Back in October of 2016, I created a post listing all of the ways that Canada’s Early Women Writers project is connected to the greater digital community. For the most part, it is through contributions from relatives, historians, genealogists, and other researchers who answer our questions, or provide biographical and bibliographical information about the women in our project. Sometimes we help others, too, as is the case with Elizabeth Donaldson (many posts about that), or Jane Layhew, or Isa Grindlay.
So this post it to reiterate our thanks to all the people who have shared information, photos, and family stories with us to help make our project stronger.
Here are some of our research stories, many of which have separate blog posts, but not all.
- 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. Her story is complicated, extending as it does from Canada to England to Japan to the United States during the Second World War. I would never have been able to unravel the truth of her Canadianship had it not been for their family stories.
- 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.
- Jessie Findlay Brown: The library at SFU was contacted by Phil Harris, who had questions about Jessie Findlay Brown’s identity. It seemed a simple question, but the ancestry.ca quagmire soon bogged us down. Ultimately, we were able to establish that there were three Jessies who might have been our author: Jessie F. Brown, a member of the Canadian Authors Association in Winnipeg; Jessie Griffin who died in Victoria, BC (we know that Jessie Findlay Brown married Robert Griffin); and (the real author), Jessie Findlay Brown of Ontario. The SFU entry was improved, and the entry in the new database at CWRC presents the conundrum in more careful detail.
- Lyn Cook: When this author was 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. 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.
- Martha Craig: The story of Martha Craig developed slowly from our knowing only that she wrote a slim volume entitled Legends of the North Land—in which the frontispiece shows her in Indigenous costume, calling herself “Princess Ye-wa-go-go-nee”—to more biogrpahical information that we could possibly include in our project. This is all thanks to an avid historian, Nevin Taggart, in County Antrim, Ireland, where Martha Craig was originally from. I cab’t even recall how Nevin found us, but he connected our RA Linday Bannister with Martha Craig’s decendents here in Vancouver, as well as sharing a plethora of documentation about her highly eccentric life. The relationship between Nevin and our projects—as is true in a number of cases with other historians—continues, as he provides us with names he thinks might belong.
- 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.
- Ellen M. Fulton: Anne Sproull contacted us with the story of a cottage she has inherited from her grandmother in Little Harbour, Nova Scotia. As Anne writes: “My maternal grandmother and Ellen were dear friends, then neighbours in Little Harbour, [Nova Scotia]. Ellen sold to her the property on which my grandmother built her family cottage, and also sold her own property to my grandmother in due course, when Ellen decided to return to Florida, before passing away in 1960. This property is where Ellen actually wrote much of her material, I’m sure. The “Blink Bonnie” she writes about in both Acadian Summers and Along the Northumberland Strait in the poem titled “Naming My House” is the very same, tiny writer’s cottage. I’ve in turn inherited it from my mother.” Anne provided us not only with copies of Ellen Fulton’s books to scan, but also let us pore through what she believes are Ellen Fulton’s diaries and photo albums. She continues working on this mystery, now that—with her help—we have published a complete entry on Ellen Fulton.
- 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. She has since found a box of Amy Clare Giffin’s photographs and offerred them to our project.
- 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.
- Isa Grindlay Jackson: This is perhaps my favourite story. Once again, the greater digital community came to our aid, this time in the work of Dr. Samantha Philo-Gill from the UK. Dr. Philo-Gill has published a book about the WAAC, The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in France, 1917–1921, and discovered in her research a small volume of poetry, Ripples from the Ranks of the Q.M.A.A.C. (London: Erskine Macdonald, 1918), by Isa Grindlay. Thinking this might be the same person as our Isa Grindlay Jackson, who wrote Ballades and Bits (Toronto, ON: Ryerson, 1937), she contacted us with her information. Combining that with our biographical data, we did determine (not surprisingly) that the author of these two books of poetry was one and the same. We also pieced together Isa’s fascinating peregrinations: from her birthplace of Slamannan, Stirlingshire, Scotland in 1884; to Alberta with part of her family in 1910, where she married Charles Grindlay; back to Scotland after his death in the trenches in 1916 to join the QMAAC at the Scottish Command School of Musketry in St. Andrew’s; back to Alberta in 1919, where she married her brother-in-law Leon Jackson. She applied for a homestead in Lonira, Alberta, in 1920, shortly before marrying Leon, and lived there until some time in the mid-1940s. She then moved to Vancouver, where she lived until 1981.
The saga continues. 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, whose kind offer of help was gratefully accepted. It turns out, too, that he lives only half-an-hour away, so I visited and he shared tea and photos and papers and books… Again, as with Martha Craig, we ended up with far more information than could be included in our 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.
- 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.
