Category: Bagg

Clara’s Wedding Veil

Robert Stanley Bagg and Clara Smithers

A few weeks ago, when I was writing an article about the 1882 wedding of Clara Smithers and Robert Stanley Bagg in Montreal, I remembered that I had something that might have belonged to Clara. In the cedar chest there was a dilapidated cardboard box that my mother had told me contained her wedding veil. Hand-written labels identified the contents as the wedding veil that had belonged to my grandmother, and that my mother also wore. 

According to newspaper accounts of their respective weddings, my great aunt also wore it, as did her daughter. These sources mentioned that the veil had been Clara’s, and that it had originally been her mother’s. Clara’s mother, Martha B. Shearman, was married in Waterford, Ireland in 1844, so not only had this veil been used by many members of the family, it was very old.

I contacted Cynthia Cooper, who is in charge of the costume and textile collections at the McCord Museum, to see whether the museum would be interested in acquiring it. The McCord already has a collection of documents primarily relating to early 19th century merchants Stanley and Abner Bagg. Cynthia told me that the museum also has Clara’s wedding dress. She was excited that the veil and the dress would be reunited at least 60 years after my cousins donated the dress.

The veil was completely wrapped in dark blue tissue paper, folded and tied up with string in three places. The little bit of lace peeking out at the top appeared to be in good condition. I decided not to unwrap it until I got to the museum. When we arrived, Cynthia noted down some background information on her computer, then she carefully untied the string and opened the tissue paper to reveal the object inside.  

We were amazed to see a large, triangular-shaped piece of flower-patterned lace. Then Cynthia searched for images of the veil among the museum’s vast photo collection, and in the photos I had sent her. We compared the wedding photos of Clara, my grandmother, my grandmother’s niece and my mother on their wedding days. There was no doubt about it: they were all wearing the same veil — and they were not wearing the lace shawl on the desk. 

Cynthia Cooper, of the McCord Museum, and I examine this lovely piece of lace.

As often happens in family research, you make a discovery only to find it opens up more questions than you had before. I can imagine how the mistake happened: if my mother was the last person to use the veil, my grandmother must have mislabelled it when she put it away. But where is the veil now? Does it still exist? 

And what is the shawl’s story? It is clearly old, but who owned it? Did it once belong to Clara Bagg, or could it, perhaps, have belonged to one of my grandmother’s aunts? Aunt Amelia Bagg is a possible candidate, since she was married twice but had no children. Maybe it belonged to a member of my grandfather’s family, or perhaps my grandmother purchased it herself.

Beautiful as the shawl is, I was disappointed to discover this was not Clara’s wedding veil, and so was Cynthia. She had clearly hoped to reunite it with the dress. She did take us to the costume vaults to show us Clara’s wedding dress, which, to my surprise, was not white, but ivory and yellow. That must have been a common fashion of the times, but it was not something I had been aware of.

As we left, Cynthia promised to research the shawl to find out what kind of lace it is made of, and to date it. She will let me know in a few months whether the museum will keep it.

Photo Credits:

1. Mr and Mrs. Robert Stanley Clark Bagg, Montreal, 1882, copyright McCord Museum,

2. photo by Harold Rosenberg

Mrs. Robert Stanley Bagg

Clara with daughters Gwen and Evelyn, grandaughter Clare.

I have heard two stories about my great-grandmother, Clara Smithers, otherwise known as Mrs. R. Stanley Bagg. One story described her as shocking her friends by pushing a baby carriage down the street herself, rather than having the nanny do it.

My mother told me the other story: when my mother was a little girl, Grandmother Bagg was very strict about making her clean all the dirt off her shoes before she got into her grandmother’s car.

A 1930 collection of short biographies of prominent Canadian women said Mrs. Bagg occupied “a leading place in local hospital and charitable work.” She was a governor of the Montreal General Hospital and the Children’s Memorial Hospital, and she volunteered for the Ladies’ Benevolent Society and the Day Nursery. According to her obituary, she was also active in St. James the Apostle Church, an Anglican church located near her downtown Montreal home.

In addition, she was a member the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE), a federation of women founded in 1900 to promote patriotism, loyalty and service to others, and of the Art Association, Themis Club, Royal Montreal Golf Club and Montreal Hunt Club.

Clara was born in Montreal in 1860 to Charles Francis Smithers, an English-born banker, and Martha Bagnall Shearman, his Irish-born wife. The family lived in Brooklyn for many years while Clara was growing up, and returned to Montreal in 1879. Two years later, her father became president of the Bank of Montreal.

Clara married lawyer and businessman Robert Stanley Bagg in 1882, when she was 22 and Stanley was 34, and they had two daughters and a son: Evelyn, Gwen and Harold.

Clara Bagg and baby Harold Fortescue Stanley Bagg, 1895.

The Baggs were members of an elite group of English-speaking Protestant Montrealers whose values were those of the British Empire: good manners, duty, family, love of God, hard work. Their unquestioned role was to lead, and to preserve the status quo.

Clara would have been expected to respect her husband’s authority, to oversee the household servants, and to follow the rules of etiquette. She joined the previously mentioned organizations in order to meet her obligations of noblesse oblige, to socialize with the right people, and probably to keep from being bored.

There were some difficult times. Surviving family letters suggest that Stanley found his work very stressful, and that he was in poor health for some years. He died of cancer in 1912, while the family was on holiday in Kennebunkport, Maine. Presumably they had hoped the sea air would be good for him. A few months later, 17-year-old Harold was driving his mother’s car when he accidentally hit a child, killing him. In 1939, Harold’s 34-year-old wife, the former Katherine Louise Morse, of New York, died. Harold died in 1944, age 49.

Clara lived in the Bagg family home at the corner of Sherbrooke Street and Côte des Neiges Road for more than 50 years. She did not remarry. Both her grown daughters, each of whom had one daughter, lived a few blocks away, but I do not know whether they were close emotionally.

She died in 1946, at age 85, after a long illness. My mother said her grandmother was “completely batty” by the end of her life. I assume that meant she had dementia.

Photo credit: Courtesy McCord Museum; Bagg family collection

Research remarks:The Social and Personal Column of The Gazette is amazingly informative about this generation of the Bagg family and their friends. The column often noted when they had house guests or went on trips, and the newspaper printed long lists of the guests at weddings and debutante balls. Clara’s obituary is at,4063099&dq=bagg+montreal&hl=en. As of 2022, numerous articles about the family from The Gazette and The Montreal Star can also be found through

Westley, Margaret W. Remembrance of Grandeur: the Anglo-Protestant Elite of Montreal, 1900-1950. Montreal: Éditions Libre Expression, 1990. Based on interviews with people who grew up in this milieu, this book paints a fascinating picture of the world in which Clara lived.

Several turn-of-the-century family letters and legal documents, including a reference to Harold’s accident, can be found in the Bagg, Abner and Stanley fonds (P070) at the McCord Museum in Montreal.

The biography of Mrs. R. Stanley Bagg is in a vanity publication, Women of Canada. Montreal, QC: Women of Canada, 1930. I have only the one page.