The White Fence, issue #37

December 2007

Sackville Christmas Open House Tour

Sunday, December 9, 1–5 pm, Boultenhouse Heritage Centre

  • Seasonal Exhibit — Miscellany and Mistletoe: Treasures Donated to the Trust in 2007
  • The Trust is pleased to partner with the Friends of the Owens Art Gallery in their Christmas Open House Tour fund-raiser. Enjoy old-fashioned Christmas spirit, with festive decorations, music, traditional mulled cider, gingerbread, and much more.

Executive Directors 2007–2008

  • President: Paul Bogaard
  • Vice-President: Michael Weldon
  • Secretary: Barb Jardine
  • Treasurer: Geoff Martin


  • Administrator: Adèle Hempel (full-time)
  • Exhibits assistant/researcher: Angela Hersey (contract)
  • Curatorial assistant/researcher: Marianne Lagacé (contract)


Dear friends,

Welcome to our 2007 Christmas issue. And do we have a special present for you this year! As your editor over the past 10 years, it has become obvious to me that the part women have played in the course of Tantramar history has been too often overlooked. We can now remedy this situation!

A few months ago, Al Smith sent me copies of the articles presented below, informing me that they were the projects of a new course at Mt A about women’s history that he found on the website “we were here” (see below). Well, I wasn’t going to let that one float by! One of the students in that course was Angela Hersey who had been hired by the Trust to work at Boultenhouse. Angela informed me about this course taught by Dr. Marie Hammond-Callaghan and, after reading the students’ articles, I asked Angela to prepare the Foreword presented below. I then contacted students Sarah Leblanc and Frances Ross to allow me to present the results of their interesting research in this newsletter and they kindly agreed.

This course began as a Special Topics on Canadian Women’s History (HIST 4951) at Mount Allison and has since been added to the calendar as a regular course (HIST 4461) now known as “Advanced Seminar on Modern Canadian Women’s History.” In 2007, there were 7 students, two males, five females. I was immediately fascinated when I read the articles passed on to me by Al Smith. I must inform you that, out of necessity for space, these articles have been severely edited. And I urge all of you to see the full articles, with all the references listed, at the course website. There are many great little stories in there about these interesting women that I could not include here. So I urge you to get to the website to get the full story of Ella Smith and many others about the Local Women’s Civic Council. You won’t regret it!

And I must finish by noting that one name crops up throughout the two articles, someone many of us know very well in the community of Sackville: Mrs. Frances Read Smith, the niece of Ella Smith featured in this Christmas issue. Mrs Smith provided information to the students and spoke with them in 2005. Mrs. Smith, I hope that you enjoy this story about your aunt and, on behalf of the board of directors, to you and the many special women of Tantramar and all our members:

—Peter Hicklin


Women of the Tantramar Region — A Historical Perspective

by Angela Hersey, Mount Allison University

The women of Tantramar are, in many ways, a mystery. As history tends to favour the stories of men in politics, business, industry, economics, and the like, the stories of women have fallen by the wayside. Certainly, this is the fault of no one in particular but rather, such marginalization may be symptomatic of traditionally male-centered history at large.

This special Christmas issue of The White Fence boldly addresses an important, yet overlooked, segment of Tantramar’s past. Women of this region have a story of their own, one to be explored and valued alongside the stories of their male contemporaries. Their stories are fascinating when considering the political and social climate of their times, and the expectations of them that were challenged in ways many of them may not have realized.

Women did things that men did not do. Women also did things that men did do, but because they were women, they either were not recognized, or seen as extraordinary, and often they were. Therefore, by including the stories of women, we are faced not with an alternate history of the region, but with a more complete understanding of those who came before us. Their achievements are not only for women to appreciate, but for men as well, for we have surely all benefited from the things women have done and their stories are intricately intertwined.

In this issue you will read about Ella Smith, and the Local Women’s Civic Council, but there are many more stories to be told. We think of the Once-In-A-While-Club, which brought academically like-minded, and patriotic women together in a very untraditional intellectual landscape for women in the early 1900s. We also think of women like Elizabeth “Bessie” McLeod, a woman who made a profession out of teaching art at the Mount Allison Ladies’ College, pursuing a career as an artist, and becoming the first head of a Fine Arts Department in Canada, all of which would have been remarkable accomplishments for a woman of her day. The Women’s Auxiliary produced diapers, gowns, and other items that were essential in the operations of the hospital for the first twenty-five years of its existence. These significant examples reveal only the tip of an undoubtedly very large iceberg regarding the impact of women in the town of Sackville!

