In my mother’s family, which was a large one, it was the custom to hand over each new baby to an older brother or sister as their special charge. My Aunt Vio was my mother’s special charge – so when I was born on March 2, 1885, at my grandmother’s house on Selby Street in Toronto, my mother called in her young sister Vio and I, the first in my generation, was given to her. She was about 11 years old at that time, too young to be a godmother, and in our family this perhaps meant more than to be a Godparent. When our Dick was born I gave him to Aunt Vio in the same way.
The story I remember Grannie telling was that Harold was the youngest son of a large Protestant family. His parents died when he was very young and he was left in charge of his elder siblings who were not delighted to have the responsibility. As soon as possible he was sent to a private school south of Leeds. At some point, likely in early adolescent, he asked for two pounds for books and was duly sent the money. This he spent on dancing shoes and dancing lessons. Dancing was considered ungodly by the Protestants of the time and when his brother and sisters found this out they were convinced he was in league with the devil and needed to be put on the straight and narrow. So to Canada he was shipped. ~ Susan Gordon
Nina in Jean’s Arms
My mother was Jean Hannah Grahame or Joy and my father was Harold Holt Joy. I know very little of his family, but a great deal of my mother’s. When I was six weeks old my father had his photograph taken with me in his arms and, when asked why, replied “Because she may be a famous beauty some day!”
He left us when I was about 5 years old and as a child, I have only hazy memories of him. The most vivid is going with him one evening to see a friend who had a white rat. It was a rainy evening and getting dark. We had to cross a rail road tracks and there were headlights of engines on the wet pavement and I was afraid. I also remember him in the train saying good-bye when we left the south where we had been living. I did not see him again for many years.
From hearsay I know the following of my parents first years of marriage. My mother and family - her father had died some years before, were living in Barrie Ontario. Harold Joy was a young son of a well-to-do family in Leeds, England and was sent to Canada to learn to farm.
The man who took these young Englishmen to teach farming was not much good as a teacher and had nothing much of a farm so they spent a good deal of time skating in winter and learning to drink, all of which was fatal to my father’s life.
He and my mother were married when both very young. Both his money and my mother’s were invested in a farm which neither of them knew how to run and was soon given up with all their money gone. Douglas, my eldest brother, was born while they were there.
Not long after his birth, my father went to the States to get work. My mother followed with her two children some months later. In Nashville Tennessee my younger brother, Ernst Grahame, was born and I remember some darkies telling me I had a new brother.
Ernst and Nina in Georgia
Rome, Georgia - 1890s
I think those were very hard years for my mother. Her health was not good (I remember her being ill and my being kept out of her room). I remember my father was drinking very heavily and could not keep any job because of that. So when the baby was a few weeks old my mother took us to visit her uncle, Martin Grahame, who was living in Rome, Georgia, on a cotton plantation. My father, I think, was to pack up our bags and follow us, which he never did.
I remember a good deal of that visit to Rome. I broke my arm there. Uncle Martin’s daughter Jane was just a little older than me and we have been great friends ever since, though not often seeing each other for years at a time. We came back to Canada and stayed with my Aunt Ottilie and Uncle de Lisle Schreiber at their home ‘Iverholme’ in Springfield-on-the-Credit (or Erindale as it is called now).
I have many very happy memories of that. It was a lovely country house and the surroundings were beautiful. I could fill this book with those memories. The people, the flowers, the drives to church – I remember it as always a sunny summer day! Years later when I went back it all seemed to have shrunk.
“Springfield-on-the-Credit” by Charlotte Schreiber, 1875
Nina and her brothers
Though happy days for me at the age of five, it must have been a very unhappy time for my mother. She was left with three children and no means of support. Her Uncle William Hill in Glasgow wrote to the Joys – my father’s brothers and sisters, and said he would do anything to support us. They refused – but for years he sent my mother £5 every month – later helped her to get and furnish a house in Toronto and came to her rescue on other occasions. We owed him a very great deal.
After our visit to Aunt Ottilie we moved into Streetsville where we had rooms over the village store. The Morgans who ran the store were a nice young couple and beside the store they had a lovely garden with trees and high fences all around it.
