I have written up a short description of the ways in which you all have helped to contribute to the richness of our project. This is largely so that the academic community understands how important and effective it is to share our research freely with the wider world. I have tried to include everyone who has contributed information that has ended up in an entry;  if I have left anyone off the list, please contact me so that I can rectify the omission.

Canada’s Early Women Writers project community outreach

The Canada’s Early Women Writers project (CEWW) aims to construct an online database of all Canadian women who published—in any genre, in any forum—before 1950. CEWW is one of the seed projects for the larger database project, the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory (CWRC), run out of the University of Alberta, and headed by Dr. Susan Brown.

Online activities

In conjunction with developing our database, we have been reaching out to the public to both gather and provide information about our authors. This has been achieved in a number of ways.

  • We are active participants in the ancestry.ca online community, building comprehensive family trees for our authors, which are then accessed by these authors living relatives and descendants. Linnea Regier, one of our first research assistants, was especially involved in this activity. Our involvement in this community is bilateral: we receive innumerable requests for information that we can provide about our authors’ relatives as well as sharing information about the authors themselves.
  • We maintain this website on WordPress, which houses lists pertaining to our research:
  • Authors already included in the existing SFU database
  • Authors we know will be included in the CWRC database
  • Authors we have yet to find sufficient information for
  • Pseudonymous authors who might be female and therefore considered for our project
  • Anonymous titles which might be by our authors
  • Resources we have used to compile our lists
  • We post poems or book reviews on our website every few days, increasing our authors’—and our project’s—visibility online.
  • We contribute short essays to the CWRC blog, which is shared with a greater academic community as well as accessible by the general public.

The results

Through ancestry.ca and our website, we have been contacted by a number of relatives of our authors. This has resulted in our learning more about the authors’ biographies, but also in most cases with the relatives learning more about their relatives’ literary endeavours.

We have also formed active relationships with other academics in the community. The three contributors of most note are Brian Busby, early Canadian literature aficionado, who runs the blog “The Dusty Bookshelf,” and is always on the lookout for information about our authors, or new authors to add to our files; Debra Martins, who runs the blog Canadian Authors Abroad, who is similarly helpful; and Ray Saintonge of Wikimedia, who has found the answers to a number of questions of identity, gender, and pseudonym.

Here are some of our research stories:

  • Phyllis Argall: The second husband and son of this author are still alive, and were very helpful in providing details of her life after she moved to the United States. They reviewed our entry and expressed their gratitude for our work.
  • Irene Baird: We tracked down Irene Baird’s granddaughter, Nora Spence, who is a school principal in Toronto. We also located an old colleague, Helen Piddington. Both women contributed data in the form of stories as well as dates and biographical details; Nora Spence had a copy of a photo of Irene Baird taken by Karsh in the early 1930s, and was prompted by her interest in our project to obtain a the original negative, which she was very glad to have.
  • Emily Beavan: This is one of my favourites. Lyn Nunn, of Australia, a descendant of Emily Beavan, had in her possession a number of scanned images from Emily Beavan’s personal scrapbook. Sadly (says Lyn), the scrapbook was in the possession of a cousin who was not as interested in literary history as she and we are. Nonetheless, she got in contact with our RA, Linnea Regier, and they sorted out a number of facts about the author’s life together. The fun part is the image of an acrostic “Napoleon,” had-written by the author, which we could not entirely decipher. I posted the acrostic on our blog, and between Lyn, her friend Chris, and other contributors, we eventually manages to transcribe the poem successfully—or at least to the satisfaction of all. Community effort indeed.
  • Mamie Maloney Boggs: Encountering a poem on our website, Mamie Maloney Bogg’s grandson contacted us with an offer of contributing any information they could to our project; I have sent our standard biography form, which he promises to complete in conjunction with his uncle.
  • Lyn Cook: This author is still alive. I wrote to ask about her life, and she replied by sending her standard bio sheets, and also her telephone number and an invitation to call any time. When I telephoned, she provided a long and lively account of her life, including her use of her grandmother’s name, Margaret Culverhouse, as a pseudonym, which helped connect the two names already on our list. She recalled having published a poem in the 1940s in Canadian Poetry Magazine, but no more. I was able to find the poem, and send her a copy, which pleased her greatly.
    Since our first contact, I have been in touch a number of times with her daughter, Deborah Lyn Waddell. Significantly, I had a woman associated with the Stratford Festival in Ontario contact me in an attempt to obtain permission to stage a play adapted by Lyn Cook from one of her books. I facilitated communications between the two, and in the course of the transactions reacquainted the author—who at 98 is still active and sharp—with our project.
  • Bonnie Dafoe: On our blog, Bonnie’s granddaughter Holly Jonson provided a link to her own blog, on which she had posted a recording of her grandmother Bonnie reading a poem written for Holly.
    “I just came across this post and feel happy to see that my Great Auntie Bonnie’s writing is out there in the land of the internet! If you are interested in hearing a poem she read for me not too long ago, I uploaded it to my blog here. Poetry is definitely meant to be read aloud, and heard (not just read silently). And, my Great Auntie Bonnie loves to read her writing to family and friends, so I’m thrilled to see it living on with other people as well. I hope you enjoy listening to her as much as I have; she’s pretty amazing.”
    She also shared with us the news of her grandmother’s death, and the poem she had written in commemoration: a tradition of Canadian women’s poetry lives on.
  • Mary Elizabeth (Connell) Donaldson: Seeing one of Elizabeth Donaldson’s poems on our website, her great-nephews, Paul Ross and Mark Donaldson, approached me with the question of which of the Mary Elizabeth Donaldsons in their family tree was the poet they had heard of, and was it the same person as our Elizabeth Donaldson. Together we solved the mystery, during which time I discovered a number of her poems in various old journals and posted them on our website. They located another relative, the author’s granddaughter, Eleanor Best, and gave us her contact information. In addition to providing biographical information about her grandmother to our project, Ms. Best was looking for a place to donate her grandmother’s papers. As we are not archival in that way, I contacted the archivist at York University, Michael Moir, who was interested in Donaldson’s papers. (Although that has been left in Ms. Best’s hands; I do not know what has come of it at this point.)
  • Dora Farncomb: Kathy Le Gresley, Dora’s great-great-niece, found us somehow and sent an email with am abundance of biographical details about Dora Farncomb. Kathy is, it turns out, in the process of writing a fictional, biography of her great-great-aunt, and was eager to share with and learn from us. So engaged was Kathy that the back-and-forth of emails, including the involvement of a student at Guelph University, led to a comprehensive entry—complete with photograph—being completed in only three days.
  • Amy Clare Giffin: Ashley Armsworthy and her boyfriend bought Giffin’s family home, and found her name carved by a childish hand (hers) in the glass of the kitchen window. They also found a box of writing and ephemera in the attic. Intrigued, they were researching her when they stumbled upon our website and contacted us. Between us, we learned more of her life, but there are still holes in the biography.
