The Blair Sisters at Beaulieu
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Written by Erin Benedictson
As part of our research for Lougheed House Re-Imagined, we are diving deep into some of the other people who once lived at Lougheed House. One of the questions most eagerly asked on a tour at the house is whether or not the Lougheeds had servants. Of course, they would have! Beaulieu, as the house was known then, was no different than any other ‘respectable’ Victorian-era household, which meant that the family relied heavily on domestic labour. We know that at various points in time, they had maids, nannies, gardeners, and cooks. Many of these servants would have lived outside the home, but a number of them would have lived in the home. Evidence of this is found in a federal census record from 1906. At 707-13th Avenue, eleven people are listed as being in residence. Eight of them are members of the Lougheed family themselves, but the last three are hired help: two maids and a cook. The maids were sisters, Mary and Jemima Blair, and while Jemima was a typical maid, Mary is listed as a nurse, which meant she would have looked after the Lougheed children.
1906 was a rather big year for the Blair sisters. They immigrated to Canada with their parents and older sister on the Numidian, a veteran passenger ship, leaving port in Glasgow and arriving in Halifax on March 27. They would have likely made their way across Canada via the Canadian Pacific Railway, arriving in Calgary sometime before July 5, the date of the census. Both women in their 20s found employment quickly, soon finding themselves residents of the stately home known as Beaulieu as hired help. In 1906, the Lougheeds had six children, five under the age of 18, so Mary would have had her hands full, particularly with the youngest ones, Dorothy, Douglas, and Marjorie.
Since the home had a small staff, their duties likely strayed outside of what we would consider typical maid duties of this era. It is not unlikely that Jemima would help Mary with the children, or that Mary would help Jemima with cleaning duties. According to a Scotland census from 1901 before they immigrated to Canada, Jemima worked as a tailoress, so she also may have assisted the seamstress that we know Lady Lougheed employed each season.
Lady Lougheed (then known as Mrs. Lougheed in public spaces) would use the Personal and Wanted sections of the Calgary Daily Herald to advertise for new servants. In one of her earliest advertisements published in the November 21, 1891 edition (shortly after the family had moved into Beaulieu), she advertised for “a general servant, one who can cook well.” After going through many of her ads like this that she placed over the years, it became evident in our research that it seemed like she was placing a new one every few months. We know they never had a particularly large staff, so it is a mystery as to why she could not seem to keep them long-term. The answer is perhaps illuminated in this quote of hers from an interview she gave in 1922:
“There were many privations too but we were young and did not mind then. I had never been used to doing much hard work, having been in school, and my grandmother had twelve servants. In Calgary’s early days it was almost impossible to get help. The squaws and half-breed women were all that were available. They could wash but could not iron, and they were never dependable.”
Given Lady Lougheed’s own Métis ancestry, this excerpt is particularly intriguing and speaks to the complexities of identity and discrimination.
It is unfortunate that censuses are only taken every five years, so we do not know exactly how long the Blair sisters were in the employment of Lady Lougheed. Both Mary and Jemima were married by the end of 1907, and they likely left their posts before their wedding days, since the role of a maid was traditionally that of an unmarried woman. The next Calgary census arrived in 1911, and by then, both were living elsewhere with their families. Jemima, now known as Jemima Stead after marrying local linotype operator Percy Stead, had two children at that time, Edna and Percival. Mary married Andrew Whyte, a jeweller, and by 1911 had two daughters, Isabel and Catherine. Both lived near the Lougheed mansion, and it’s nice to imagine the stories they may have told their children as they walked by about once living in such a grand home.