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TitleFirst Person: A Biography of Cairine Wilson Canada's First Woman Senator
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A Biography of Cairine Wilson

Canada's First Woman Senator

Valerie Knowles

Dundurn Press
Toronto & Oxford


Page 152


table, she never seemed too busy to send flowers, books and notes of
personal cheer to ailing friends and sympathy and understanding to those
who had lost a loved one. Many a time her black Mercedes sedan rolled
up to the entrance of the Senate block, loaded with fresh flowers and
produce destined for distribution to retired politicians and church minis-
ters and old friends. On such occasions the Senator's private secretary was
assigned the task of dividing everything up and arranging for delivery to
the intended recipients. If the secretary had her own car, as in the case of
Violet McAloran Herrington, she might distribute the flowers and produce

Mrs Wilson sent engagement and wedding gifts to countless friends,
acquaintances and relatives, and kept in touch by mail with friends who
lived outside Ottawa. One of these friends was Myra Macdonald Punnett,
who served as Senator Wilson's private secretary from the mid-thirties to
November 1941, when she left to be married and live in Rochester, New
York. To this day Mrs Punnett treasures Cairine Wilson's friendly and
newsy letters, some of which were written by hand when she must have
had many other demands on her time.26

Cairine Wilson's deep sense of social responsibility and compassion
were very much a part of her everyday life. When she lived in the small
town of Rockland, Ontario she performed little kindnesses for workmen
and their families. In Ottawa she routinely called on retired family servants
and elderly friends and relatives, and arranged for Clifford to take
residents of the Elizabeth Residence (a home for elderly women) for
drives. And every Sunday afternoon, as religiously as she attended Sunday
morning worship at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, she visited shut-
ins at St. Vincent Hospital, a chronic care institution.

Cairine Wilson was fortunate in having incredible energy and stam-
ina. Otherwise she would never have been able to accomplish all that she
did. She was equally fortunate in having excellent staff at home (At the
Manor House the indoor and outdoor staff totalled ten) and a daughter,
Cairine, who was prepared to expedite innumerable errands and oversee
the running of the Manor House and Clibrig. No sooner had the Senator
returned to Ottawa from St Andrews, for example, than she started writing
letters to her daughter instructing her regarding work that she wanted
carried out at Clibrig. So dependent was she on young Cairine for this type
of assistance that she might hint strongly that her daughter cut short a
holiday and return home to the Manor House as soon as possible. On 4
November 1935, for instance, the Senator, who was then in Ottawa, wrote
to St Louis, Missouri, advising her vacationing daughter that it was quite
all right for her to be popular with their old St Andrews, New Brunswick
friends, the McK. Jones, "but naturally, we want you home just as soon as
you can be spared."27

Page 153


Another indispensable member of the household was Betts, the butler.
Cairine Wilson recognized just how valuable he was to her when she told
the following story. She had planned (with Betts's assistance, of course,)
a large dinner party to which the newly arrived Japanese ambassador had
been invited. The latter, it was believed, was a widower who would be
arriving unaccompanied. Great was the Senator's consternation, there-
fore, when Betts announced the arrival of the ambassador and his daugh-
ter. At the same time that he reported their arrival the butler gave Mrs
Wilson a sign that she was not to worry. Knowing that the young aides de
camp at Government House welcomed outside dinner invitations, he
immediately phoned the Governor General's residence to request an extra
male guest. No sooner was this done than a breathless aide arrived at the
Manor House to take his seat at one of the two additional places that had
been hurriedly set on Betts's order. The butler had reorganized all the
seating arrangements without missing a single announcement.28

When Cairine Wilson was away from Ottawa, there was no place that
she would rather be than Clibrig, the sprawling family estate located on the
outskirts of the resort town of St Andrews, New Brunswick in Atlantic
Canada. From her early twenties until the last year of her life, when two
broken hips prevented her from leaving Ottawa, she spent most of every
summer there, surrounded by members of her family and later by increas-
ing numbers of grandchildren. Husband and wife both contributed to the
upkeep of the Manor House, Norman using funds from his astutely
managed investments for this purpose. Cairine, however, assumed full
responsibility for Clibrig. It was considered her property.

As its name suggests, Clibrig (named after the highest mountain in
Sutherlandshire, Ben Klibreck or Beinchlibrig, as it was sometimes
written) has strong Scottish associations; in this case it was Cairine
Wilson's Scottish-born father, Robert Mackay. The Montreal business-
man and Canadian Pacific Railway Company director was persuaded to
buy the property by the CPR's president, his good friend Sir William Van
Home. Sir William, who owned "Covenhoven" and the 500-acre island on
which it stands, Minister's Island, not only sang the praises of St Andrews
to his fellow CPR director, he also helped to arrange the purchase of the
main parcel of land that makes up the Clibrig estate. This done, the railway
magnate gave instructions as to where certain trees should be planted and,
as a further token of his friendship for the Mackays, painted a landscape
mural that was placed above the dining room fireplace in the main house.