That place is vivid too, but as we were getting near school age my mother moved in to Toronto and after some months boarding, we moved into a house on Concord Avenue, just around the corner from Dewson Street School.
I remember Grannie telling me about the origins of her name, about how somewhere back in time one of her ancestors were a happy couple with four daughters who longed for a son they would call Ninian in the family tradition. The woman got pregnant and hopes were high but two months before the baby was born the father died. Heartbroken, the mother carried on with the plan to name the new baby Ninian although she turned out to be another girl. The mother died soon thereafter and two aunts took the children to raise in Rome where it would be healthier. The Italian nanny, unsure of the baby’s name shortened it to Niña or little girl, and so the name was born. ~Susan Gordon
It was mostly open fields about there then so at Dewson St. School I was entered and my education began. Going to a public school was much less common then and my mother’s family was shocked that she would not continue to live in the country and teach us herself. We used to talk with other children over the fence going home from school and they asked me about my name. One of my aunts had said that ‘Nina’ was too big a name for me and the family called my ‘Nins’ and all the family adopted ‘Nin’ or ‘Nins’. I did not want the strange children calling me ‘Nin’ so of my own accord said it was Mary and, when I went to School, called myself Mary Joy for years.
Jean Joy at Nares in later years
My mother was a wise woman with strength of character. The science of cooking etc. was just beginning and my mother decided that as she must make our living she might go in for that. My grandmother came to live with us and my mother started her career. And a career it was! She was very successful. It was before the days when women went out into the world to work and much of my mother’s work was pioneering.
The following is an account of it. Most of what I have written I remember being talked of at the time it was happening.
A domestic sciences teacher came to Toronto to hold classes, mainly in cooking, at the Y.W.C.A. rooms. My mother went as her helper. I don’t think she got wages but was to be given instruction so she could teach herself. (When the other woman left, my mother went on with those classes.) Sometimes she walked down from our house – 4 or 5 miles, because streetcar tickets were scarce. She was very plucky. In the evenings, she made our clothes. I don’t know exactly how she managed, but during her first few years of teaching – and not being able to get training in Canada or to go for the four years and take the only available course given in that subject in the United States, she got her training when and how she could; a summer in Chautauqua, a term at the Boston Tech for bacteriology etc. She taught at the Y.W.C.A. for years.
Mother - Jean, Grandmother - Laeticia and Nina
Elizabeth Street School playgroud
The school board asked her to take a class of normal school teachers and every Thursday she went to Elizabeth Street School – one of the poorest schools in Toronto- and taught a class of boys and girls to buy and cook their lunch. This was voluntary, unpaid work. As she said, she had “ no money to give so she gave her time.” This was, I think, the very beginning of Domestic Science being taught in Canadian Public Schools. This went on for some years.
Jean Joy’s Training and Work
She also had classes in many of the small towns around Toronto and in many hospitals, teaching the nurses about dirt.
About this time the department of Agriculture began to be disturbed about the amount of insanity in farmer’s wives. In those days before motor cars, the wife often was not away from the farm from year’s end to year’s end and worked and had many children and few outside interests. So the Department planned to send out lecturers on things of interest to women with the men who went out to lecture to the Farmer’s Institute on agricultural subjects. They asked my mother to go and talk about ‘food’. So for many years she did and often very uncomfortable trips too, but full of interest. And she always came back with funny stories of her adventures.
Typical Chautauqua at the turn of the century
When she was in Chautauqua, the American’s Women’s Institute was meeting there and the meeting broke up with no decision on the place of their next annual meeting. My mother, on her return, went to see the Deputy minister of Agriculture and said, “This is what you want and you must ask them to meet here next year”. So the invitation was sent and accepted and my mother was given the job of making all the arrangements (I remember her consternation at the idea of such a big responsibility). The meetings were very successful and that was the beginning of the “Women’s’ Institute” in Canada.
Women’s Institute badge
Mother went out in one district to form groups for a couple of years but it was a large movement and one of the other organizers seems in the years since to be considered as ‘the founder’, a Mrs. Hoodless who came in after my mother had broken the trail and laid the groundwork. The real pioneers seldom get much credit.
