Photo Credit: Lyont E., (ca. 1911), Library of Congress
Flora MacDonald Merrill Denison was born in 1867 in Hastings County, near Belleville, Ontario. A sometimes office worker, journalist, author and dressmaker, Flora became an outspoken feminist reformer considered too radical for her contemporaries. Early exposure to the poor working conditions of women led her to throw support behind the growing women’s movement and join the Canadian Suffrage Association. Flora argued in favour of women in the workforce, mothers’ wages, divorce, abortion, free love, and the reorganization of marriage, and she often expressed her views through her regular 1909-13 column in the Toronto Sunday World. Flora’s views were considered too radical and she was eventually asked to step down as president of the Association, a position she held from 1911 to 1914.
Flora eventually removed herself from the public eye and spent her remaining time with her only son, Merrill, creating the Bon Echo Inn, a haven for artists, poets and writers devoted to the spiritualist ideals of American poet Walt Whitman. Annual gatherings culminated in 1919 with the dedication of a carved rock face, known as “Old Walt”, commemorating the centenary of Whitman’s birth.
Flora was recovering from Spanish influenza when she visited Bon Echo in the cold, wet spring of 1921. She contracted pneumonia and died on May 23, leaving her beloved inn to her son Merrill.
The history of Canada spans far more than the 150 years that we celebrate with the 2017 Sesquicentennial. We are a country built by a diverse population, and shaped by extraordinary events set against a vast natural landscape. Our new exhibit celebrates the 150th birthday of our nation by telling the story of London and Middlesex County from 1820 to 1920 - a small and localized portion of Canada’s history. “150 Years: 150 Artifacts” features unique objects and images from our permanent collection that represent key people, stories and events which shaped that century of Canadian history.
One of the most imposing, and heaviest artifacts in the exhibit is London’s first fire bell. The 700 pound bronze bell was ordered from A. Good of Buffalo, New York, and arrived in London in 1848 after being on exhibit at the Buffalo New York fair. The maker’s mark is cast on the outer rim along with the name of London’s Mayor, S. Morrill, Esq. It is believed that the bell was later moved to the new City Hall around 1854, and is now in the Fanshawe Pioneer Village Permanent Collection.
Be sure to check out the “Great Local Ideas” exhibit case where you’ll find an amazing invention patented in 1921 by London business owner Robert Greene. The “Twin Trail” roadway system saw a section of gravel...
While searching for a Christmas-themed image or object in our collection to write about I ran across an early advertising piece that immediately caught my attention. It is a cardboard image of a shoe - a beautiful red shoe decorated with flowers - and being a lover of both shoes and flowers I needed to investigate more.
Text printed on the shoe reveals that the card is from the J.P Cook Boot and Shoe Store located at 173 Dundas Street. Joseph Patrick Cook was the second generation of Cooks to operate a shoe store; his Irish-born father Philip had been a shoemaker in London since the 1860’s. Research shows the Cook’s had stores in at least three different locations on Dundas Street, between Richmond and Clarence, and in later years at 483 Richmond Street, just north of the Grand Theatre. In 1905 Joseph formed a partnership with C.J. Fitzgerald of Brooklyn, New York to establish the Cook-Fitzgerald Co. Ltd., a shoe manufacturing business located on the north side of Carling Street between Talbot and Ridout. The firm would later move to the southeast corner of Richmond and Bathurst streets.