ABOVE THE PRICE OF RUBIES
WOMEN and THEIR WORK
Being the Life Story of a Woman Who Has Made Good, and in Doing So Has Left Her Mark on the Community
FRANCES BEATRICE TAYLOR
YOU keep thinking of Ontario orchards, and ruddy apples in the October sun.
She is that sort of person, round and smooth of cheek, jolly of stature, with a voice that has a chuckle in it, and a fashion of tucking her sleeves up to her elbows, when a special task comes before her to be
And she is very much a woman’s woman, for all that she holds high office in her native province, office that no other woman in Canada has yet reached.
She is Mary Grant, treasurer and clerk of the Township of London, in the Province of Ontario, in the Dominion of Canada, and president, to boot, of the Ontario Municipal Association, in this year of Our Lord, 1922.
I interviewed Mary Grant in her office, where all good business folk, whether men or women, should be interviewed. And it may have been the westeringsun, comingthrough her high window, to dance in the last rays of its glory among the sober impedimenta of her desk, or it may have been the pot of pleasant-growing green things, on her window ledge, but somehow or other I got that impression of the open country, and an orchard in October, with the apples falling, pat, on the yellowing grass, in the winey evening air.
It is no small thing, let me tell you, to be treasurer and clerk of the Township of London, in this year of Our Lord, 1922. Time was when this township clerk (town clerk, they had the audacity to call him, before the fifties) knew no office hours, and handled the affairs of the township at odd moments, relieved of such tasks as school teaching and farming. Miss Grant knows very little about office hours, either, for hers stretch out from early morning to late evening. There is no punching of the clock, at five, with the day’s burden slipped neatly off, but then, the day isn’t a burden to Mary Grant.
Going Back A Century
SITTING comfortably back, in her round Windsor chair, at a black old walnut desk, in a certain funny old, sunny old office that is her business home, Miss Grant told me a great deal about her work, and a great deal about the men who went before her, and a very little about herself. Here are stored, in weighty chests and safes, the records of London Township, from a long ago day in 1819, when one, Duncan Mackenzie, set down in Mack and white, the findings of the earliest folkmeet of the district.
And Duncan Mackenzie, Captain Duncan Mackenzie of Strathdearn, Invernessshire, Scotland, and again of Hyde Park, Ontario, was none other than great-greatuncle to Mary Grant.
They come of country folk, .these Grants, of Scottish country folk, than
which there is no finer stock on God’s earth. And Captain Duncan Mackenzie, bearing his commission from the Napoleonic wars, thought it no folly to take over, free, gratis and for nothing, the arduous task of setting, and keeping, in order, the affairs of London Township.
What reading it makes, peeped at in the yellowing old books on Mary Grant’s desk, books she touches with gentle fingers, as though in their dusty pages the very presence of those valiant pioneers still lingers. What thread-like writing, incredibly fine and neat; what ruling of careful, red-ink lines, for the monetary entries that township repairs and improvements made necessary; what queer old covers, with their faint, musty odor, as of long ago summer days, garnered in flowering petals, long fallen into dust; what fine high names,[to Western Ontario folk of to-day: Burwell, and Ferguson, and Geary, McMillan, Elson, Talbot, Robson, and Shoebottom, pioneers every one of them, filled with the courage of the old land.
From Duncan Mackenzie, first recorded clerk of the township, to Mary Grant, his niece, is a far, far cry. Yet, from the year 1850, Miss Grant holds office but third in line, William Taylor (the writer’s grandfather, by the way) whose tenure lasted from 50 to 74, James Grant, who succeeded him, and Mary Grant,(his daughter, who took over the command when her father fell, literally in action, stricken with a fatal illness at his very desk.
“In 1850,” said Miss Grant, as proudly as though it were but yesterday, and she in office at the time; “In 1850, under an act passed in that, the 12th year of the reign of her gracious Majesty, Queen Victoria, the Township of London was definitely reorganized, into the five wards of the present time, St. Andrews. St Davids, St. Georges, St Lawrence, and St Patricks. One hundred thousand acres the township stands in 1922,” she told me, “sixteen square miles, and six thousand people, with an assessment of six millions.”
Well, then, we have Mary Grant, today, sitting among her books, with the four round, ebony rulers laid out on the
desk before her, the rulers that for 25 years her father set, to mark his books fairly and well. Those four rulers, and a certain old, black, paper knife, these are her tangible keepsakes to the memory of a father, in whose footsteps she has walked, child and woman, all the days of her life.