Classes at the Toronto Technical School
Classes were started at the Toronto Technical School – at first only evening classes but later, day classes too. Mother was head of that Department for many years. Her final classes were so successful and crowded that one room was not enough and two rooms were thrown into one. The crowds grew greater and one evening at a class, my mother was called into the hall and told the beams in a large drafting room below were giving way. They asked her to dismiss the class very quietly. If there was a rush they feared a bad accident. So mother returned to her class, quietly remarked that the Bursar wanted to see each member of the class and asked them to leave two by two as quietly as they could so as not to disturb the lesson. And she went on with her teaching. When everyone was out she almost collapsed. The next day I went down with her to see the room below. Huge pillars split and cracked. I think there was an account of her bravery in a Toronto paper of the time. I am sorry I have no copy.
So, by my mother’s work and cleverness, we were given a very good life and education. From Concord Avenue after several years we moved to Manning Avenue, near town and went to Clinton Street School and Harbord Collegiate. I don’t know if it was because Grannie went to live with Aunt Susie Ormsby or exactly why but the next few years my mother took a cottage at Kew Beach, or Balmy Beach, then quite out of town in the country.
Early days car trouble in Toronto
We went out in early spring and stayed late into the autumn. Grahame, who was too young to go all the long journey by streetcar into town went to the local school – Douglas and I kept on in town. Instead of a house in town, we boarded and about that time when I was fifteen, and mother very busy, I was sent to Bishop Strachan School on College Street and Grahame to Trinity College School in Port Hope. Douglas stayed with Mother, went to collegiate and took night classes in chemistry at the Technical School where Mother taught. He decided he wanted to go to the Royal Military College and for a short time was sent to Upper Canada College to take the course with the boys there. He passed very well but was never able to go because he developed tubercular glands and after an operation was sent west to recover.
I remember Grannie telling us that at about this time automobiles first appeared on the scene. She was walking down the street one day when she heard a terrifying sound down the road. Without looking behind she ran up the steps of the nearest house and saw the first car she had seen drive by. By the time she was telling the story cars were old hat and she laughed at herself for her terror. ~Susan Gordon
My days at BCS were very happy. My roommates the first year were Mary Slater of Ottawa (Mrs. Wilson), Alice Jones of Brockville (Mrs. Manning of Winnipeg) and Isabel French of New York. (In 1954 I met Mary and Alice in Winnipeg, the first time I had met them since our school days). The next year, in the same room, “no. 23” there was Sydney Kingsmill (who later died in India), one of the most popular girls ever to be at the school, Isabel Piers of Montreal and Marguerite Baines and myself. That year I got pneumonia and was very ill so did not return to school till Easter. In my absence Beatrice Burbidge took my place but as she left at Easter I never saw her until years later.
I was at B.S.S. for 2 ½ years, all of which I enjoyed. During the summers we were at Balmy beach or Muskoka. One summer I paid a visit to the Kingsmills at Big Bay Point, Lake Simcoe. We learned to swim and the use of canoes. My mother was fond of the country, so fond of it that, when I was about 6 months old, I was taken by her and my father on a canoe trip with Indian Guides and all. To bathe me,, mother made a circle of stones and put a rubber sheet over them with a hollow in the middle. The Indians showed her a better way – rolling a blanket into a circle instead of stones, “more safe for the baby”. The next year when I was 18 months they took a sailing trip on Lake Simcoe – with me and a 7 year old sister of my mother’s!!
The first winter, Aunt Letty Reid and her family came to Canada and spent some time with us. The twins were about two years old and shortly after this visit I went to Scotland with Aunt Vio for over a year.
Sometime about the time I was 15 or 16, there came news that some property of my Joy grandfather had been sold and there was about $6,000 for my father. He was located in the States and came to Canada. We did not see him at first but Mother met him. She asked what he intended to do with the money and he replied at once, “Make it over to you and the children, of course”, which he did. Then some of it was spent to give him “a cure” for his craving for drink which lasted for several months. Also about this time, my mother got word that the Minister of Education had appointed a young woman with a university degree to be head of the Technical School classes. It was a great shock to her coming just then after she had built up the classes to such a great size. So having no better plan, she took a large house where she could have boarders. Then my father came to live with us.