The history of men and women may never be measured by the same standards, and their stories will never be identical. Our intention is not to decide what should or should not become of the inclusion of women into the history of this region. Instead, our job is to allow these stories to speak for themselves, but first, they need to be heard. What follows is our first effort in reaching that goal.

Ella Smith: Female, Eccentric and Academic

by Sarah LeBlanc

Ella Lauchner Smith was a lecturer in the History Department at Mount Allison University from 1940 to 1951. She led an unusual and interesting life both before and during her time in Sackville and was a colourful character of the Mount Allison community. Ella Smith was socially constructed as an eccentric because of her non-conformity to the expectations of femininity at the time. I examine her employment at Mount Allison in the context of Canadian women in academia in the first half of the 20th century.

Was Ella Smith a completely free agent in developing her academic career as is suggested in the following excerpt from an article published in the Mount Allison student newspaper?

“The course her life has taken (not an accidental one, by any means, but willed and shaped by herself) is astonishing, particularly when one remembers that women have not long had such freedom as they have today.”1

She was the first child of James Willard and Frances Louise Smith. Her father was in shipping and well known in the area; her mother presumably stayed at home and cared for the children.

Ella graduated from Saint John High School and went on to study classics at McGill’s Victoria College where she graduated with honours in 1905. She also obtained a Master’s degree in Classics from McGill in 1908. She remained in Montreal to teach until she went on to pursue her studies at Oxford’s Somerville College in 1911–1914. In 1921, she was the first Canadian woman to receive a Master’s degree (History) from Oxford University. Once she finished her studies, she spent the next years teaching at Bedale’s School in England and then at Smith College in the United States. She suffered from tuberculosis at Smith College between 1921 and 1926 and, shortly after her recovery, she began to travel as a means of conducting political research. Her most notable travels were to the USSR during the early 1930s and Spain in 1936-37 during the Civil War. After her time in Spain, Smith lectured internationally until she was hired by the History department at Mount Allison University in 1940.

The archival documents used in my research consisted of a dozen letters written from Spain by Ella to family and friends. These documents were especially helpful in assessing her personality, particularly her fearlessness and determination. In 1936–1939, the Civil War was raging in Spain. The parties at war were the Republican government, supported by the USSR, and the Nationalist rebels, supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Smith managed to obtain passports for both the government and rebel territories in Spain. It seems appropriate to assume that she was in some danger at this time. Dangerous situations, however, did not bother Ella at all. On the contrary, she seems to have found them exciting. In one letter she writes: “Especially in the early morning from four to seven am. I would lie awake listening to machine gun fire punctuated on certain mornings by bombing.” Later in the same letter she claims: “Perhaps the most exciting position I occupied was the morning of Aug 20 when a heavy bombing of Simancas was in progress preliminary to its capture the same day…” Yet in other communications, she tries to comfort her family and explain the logic behind her risk-taking behaviour:

“Don’t be anxious for me. Life isn’t so free of problems for me or the future so clear that in the most unlikely chance of accident one should mourn. Mere inconveniences or discomfort as you know doesn’t disconcert me if I am getting an “Experience”. There is only 1 chance in 1000 of more than discomfort.”2

It can be assumed that her fearlessness and determination were instrumental in the pursuit of her academic career. Smith was well aware that the path she was taking seemed strange to many (her family included), and made even stranger because she was an unmarried woman traveling alone in the 1930s. Smith didn’t seem to care much about respecting the “rules of the game”. Perhaps it was because she had learnt early on with which she was dealing were not particularly friendly to subversive women like herself. If Smith were to have “played by the rules” all her life, it is doubtful whether she would have been able to achieve so many of her goals, namely in academia and in conducting her traveling research.

