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Remarkable Kawartha Lakes’ women, past and present

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The young lady in the accompanying picture is my great-grandaunt, Euphemia “Effie” McQuarrie (1885-1967), known by her extended family simply as “Aunt Ef.”

Born in Argyle, she was once described as “small in stature, a very attractive girl with a good mind and a delightful personality.”  Photographs of Ef, and Edwardian-era postcards she mailed to her siblings, portray her as a vivacious individual who personified what American writer Winnifred Harper Cooley called “The New Woman;” one who was independent, educated, and in control of her own destiny.

A schoolteacher by trade, Ef was well-travelled, writing from places as far away as Hawaii, San Francisco, and Yosemite National Park. Among her destinations was New Zealand, which, in 1893, became the first self-governing country in the world to give women the right to vote. Said the Duchess of Sussex in a speech marking the 125th anniversary of that historic occasion, “Suffrage is not simply about the right to vote but also about what that represents. The basic and fundamental human right of being able to participate in the choices for your future and that of your community.”

Back here in Kawartha Lakes, some 14,208 kilometres away from New Zealand’s capital, women have made countless contributions to their communities over the years – but those contributions haven’t always been recognized in the “official histories” of the area.

Watson Kirkconnell’s County of Victoria Centennial History, published around the time of Aunt Ef’s death, lists nearly 200 brief biographies of past and present citizens who made their mark in this municipality and across the country. Astonishingly, all but two are men. Lady Flora McCrea Eaton (1880-1971) and Edith Firth (1927-2005) make the cut for their contributions to writing, but they’re it.

Looking back, one wonders why Kirkconnell didn’t include a few more women in his list. He certainly wasn’t lacking in choices, for remarkable women from across Kawartha Lakes have been represented in the fields of art, medicine, and politics over the course of the 20th Century.

We begin with the arts. Anne Langton (1804-1893), whose collection of drawings can be seen at Maryboro Lodge in Fenelon Falls, can rightfully be called the matriarch of the visual arts in Victoria County. Less well-known is Amy Matilda Goodwin, who inherited her father’s artistic flair and graduated from what is now the Ontario College of Art and Design around 1902. Women have also distinguished themselves in the performing arts. Lindsay’s own Mae Edwards, for example, graced stages across Ontario, the Maritimes, and New England throughout the Vaudeville era before her retirement in 1935.

What about medicine? Dr. Olive Ray holds the distinction of being one of this community’s first female physicians, graduating from Trinity Medical College, travelling to China, and later setting up a practice in Cambray. Like Dr. Julia Ogden of Murdoch Mysteries fame, Dr. Ray stands out in a profession that was then dominated by men.

The same could be said for women like Tilly Mann (1887-1928), who served as a nursing sister in France during the Great War. Decades before Canada’s mainline [patriarchal] Protestant churches began to ordain women, nurses like Tilly were ministering to the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of those on active service. Nearly 90 years would pass before St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Lindsay – where Tilly worshipped – called a woman to its pulpit, with the Reverend Linda Park being inducted in 2002. Nor should we forget that nursing sisters like Tilly were among the first Canadian women to vote. Said one of Park’s predecessors in a 1918 sermon, “Let this war win a world victory for women.” He was right, although over a decade would pass before Canadian law recognized women as “persons.”

Finally, how have women influenced civic life in Kawartha Lakes? In the annals of local politics, Ada Greaves stands out as a pioneer. In 1943, Ada became the first woman elected to Lindsay’s Town Council. Fourteen years later, in 1957, she became Warden of Victoria County – the second woman in the province to attain this distinction. In between, Ada spearheaded the development of Lindsay’s famous parks system, which continues to be enjoyed to this day. She likewise served on the board of Victoria Manor, the Children’s Aid Society, and the Chamber of Commerce.

“She was a feminist before her time,” recalls Jane Gregory Gill, whose widowed grandfather married Ada in 1960. Ada, says Jane, “was a very strong woman [with] very clear goals in her mind, and she didn’t let anyone stand in the way of those goals.” Born south of Kirkfield, Ada was very well-travelled and, like Aunt Ef and Dr. Olive Ray, believed that there was much to learn from other cultures. “She was an inspiration to be independent,” Jane goes on, “to think forward, not backward; to be who you are, [and] not let other people tell you who to be.”

On March 8, as the world celebrated International Women’s Day. We should give thanks for the lives of Ada Greaves, Tilly Mann, Olive Ray, Mae Edwards, Amy Goodwin, Anne Langton, Edith Firth, Flora Eaton, Effie McQuarrie, and those mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, spouses, teachers, friends, and colleagues who continue to make our community a better place in which to live.

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Ian McKechnie is a graduate of Trent University (B.A. Hons. '13) and a lifelong resident of Lindsay Ontario. He presently works as an assistant manager at the museum here in town, and is secretary of the Kawartha Lakes Heritage Network.

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