Harold - Nina’s father
During that time, while I was away, my father left us again. The money left after his cure was invested in a business for him and very shortly was all lost as my father was frozen out of the business in some way and became very discouraged. I never saw him again. This must have been a great grief to my mother. He had great charm and her love for him never ceased. One of the last words she said to me before she died when I (leaned over her bed to do something for her) was, “You are so like your dear father”
After my father left, my mother kept on the house for a time but after I got home she decided keeping boarders was not for her. She went to the States where she held positions a matron of a hospital in Utica for a time, then at a big girls’ school out of New York. I was sent to pay a visit to Cousin Minie in Ottawa but was so unhappy doing nothing that my mother found a position for me in Brooklyn N.Y. There were two little girls. Their name was Simonds. Their mother was called Dorothy Vernon before her marriage and said, “The Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall” (a popular book written in 1902 by Charles Major). There was some relation – I forget how. She was very nice to me.
Mother got ill and we felt she should come back to Canada. She was offered the post as Matron at Bishop Strachan School and the Head, Miss Acres, said she would give me a job in the school if Mother accepted and, if I took some course in dressmaking, I could have the dress-making classes and make something extra. I went to the Pratt Institute for a full day-three month course. Mrs. Simonds said that, if I would get another Canadian to come and be governess for the children, she would be glad for me to stay on with her. So I got Dorothy Cross who took my place with the little girls. After I left Pratt Institute, I came back to Canada and taught Grade 1 at B.S.S. and had the sewing classes.
5 British Pounds was worth about $25 at this time
Bishop Strachan School
When I left Scotland after my years or so with Aunt Vio, Uncle Willie (Hill – my grandmother’s brother) gave me a £5 note and when I came back to Canada I saved it “to buy an Island”. Everyone said that in those days it could not be done. I knew as a girl that my own mother had $5.00 and wanted to buy an island in Muskoka and was told it would be a waste of money. They would never be any use etc. I felt that somewhere in northern Ontario I would find my Island.
About this time my mother was boarding with Mrs. Helliwell on St. George St. Toronto. Neither she nor my mother were well and wanted a rest so one spring – in 1908 – they decided to take a trip up the Georgian Bay in a small steamer for a rest. I said to Mother, “Look out for an Island.” All the way up, whenever the boat stopped, Mother made enquiries but all the islands were sold or too expensive. When they reached Parry Sound and made the enquiry, they were told to go about 30 miles up the Bay to Pointe au Baril.
The CPR was building a new R.R. from Parry Sound to Sudbury and about half way up – at Pointe au Baril, were building a Summer Hotel. So mother and Mrs. Helliwell took a launch and went up there. The only place to stay was at the Belleview Hotel kept by the senior Oldfields. It was very primitive but very clean and nice and they began to make enquiries about islands. Yes there were lots at about $10 an acre and the survey charge. But round about the Pointe, all the Islands had been taken by the surveyors and their friends much to Mother’s disappointment.
The Oldfields, who knew the country well, said, “ Why not go up to the next Inlet about 3 miles up the Bay. So they got young Willie Oldfield, grandson of the old people, to take them In a launch. He was about 12 or 13 years old and they went all over the Inlet (Nares Inlet) and my mother found 3 islands in a group with no survey mark. They headed back to the Pointe to get a surveyor to survey them for her. His name was Layton Steele and he surveyed them and marked them with his initials L.S. 92-93-94 (I think they are the right numbers) and they were for Douglas, Grahame and me. My island was 2 ½ acres so my £5 paid for it as in those days was worth about $25.00. All three islands I think came to about $100 – but I am not sure.
Mother made arrangements with Oldfield’s sons to build us a shack which was to be 12’ x 24’ and divided into 2 rooms, the larger one long enough to store a 16’ canoe in winter. Also built were two tent platforms, one on Graham’s Island and one on mine and 2 W.C.’s She chose the spots where everything would be put. Needless to say, I was very anxious to see “my island”.
