Tag: Macfarlane

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, http://yearbooks.mcgill.ca/viewbook.php?campus=downtown&book_id=1898#page/56/mode/2up. Courtesy Benny Beattie. Lovell’s Montreal Directory (1842-1992), 1912-1913, p. 1536, bibnum2.banq.ca/bna/lovell/index.html


See the online article about women at McGill: Blazing Trails: McGill’s Women, https://www.mcgill.ca/about/history/features/mcgill-women

This story relies to a great extent on family stories. I used Lovell’s Directory (bibnum2.banq.ca/bna/lovell/) to track the family’s movements in Montreal, and Ancestry.ca, familysearch.org 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.

James and Janet Forrester

James Drummond Forrester, born Forfar, Scotland, 1823, died Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1904.

Slipped into the back of the photo album I inherited from my father was a picture of a serious-looking gentleman with silver hair. Although his name, James Drummond Forrester, was on the back, I had only a vague idea who he was.

Many years later, I discovered he was my great-great-grandfather, and a cousin sent me a photo of his wife, Janet MacFarlane. I learned that James and Janet had both emigrated with their families from Scotland when they were children, and they had grown up on neighbouring farms near Belleville, Ontario. They married around 1850, lived on the farm that James inherited from his parents and raised seven children of their own.

Thirty years later, they immigrated again, this time to Canada’s western prairies. Good land was becoming scarce and expensive in the Belleville area, while the North West was just opening up to settlement, so they sold the farm in Ontario and started over. Both were in their mid-50s at the time.

The decision was no doubt a good one in the long term, but it wasn’t easy. James bought land in the Aux Marais district of Manitoba, south of Winnipeg, during a period of real estate speculation and high prices. In 1884, when he could not sell his oats for a good price and frost ruined some of his wheat, he had to request an extension of his mortgage.

Shortly after they moved, their eldest daughter, Christina, who had married and stayed in Ontario, died in childbirth. James and Janet brought the baby to Manitoba and raised her themselves.

Janet MacFarlane, born Clunie Parish, Scotland, 1825, died Aux Marais district, Manitoba, 1901.

Lillian Forrester, who eventually became my grandmother, was very close to Janet, who was her grandmother, and she loved to listen to stories about Janet’s life. Lillian shared some of those memories with her cousin Charles Forrester, who incorporated them into an article.

Charlie wrote, “Although serious by nature and given to recording her thoughts and feelings in verse, none the less she [Janet] was practical and self-reliant, guiding the affairs of her household wisely and well. Yet she was far from claiming perfection, admitting the possession of a hasty temper, saying she was sure of more stars in her crown than Grandpa because of having to control a tempestuous nature, while his was placid, requiring no such effort.” 

Charlie then described James:  “Grandpa was not only a successful farmer, but a skilful carpenter, blacksmith and machinist and, with the help of my father, rebuilt threshing machines, wagons, sleighs and other necessary farm equipment.”

James and Janet planted a beautiful flower garden beside their house, surrounded by lilac trees. Both loved to read and had “a fine collection of books, many of them sent from Scotland and treasured like gold.”

When James and Janet Forrester celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1900, the whole family attended the party. After Janet’s death in 1901, James moved in with his son Donald in Winnipeg. James died in 1904. Both are buried in Emerson, Manitoba, a few miles from their farm.

Research Remarks: The historical atlas of the counties of Hastings and Prince Edward, Ontario, first published in 1878, listed James Forrester, farmer, from Forfarshire, Scotland, with 100 acres on Concession III, lot 20, and 99 acres on Concession II, lot 22, Melrose, Ontario. A searchable database based on this series of atlases (http://digital.library.mcgill.ca/countyatlas) may be useful to anyone with ancestors in rural Ontario.

The original book form of the atlas was also valued by the Forresters. It included a drawing, done by a travelling artist, of their farmhouse in Ontario. Grandson Charles Forrester recalled that, after the move to Manitoba, that atlas became a prized family possession.

Charles Forrester wrote a memoir about his extended family, entitled My World, In Story, Verse and Song, and it was published privately in 1979. His eight-page article “James and Janet Forrester” can be found in the Hamilton Family fonds at the University of Manitoba Archives, http://umanitoba.ca/libraries/units/archives/collections/rad/hamilton_family.html

Photo of Janet Forrester courtesy of Ruth Breckman.