Category: Smith

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.

A Wedding in the Family

When my son Michael and his long-time girlfriend Jennifer get married this weekend, it will be a very traditional ceremony. The wedding will take place at Montreal West United Church, the same church where Jen’s parents were married. Jen will wear a long white dress, a borrowed pair of earrings and blue shoes.  

Here’s their story as they tell it: “This wedding is a love story 13 years in the making! We first met in CEGEP [junior college] when we were just teenagers. At the groom’s insistence, mutual friends organized our first meeting: a competitive game of pool at Sharx on St. Catherine Street. A new friendship was born and, after 10 years of ups and downs, we somehow managed to remain a part of each others’ lives. And it was all meant to be because this October, after almost four years of dating, we’ll be making it legal. It’s till death do us part now, and we couldn’t be happier!”

All this has led me to think about some of the other weddings in my family, and about how much courtship has changed. A huge change came in my parents’ generation. Prior to World War II, many Canadians married within their own social circles. Couples often grew up in the same small towns or went to school together. But during the war, as men joined the military and women joined the workforce,  people met new friends and were exposed to different ideas. My father was from Winnipeg and my mother grew up in Montreal, but they met in Ottawa during the war and were married in 1946.

This is a colourized photo of my grandmother Gwendolyn Bagg on her wedding day in 1916.

My father’s parents, Thomas Glendenning Hamilton and Lillian Forrester, probably met at the Winnipeg hospital where he was a doctor and she a nurse. They were married in 1906 at Lillian’s uncle’s home. Going back another generation, James Hamilton and Isabella Glendenning, who married in 1859, both grew up in a close-knit farming community in what is now Scarborough, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto. They may have met at the church both their families attended, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church.

On my mother’s father’s side, when Jane Mulholland, the daughter of a Montreal hardware merchant, met John Murray Smith, she was smitten. John, however, lived in Ontario at the time, where he worked at a bank. According to a family story, she told her nanny that she admired this young man and the nanny wrote a letter that brought couple together. It would have been difficult for Jane to pursue John long-distance on her own behalf. They married near Montreal in 1871.

A page from Clara Smithers’ autograph book with a poem from RSCB.

Going back another generation on the Smith side, James Avon Smith was an assistant school teacher in MacDuff, Scotland. When he married the schoolmaster’s daughter, Jean Tocher, in 1823, she was already pregnant. 

Most parents tried their best to prevent this situation. It was not considered proper for young couples to spend time alone together and when my future great-grandparents Robert Stanley Bagg and Clara Smithers began courting in 1880, they would have always been surrounded by friends and family members. He wooed her by writing poems in her autograph book. 

The 1844 wedding of Robert Stanley’s Bagg’s parents was a genealogically significant event on my mother’s side of the family because Stanley Clark Bagg and Catharine Mitcheson were first cousins once removed. Marriage between cousins was not uncommon, but I can’t help wondering how they met, since she lived in Philadelphia and he lived in Montreal. They were married in Philadelphia, with Catharine’s brother Rev. Robert McGregor Mitcheson officiating.  

The fact that Mike and Jen are getting married, as opposed to living common-law as many couples do in Quebec today, is a mark of their commitment to each other as much as it is a nod to tradition. I am very happy for them.

Further Reading 

For more on the courtship and marriage customs of our Canadian ancestors see this article prepared by Library and Archives Canada: “I Do:  Love and Marriage in 19thCentury Canada”,  

Marriages between cousins contribute to a phenomenon called pedigree collapse in which the family trees of these peoples’ descendants are smaller than they would be otherwise. There are many articles about this phenomenon online, including this one by the International Society of Genetic Genealogy,