The property on which the Mackay summer house was built com-
prised several parcels of land, the principal one being a 320-acre farm that
the previous owner, Nathan Bleakney, had acquired in 1885 from his

Page 304


Senate, the Canadian, 98-99
Senate Committee on Immigration

and Labour, 124,125, 249, 263,

Senate Committee on Public
Buildings and Grounds, 124

Shaughnessy, Marguerite, 160
Sherbrooke Street, Montreal, 21,

37-38, 51
Shernfold School, 169
Sifton, Clifford, 187
Silcox, Rev Dr Claris, 206-207
Simpson, Captain Brian, 148
Six Portages, Quebec, 82
Skelton, O.D., 94, footnote 44, p.

283, 182, 188
Skelton, Mrs O.D., 94
Skinner, Olive, 130
Smallpox epidemic 1885, 32-33
Smellie, Elizabeth, 148, 276
Smith, Alex, 66,67,79
Smith, Mary Ellen, 70
Social Service Council of Canada,

Soldiers'Vote Bill, 119
Southam, Mrs H.S., 143
Soward, F.H., 192
Sparks Street, Ottawa, 71
Spencer, Hanna Fischl, 217,
Square Mile, Montreal, 19, 37
Stetham, Colonel H., 230,232
Street, Hella Moravec, 275, 276
Stopford-Green, Alice, 91
Sunday Sun, 41
Supreme Court Act, 75
Supreme Court of Canada, 74, 76,

Sutherland (County of), 22
Swinton, Kurt, 147-148

Third Committee, 256-257, 259,
260,261, 262

Thorburn, Mrs Charles H., 68, 81,

Toronto Caithness Society, 102
Toronto Globe, 89
Toronto Mail and Empire, 102
Toronto Telegram, 85-86
Toronto Women's Liberal

Association, 102
Tory, Dr Henry Marshall, 14,180,


Trafalgar Institute, 38-39
Trois Rivieres, (Three Rivers)

Quebec, 31
Tupper, Sir Charles (Prime

Minister), 153
Tweedie, Dr, 63
Tweedsmuir, Lady, 170
Tweedsmuir, Lord, 166, 219
Twentieth Century Liberal

Association, 63,70-72, 107,

Twenty-four Sussex Drive, 59
Two Forty Daly (Wilson home),


Unitarian Service Committee of
Canada, 171, 244

United Jewish Refugee and War
Relief Agencies, 230, 231

United Nations, 255-262:
Canadian delegation to Fourth
General Assembly, 255,256,
257,259 ; First Committee, 257;
High Commissioner for
Refugees, 262; Polish charges
against Canada, 261-262; Third
Committee, 256-257, 258, 259,

United Nations Association in
Canada, 194

Upper Canada College, 49

Van Home, Sir William, 38, 152
Victorian Order of Nurses, 169
"Voyage of the Damned," 218

Walford, Maj-Gen A£,., 243
Wallace, Gordon, 274
Wallace, DrR.C, 214, 224
Wasserman, Charles, 236,237
Wasserman, Marta, 236-237
Webb, Mayor Ralph, 101
Weihs, Felix, See de Weldon, Felix
Weinberg.Dr Bruno, 238
Wherry, Margaret, 13
Whitton, Charlotte, 13,116, 206,

Willingdon, Lady, 87
Wilson, Alice (Mrs Angus), 133,

134, 139
Wilson, Angus, 12, 59,61,132,

137,139,155,160,162, 220
Wilson, Anna (Mrs Alan Thistle),

Wilson, Senator Cairine Reay:

physical appearance, 12, 37, 42,
unveiling of portrait sculpture,
12-18; World Refugee Year,
16,274,275; tributes to, 17-18,
96,104,167, 264, 277;
character, 18,36,62, 102-103,
family background 19, 22-32;
birth, 32,33; christening, 33;
childhood, 33-43, 44-45;
organizing and business skills,
29, 36; and brother Angus
Mackay, 36, 58; education, 38-
39; fluency in French, 56,91,
93; childhood friends, 39-40,

53, 160; sports, 40,157;
pastimes, 40, 157, 273;
debutante party, 41; trips to
Europe, 41-43, 113,140; trip
diary, 42-43; and Susan
Brownell Anthony, 42; intro-
duction to Ottawa, 43, 44, 45;
relationship with Sir Wilfrid
Laurier, 45; first meeting with
Norman Wilson, 46, 49, 50;
marriage, 50; honeymoon, 50;
relationship with husband, 50-
51; life in Rockland, Ontario,
51, 53, 55, 56; and Senator
W.C. Edwards, 55; and sister
Anna, 55, 60, 272; relationship
with father, 44-45; decision to
broaden horizons, 62-63; entry
into politics, 63-64; and Henry
Herbert Horsey, 63-64, 91; role
in founding Ottawa Women's
Liberal Club, 66, 68; as a
feminist, 42, 67; and National
Federation of Liberal Women
of Canada, 68,125, 126, 129;
and Twentieth Century Liberal
Association of Canada, 70, 71,
72,127, 129; speaking skills,
69, 109-110; and Mackenzie
King, 66, 80, 97, 99, 100,104,
106,107-108, 130,135, 161,
211, 266-267-, appointment to
the Senate, 73,79-82, 99-100,
and reactions to appointment,
82-85; swearing in as senator,
85, 98, and controversy
surrounding dress for occasion,
85-86; maiden speech in
Senate, 91-93; first public
address outside Senate, 96-91;
relationships with female
senators, 99; and Senator
William Buchanan, 99; role in
1930 federal election campaign,
101-102; generosity to Liberal
Party and related organizations,
71, 107; views on: admission of
women to Senate, 94; women
and the vote, 108; women and
social legislation, 109;
women's role in shaping young
minds, 109; progressive divorce
legislation, 114,268-269;
preventive medicine, 118;
universal program of family al-
lowances, 116-117; national
health insurance scheme, 117-
118; Soldiers'Vote Bill, 119;
self, 132; child-rearing, 134,
135; collective security, 175,
184; Munich Agreement, 175,
189; Senate reform, 268.
particular interests in Senate,
113,115; humanitarianism,

