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Isabel Elliott, friend, classmate  (fiancee?) of Tom.W5868 TO [REV.] CALVIN MCQUESTEN from his mother, Mary Baker McQuesten
Jun 1 1907
To: Calvin McQuesten, Glenhurst, Saskatchewan
From: Oakville, Ontario

My dear dear boy,

Tom said he would write the particulars about your exams which he could explain better than I can. All I know is, you're to be allowed to take your M.A. next year.1

Mary and I had a fine time in Toronto last week. Maggie [MacKay] wrote to come on the Thursday so I went with Tom to the opening of Convocation Hall. I was so glad to have the opportunity, it is a most beautiful building, simply perfect for the purpose. The interior is very fine and when lit up the crimson cloth lends such a fine effect. We had good seats and saw the unveiling of Vice-Chancellor Moss' painting or rather portrait. Then we heard Prof. Hutton, but he has got into an unfortunate sing song.2 Sir Wm. Meredith was perfectly natural and gave a resume of University affairs, which was very good.3 Grey came in escorting Miss Elliott [sic].4

Then on Friday morning I went shopping. Mary came by boat and little Mary Taylor went with us to Convocation, we had a good seat in front of one of the galleries.5

It was a sight worth seeing as the students came in, a space allotted to each department, the ladies coming first; the students occupied the first tier and the effect was excellent. I was so glad that Tom was able to represent the family on that opening day. It was a fortunate coincidence. Unfortunately Tom had to rush for boat races as soon as he got his degree which came near the first, so we had to make our way to the garden party by ourselves, except that I fell in with Dr. Ellis, who took us in. There were not many we know, but fortunately I knew Prof. McCallum and he got a waiter to bring us refreshments and he attended to us well. Met John King who told me Tom had done remarkably well at his exams and that all the men at Osgoode liked Tom very much indeed. We enjoyed the outing altogether very much, weather delightful, the finest we have had and Maggie made us so comfortable feeding us on the very best.

Do you know in Mrs. Mackay's first will she left you $500 but her relatives evidently worked on her at the last when she was weak. They got all her jewellery even some that had belonged to the Gordons.6 Tom has been engaged by Mr. Henderson to take charge of office at $75 a month until he finds what suits him.7 Masten had not decided just what to do.8

We had Mrs. James with us for ten days, came to us completely used up but by keeping her in bed and proper diet she became perfectly well and went off to-day in fine spirits.9 She quite dreaded, I think going up to Sparrow Lake. The weather keeps so cold; yesterday and to-day, strong east winds and so cold, we are afraid to go out by front door.

I am preparing to speak at a meeting at St. David's on Thursday evening so I have to go into Hamilton to take the train to Niagara Falls and so on. Hilda heard last night the reason of Mr. Cavers here leaving the Presbyterian Church, Mrs. C. you heard me speak of as a Miss McMillan. It seems that Dr. McNair was calling on him and it was after a sermon preached by the doctor. No one knows the exact particulars, but the fact remains that the doctor knocked Mr. C. down, to the universal joy of the community. The wonder was how he did it, as Mr. C. was a big man. Even his son-in-law was perfectly delighted and the Marlatts whooped, Kenneth said.10

We have also heard from Mrs. Culhain that our Tom is engaged and that the whole thing is settled, to whom is not mentioned,11 also that the only girl Tom ever really cared for was Annie Fletcher.12

I was interested to read how the Western ministers stirred up the Assembly. Young Gordon seems to have done well.13 Well Cal dear I must close as I have things to do. Trust you have found some sort of a comfortable home and your horse to be alright. Am quite anxious to hear just where you are. What paper do you get? I have forgotten. With best love from all.

Your loving Mother

M.B. McQuesten


1 Tom wrote to Calvin in June 1907 (W8198) that there had been some confusion about Calvin's courses at Knox College. Tom visited Calvin's professors several times and tried to sort out the problems in Calvin's program of studies and his exams. After four visits, the professor "finally intimated that you [Calvin] might confer with him and if you wrote on Astronomy that would be sufficient" and "there should be no difficulty about your obtaining an M.A. next Spring." Calvin did not receive an M.A. in the Spring of 1908, but in June 1908 he received news of his B.A., see W6053, W6151). Calvin continued his studies and wrote his final exams in April 1910, but did not receive an M.A. (W8198, June 15, W1907, W5868, W5984, W6053, W6151, W8198, W8204, W6676, W9033).


2 Principal Maurice Hutton at University of Toronto, see W5233, W8171. Hutton was largely responsible for the Rhodes Scholarship being awarded to Paterson and not to Tom (W5199).


3 Sir William Ralph Meredith (1840-1923) chief justice of Ontario 1894-1923, practiced law in London and in Toronto. He was elected to the legislative assembly in 1872, and became leader of the Conservative opposition in 1878. He was knighted in 1896 and elected chancellor of the University of Toronto in 1900, a position he held until his death.


4 Grey was a friend of Tom's and likely a fellow student. Tom went to the lumber camp with Grey in 1903, see W4877, W4977. For Miss Elliot, see below.


5 Miss Mary Taylor is often referred to as "little Mary Taylor." She was a special friend of the McQuesten daughters and they visited frequently. She lived in Toronto (at 44 Isabella St. in 1908, W6053). I have found no evidence that she was related to Sir Thomas Taylor at W5382, or to Rev. John Thomson Taylor at W5172, or to Rev. Peter Taylor at W5233 (W5868, W5297, W5303, W5313, W5406, W5477, W5956, W6053, W6521, W6951, W6959, W8752, W9180, W7103).


6 Mrs. MacKay died in March, 1907 (W5804). This letter helps to establish that she was a Gordon. For MacKay family, see W4297.