Pointe au Baril Railway Station
In 1909, Grahame and I went up to Pte. Au Baril early, but earlier - just after school closed, Anthony Ormsby and Mac Mowat went out by canoe and were to meet us there after their canoe trip.
First Visit to Nares
About this time, a private school up on “the hill” (as we called the upper part of Toronto) closed up and a friend of mine, Peggy Cassels and I decided to start a school for all the children in the new houses being built up there. My mother rented a house on Balmoral Ave. near Avenue Rd. and Peggy’s parents had built a lovely new house about 2 blocks away. We tried everywhere to get rooms for the school but were not successful so the Cassels said we might use their drawing room and playroom in the basement in the a.m. if we moved the furniture. I was a graduate of Bishop Strachan and Peggy of Havergal and both schools helped us in many ways. B.S.S. loaned us small chairs and kindergarten tables that they were not using and we began.
Pointe au Baril Lighthouse
We had about 20 pupils from about grade 1 to grade 4 and carried on for a year or more till Peggy got married and I had to carry on alone. We moved the school to our house and carried on for another year but our home was too small and the school growing. B.S.S. and Havergal both decided to move their schools from down town up to that new part of Toronto – near Upper Canada College, and both wanted our good will. Havergal was willing to make a down payment of several hundred dollars and said I could take my chance of being appointed on the staff. But Havergal was very keen on English women who had taken an English course at an English school and I had no such qualifications. So I decided to hand over my school to B.S.S. as they promised I should be head of it with only the School Head over me. I was very fond of her – Miss Nation. They bought a big house just across from the U.C.C prep School and the school had all the lower half. B.S.S paid all my expenses including a fixed salary to me – very small, and for several years we carried on. Grannie wanted to come and live with us again and Mother’s nice little house on Balmoral was too small. Neither my brothers nor myself wanted to get a room away from home, so we moved to a larger but less attractive house further north _____ Ave.
Havergal had originally offered to buy my school for a lump sum, but I did not want to give it up entirely so chose the B.S.S. offer as I was an old B.S/.S. girl. But I got no credit for starting the B.S.S. school in the new location. The English Head was horrid to a lot of the senior school teachers, too and though I loved my years there as both a student and teacher, I’ve had nothing to do with it since those days.
Rob Gordon and Nina Joy
in their courting days
Soon after that, Miss Nation resigned as B.S.S. principal and a new English woman took her place. She did not much approve of my being at the Junior School as I had no university degree and no teacher’s training and - in spite of the Board’s promises to me, appointed another Head of the Junior School and moved to another house on Avenue Rd. without telling me until all plans were made. She did not dismiss me but evidently did not want me on the staff so I continued till Christmas and, as I had become engaged to Rob Gordon during the summer months, I then resigned and was married the following summer.
About this time, I became engaged to Rob Gordon – after having been good friends for five years or more. We were married the next year and it was one of the last big weddings before World War I. We were married at St. John’s, York Mills, one of the oldest Anglican churches in Ontario. It was very small then and they had a “barrel organ” (played like a big music box) and the old verger played “Creation” as we walked up the isles. Rob’s best man was Harold Ellis, failing Mac Mowat who was ill in Edmonton and Hunt who was very lame. My chief Bridesmaid was Ottie Ormsby (I had been a bridesmaid at about the age of 5 for her mother and remember it quite clearly.) My other Bridesmaids were Kathleen Gowanlock, Dorothy Primrose (not yet engaged to Grahame). Percy Beatty and Grahame were ushers. Douglas gave me away.
After our wedding they had a dance at ‘Blatwood’, the house mother had built in York Mills. Rob and I went for our honeymoon to Pointe au Baril. About two weeks later, all the family came up and the inlet filled up.
But it was a dreadful summer with World War I beginning in about a month. We did not think then it would last more than three months!! How wrong we were. Some of the boys joined the Army or Airforce and never came back. (Anthony Ormsby for one). We were all very fond of him.
In September, Rob and I came west. (1914) and lived in various rooms etc. till we got our apartment in Assiniboia Hall. My mother came out to be with us. My brothers were already training in the Army and Airforce and Grahame was engaged to Dorothy Primrose.
