Category: Smith

The World of Mrs. Murray Smith

My great-grandmother was born twenty years before Canada became a country, and she died on the eve of World War II. Over the ninety years of her life, society went through many great changes, but Mrs. Murray Smith lived in her own world.

Jane (Mulholland) Murray Smith

Born in 1847, Jane Mulholland was the daughter of Henry Mulholland, an Irish-born Montreal hardware merchant, and Ann Workman. She grew up with three brothers and a sister in a two-story house on Sherbrooke Street. Today, that location is in the heart of Montreal, the site of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, but when Jane was a child, she lived on the city’s outskirts, surrounded by fields, cows and horses. 

I don’t know how Jane met her future husband. At the time, he lived in Peterborough, a small city in eastern Ontario, where he worked for the Bank of Toronto. It would not have been proper for her to pursue him herself so, according to a family story, her nanny wrote to tell him he had an admirer in Montreal. Jane married 33-year-old John Murray Smith at St. George’s Anglican Church in Saint Anne de Bellevue, at the western end of Montreal Island, in 1871. 

Their first two children were born in Peterborough: Henry in 1873 and Louise in 1875. May (born 1877), Fred (1879), Ella (1881) and Mabel (1884) were born in Montreal after John was promoted to manager of the Bank of Toronto’s branch there. In 1881, the family bought a house on McGregor Street, high on the slope of Mount Royal. At that time the mountain was being developed as a newly fashionable part of the city.  

Many years later, my mother described her grandmother’s two-storey stone house with its big back garden. She recalled black leather furniture in the study, a roll-top desk and a stuffed owl under glass. The living room had red velvet curtains, walls covered with gilt-framed, gloomy paintings and an elaborately carved “what-not,” its mirrors reflecting dangling china cupids.

In 1891, seventeen-year-old Henry died of appendicitis. John died of a heart attack three years later. After just 23 years of marriage, Jane was a widow, but she was not alone. Daughter Louise lived at home until she married in 1906. Fred (my grandfather) moved out when he married in 1916, but he continued to advise his mother on investment decisions. The three younger daughters did not marry. Kate, the Scottish-born live-in cook, kept the Murray Smith family well fed for many years.

My mother recalled childhood visits in the 1920s: “Granny was a tiny old lady dressed in black; presumably she was forever in mourning for her husband. She always wore a black velvet ribbon pinned around her neck.”

Jane is buried with her husband, John Murray Smith, and all but one of her six children.

Despite her attire, Jane does not seem to have been unhappy. Her grandchildren often came to tea in the garden or to go tobogganing. My mother wrote, “I think of Granny at Christmas parties, surrounded by five noisy grandchildren, plus numerous older relatives, a passive spectator at the games we played, but always joining in with her laughter and making us feel she was one of us.”

For the last ten years of her life, Jane was bedridden, felled by a stroke or dementia, and May, Ella and Mabel looked after her. My mother recalled, “She lay shriveled in the huge bed with its ugly high carved wooden headboard, pink bows in her hair, her three daughters hovered over her. Each time she babbled incoherently, one of the aunts bent over solicitously, took her hand and said ‘What is it, dear?’” When Jane’s eldest daughter, Louise, succumbed to cancer in 1935, Jane did not even understand that she had died.

Jane died in August 1938, age 91, and is buried in Mount Royal Cemetery with her husband and five of her six children.

Photo credits:

Mrs. J. Murray Smith, photo courtesy Benny Beattie
Murray Smith gravestone, by Janice Hamilton


My mother was very fond of her father’s three spinster sisters and, in the late 1970s, she wrote an article called “Three Sisters: a Memoir.” It was published in a community newspaper called The Townships Sun, however, the quotes I have used come from her typed manuscript.  

Because Smith was such a common name, the family used Murray Smith as if it was a hyphenated last name. Directory listings are under Smith. I used Lovell’s Directory of Montreal to find the family’s location in Montreal.  Jane is difficult to find in the census of Canada. I think she identified herself as Mrs. J. Murray Smith, but transcribed that as Wilhelmine. It is easier to look up the family under the names of her daughters, May, Ella or Mabel Smith.