- Margaret Millar: Brian Busby, one of the editors of Canadian Notes and Queries and the owner of The Dusty Bookcase blog, noticed that we did not actually have Margaret Millar—one of his favourite mystery writers—in our project. He not only contacted us with the rationale for her inclusion (we had previously not known of her earliest publications), but offered to write the entry for us. Although many relateis have given us extensive biographical information, he is one of only two or three guest authors in our project. He has also recently provided information for the entry for Margerie Scott, whom we had previously considered British; she did, however, live in Ontario for much of her adult life.
- 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 Helen 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.
- Evelyn Craig Rusby: In January of 2012, Evelyn Craig Rusby’s daughter, Judy Schuett, discovered her mother’s name in our Index of Authors. She wrote to provide more information about her family, and generously offered to send us copies of her mother’s chapbooks, Spring Fever (likely written while an undergraduate at the University of Toronto) and Schoolday Impressions (written when she was a high school student). She also more-or-less wrote the entry for her mother, as she is herself in the process of writing her biography, hopefully to be published in a couple of years.
- 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).
- Marjorie Douglas Weir Simpson: Initially, we were contacted by the author’s great-niece. Once she found us receptive to ammending our entry, she passed us over to the author’s grandson, Ron Simpson, who offered to contact his father for information. And thus it began. Marjorie Weir Simpson’s son, Stephen,was himself a writer, and so became very involved in the creation of his mother’s biography. So involved, indeed, that it was suggested that he co-author the entry. This way, I could use his words—as he desired—without quotation marks all over the entry. This way, too, he felt justified in adding little tidbits of his father’s very fascinating life in the military and as the author of the English words to “Oh Canada.” After many many emails, the result is a very thorough entry, and all are happy.
- 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.
- Gladys Devlin Stacey: We were contacted by the author’s granddaughter, Callie Stacey, who through lengthy email exchanges, provided a great deal of information about her grandmother and her various complicated 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.
The following individuals have also shared their stories and research with us, either by commenting on our blog or DoCEWW website, 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.
- Cairine Macdonald provided information about her grandmother, Lucy Bagnall.
- Julie Fines, the author’s great-niece, has provided all of the biographical information for an entry on Alice Sharples Baldwin.
- 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.
- Zoe Bieler’s daughter, Caroline Bieler Brettell, another very helpful relative, guest authored her mother’s entry.
- Lester Batten provided information about his great-great-aunt, Lydia Campbell.
- Brydon Gombay sent us information to correct our biography of Margery Grant Cook, her “Aunt” Margery (her mother’s best friend).
- Mike Quinton of Ottawa provided information about the pseudonyms for Amy Cox (“Veros Carleton”) and Madge Macbeth (“Gilbert Knox” and “W[illard] S. Dill”).
- Eileen Santlal provided information about her grandmother, Corolyn Cox, correcting our information.
- 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.
- Mhairi Kerr at York University started us on the path to learn more about “Nancy Durham” (Agnes Delamore) who wrote the introduction to Creative Young Canada, by providing an obituary and other information to help answer the twisted question of which was her real, which her pen name.
- 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.
- 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.
- Judith Kee sent us biographical information about her mother, Estelle Kee, who contributed to The Golden North Cookbook (1926).
- Vivian Moreau provided sufficient information about her mother, Elma Rose Machan, to create an entry.
- M.D. McWilliam, Edinburgh, provided information about his relative Mary Maitland.
- Jean McCollum contacted us on our website comments to send us information about Alwilda McKenzie, a little-known author who was also a school teacher in Nova Scotia.
- Pam McCorquodale provided information about her grandmother, Hughena McCorquodale, as well as another relative, Isabel C. Armstrong.
- Nancy Guppy contacted us about errors in the entry for Margaret Dixon McDougall, and after extensive collaborative research, the biography was revised to both of our satisfaction.
- 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.
- Tony Patriarche contributed a number of titles—include of a screenplay—to the entry for his mother, Valance St. Just Patriarche.
- Kaye Soulsby, in Melbourne, Australia, and the New Zealand Peace family archives provided information about Margaret Sharp Peace.
- Michael Peterson sent us a list of publications his mother, Phyllis Lee Peterson, contributed to, as well as augmenting our biographical data.
- 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.
- 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.
- The work of researcher Janice Dowson 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.
- Maud Morrison Stone: I was contacted by Maud Morrison Stone’s great-niece, Christine Owen, a recently retired lawyer who had been sorting through her parents’ papers. She kept running across papers referring to and written by this author relative, and so began to search the internet for more information. And found us. All we had about Maud Morrison Stone at the time was a reference to one book: This Canada of Ours (1937). After a great couple of afternoons poring through Maud Morrison Stone’s piles of papers together in Christine’s West End apartment, we managed to create a complete entry, as well as an informative blog post about Canada’s first (albeit non-fiction) graphic “novel” for youth.
- Dorian Gieseler Greenbaum provided information about her relatives Peggy Webling and Lucy Webling McRaye.
- Jacqueline E. Stuart gave us the life dates, full names, and further publication details for author Vivian Maurine Wilcox.
- 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.