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.