More than merely anecdotes, these stories reveal Ella Smith’s perceived eccentricity. She clearly did not fit many of the expected societal moulds. She was unusual as a woman because she chose to pursue an academic career, and she was unusual as an academic because she was a woman. These factors most likely contributed to her perceived eccentricity. Many Canadian women academics during the first half of the twentieth century felt that they had to retain a strict division between their professional and personal lives. While men often established informal relations with their colleagues, women academics did not. They regularly separated their personal lives from their academic careers. This parallels the experience of female university history students during the same period who felt unwelcome in informal male student circles, and it was often explicitly so.

However, Ella Smith did not strictly separate her private life from her professional life as, for example, she often slept in her office and was not shy to engage with people. Of course, Sackville being a small town, it was much more difficult for faculty members to retain privacy in their private lives. There may have been few options with which to fill professional’s women’s personal time during this period, especially if they were unmarried. Certain social constructs prevailed, such as that of the male academic. Falling outside of the expected categories guaranteed an unusual lifestyle for female academics.

An interview with Frances Smith, a long-time resident of Sackville and Ella Smith’s niece, furnished possible explanations for decisions concerning her personal life. According to Mrs. Smith, it was a conscious decision on her aunt’s part not to get married or have children. That was fine for other women she felt, but she was an intellectual and had to put her mind to work.3 The choice seemed to be between a career and family life. According to Mrs. Smith’s account, combining career and family life did not seem to have been an option in Ella’s mind. This also reflects the norm of the time: for women, the choice had to be made between family and career; the two seemingly could not be reconciled.

Ella Smith was a lecturer in the Department of History at Mount Allison from 1940 to 1951 and served acting head of the department of history between 1940 and 1946. But she was never awarded professorship and she retired in 1951. Considering her extensive travels and research as well as her international lectures, it seems belittling that she only reached the position of lecturer at Mount Allison and never that of professor. In 1963, the university awarded her an honorary D. Literature and upon retirement she was granted a pension, however petty, of $200 a year.

Despite Ella Smith’s incredible personality and determination, one may wonder if Ella Smith would have been one of the pioneering women of the Canadian university professoriate. She died in Sackville on November 1st, 1972, at the age of 88.

Now, the First Thing you do is Take an Onion

The Early Years of the Sackville Local Women’s Civic Council

by Frances Ross

Community volunteer icon Frances Read Smith, now 92 years young (when this was written in 2005 — ed.), recalls the early days of her marriage when she became involved in the Local Women?s Civic Council (LWCC) in Sackville. Often their meetings would run late and the women would return later than normally and begin cooking supper. In leaving the weekly meetings, the members would call out to each other, laughing: “now don’t forget, the first thing you do is take an onion!” Smith recalls how she would, before even taking off her hat and coat, head to the stove, put a pad of butter in a pan, and add a chopped onion. When the women’s husbands returned home for supper, they would come into the house, smell the wonderful aroma emanating from the stove, and exclaim: “dinner smells lovely!” Preparing supper in the kitchen, the woman would smile to herself, her little secret kept safe; the meal would be late on the table, but so long as the family smelled something cooking, the late end-to-end LWCC meetings begged few questions. Smith was such an active woman in the community that she laughs to remember how “my husband would joke that the only food I did not put onions in was angel cake!”4

As illustrated in this story, the experiences of the women behind the LWCC are demonstrative of power and gender relations, particularly in relation to women’s organizing activities and domestic roles. In my research, I did not come across any accounts of sources that discounted the work of these women, and instead often found that they were supported by their families and the town, at least formally. However, as illustrated in the “take an onion” story, their organizing was allowed only so long as it did not interfere with domestic activities. It remained a peripheral activity to the main municipal structure (as preferred by the organizing women) and legitimate insofar that it was seen as a socially-acceptable activity for the women to organize around the idea of civic pride. This was not an activity that challenged the patriarchal system of private and public organization, such as fighting for women’s political access to the vote.5

At the turn of the 20th century, in the era before Frances Smith was mobilizing the town around social issues with the LWCC, economic, political and social developments were greatly enhancing community civic life in the small, rural town of Sackville. Led by the economic growth from the Fawcett and Enterprise Foundries (as the primary employers in this town of 2000 people), the Town of Sackville was incorporated in January 1903. During this time of transition, the LWCC was established and, according to historian Bill Hamilton, “they were a group of civic-minded women who lobbied and pressured town council”.6 The LWCC offers some reflection of women’s participation in the public sphere of town life.

