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.

  1. This is the type of wonderful site that shows how much you care about someone and something that I applaud. It’s lovely to see all these stories about not only Madeline and her family but also the journey that you’re on Victoria in creating this content about her.

    Well done. I only want to ask is there any audio of Madeline tell the stories of her life?

    • Thanks for the generous comments, Ian. And also for your hard work encouraging people to do their family stories.

      To answer your question, I do have two video interviews I did with my grandmother. And we also have a television feature done about her by CBC TV. I wish I’d sat down and recorded more conversations with her. That’s why I’m making a point to do recorded conversations with my parents and all of my aunts.

      I have a bit of a hard time convincing them to be recorded. They always say “but I don’t have anything to say”. And it doesn’t take much to get them talking once they agree to letting me turn on the recorder. So even though I wish I’d had more of Grandma’s voice, at least I do have some of her. And the memories of her daughters about my grandmother, my grandfather and their grandparents reveals a lot of details that would be lost otherwise. I’ll start posting some of the audio and video in the near future.

      And if you ever want some tips about doing interviews, I’m a radio journalist by trade. (Funny, though, that it’s always easier to call up a stranger for an interview than to convince my own family. My dad often says to me “now, don’t you go putting this on the radio”). ;)

  2. Janie Steffens

    I am doing a history about two families, my mothers father, Joseph Vetor, previously Vetter, his father a german came to Woodslee around 1840, had a farm off of Middle Road. The other family was John McLean a Loyalist who came in 1787 to the Malden, Colchester, Gosfield area, do you have any mention of them?

    • Hi Janie — the Vetors were a well known family in Woodslee when I was a kid in Ruscomb in the 60s. My grandmother’s Woodslee histories has some mentions of them. Fun little story that my dad just happened to tell me last week (coincidentally) — My dad says that Vetors lived in Woodslee across the street from Great Great Aunt Elizabeth Fenner Hull .. who used to get outraged because the Vetor boys would sometimes go shirtless on a Sunday in their yard. Any other day of the week was fine for boys to go shirtless, but in Aunt Lib’s world, Sunday is a mandatory shirt day. (that would have been back in the 20s and 30s).

      Here are some mentions of Vetors from Grandma’s history of Rochester Township:

      The original German spelling of Vetor was Weider (or Wieder .. not sure if the i or the e came first .. I’ve seen both spellings)
      Andrew Vetor had an implement shop next to the Maple Leaf Tavern in Woodslee in 1906.
      The Vetors had a garage in Woodslee as late as 1972 (I think I remember it .. Vern Vetor also trucked water to our farm)

      As far as the McLeans, Grandma didn’t do a lot of research from Colchester South and North. I went to school in Harrow with some McLeans, so I know they’re still around that area. And in Woodslee, there are still some Vetors — Laurie Brett mom was a Vetor). She reads this blog .. you might want to connect with her.

  3. I wonder if you have a map of the area so I can pinpoint the original land for George Vetter/Vetor. There is also a small cemetery plot behind the store on the main street, do you know the name of anyone buried there?

    • Hi Jane .. I have forwarded on your message to another one of the Vetor clan. I don’t have any maps and didn’t find a mention of a cemetery behind the store .. something else to dig up. Hopefully Laurie, the woman to whom I forwarded your message will have some info.

  4. Hi Victoria. Jane and I are certainly related. I am the descendant of George Wellington Vetor, an older brother of Joseph Vetor. I believe George is buried in the Albuna Cemetery, but I have not confirmed that. The youngest boys – Joseph and Anthony – worked as labourers in other families’ homes during their teen years (possibly because their parents had died). Joseph lived with Joseph and Parpetu Boisvin, while Anthony lived with James and Catherine Mulvihill, all of Rochester.

    Vetor is of German origin – spelled Wieder, as you mention.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge of the Vetors. Just a few days ago my mother commented that my great-grandmother, Lizzie Vetor, mother of 13, was not a church-goer. Gasp! It’s no wonder the Vetor boys ran around shirtless on Sundays!

    The Andrew Vetor you mention was Lizzie’s husband, my gt-grandfather.

    Vern was their son, my grandfather’s brother. Wow, what a trip down memory lane!

    If Jane wants to contact me by email I’d be happy to sort out the details: lbrett7@yahoo.ca

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