7 Tom had been hired to article with Royce and Henderson (Robert) of Toronto at $75 per month. He assisted in the purchase of properties on the Burlington Beach strip to provide a right of way for railway and hydro-electric development between Niagara and Toronto (Best 13). The firm was pleased with his work and even paid him while he took his exams (W5636, W-MCP2-4.037a, W5868, W5876, W5912).


8 In July 1907, Tom's prospects with Masten, Starr and Spence, Toronto, became a little more definite: When Robert Henderson would return from his honeymoon business trip to England, Tom would "go in" with Masten at $1000 per year. Mary commented: "I feel very thankful as it seems to be an excellent opening, and they are not always obtainable" (W5912). For Tom's work with Masten at Elk Lake, see W5990.


9 For the James family, see W4436. Mrs. James suffered from "nervous prostration." It is described by Mary in letter of June 15, 1907: "she completely upset Edna, and got her into such a state that I was worried to death. When Mrs. J. came she had a turn of her nervous prostration and talked without ceasing" (W5876).


10 Rev. Dr. John McNair (1862-1954) University of Toronto, Knox College, University of Gottingen, Edinburgh, lecturer Knox College 1890-92, ordained Guelph 1893, pastor Waterloo 1893-99, Oakville 1899-1909, Petrolia 1909-14, retired 1914-20, lecturer, London Normal School. This colourful gossip about an altercation between minister and layman "after the sermon" perhaps accounts for the small size of the congregation attending the Oakville Presbyterian Church (W5854). It is possible that the dispute is a reflection of the "storm centre" within the church at that time over "higher criticism" and "Church Union." McNair's background at Gottingen, Germany, suggests that he might have been on the "experimental religion" side of the debate (see W5283; Moir Enduring 174-75).


11 Miss Isabel Elliot (escorted by Grey) was the woman to whom Tom was rumoured to be engaged. Mary objected to the relationship and Miss Elliot attempted to win Mary's favour by arranging to have Mary's miniature painted by a Miss Ramsay; however, Mary found fault at each stage of the painting and retouching (W6012). The romance continued in secret for a time and Miss Elliot wrote letters to Tom at Whitehern "in a masculine hand" from October 1906 to April 1907, but it is not known how long the relationship continued--and Tom never married (W-MCP3-5.074, W-MCP3-5.075, W-MCP3-5.076, W-MCP3-5.077, W5868, W5984, W6012, W6020, W6035, W6039; Best 17-18, and photos, IMG232, IMG235, pictured above).

Miss Isabel Elliot was a student at U of T with Tom and she was in the graduating class of 1905. Tom went on to graduate in law in 1907. Isabel's photo appears in the 1905 U of T graduation album along with the notation: A countenance in which did meet, Sweet records, promises so sweet. Although Born in Brampton, Isabel Elliot graduated from the Parkdale Collegiate and entered the English and History Courses of '05. One of the sweetest and most charming of the many charming girls in the year, her unfailing sympathy and evenness of disposition have made her deservedly popular, as may be seen from the fact that she has held office in the Class Executive, the Woman's Lit., and the Woman's Athletic Association. Isabel will have the best wishes of all her fellow-students in whatever career she may elect to follow.
It is not known when the relationship between Tom and Isabel began, or how long it continued; however, they did not marry. Indeed, Tom never married.

John Best's Research follows:
Isabel(la) Elliott [sic]was born in Brampton Ontario in 1883(i), the youngest of 8 siblings. Her father, Matthew Mitchell Elliott [sic] had been a merchant in Brampton but had died 1n 1887 leaving his widow Elizabeth with a large family to care for. In 1895 Isabel's older sister Margaret married Henry J. Dawson, a grain merchant and Isabel along with her mother, moved to Toronto to live in the Dawson household (ii). Dawson appears to have been a successful businessman and this is likely the reason Isabel was able to obtain a university education. Isabel Elliot appears along with her photo in the graduation calendar for University of Toronto, 1905. Her brief bio is quoted above. It was at the University that Isabel met Thomas Baker McQuesten (1882-1948) of Hamilton. A romance ensued, but it was discouraged by McQuesten's mother, Mary Baker McQuesten and the two parted ways sometime after 1908. In 1912, Isabel Elliot married John Spencer Thompson of Picton, winner of several scholarships in mathematics. At the time of the marriage Thompson had already accepted a position as an insurance actuary in New York City, and the newlyweds moved there and eventually took up residence in the New York suburb of Glen Ridge New Jersey(iii). The marriage produced three children. John Spencer Thompson became a respected actuary and held executive positions with the Actuarial Society of America. The couple travelled to Europe in 1948(iv). Sometime around 1955 Isabel Elliot was diagnosed with global transient ischemia(v)--a brain disorder--and she spent the last 10 years of her life in the prestigious Brattleboro Clinic in Wyndham Vermont, dying in 1965. John Spencer Thompson died on October 27, 1979. He was ninety-four years old(vi).

(i) Canada Census 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911.
(ii) Ontario Canada Marriages 1801-1928.
(iii) US Census, 1920, 1930, 1940.
(iv) New York Passenger Lists 1820-1957.
(v) Vermont Death Records 1909-2008. Isabel's death certificate refers to the cause of death as "chronic brain syndrome" The more accurate term was provided by Isabel Elliott[sic] Thompson's granddaughter Elizabeth Woolf, August 2013.
(vi) Thompson Obituary in the Actuary the Journal American Society of Actuaries V14 No2 February 1980.


12 Annie Fletcher was the daughter of Rev. Dr. Donald Fletcher, see W4479. She married Price Montague in September 1907 (W5990).


13 Likely, Charles Gordon (pseudonym, Ralph Connor) who would have been forty-seven years old at this time, see W5359.




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