A Year of Canadian History – May

In this post, I continue my project for 2017, discussing interesting Canadians who lived around 1867 (the time of Confederation) in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday this year.  For the month of May, I chose to do a little research into Adelaide Hoodless.

Many of Adelaide’s important activities took place well after 1867, but she was born before Confederation, and I am certain she would have remembered the excitement of experiencing the beginnings of Canada as she would have been about nine or ten years of age.   (I wonder how small town Canada celebrated this event?  Note to self, remember to look into this for a future post!)

The early years of Adelaide’s life were fairly ordinary.  She was born Adelaide Hunter in 1857 or 1858 in St. George, Canada West (now Ontario, Canada). Adelaide was the youngest of twelve children, and her father died before (or just after) her birth leaving her mother to manage the farm and family.  Adelaide married John Hoodless in 1881, and they had four children.

Source:  Collections Canada (MIKAN 2890460)

Sadly, Adelaide’s son, John, died at the age of 14 months in 1889.  His death was recorded as “a summer complaint” or “meningitis” but some reports indicate that he died from drinking tainted milk.  Regardless, it seems that Adelaide believed that she was to blame for his death.  This tragic event changed the trajectory of Adelaide’s life and she became a family educator and worked to educate new mothers to try to prevent infant deaths.

Educate a boy and you educate a man, but educate a girl and you educate a family.

Adelaide believed that introducing domestic sciences to the school system would reverse the trends that were reducing women’s roles within the family and leading them to seek employment outside the home.  To support this, she wrote a textbook entitled Public School Domestic Science for use in public schools, stressing the importance of hygiene, cleanliness and frugality.

The aim of this text-book is to assist the public in acquiring a knowledge of the fundamental principles of correct living. (Preface, Public School Domestic Science, 1898).

She became public speaker focussed on the importance of domestic science and successfully lobbied for university level domestic science programs in Ontario and Quebec.  However, she was opposed to the suffragette movement, believing that women exercised their influence through their sons and husbands.  Adelaide co-founded the Women’s Institutes, National Council of Women, the Victorian Order of Nurses and the YWCA (in Canada)

Is it of greater importance that a farmer should know more about the scientific care of his sheep and cattle, than a farmer’s wife should know how to care for her family?

Adelaide died one day before her 53rd birthday in 1910.

Source:  Collectionscanada.gc.ca (MIKAN 2266356)

For more information:

Or visit the Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Homestead National Historic Site.


A Year of Canadian History – April

Welcome to the fourth instalment of my year-long blogging project celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday.  Each month, I am choosing something (or someone) new to learn about relating to Canada around the time of Confederation (1867).  In January, I looked at how Canada looked like from a geographical perspective in 1867 (much smaller than today).  Then, I researched the first (Isabella) and second (Agnes) wives of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.


The subject of today’s post is Dr Emily Howard Stowe, the first woman to practice medicine in Canada and an important women’s right’s advocate.  Dr Stowe had a life filled with remarkable achievements:

emily howard stowe

After this, Dr. Emily Stowe founded the Dominion Women’s Enfranchisement Association in 1889 to fight to allow women to vote. She became its first president and held the position until her death in 1903.

There are so many firsts in this remarkable woman’s life, she is truly inspirational! Do you want to learn more?  You can get started at the following websites that I used to prepare this post:

Library and Archives, Canada

The Canadian Encyclopedia

Women’s College Hospital

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A Year in Canadian History – March

For this month’s post in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday this year, I have chosen to write about Sir John A. Macdonald’s second wife, Agnes.  Much more is known about Agnes Macdonald than John A.’s first wife so I won’t go into a huge amount of detail about her life here.  Check out the links at the bottom of the page to learn more.

Agnes was born in 1836 to a family of plantation owners near Spanish Town, Jamaica.  I find this particularly interesting as part of my family tree appears to trace back to Jamaica in the early 1800s.  Agnes and John A. met through her brother, who was John A.’s private secretary and they were married in 1867, the year of Confederation.  They had one daughter, Margaret Mary Theodora Macdonald, who was born with severe mental and physical handicaps but lead a long life as a loved member of the family and does not appear to have been institutionalised.

On the first transcontinental trip on the new Canadian railroad on a train named the Jamaica, Agnes road on a platform on the cowcatcher of the train through the Rocky Mountains.  In her words:

With a firm right hand grasping the iron stanchion, and my feet planted on the buffer beam, there was not a yard of that descent in which I faltered for a moment. If I had, then assuredly in the wild valley of the Kicking Horse River, on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, a life had gone out that day!  (Agnes Macdonald)

“There is glory of brightness and beauty everywhere, and I laugh aloud on the cowcatcher, just because it is all so delightful!”  (Agnes Macdonald)

Following John A. Macdonald’s death, Agnes was named Baroness Macdonald of Earnscliffe, in the Province of Ontario and Dominion of Canada.

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Interestingly, the photograph of Agnes with the painting on an easel  was not just a prop, she was an accomplished painter as evidenced by the collection of her  paintings that are available online in the Canadian Archives:

Finally, any discussion of Agnes MacDonald needs to include a link to the folk song “Roll on Jamaica/Agnes on the Cowcatcher” by the former Canadian folk group with a focus on Canadian history, Tanglefoot!  One verse from the song:

Next day on the cowcatcher I saw Agnes take her seat
Survey the golden prairies and the foothills where they meet
The blue Canadian Rockies and then the western sea

Selected References:


Leaders and Legacies

The Canadian Encyclopedia