Women were politically active in their communities long before they had formal access to a political voice through voting. The 1880s consolidated years of activity in the women’s movement. However, the women’s associations popular at this time were highly marked by class divisions with a “general broadening of middle-class wome’s reform aspirations and activities”.7 The founding of the National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC) marked the beginning of a very active and concerted effort to organize the locally-mobilized women through Local Councils of Women. The focus of this umbrella organization was to “encourage and support the extensions of women’s domestic roles into the larger society”.7 Although the NCWC perhaps did not understand their efforts as feminists, we can see how their approach reflected several strands of feminism, under which the idea of maternalism remained predominant:

“infused with the language of domesticity, it called upon women to define a public role for themselves as women, sisters and mothers so as to improve society, and particularly to alleviate the suffering of women and children… activist women started from an awareness of the vulnerability of women at home and at work. They saw their maternal responsibility for children as the motivating force behind their reforming zeal. Motherhood became more than a biological, but a social function, which, if re-invigorated, could serve as a buttress against destabilizing social forces.”5

In the early 20th century, women in Sackville were still strongly divided across class and religious lines; there were community-based civic groups in town, but they were primarily organized under the auspices of churches, and the churches were highly indicative of social class. The women behind the LWCC were motivated to begin their organization to allow women to meet regardless of these religious and class barriers and to provide a venue for relationships and greater activity outside the home. Many of the archival documents note the informality of these meetings. In the afternoon of January 29, 1923, “nine members sat cozily around Mrs. Read’s fire” for the meeting. Although the Council was formal insofar as meetings were recorded, positions were elected, and decisions were made democratically, this organization was also informal in the friendships that developed from their activities.

With a broad spectrum of religious representation in its membership,the LWCC, Sackville Branch, was relatively free from the confines of religious limitations that marked the NCWC at this time: “religious or broadly defined moral or spiritual societies dominated the membership and policy development.”7 As local historian Bill Hamilton fondly notes, “while there were other women’s organizations in the town, the vast majority were dedicated temperance and church-related activities. The LWCC was unique in being unrestricted as to membership; so long as you were interested in “bettering the community”, you were welcomed to participate, unlike the by-invite-only membership in the Once-in-a-While Club.” However, it must be noted that although this organization did not bar potential members because of their economic, political or social associations formally, there was a 25 cent membership fee to join. This was likely too much for many women from the lowest economic classes or whose husbands or families did not grant them the money to pay (as women without paying jobs often had limited access to currency), making this an informal barrier for many women.

The secular membership of this local organization made it different from even the NCWC. “Despite its official constitution as a non-sectarian organization, the NCWC and the majority of its members, promoted and followed the strongly-held religious beliefs of the Protestant middle-class majority”.7 Particularly in the small town of Sackville, your religion marked your social status. Frances Smith recalls the days when you could almost mark a Sackvillite into their job, and resulting social class, based on where they went to church; economic class directly translated into religious stratification (or visa versa). The Baptists were the working class with some of the executives of the foundries, the Catholics were the blue-collar workers, the Anglicans owned or ran the foundries or fishing industries, and the United Church claimed the college crowd.4, 8 The LWCC provided the first formal avenue for women to gather across religious and economic boundaries in order to enhance women’s agency within the community.

The LWCC provided women a venue to mobilize around community issues, allowing them to put themselves, their concerns, and their ideas into the public sphere. A lifetime LWCC participant, Frances Smith recalls why her grandmother and her friends were initially motivated to start the LWCC; besides breaking down religious and class barriers within the town, it gave women an access to power in their community, particularly considering the way in which “women were almost subservient labour”.4 Local historian William Hamilton explains how, in his digging through the archives while writing At the Crossroads,6 he was surprised to discover a group as active and effective as the LWCC in such a small town. He was taken aback by the role women had in the community through this group and “this was well before women had the vote!”.9

Many women wanted to be engaged in issues of community importance; but without being politically recognized through the right to vote, they had no access to this venue. Thus many women saw the LWCC as a chance to do “political good” in the town. Smith notes that the “LWCC was an act of sheer defiance; women were second-class citizens at this time.”4 Smith goes on to highlight that “the isolation and drudgery of daily chores” led many women to become publicly engaged in the group. In line with the mission of the NCWC and the confines of maternalism, these women “asserted their right and responsibility to be ‘housekeepers’ of the public realm7; many of the issues that the LWCC was engaged in involved the greening of a more inviting town as well as coordinating projects for local schools, churches and orphanages. Having children themselves in the local schools, the women knew what was needed, beyond what the school could supply. Many of the activities of the LWCC involved building a community support network.

