Group photo of Lord and Lady Aberdeen (standing in the back) with their children and nanny on the porch of the Coldstream Ranch circa 1895.

One of the most remarkable women to have lived in Canada is Ishbel Marie Hamilton-Gordon (nee Marjoribanks).

Ishbel was born in Scotland on March 14, 1857, to a wealthy Scottish Member of Parliament, Sir Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks and his wife Isabella Weird Hogg. Ishbel was an extremely bright child. She secretly taught herself to read at the age of three by pestering the household servants to each read a line or two from her book of fairytales. Upon this discovery, her parents immediately hired a governess to begin her formal instruction in reading

In her late teens, Ishbel met John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon, the 7th Earl of Aberdeen, and on November 7, 1877, they were married. Although Ishbel’s outspoken nature was in contrast with John’s quiet personality, their complimentary political views and mutual dedication to social reform resulted in a happy marriage and lasting partnership. The couple had four surviving children: George, Marjorie, Dudley, and Archie. One unnamed daughter was lost in infancy.

The family came to B.C. for the first time in 1890, and purchased a ranch in Kelowna. A year later, in 1891, they purchased the Coldstream Ranch in Vernon from Forbes Vernon. The establishment of these two ranches helped shape the Okanagan’s fruit industry into what it is today.  

In 1893, Lord Aberdeen was appointed Governor General of Canada, and Ishbel did not sit idly by as his wife.  She was a leader in social causes for women, and established the National Council of Women and the Victorian Order of Nurses.

Lady Aberdeen personally established the Vernon branch of the National Council for Women in 1895, and their first meeting occurred on October 22 of that year. The records of the Vernon branch, including the minutes from the first meeting, are housed at the Vernon Archives. One of the most prominent accomplishments of the Vernon branch was the petition for a hospital, resulting in the establishment of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital.

The Aberdeens left Canada in 1898. Lady Aberdeen passed over her title of president of the National Council of Women, but maintained her role as president of the International Council of Women for decades. This remarkable woman remained in Europe for the rest of her life, and passed away in March of 1934.

 

Rebecca Sekine, Archival Intern

 

vernon hospital’s founding mother

 

October 9. 2020

October is Women’s History Month, a celebration of the outstanding achievements of women throughout Canada’s history. Since its incorporation in 1892, Vernon has been home to a number of fascinating women, and this is therefore the perfect opportunity to explore how their legacies have shaped our city.

For any of us who have visited the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, we owe this woman our health; she was the driving force behind the establishment of Vernon’s first hospital, fondly known as the Cottage Hospital.

Clara Chipp came to Vernon circa 1888 after marrying the town’s first government official, Walter Dewdney. Walter had recently lost his wife, and Clara stepped up to act as a surrogate mother to his three young children. The young stepmom quickly became active in Vernon’s social scene, hosting picnics for local children and playing the organ at church services.

 

 

Clara & Walter Dewdney, 1889

Unfortunately, Walter was under a significant amount of stress from his job. He had little time for anything other than work, and spent long hours confined his desk. He began to suffer from bouts of depression, on top of chronic pain due to a kidney disorder. Just four years after marrying Clara, he took his own life.

Following Walter’s tragic death, Clara found herself alone with her three stepchildren. She moved in to a new house closer to that of her father, John Chipp, a local doctor, so he could help with their care. From this vantage point, Clara was also afforded a clear view of the handsome young shopkeeper, William Cameron, who worked across the street. In 1894, Clara and William were married.

In 1894, diphtheria broke out in Vernon, and underlined the urgent need for a local health care facility. At this time, Clara was Vice-President of the National Council of Women and used her position to canvas the district for financial support towards the construction of a hospital. In 1897, Vernon’s first Jubilee “Cottage” Hospital was opened in a boarding house on 28th Avenue—a temporary facility until the new building opened on Hospital Hill in 1909.

Tragically, Clara would never live to see this day. In 1898, she was diagnosed with cancer, and instead of suffering through her deteriorating health, she took her own life by drinking carbolic acid in 1900. A tribute to her in the Vernon News stated that “the establishment of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital was due almost entirely to the untiring efforts of the late Mrs. W.F. Cameron … It is eminently fitting that her memory should be honored in this connection.”

So next time you pass by or through the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, spare a thought for the woman who fought tirelessly for the health of Vernon’s citizens.  

Gwyn Evans