The joys of simple pleasures—holiday dances, outdoor skating parties, scrumptious 15-cent coffee cakes—and the harsh realities of the First World War: In this issue we share the memories of former St. Hilda’s student Margaret (Winter) McDougall ’19, as recorded in Sanctam Hildam Canimus: A collection of reminiscences. The book was edited by Barbara (Ham) Sutton ’57 and published in 1988 to commemorate the centenary of St. Hilda’s College.
By Margaret (Winter) McDougall ’19
I went up to St. Hilda’s from Ottawa in September 1915. The late Sybil Stewart, a third-year student whom I knew only slightly, kindly took me under her wing and we travelled by train together. At that time, Trinity College was located on Queen Street West, situated in a large park, surrounded by an iron fence. At a considerable distance to the rear was St. Hilda’s, a three-storey brick building, and close beside it was the Lodge, a residence which housed eight or nine girls—the overflow from St. Hilda’s.
Miss Mabel Cartwright was dean of St. Hilda’s. Mossie May Waddington, later Mrs. Kirkwood, was on staff and lived at St. Hilda’s. Miss Mary Elizabeth Strachan, granddaughter of Trinity’s founder, presided over the Lodge. Dr. Macklem was the provost of Trinity. In the confusion of the first day we were allotted our roommates—two girls to a room. I remember so well when I was introduced to my roommate. She had short, or bobbed hair. (It had only been a short time since Irene Castle had introduced short hair for women and few were brave enough to cut their long locks.) St. Hilda’s was a comfortable building, modestly furnished with a common room, dining room, library and the dean’s quarters. A few of the rooms had fireplaces and these were reserved for the senior girls. There was a small chapel with services morning and evening, the girls taking turns reading the lessons and playing the organ. On Sundays we attended Trinity Chapel, along with Trinity men and some guests of neighbours.
In September 1915, World War I had been raging for one year and everything was geared to the war effort. As I remember those days it seems to me that bands were always playing and soldiers marching. If we heard music in the distance, we ran a few blocks to watch the parade. Many of the girls had brothers, cousins and school friends serving overseas. I can still recall the girls scanning the casualty lists when the boy came with the paper at five o’clock. Three boys from my room at school were killed the first year of the war. They were mere boys, barely 18.
Because of the war there were few men students at Trinity. Some were invalided home before 1918 and returned to Trinity. We had a fair amount of social life. Every Thursday was Reception Night when we could receive young men from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. We sat around in the common room, most of the girls knitting, someone would play the piano, light refreshments were served and at ten o’clock a hand bell was rung in the hall, the signal for the guests to leave.
The more senior men at Trinity from time to time held tea parties in their rooms, which had fireplaces where they could boil the kettle. I believe they were supposed to invite an aunt or cousin to preside over the teacups but generally it was mother’s photo on the mantel sufficed to act as chaperone. At Christmas we usually had a dance at St. Hilda’s when we converted two or three bedrooms into sitting-out rooms and the common room and dining room were cleared for dancing. There were skating parties on the outdoor rink, returning to Trinity for cocoa and biscuits. St. Hilda’s had its literary society and we put on several one-act plays. [J.M.] Barrie seemed very popular at the time.
Somehow we managed to see a fair amount of live theatre and could usually sit in the gods for 50 cents at the Royal Alex, Princess and Shea’s Vaudeville. A great many plays came over from England, “The Well-Remembered Voice” and “The Burgomaster of Stilemonde” both dealing with the war.
We had our sports, of course. The girls played hockey in ankle-length skirts on outdoor rinks. We played basketball in the Trinity gym and I think we wore bloomers for that. If we wanted to swim we had to go to the Lillian Massey Building (125 Queen’s Park).
Looking back, we seem to have spent a great amount of time eating—not that we were deprived at all, for there was no rationing in World War I. We followed a routine of a quiet study time every evening from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. then from 10:00 to 11:00 we met in each other’s rooms and always had something to eat. We had a hot plate in the hall where we could make tea, cocoa and so on. I remember a favourite bake shop on College Street called Wilson’s. It had scrumptious coffee rings, chock-full of raisins and splattered with icing, which cost 15 cents. On our forays downtown we were regular customers at Child’s restaurant.
A few of the girls who were taking science had to travel back and forth from Trinity to Varsity for lectures. We seem to have spent a lot of time on streetcars. I can still see those antiquated vehicles bouncing along Spadina Avenue. They had long upholstered seats where passengers sat facing one another, and at one end there was a stove.
One Trinity custom, which I expect has gone out long ago, was that of serenading the Saints. It happened once a year and must have been at Halloween. We would have no warning but suddenly this awful clamour of pots and pans. We would immediately put out the lights and peer into the darkness. This was followed by a rendition of “Good-Night, Ladies.” We spent a lot of time dressing up and putting on little shows among ourselves. All great fun. Years later I often marvelled how we could be so lighthearted when that dreadful war was turning the world upside down. One bright spot I recall was the wedding of Billy Bishop—the hero and air ace of World War I. My roommate (she of the bobbed hair) came from Owen Sound and was a friend of the Bishops. When Billy retuned in 1916 to marry his fiancée she and her parents were invited to the wedding. A group of her friends went to look on (I think the ceremony was at Grace Church on-the-Hill). As the bride and groom emerged from the church the bells pealed and airplanes flew overhead. We thought it was wonderfully romantic!
When my granddaughters ask me what it was like at St. Hilda’s in the old days, what comes to mind is the fun we had and the friendships we made. My roommate left after two years and trained for a nurse. Although we did not see each other often during 60 years, we kept in touch and followed each other’s fortunes until she died in California a few years ago. Three of my classmates, at different times, visited me in my Northern home, not easily accessible. We had a lovely time at our 50th reunion in 1969. Naturally, our ranks are thinning and in the past few months two of our year have passed away, both close to 90 years of age. It was a different world: no radio, no TV, silent movies and son, but for the most part it was a happy time in that small college of St. Hilda’s.
Portrait of a St. Hilda’s graduate
Margaret (Winter) McDougall attended Trinity College from 1915-1919, earning her BA in linguistics. A talented organist, she also studied business after university and worked as a book purchaser at Carnegie (now Ottawa Public) Library.
In 1925 she married Kenneth McDougall. Shortly afterward the couple moved to remote Northern Ontario, where they owned and operated a series of businesses before settling in Red Lake. They had two daughters and a son.
Margaret was as active in her adopted community as she had been at Trinity. She was one of the original members of the Anglican Women’s Association, she was a member of the founding committee of the Red Cross Hospital, she was the first librarian in Red Lake’s public library, she officially opened both the Pioneer Club and the Museum, she founded Red Lake’s first Art Club (later persuading Group of Seven painter A.Y. Jackson to sketch in Red Lake), and she began writing “Red Lake Report” for The District News in her 50s. Her dedication to the church was recognized with a plaque presentation in 1977 followed by a bishop naming her “The First Lady of Red Lake.” Her work in the community was honoured with the Ontario Bicentennial Medal in 1984 and she received The Ontario Senior Achievement Award in 1990.
Margaret McDougall passed away in 1997 in her 100th year.