Isa Grindlay, c1918

The saga continues. The little we knew about Isa back at the beginning of the project was captured in her entry in the now-static database housed by the library at SFU. Our current entry, in addition to being far more thorough, is far more correct. But not as correct as we would like, it turns out.

The first set of changes occurred in about 2010, when the database at SFU was revised completely with the help of our diligent RAs, Linnea McNally and Alison McDonald. Our entry was recently revised as a result of questions posed by Dr. Samantha Philo-Gill, who wrote about the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in France during the First World War. That story is detailed in an earlier post. The influx of new information led to the updated version in the current project, but the story does not end there. More than the unravelling of biography that Dr. Philo-Gill and I managed, was the serendipitous discovery of our project by Jason Johnson, Isa Grindlay Jackson’s great-grandson.

On Canada Day, Jason commented on both our blog post about Isa and the digital copy of Ripples from the Ranks of the Q.M.A.A.C (1918). His kind offer of help (which I inferred from his comment that he had photos and publications of hers) was gratefully accepted. It turns out, too, that he lives only half-an-hour away, so last Sunday I visited for coffee and genealogy. When I arrived, he had laid out about 50 photos of Isa and her family, with stacks of documents and clipping neatly piled beside. I was in heaven! The only problem was, of course, that there is far too much information for us to include in what is already a more-or-less completed entry.

I am really hoping that Jason and his brother manage to find the time to go through, organize, or even catalogue the treasure trove of information about this author’s life. All of our authors are interesting, by virtue of being part of our Canadian literary history, but Isa Grindlay Jackson stands out. She lived a fascinating life, inhabiting a number of disparate spaces, reflected in her poetry and recorded in the diary that Jason has read and annotated.

Our entries list her movements, but do not delve into the deeper experiences of her life: in 1910, at the age of 26, she immigrated to the newly formed province of Alberta; lost a husband and enlisted in the WAAC in the First World War; homesteaded north of Edmonton through the Great Depression and the Second World War; and finally moved to Vancouver, where her second husband died in 1955 and she in 1981, almost reaching her centenary. Hidden within her biography is the fodder for an investigation into the intersection of her strength with the hardships she endured, one of so many women who both settled and wrote about Canada, and Canada’s place in the British Commonwealth, during the first half of the twentieth century. Isa Grindlay Jackson’s life and work would make a fabulous topic for a graduate thesis; were I at the beginning instead of nearing the end of my academic career, I would jump on this one. I’d love to see someone else take up this torch.