont (Town), Montreal (Laurier-Outremont), Quebec; Page Number: 11
  7. Handwritten inventory of apartment at 7455 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal – on file with author
  8. Family photos – on file with author
  9. & 10. Death announcements, Montreal Gazette – on file with author