I have not yet found Jane’s baptismal record online. Her date of birth, 18 June 1847, and her date of death, 18 Aug. 1938, are on her gravestone in Mount Royal Cemetery. Her marriage on 4 Oct. 1871 is included in the Drouin Collection records on  

After the family home at 1522 McGregor Street was sold in the 1950s, it was torn down and a highrise apartment building was built on the site.

Annie Louise Smith: One of the First Women to Graduate from McGill University

At the turn of the century, Annie Louise Smith belonged to an exclusive group of young women known as the Donaldas. They were the first women to graduate from McGill University in Montreal. The university began accepting female students in 1884 and Louise and 13 other women made up the Donalda class of 1897.

Louise and the Donaldas

The nickname Donalda was a reference to Donald A. Smith, a Scottish-born businessman who spent many years with the Hudson Bay Company and played an important role in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He provided a substantial endowment to the university on condition that the standard of education for women be the same as that for men.

As far as I know, Louise was not related to Donald Smith. Her father, John Murray Smith, was a bank manager who had come to Canada from Scotland as a child. Louise was lucky because, according to a family story, her father believed in education for women, however, he died in 1894 and did not see her graduate.

Louise was born 11 August, 1875 in Peterborough, Ontario, where her father was manager of the Bank of Toronto. Her mother was Jane Mulholland, the daughter of a Montreal hardware merchant. Louise was one of six children: she had an older brother, Henry (1873-1891), and four younger siblings: May (1877-1953), Fred (1879-1956, my future grandfather), Ella (1881-1964) and Mabel (1884-1966). None of her siblings followed Louise to university.

The family left Peterborough in 1877 when Louise’s father was transferred to Montreal. They lived downtown for the first few years, and, in 1881, they moved into a stone house in a newly developed part of the city on McGregor Avenue (now Docteur Penfield Avenue), on the slope of Mount Royal.

Young women of Louise’s background were not expected to work, even if they had a degree; they were supposed to get married and let their husbands support them. It took Louise several years, however, to find the right man. In 1906, she married Frederic Samuel Macfarlane (1871-1918), who ran a retail lumber business with his father. Their first child, Anne, arrived two years later. In the early years of their marriage, Louise and Fred lived with his parents on Selkirk Avenue, a tiny street just down the hill from the house where Louise had grown up. 

Louise and Fred with Anne and Isobel on vacation at Cacouna

Montreal was a growing city and the lumber business did well. Around 1912, Fred and his father opened a west-end branch of the store and the family moved to a larger house on Sydenham Avenue in Westmount. The house was soon full as Louise and Fred had four children: Anne (b. 1908), Isobel (b.1909), Robert (b.1912) and Alice (b.1914).

Ad in Lovell’s Directory

In 1916, father-in-law Robert Macfarlane died. Two years later, Fred died. Suddenly, Louise was a widow with four young children to raise and a family business with no leadership. She arranged for people to run the store, but they did not have the Macfarlanes’ knowledge of the lumber business, and it soon failed. Fortunately, she had enough money to remain in the house on Sydenham and to send two of her own children to university.

Louise often visited her mother and three unmarried sisters, who still lived together in the house on McGregor, and they all celebrated Christmas and birthdays together. Her brother, Fred Murray Smith, and his wife also lived nearby.  

When daughter Anne got married in August 1934, Louise was described in the marriage register as a librarian. No doubt the job didn’t pay much, but she probably found it satisfying. However, Louise was now living on borrowed time.

In April 1935, her second daughter, Isobel, got married in the family home on Sydenham. This time when Louise signed as a witness, her hand was shaky. She had cancer. In August, Anne gave birth to the first of Louise’s ten grandchildren. Louise died on Sept. 18, 1935, age 60, and is buried with her husband in Mount Royal Cemetery.

Photo Credits: Donaldas class of 97, Old McGill 98, p. 45, Courtesy Benny Beattie. Lovell’s Montreal Directory (1842-1992), 1912-1913, p. 1536,


See the online article about women at McGill: Blazing Trails: McGill’s Women,

This story relies to a great extent on family stories. I used Lovell’s Directory ( to track the family’s movements in Montreal, and, and cemetery records to check birth, marriage and death dates. I have not found the marriage record; not all Presbyterian records are included in the Drouin Collection of Quebec Vital and Church Records. Nor did I find them in the 1911 census, but that could be an indexing issue; Lovell’s told me where they lived.