Notable Women of Aylmer
This virtual exhibit celebrates four remarkable women of Aylmer.
Spanning the years 1816 – 2008, the lives of these women differed greatly in many respects, but what they all have in common is the setting of the region. Against this dynamic landscape, which is in turns beautiful and forbidding, inspiring and harsh, they contributed their formidable reserves of energy, their talent, and what little spare time they had to improving the world around them. Through her life’s work, each woman in this exhibition altered the physical and social landscape of our area in ways that continue to shape our lives.
This extraordinary pioneer was one of the builders of the Outaouais region. Mary was born in 1816 and was a McConnell, a prominent family involved in the logging industry. In 1837, she married Robert Conroy, an ambitious merchant with whom she had 10 children.
The couple settled in Aylmer and built the British Hotel. Later, the McConnell-Conroys invested primarily in the development of transportation services, such as wood slides, embarkation docks, paving the Aylmer Road, and bridges, as well as stagecoach services.
In 1857, Mary bought the Deschênes Rapids farm, which became one of the most successful dairy farms in the Outaouais region. After her husband died in 1868, she took over the family businesses and modernized their sawmill. Later, she built a second sawmill with railway tracks running through it. Her mills produced up to 30 million feet of board in one season and employed 200 workers. This economic boom helped to establish the beginnings of the village of Deschênes Mills along the banks of the Ottawa River.
When she retired, she left her businesses to her children. Her sons, Robert and William Conroy, built a hydroelectric generating station on the Deschênes Rapids to power the surrounding neighbourhoods, factories and the streetcar linking Hull and Ottawa to Aylmer. The foundations of the hydroelectric dam are still visible today.
Mary’s acute business sense could have made her a ‘lumber baron’, a title reserved only for the men of that time. (Portrait ca 1875-80, artist unknown)
Lucy Faris was born in Aylmer in 1855 to one of the first families to settle in the village. Her father, John Faris, was probably a farmer; her mother was called Mary Benedict. They had eleven children.
From a young age, Lucy enjoyed reading, listening to music, playing games, embroidery, crocheting, drawing, and so on. She had a lifelong dream of creating an educational and cultural facility for the good of all Aylmer residents, large and small, so they would have the chance to learn and play.
This benefactress, who lived her entire life in Aylmer, made her mark upon her death in 1924 by bequeathing the assets of a fund bearing her name, “Lucy Faris”, to open a library. She also donated her entire personal collection, which included 220 books, as well as periodicals, games, works of art and records. Her vision and community spirit led to the opening of Aylmer’s first library in 1938.
In May 2004, the town named a new library to honour her memory, which occupies two floors in Place des Pionniers. We should never forget the name Lucy Faris, a visionary who emphasized the importance of education for all, according to their interests, in a community space that will always be called the Lucy Faris Library, situated in the Old Aylmer neighbourhood of Gatineau. (Photo courtesy of Robert Ferris)
Marjorie Davison was born in Aylmer in 1915. She was a member of one of the pioneering families. Her great-grandfather, James Finlayson Taylor, was one of Aylmer’s first inhabitants and a contemporary of Charles Symmes, the city’s founder.
In 1921, when she was only six years old, Marjorie was deeply affected by the great fire that ravaged much of the city. Perhaps this explains her fascination with the fires that marked her professional life! Marjorie documented many fires. A talented photographer, she was one of the first women in the country to join the national press in the 1940s, at a time when the world of journalism was still fiercely male. As part of her journalistic duties, she interviewed and photographed numerous political figures, as well as several dignitaries from varied backgrounds.
Marjorie quickly gained prominence as her photos appeared in prestigious magazines and newspapers such as Time, Mayfair, Life, Saturday Night and The Globe and Mail. The success and toughness of this determined woman in a male-dominated environment would go on to inspire many stories about her career. She eventually realized her dream by creating and running her own Ottawa news agency, the Capital Press Service, which employed six people.
Marjorie was passionate about history and antiques and went on to write a book on Canadian furniture with her husband, Philip Shackleton. Her archives are held by the Aylmer Heritage Association. They are a valuable resource for knowing and appreciating our regional history and heritage. (Photo: Aylmer Achives)
Born in Ottawa in 1926, Yvette Bond was passionate about literature, French culture and exploration. For a few years, she corresponded with Pierre Debain, a young French artist who lived in Algeria and Morocco. He decided to come to Canada to marry his sweetheart Yvette, who was 26 at the time.
Yvette and Pierre started a family in a heritage house in Old Aylmer at 7 Front Street. In the 1970s, they built the L’Imagier Art Centre as an annex to the house using wood from the old barn located behind it and recycled materials. L’Imagier was officially opened in 1975. Successive exhibitions reflected contemporary regional artistic expression in an educational space created for Yvette Debain, who strove to convey the pleasure of discovering works of art.
Yvette loved animating tours and making young audiences experience a sense of wonder at the sight of a picture or sculpture. She always welcomed her visitors with her legendary smile and kindness. She appreciated the pleasure people felt in discovering artworks in the spaces of L’Imagier.
In 1987, in partnership with the City of Gatineau, Yvette created the Parc de l’Imaginaire, a small outdoor museum with sculpted benches and a Japanese fountain featuring musicians and professional performing artists. A pavilion welcomes artists during the summer months. In 2005, the city awarded the Ordre de Gatineau to Yvette Debain. The Imagier Art Centre and Parc de l’Imaginaire will continue to thrive with artistic performances. (Photo: Ville de Gatineau)