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)
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)