  • R.H. Grenville: This author—Beatrice Rowley—is still alive, but reclusive; she has recently moved to a rest home in Victoria, BC. While I had created a blog to post list of authors’ names in hope of soliciting information from the general public, the idea of posting obscure authors’ poetry and short articles arose from my appreciation of RH Grenville’s poetry; the first poem I posted was her “Tabloid,” from her only published text, Fountain in the Square (1963). I had encountered her poetry written before 1950, but was not certain (despite my suspicions) that the author was a woman. Googling her name, I came across a comment on another blog, answering my question: her daughter, Cathy Rowley, posted that yes, “RH” was a woman: “She was my mother! So There!” I contacted her, and later met with her in Toronto and gathered a great deal of information about her mother. She tried to assist me in arranging a meeting with her mother, who lives in Victoria, but given the author’s health and reclusiveness, that fell through. We have since been contacted as well by the author’s step-son, Charles Rowley, who has met with me for tea on a couple of occasions and contributed more information, including a copy of Fountain in the Square, signed and with a photograph. He also gained permission from the author for us to publish any of the poems and information he has lent to us for scanning; this includes a number of poems written as private gifts and never before published.
    As well, a woman in South Africa, Louise Saayman, ran across R.H. Grenville’s poetry on our site and sent another poem by Grenville, published in the British Women’s Weekly in the 1970s. She loved the poem, but knew nothing about the author.
    Another reader, Jeff Clarke, has a framed, hand-written poem of Grenville’s, that he inherited from his grandfather; he sought our assistance in authenticating the poem, and has since been in contact with both Charles and Cathy Rowley regarding his queries. He sent along a photo of the framed poem for us to post, too.
    Other contributors to our site from the community include Craig Walker and Lynn Cicarvalho, both of whom posted their own “RH Grenville” poems in the comments section, spurring a conversation between Charles Rowley and his step-mother’s admirers. The connections formed through these women’s poetry extend far beyond the borders of our project.
  • Mary B. Huber: Sheldon Rose, at the University of Toronto, is working on Mary B. Huber, in connection with Dr. Grenfell, and contacted us with documents and his newly created Wikipedia entry.
  • Jane Layhew: Dr. Coral Ann Howells from the University of Reading, UK, wrote for help determining the relationship of a Jane Layhew, nurse from Prince George to a Jane Layhew, author of Rx for Murder, of Montreal. The back and forth exchange of information created a rich understanding of the life of this author of a sole book, who (it turns out) was actually married to Northrop Frye’s cousin Lew Layhew. We have a lengthy blog-post about the twisty research path we wandered down on this one.
  • Alwilda McKenzie: Jean McCollum contacted us on our website comments to send us information about this little-known author, also a school teacher in Nova Scotia.
  • Catherine de Vaux MacKinnon and Lilian Vaux MacKinnon: Our assistant Linnea was in touch with these authors’ relatives—Daphne Biggs and Christine Kilpatrick—who are also related to Ethel Lenore Nichol Gnaedinger, another author on our list. They were immensely helpful in contributing biographical information and photos, and very please to have contributed: “This is an absolutely wonderful project that you’re working on and I’m thrilled to have played a tiny part in it” (Christine Kilpatrick). As in the case of Elizabeth Donaldson, our working with these relatives helped them to sort out the intricate relationships within their family tree.
  • Lesley Drummond Ross, Helen Frances Bagg Drummond, Katherine Bagg, and Lily Lewis: We did not have input, exactly, on all these authors, but Janice Hamilton of Montreal, the great-granddaughter of the Helena and Katherine’s brother, and I engaged in an extensive email discussion about their family, pulling out a number of fascinating and not necessarily sharable stories. At the same time, I was carrying on an email conversation with Helen Elizabeth Ross, Lesley Drummond Ross’s daughter. The shared Drummond name is actually coincidental, but they did help me to uncover more about journalist Lily Lewis’s very mysterious brother, Albert, who was Helen Frances Bagg’s first husband. These conversations also helped verify that poet Catherine Bagg (from Toronto, we learned) was not in fact the same person as author Katherine Bagg of Montreal.
  • Lois Saunders: Dr. Eva-Marie Kroller contacted us, because Deirdre Bryden, archivist at Queen’s University Library, had sent her a pdf about Lois Saunders, whom Dr. Kroller did not find in our database (because she wasn’t there, but she is now). The pdf gave us enough information to create an entry for Lois Saunders, who also was archivist at Queen’s as well as the author of Strangers and Foreigners (1912).
  • Gladys Devlin Stacey: We were contacted by the author’s granddaughter, Callie Stacey, who provided a great deal of information about her grandmother and her various pseudonyms. Callie also located references to another author on our list, Georgina Cecilia Mary White, who wrote under the pseudonym of “Bridie Broder.”
  • Kathleen Strange: Kathleen’s granddaughter Kitt Maitland is active on ancestry.ca. When we contacted her, she not only agreed to read through the entry we had created about her grandmother, but invited us out to her home in Coquitlam to rummage through her grandmother’s copious scrapbooks. A number of these we took away and digitized, sending the digital images back to Kitt for her records and to share with her family.
  • Rhoda Sivell: Linnea was in contact with the author’s grandson, William Sivell, who lives in Victoria and has reissued his grandmother’s collection of “cowgirl poetry.” I had the opportunity to visit him and his wife, during which we shared information on the author, each contributing to the other’s project substantially. He not only gave us copies of her work, but also a recording of an interview she conducted before her death.