And in her heart, her judgment, her sane knowledge of men, women and affairs, in her happy humour and her broad, fair outlook on life, she holds still his counsel before her.
Started Work at Five Years of Age
FOR Mary Grant got her first lesson in township affairs when, at the age of five, she came to help “father” in the little town hall at St. Johns, a handful of miles from London, with the preparations for township elections. And with all the threads of township affairs firm in her hand, herself standing at the head of that fine aggregation of town and country folk, the Ontario Municipal Association, she recalls with a reminiscent laugh, that has a touch of the wistful in it, how, as a fat five-year old, she set the ballot boxes ready on her father’s desk.
“Two pencils, and a stick of red sealing wax for each ballot box,” she remembers. “That was the order of the day, and that was my first service for London Township. Prom that time, through the later years of my father’s life, I was much in his office, much given to helping him, at this task and that, until, when the reins of office fell from his hands, mine were the logical ones to take them up, and carry
Definitely, Miss Grant came to her clerkship and treasurership, by by-law of the township, in June 1901, and missed the first township meeting, through illness, a lapse of duty she has not permitted to occur once, in the twenty-one years that have since gone by.
Twenty-one years ago, women did not step with such confidence’into the business mart of the world,—but to the new township clerk fell the additional task of carrying on,'during the last ten months of her father’s life, his work as treasurer of the London Mutual Fire Insurance Company.
And yet, she is no feminist, no believer in the great call of the business world sounding higher than the holier and pleasanter summons of the home.
A Busy and Useful Life
JAMES GRANT, school teacher at Hutton’s School House, in his early manhood, later assistant township clerk to William Taylor, later still township clerk himself, held his office as a side issue, and made another task his life work. Mary Grant, his daughter, has other tasks, as well, but they do not add gold to her coffers.
This is what she does, when she is township clerking.
Attends the first council meeting of the year, administering the oath of office to her new councillors, and monthly meetings thereafter; takes minutes; prepares assessment books, attends courts that have to do with municipal work; compiles voters’ lists; handles the entire finances of the township; registers babies (and often names them) and issues marriage licenses,—all in the name of her calling.
“And now,” she said, “I am issuing marriage licenses to the very babies I registered when I first came into office. So the cycle of the years runs on.”
And this is what she does that is not included in the official list of duties: Visits the farm homes, and knows personally every man jack of the farmers; chats for an hour on Covent Garden Market, of a sunny summer morning, with this one of her township folk, and that; inquires for the babies (and I verily believe, the dogs) and the sick and the old ones, at home; finds time for an occasional Women’s Institute meeting, where she invariably has some worth-while advice for the rural ladies; attends her church, a good, rigid Presbyterian she is, and has her personal share in its labors; belongs to city organizations that have to do with the welfare of humankind generally, and does not disdain the boredom of many meetings.
And Still a Housekeeper
AND she keeps house too in a cosy, gay-windowed house, on a pleasant, leafy street, a house where she is the key and the center of existence.
“Oh, yes,” she told me, smilingly, “I am the housekeeper, because the girls (the girls are the younger sisters of the household) do not like it, and besides, they and Jack (Jack being the brother that Miss Grant still persists in babying) like to have me do it.”
She comes of solid Ontario stock, which is perhaps why she savors so tenderly, and so gently, the simple records in the yellow old books in her office safe. The queer old entries lh the thin script of Duncan Mackenzie and his successors.
“Listen!” she said to me, sitting at her desk in the westering sun, that made a halo, about her pleasant face, of the hair that is frankly silver. And read to me a regulation, from one of her fusty volumes, a regulation, dated 1832, which decreees that “only hogs over sixty pounds shall be allowed to run, and all hogs to be ‘kept up’, which are in the vicinity of mills, distilleries, stores and taverns.”
But that, Miss Grant told me, was a comparatively modern ruling, for in 1830 we have them dealing with the hog problem, evidently one of the most serious of the time, by allowing “all hogs to run until they do damage.”
“And this,” she says, looking down a century of years, to the big N. B„ in the township records of 1824, that has it so; “William Hobson, tax collector, absconded with abolit one third of the funds; Dan’l. Hine, Esq., appointed tax eollec-
But where the doughty William absconded to, or what efforts were made to apprehend him, or just how great or how small the said funds might be, on such points are the township books of 1824 amazingly silent.