When Col was six weeks old, Mother and I took him east as my brothers were about to embark for France and England. Colin was baptized by Dr. William at the Blatwood House and many snaps were taken.
Douglas and Grahame had not reached France and it was her proud boast that she had been send to France before either of her sons. She was there filling in for some months while the regular Head was on leave. Grannie died and Mother did other volunteering work in England. I have her badges and the buttons off her navy, red-lined, uniform overcoat.
Rob at Nares, 1914
Very soon afterwards my mother was called to Scotland because her mother was ill. About this time, Mother was asked to go over to Dieppe in France and take charge of a home run by Toronto people. (A convalescent home for young officers just out of hospital).
Nina and Colin
In July (28) 1916 Bob was born and Mother came out again to be with me. She got rooms at the university. Bob was a very sick baby and I don’t think that, if it had not been for her, he would have lived. When Bob was about 9 months old, Rob was given leave from the university to go to Toronto and get his Ph.D. (I think the U of A, with so many students at war and being a very poor institution was glad to save his salary.)
We went back to Edmonton and Rob tried to enlist as anything – even and ambulance carrier, but was refused because of his blind eye and his very bad varicose veins in his legs.
We had great fun in the early days at U of A. Everyone knew everyone else no matter what department he or she was in. Many parties, sleigh rides out to St. Albert for dinner or a wonderful Saturday night dinner – turkey and all the trimmings – every Saturday for 50!! Our salaries being very low, it was a great treat at the Hudson’s Bay store dining room. There were lovely walks in open country all round the university.
There was I with a sick family, a nurse and a large house, cold weather and any fuel hard to get and poor at that. Rob used to come out every afternoon and cut wood in the woods down the hillside from the house, but the wood was green and would not burn or dry windfalls which burned too quick. The coal we had was hard coal and would not catch. It was an awful few months till Bob was better. We moved him on a day about 10° below zero leaving the best sort of wood fire we could manage but it went out and all Mother’s radiators burst and there was several hundred dollars worth of repairing to do.
University of Toronto - Students marching 1914
He was given a small job at Toronto University and had his own lectures and theses for the degree to work at too. But he still had time to work some hours every afternoon at the university rooms for the rehabilitation of returned men – a very busy year. We were staying with the Gordon’s at 153 St. George St.. My mother had taken on the housekeeping at a Returned Men’s convalescent home in New Market, north of Toronto. Bob got scarlet fever and had to be moved out to Mother’s empty house in York Mills.
George Street Scene
We came home to Edmonton during the summer and took a home at 88th avenue. Then began the months of Spanish Flu. The end of the War and all the returning men – the university was closed, buildings turned into hospitals for the patients, many people dying and everyone afraid but wanting to help. Rob worked in one of the U of A hospitals. Fortunately, none of us had it. Everyone wore cheesecloth masks when going about their business.
87th Avenue house in Edmonton
The following spring we moved to 11143 -87th Ave. where we lived for the next 30 odd years – where the boys grew up and where we had a very happy life, Dick being born July 28 1920 and Gay being born November 28, 1926. My mother died at the end of September 1919 at the age of 59. Just before her death I went down with Col and Bob to see her. (Rob was teaching at the summer school). Dorothy and Grahame had a house nearby and Dorothy was expecting Nancy, who they planned to call after Mother (Jean Hannah Grahame). I was sorry, as I told my mother, I hoped to have a daughter called ‘Jean’ and both Douglas and Grahame were ahead of me. “If ever you do have another child, have a son and call him ‘Richard Laurence.’” A year later Dick was born whose name was already chosen by Mother who had only lived some weeks after our conversation. Six years later Gay was born – and the family know our happy years at 11143.
Cricket in the back yard
The Gordon boys
Range gate – Penticton
Rob, after all his teaching years at the University of Alberta, had many honours. He was made Professor Emeritus at once. (There was generally a wait of some months or a year.) He was given an LL.D and a scholarship in his favourite subject, Chaucer, was named after him. I am proud to have been his wife and thankful for all our happy years together.
May 6, 1973