The following individuals have also shared their stories and research with us, either by commenting on our blog, or by asking or answering questions on ancestry.ca.

  • Helen L. Whyte provided information about her relative Alice Maud Ardagh.
  • Jim Arnett provided information about and publications by his grandmother, Laura Vivian Belvadere Arnett.
  • We would like to thank Cairine Macdonald provided information about her grandmother, Lucy Bagnall.
  • Helena M. MacLean and Arthur W.F. Barrett provided information about their relative Ena Constance Barrett.
  • Ajai Khattri provided information about his relatives Celeste and Jane Belnap; Jane’s granddaughter Gillian also chimed in on out blog comments.
  • Geneviève Bruneau provided information about Minnie Evans Bicknell.
  • Lester Batten provided information about his great-great-aunt, Lydia Campbell.
  • Eileen Santlal provided information about her grandmother, Corolyn Cox.
  • Beverlee (Croft) Nelson, daughter of the author, and another relative, Paula Niall, provided information about Melba Morris Croft.
  • Liz Tracy Hartzler provided information about her relative Lotta Dempsey.
  • Paul Ross and Mark Donaldson, and Eleanor Best provided information about their relative Elizabeth Donaldson.
  • Diana Birchall, Winnifred Eaton’s grand-daughter, and Dr. Karen E.H. Skinazi, Princeton University, provided information about Winnifred Eaton.
  • Bruce Gordon provided information about his relative Beatrice Minnie Embree.
  • John Grove provided information about his relative Elizabeth Grove.
  • Evelyn Bromley discovered us while researching her Aunt May, Mary Inez Wordworth Lorton, and sent images of a hand-written poetry collection as well as Mary Lorton’s published volume of verse.
  • Vivian Moreau provided information about her mother, Elma Rose Machan.
  • M.D. McWilliam, Edinburgh, provided information about his relative Mary Maitland.
  • Pam McCorquodale provided information about her grandmother, Hughena McCorquodale, as well as another relative, Isabel C. Armstrong.
  • Jon Palmer Broderick provided information about his relative Mary Anne McIver.
  • Ron Robichaud contacted us with questions about Mary Ann Cort, but then subsequently provided a great deal of information about her relative Melita O’Hara.
  • Michael Edward Bath and Alan Kultschar provided information about their relative Marian Francis Osborne.
  • Geir Jaegersen, Norwegian Language Institute advisory board member, gave us translation assistance for our entry on Martha Ostenso.
  • Stephen Cox provided research contributions, and Dresdin L. Archibald provided family information about Isabel Mary Paterson.
  • Kaye Soulsby, in Melbourne, Australia, and the New Zealand Peace family archives provided information about Margaret Sharp Peace.
  • Just as CWRC was in the final round of software restructuring before our entries went live, Linda Cass-Jones emailed us that she is the granddaughter of Maude Gage Pellerin, and was willing to she with us an unpublished manuscript by her grandmother. While digitizing texts is not part of our stated mandate, I always like to share our authors’ works—in whatever form we can—with a broader public.
  • Jan Gregory provided information about her relative Jane Porter.
  • Dennis Brooks provided information about his relatives Kate and Laeta Ramage.
  • David Reed, descendant of G.B. Reed’s brother, provided information about his grandfather’s wife, author Elsie Clarissa Porter Reed, and her cousin, author Helen Leah Reed.
  • Judy Schette provided information about her mother, Evelyn Craig Rusby.
  • Elizabeth Donaldson, Patricia McDonald, and Carol Fraser provided information about Kate Ruttan; Kate Ruttan’s great-great-granddaughter, Carolyn Brown, also contributed to our blog comments.
  • Daniel Madden provided information about his relatives Mary Anne Sadlier and her daughter Anna Theresa Sadlier.
  • Professor A. Elizabeth McKim of St. Thomas University (Fredericton, NB) shared her significant knowledge of the life and work of Kay Smith; David Mawhinney, University Archivist at Mount Allison University, provided Kay Smith’s graduation records.
  • Callie Stacey provided information about her grandmother Gladys Devlin Stacey.
  • Margaret Sweatman provided information about her relative Constance Travers Sweatman.
  • Researcher Janice Dowson, whose research on Christine van der Mark contributed significantly to our entry on Christine van der Mark.
  • John Tepper Marlin of New York, and Randal Marlin of Ottawa provided information about their relative Hilda van Stockum.
  • Dorian Gieseler Greenbaum provided information about her relatives Peggy Webling and Lucy Webling McRaye.
  • Victor Willerton, son of the author, and Stephen Blake Willerton, grandson of the author, provided information about Irene Willerton.
  • Mary Joanne Peace Henderson provided information about her relative Anna May Wilson.
  • Author Margaret Buffie provided information about Audrey St. Denys Wood.

 

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