And still you keep on thinking of the country, and pleasant farms, of white, shaded roads between quiet meadows, of sheep bells at evening, and swallows dipping over weathered barns, of hay, ripened and cut, of orchards, golden in a golden year, and ruddy with fruit.
High Lights on Other Days
MISS GRANT is immensely proud of London, and of her township. “Listen,” said she, peeping again into one of her fusty old, yellowing books. She has found a record of the first London water system, that system of which Londoners now justly boast. “Listen, and know, that, in the year of grace, 1837, one, Henry Van Buskirk, received the sum of two pounds ten, for ‘building a pump on the public square of London.’ ”
“Listen,” she sqid again, and turned pages till the books grew less yellow, less fusty, as though a magic wand had brushed across the pages. The township of London she told me, has a complete record of its vital statistics, since 1876.
“And that,” said Mary Grant, with a pardonable touch of pride, “was my
father’s idea. In 1896, the keeping of vital statistics was made law, but, in our township, we had it twenty years before.”
Twenty-two years ago, the Ontario Municipal Association came into being, a banding together of the officers of the municipalities of the province, for mutual improvement, strength and counsel. There came into office such men as Mr. Justice Teetzel, mayor of Hamilton; T. L. Church, mayor of Toronto, and, one year ago, such a woman as Mary Grant.
She is the first and the only woman to hold the presidency of a municipal association in Canada. She is one oi the very few women to hold municipal office at all, and she is happily content in an apppointment to which she is giving her best service of judgment and experience.
“The Municipal Association has the ear of^ the government, and is strong in unity,” was Miss Grant’s summing up of her Association.
Mary Grant is a person with hobbies. Her work is one, a permanent one; cooking is another; planting things, still another, justified in the jolly little pears, sugar sweet, that this Fall came popping and dropping off one of the trees in her back garden, a tree planted with her own hands. And the lessening of the burden of the farm women of Ontario.
As a Woman Views Woman’s Place
fAUT of it all, the ordered maze of tasks and duties and interests, the handling with skill and understanding of people and their pennies at the same time, Miss Grant brings one sure vision.
“The place for women is in the home,” she told me, sitting quiet at her desk, with the sun gone from the window, and the Fall twilight slipping in on velvet feet. "There is no better task, no finer calling, but existence to-day does not always make it possible. It is not that women have forgotten, have lost interest in the real things of life, but life itself has altered, and womenkind have been thrust out, strangers in a strange land, to do battle as best they may. And, bless their hearts, if they haven’t won out in the end.”
Out of it all, the busy office hours, the conferring with important people on important topics, this sitting on committees, this hurrying to greater cities, and back again, Miss Grant allows herself two special, and surely pardonable, bits of pride. On her office wall, where the sun finds it the better part of the day, and where, seated at her desk, her eyes must often rest upon it, hangs an old-fashioned oil, of still life, showing the touch of a young but sure and artistic hand.
And one other. A framed certificate of life membership in the Canadian Red Cross Society.
There came 1914, and the war. And in a riot of service, Mary Grant found her niche as commander in chief of the women of Middlesex County. There came to her call, an army of needles, legions of eager fingers. There came to her the honor of organizing the women of the county into a Patriotic Society that was a patriotic society indeed. That took their knitting pins in hand and descended, in the largest delegation that ever stormed the County Buildings, upon the Council County. They stormed the County Council and won through to their objective, no less than $40,000 for Red Cross purposes.
How they worked, those country women, already with days filled to overflowing, worked often through a cloud of tears that would not be denied. And at their head.marshallingthem, Mary Grant, Purchasing Agent, with as much as $9,600 worth of material passing through her hands in that last year of the war, she dealt again in big things, taking her share, this time, in world tasks.
And on her office wall hangs her membership in the Canadian Red Cross, token alike of efficient and faithful service, and of the loyalty of her womenfolk, whose gift it is. You think of her, so. A woman among women. You think of her foremothers, overseas, at “Buckcharn” in the Parish of Abornethy, Inverness, making ready for the winter, gathering in the fruits of the harvest, fashioning garments for their household. You think of them, pioneering in a new land, with rugged years to face, and hardships a’plenty. You think of them, and then of her, in pleasant farmsteads, with quiet pastures, and ordered gardens, making ready for the turn of the year.
You keep on thinking of orchards in golden October weather, and apples falling on the grass.