The town of Sackville was soon building upon the women’s initiatives and, in 1919, the LWCC and the town council joined efforts to utilize the park at the corner of Bridge and Weldon Streets and officially named it Memorial Park designated as the site for Sackville’s war memorial. From turning a derelict construction site into a community garden, to coordinating the planting of hundreds of trees for Arbor Day, the women were building public venues in which they enjoyed spending their weekend and family time. Smith notes that “they never thought that we would be so stubborn; at first I think they thought we would just go away, but we just kept on working and soon they were struggling to keep up!”4 Investigating their impact on the community during these early years, Hamilton notes that “on all issues of public interest [the LWCC] quickly became a positive force within the community”.6 The women were in touch with what was needed in the town and often used their own independent initiatives to spearhead additional support and funding from the town council, especially on issues that the council would otherwise have had no motivation to focus on.

With the onset of the Depression at the turn of the 1930s, the LWCC picked up its activity to support the community during these bleak economic times. This increase in activity illustrates how the activism of the LWCC was driven by the idea of maternalism; a time in which the country and “their sons” were in danger, the women organized to support these ideas by providing the “comforts of home.” By making quilts and sending care packages of jam to the troops, they were upholding the idea that women’s place was in supporting the men, whether they be political figures or their husbands, brothers and sons”4. This is an illustration of women’s roles as reserve labour in a time of war. Although they were only granted political rights following WWI, their continued lack of access to employment meant that many Canadian women remained in female job ghettos, including domestic and clerical jobs. Yet, women’s labour had been required in order for the country to remain at war.

The activities of the LWCC also focused on supporting the community during times of war and economic depressions. At meetings, “quilt-making had become a common activity [the results of which] were either donated to needy families or raffled off as fundraisers for other worthy projects.”9 “Santa Claus boxes” were started at this time by the LWCC when they “accepted donations of clothing, toys and other useful items for distribution to needy families.”9 The women decide that the boxes should include practical items such as clothing and books as well as fun items such as toys and candy. The LWCC also began the highly successful milk project in which women bought milk for the students in the public schools, assisting the many students who came from poorer, undernourished families. This project caught the attention of the Rotary Club which directed some of its fundraising toward supporting the LWCC in this effort. Although this indicates that the members of the LWCC were fostering connections across community organizations, it also highlights the ways in which the women of the LWCC were being reinforced in the gender idealogy of their maternal role in their public-sphere activities.

With the incorporation of Sackville into a town, there was increased political space for active civic life in the community. Yet, without the vote, the women of Sackville had little formal political agency under which they could organize. Consequently, the successes of the Local Women’s Civic Council illustrate the tenacity of the women in securing themselves an active and political voice in issues they were concerned about. From supporting the students in school with the milk program, to creating welcoming community spaces with town gardens, to providing the comforts of home to “their men” fighting in wars abroad, these women successfully mobilized their own resources as well as those of the town council around issues that they deemed important. There were similar community-building activities going on nationally under the NCWC and, although the LWCC was not directly linked to this organization, their aims were very similar. The activities of such organizations highlighted how women were actively engaged in redefining public spaces by incorporating women into these spaces. In legitimizing the knowledge and skills of these women in relation to serving their community, the LWCC became an effective tool to open political as well as social space for women of Sackville to exercise their agency — drawing especially upon maternalist locations. By mobilizing community resources around local issues, the women of Sackville LWCC pushed the boundaries into a proscribed public sphere.


