The Blair Sisters at Beaulieu

Black and white image c. 1903 of sandstone mansion with people and a carriage in front.

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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.

Close-up shot of piece of paper, circa 1906, with handwritten names listing residents.

1906 Canada Census showing the Lougheed family and their three servants

 

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.

Close-up shot of piece of paper, circa 1906, with handwritten names of passengers.

Arriving passenger list for March 1906 passage on the SS Numidian from Glasgow to Halifax. Listed are the Blair sisters and their parents.

 

Black and white image of passenger ship.

Allan Line Royal Mail Steamer, the SS Numidian

 

Advertisement for passenger travel via ship from Britain to Canada

Advertisement for Allan Line Royal Mail Service to Canada

 

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.

Collage of four different newspaper ads for servants.

Various servant ads posted by Lady Lougheed in the Calgary Herald

 

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.

Black and white image c. 1903 of sandstone mansion with people and a carriage in front.

“Beaulieu,” Residence of the Hon. Senator Lougheed | c. 1903 | Photographer Unknown | Glenbow Archives NA-789-157

2 Comments

  1. Sheila Garland on March 4, 2021 at 10:31 pm

    My mother often told us of when she worked in the Lougheed House. It was at a time when Peter Lougheed was just a young fellow. I assume she was a cook or kitchen help as she often spoke of polishing their silverware. She did say that she and the other help were quite afraid of Lady Lougheed.
    My Mom’s name was Karen Tangen and I would guess she worked there in the early 1930s or so.

    • BlogAdmin on March 9, 2021 at 1:07 pm

      Thank you for your comment, Sheila! We are thrilled to have another name of someone who worked for Lady Lougheed at the house. So often these names get lost in history, and it’s very exciting to unearth another story!

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