Page 305


112-113, 167,172; champion-
ship of Japanese Canadians,
119,120,121,122; attendance
at Senate sessions, 122; work
on Senate committees, 123,
124-125; and Therese Casgrain,
126-127; as a role model, 129-
130; rejected for cabinet
position, 130; honorary
degrees, 17,131; relationship
with children, 62, 135, 137;
relationship with grandchildren,
138 ; hostess at 192 Daly
Avenue, 142; hostess at the
Manor House, 143-148,259;
friendship with Sir Lyman
Duff, 148,149, 150,272-273;
hostess at Clibrig, 157-158,
160-161; interest in gardening
and flowers, 155-156 ; and
Greenock Presbyterian Church,
158; friendship with Dr Charles
Best family, 159,213;
relationship with New
Brunswick, 162; religious faith,
164-165, 167, 270; contribu-
tions to Presbyterian Church,
165; friendship with Rev Dr
Andrew Ian Burnett, 166;
contributions to philanthropic
organizations, 168-170,and
Canadian-American Women's
Committee, 170-171; as
lobbyist for League of Nations,
173,175-176, 177, 178,179;
membership in League of
Nations Society in Canada,
173; elected president League
of Nations Society in Canada,
186; stand on collective
security, 186, 187, 189,192;
and Munich Agreement, 189-
192; work with refugees (See
also Canadian National
Committee on Refugees), 195-
197,198-223; work with child
evacuees, 223,224,230; work
with civilian internees from
United Kingdom, 225, 229,
230-231,245, and immigration
of displaced persons (See also
Canadian National Committee
on Refugees), 247-252;
chairmanship of Canadian Fund
for Czechoslovak Refugees,
254; chairmanship of Senate
Committee on Immigration and
Labour, 255,263-264; stint at
the United Nations, 1949,255-
262; award from American
Mothers Committee of New
York, 264,265; receipt of
Legion of Honour, 265-266;

participation in Mackenzie
King funeral procession, 265,
267,and Senate reform, 268;
twenty-fifth anniversary as
senator, 269; Deputy Speaker
of Senate, 269-270; reading
interests, 273; health, 255,258,
262,273-274, 275, 276; death
of husband, 268,272; death,
276; funeral and burial, 276;
will, 278

Wilson, Cairine (daughter, 12, 56,
91,132,142,151-152,154, 55,
162, 276, 278

Wilson, Cairine (granddaughter),
139, 140

Wilson, Catherine Margaret (Mrs
William Cameron Edwards),

Wilson, Ida Francis (Mrs John A.
Cameron), 48,141

Wilson, Janet (Mrs Charles Burns),
12, 53, 55,79,132,137,138,
140,141,142, 144, 157, 162,

Wilson, Joanna, 139,140
Wilson, Norma (Mrs Jim Davies),


Wilson, Norman Frank, 12, 94,95,
132, 140, 141,142,144,179;
family, 48; education, 48-49;
political career, 48; first
meeting with Cairine Mackay,
46, 49, 50; marriage, 50; rela-
tionship with wife, 50, 51;
personality, 51; business career,
49, 58-59; engagement to
Cairine Mackay, 50, and 1925
federal election, 68, and a
Senate appointment for wife,
81, 82; pride in wife, 90-91, 93
; and Clibrig, 155; and sports,
51,157; failing health, 271;
death, 272

Wilson, Olive (Mrs Alan Gill), 53,
138,162, 278

Wilson, Ralph, 12, 55, 56,132,

Wilson, Reginald (Reggie), 49
Wilson, Robert, 12,61,132,137,

Wilson, William, 48
Winnipeg Free Press, 183
Women's Canadian Club of

Montreal, 208
Women's League of Nation's

Association, 185
Wood, James, 52
Woodsworth, J.S., 218-219
World Refugee Year, 16,274
World War 1,173-174

World War II, 219
Wright, Sybil, 245
Wrong, George M., 218
Wyse-power, Mrs, 91

Young Women's Christian
Association, 143, 169

Zacks, Samuel, 239
Zonta Club of Ottawa, 143, 263

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