Who Was Madeline?
Madeline Wallace sits in an easy chair in her Ruscom home, skeptical of the ordeal ahead of her, wondering for the nth time why anyone would want to interview her. She doesn’t need any more publicity, she claims, and she has nothing very interesting to talk about.
“Well what in the world am I going to tell you?” she asks. “I’ve done nothing spectacular … I’ve been in the paper so often that I don’t need to be in anymore”
The Grand-dame of Essex County — noted local historian, famous among farming circles for her work with the Federation of Agriculture and countryside travels with her late husband Bill — is far too modest for her years.” -Bobbi Eberle, from the Ontario Farmer Newspaper, sometime around 1984
Madeline Foster Delaurier Wallace was born on August 30, 1903 on the shores of Lake Erie in Leamington Ontario. Her father, Fred Delaurier, was from a family who lived off the bounty of the lake. Not merely fishermen, the Delauriers were exporters of fish all the way to New York City.
The first Delauriers to come to North America were emigrants from France in the mid 17002, settling first in Quebec, then Montreal and eventually, in Detroit in the late 1700s (the women the earliest Delauriers married when arriving in Quebec go back even further than that). Jean Baptiste Delaurier moved to the Canadian side after marrying Julia Hazel, from a United Empire Loyalist family who moved to the north shore of Lake Erie, settling near what is now Seacliffe Park in Leamington. Jean Baptiste and Julia then moved to the current Point Pelee National Park around 1812. The Delaurier Homestead and the family cemetery is now a heritage site within the Park.
Madeline’s mother was Euphemia Foster, the grand daughter of Ralph Foster. “Squire Foster” was very involved in the political life of the early settlement and is credited in some circles as having named the town. (The very closest street to the Lake in Leamington is Foster Street).
Both branches of the family stayed close to home, but Madeline got the urge to see the world very early in her life. Always an independent woman, she became a teacher at the age of 16 after studying for a year at Normal School in Hamilton, living with her brother Otis and his wife Teen (Christina). Her first job was at the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford. (This was before the notorious Residential Schools were established). She was employed by the band council and boarded with the Chief and his daughter while she lived there. Her next job was on Pelee Island, then she moved to South Woodslee to teach at the school which still stands.
It was while boarding with John and Mary Wallace in South Woodslee that she met a dashing young farmer named William Melville Wallace. He had just recently graduated from Ontario Agricultural College and was living alone on the family farm on the 4th Concession of Rochester Township (about 4 miles away from his parents, who lived in the village of Woodslee). Grandma used to say that he came into town to get a good meal because all he could cook was bacon and eggs (“The cats used to follow him around because he smelled like bacon” — that was one of Grandma’s favourite stories.)
Bill and Madeline were married in Toronto on November 10, 1926, and continued to live on the family farm. They had five daughters – Marion (Sheridan – Burford, Ontario); Dorothy (Knight – Woodslee Ontario); Helen (Fenner – South River, Ontario); Shirley (Blackwell – Port Rowan, Ontario) and Mary Catherine (Brown – Goulais River, Ontario). Madeline and Bill had 22 grandchildren.
Grandma’s travelling days didn’t end when she got married. Grandpa held office in many farm organizations and spent a lot of time going to meetings throughout Southern Ontario. One of the stories Grandma often told us was that she always had a bag packed so that she could scoop up the “current baby” and hop in the car to go with Grandpa whenever he had a chance to go on the road.
In the early 1950′s, they bought a summer place on Eagle Lake at South River Ontario. Then in 1960, things changed forever. Returning home with a load of lumber for the new cottage, my grandparents’ car stalled on the tracks. A train was rounding the bend. My grandmother and her niece and nephew managed to get out in time. My grandfather did not.
My grandmother returned to Essex County on the same train that brought my grandfather home for the last time. My mother tells me that her first words after getting off the train in Windsor were “My girls, what are we going to do without him?’
But she carried on. She had already started her local history work a few years earlier, winning provincial honours for her submissions to the Women’s Institute’s Tweedsmuir Histories. And continuing on her work that she had begun with her husband, she became Secretary of the Essex County Federation of Agriculture, a post which she held for 15 years. Grandpa’s work was officially recognized when Grandpa Wallace was inducted in the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame for his pioneering work as one of Canada’s first growers of hybrid seed corn and soybeans. Though her name is not on the wall with Grandpa’s, his accomplishments are also hers. In recognition of her contributions, she was in the group of first inductees into the Essex County Agricultural Hall of Fame when it was begun in 1992.
Grandma has been gone since since November 22, 1994 when she passed away at the age of 91. She was ready to move on, and in her last days she taught me as much about death as she had taught me about life.
Madeline and her beloved husband are buried in McDowell Cemetery east of Comber Ontario, in the Wallace family plot along with Grandpa’s father John Wallace; Nellie Dodson Wallace, (John’s first wife and mother of his three children); and John’s second wife Mary Victoria Parsons Wallace (whom he married after his young first wife’s tragic death of typhoid when her children were 12, 6 and 5).
On my grandparent’s side of the family tombstone, my grandmother had the words inscribed “He was a friend”. So was she, and we miss her so much. And we are so grateful for all the words she left us.