  1. The Argosy Weekly, Oct. 4, 1963.
  2. Mount Allison University Archives, Ella Lauchner Smith fonds, 7304/2/5/7.
  3. Interview with Frances Read Smith on March 11, 2005.
  4. Interview with Frances Read Smith on February 10, 2005.
  5. Maternal Feminism, Time Links: Manitoban History 1910–1920.
  6. Hamilton, William, B. At the Crossroads: A History of Sackville, New Brunswick. Gaspereau Press, Kentville, Nova Scotia, 2004.
  7. Prentice et al. Canadian Women: a History.
  8. I was unable to find such references to these ideas in relation to the stratification of classes through the churches in Sackville in the Mt. A. archives.
  9. William B. Hamilton, “Historical Detective”. Alumni Online, Mount Allison University.

Remembering Peter Bowman

On a cold, wet evening last May, a Red Oak tree was planted on the grounds of the Campbell Carriage Factory Museum. That planting was significant as it was planned as a living memorial to W. Peter Bowman (1945–2006). Peter had served on the Board of Directors of the Trust for 3 years with the responsibility for the management and operations of the CCFM — a job that he undertook with great passion and enthusiasm.

On October 20, 2007, one year after his death, family and friends gathered at the site to unveil a plaque and dedicate the tree in his memory.

We miss him dearly but fortunately for us his spirit lives on as we continue to develop the Museum following his vision.

Plaque unveiled at the Red Oak tree

Plaque unveiled at the Red Oak tree

Mary Wilson (sister), Pam Bowman, Chris Bowman and wife Laura

Mary Wilson (sister), Pam Bowman, Chris Bowman and wife Laura

Report from the Trust Office

Membership Report

We regret the passing of Trust Members:

  • John Carter
  • Eunice MacCormack
  • Lois Weldon

We welcomed these New Members in 2007:

  • Dr. Charles Armour, Halifax, NS (Honourary Member)
  • Grace-Ellen Capier, Qualicum Beach, BC
  • Bessie Dunick, Halifax, NS
  • Dr. Elmer and Dorothea Gaudet, Biloxi, MS
  • Jennifer and Art Kenny, Sackville, NB
  • Dr. Hannah Lane, Sackville, NB
  • Kellie Mattatall, Sackville, NB
  • Brenda Orr, Moncton, NB
  • Donald and Joanne Peters, Sackville, NB
  • Jim Snowdon, Kentville, NS
  • Daniel Vogel, Sackville, NB
  • Mabel A. Wall, Ottawa, ON

Membership Fees

Membership fees to the Trust are for a calendar year. Dues and memberships for 2008 are currently being accepted. Members are entitled to vote during the Annual General Meeting, to free entry into the Campbell Carriage Factory Museum and the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre, and to receive the Trust’s newsletter, The White Fence , four times a year.

Single $20; Family (household) $25; Student $5

In Memoriam donation cards

As a registered charitable organization, the Tantramar Heritage Trust, Inc. is able to accept memorial donations. Thank you to Leslie Van Patter for developing the Trust’s own In Memoriam donation cards, available from the Trust Office and also at local funeral homes. All such donations are gratefully acknowledged. Official income tax receipts will be issued to all donors at year end.


A heartfelt thank-you to all of the Trust’s many dedicated volunteers, and especially at this time of year to:

  • Marilyn Prescott, Barbara Black, Vanessa Bass, and Phyllis Stopps, for decorating the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre for Christmas,displaying our Christmas exhibit, etc.;
  • Michael Weldon, for providing our Christmas tree and co-ordinating our events;
  • Al Smith, for our Christmas wreath, and music during the Christmas House Tour;
  • Charlie Scobie, for overhauling the Trust’s website;
  • David Fullerton, for hand-delivering numerous mailers to our local members;
  • Donna Beal, Margaret Fancy, and Jean Cole, for organizing research materials, database development, and book arranging in the developing BHC Resource Centre;
  • Val Legere, for building much-needed shelving units for the BHC Resource Centre;

All those unnamed volunteers, whose ongoing assistance is invaluable (they know who they are!).

Welcome to Youth Volunteer, Joanna Perkins, who drops by every Monday afternoon after school to help out with a variety of tasks the staff have ready for her!

Volunteers are the life-force of this organization! If you have any time to spare and are interested in becoming more involved, please call Marilyn Prescott (536-3114) or Adèle Hempel at the Trust Office (536-2541).