Kate (Scott) Aitken also known as “Mrs. A” was a
celebrated Canadian broadcaster, lecturer and author. Her career was so
diverse, that it is a challenge to list all of her accomplishments.
Kate May Scott was born on April 6, 1891, to Anne and Robert Scott, in the small rural village of Beeton Ontario.
Image copyright: Public domain
At the early age of twelve, Kate became a
self-styled entrepreneur. During the summer holidays, she rented a bicycle and
sold cosmetics by order form, to the ladies of Beeton and outlying farms. That
same year she entered High School and used her earnings, $27.85, to pay for her
Kate’s writing career also had an early start. Robert
Scott owned and operated one of three general stores in Beeton. His least
favorite task was composing the store’s weekly ad for the local newspaper. Kate
received high marks for composition in school, which landed her the “job”.
Later in life she went on to be the author six
books.“Kate Aitken’s Canadian Cook Book” published in 1945 became a best
seller. In “Never A Day So Bright” published 1956 and in “Making Your Living is
Fun” published 1959, Kate writes about life growing up in Beeton and her
subsequent careers. Both are a delightful read. They are available at the
Archives reading room. She also wrote for newspapers and magazines.
Kate's teaching career started as a substitute teacher when she was 14. She became certified at 16 with only three months training. Receiving higher certification at 18 she then moved to Saskatchewan. "I learned that every Western teacher should come equipped not only with text-books but also with a saddle" (Aitken, 13).
Her stay out west was short lived. She received
news that her father was very ill. This prompted her to return home. Robert
Scott passed away in September of that year. (1910)
After her father’s death Kate continued to teach
and help her mother run the store.
In 1912 Kate’s mother sold the store and family home.
They relocated in Toronto. This was where she married Henry Mundell Aitken on
October 7, 1914. They moved to Minnesota where Henry had an established real
estate business. Kate continued to teach.
After the death of Henry’s brother, the couple
moved back to Beeton so that Henry could run his family’s flour mill. They also
bought a small farm. Kate ran a very successful poultry business. Two
of her hens held world egg-laying records. Having branched out to include
garden, orchard and dairy produce, she became an expert in canning and
preserving. The family had expanded to include two lovely daughters. Anne and
In 1920 she was instrumental in forming the
Beeton chapter of the Women’s Institute. Kate was the branch’s first president.
As a result of her farming expertise and
voracious appetite for reading, Kate was quite knowledgeable. She was hired as
a lecturer by the Federal and Provincial Departments of Agriculture. The lecture
courses were directed at rural areas across Canada. She also became a part time
Kate’s first official overseas trip was to
London England, where she was in charge of the Canadian exhibit for the Empire
Craft Exhibition. Kate was asked to present a handmade bedspread from Quebec,
to the Duchess of York. Through the Women’s Institute of Canada, she was
invited to have tea with the future King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and their
baby daughter Queen Elizabeth II. During hard times in the depression, Kate’s
family was no exception. To compound matters the farm was vandalized by fire
and robbery. It was a devastating experience and financial setback. Lady luck
stepped in and Kate was asked by an advertising company to host a series of
short cooking schools in Montreal. The main theme was management and economy in
the kitchen. The courses were expanded to include other parts of Canada. This
gave rise to several new opportunities. An American railway executive
approached Kate about starting canning centers State side, to help struggling
farmers. “Out of that casual conversation, I got me another job.” (Aitken, 121). What
started out as three canning centers producing jams, jellies and pickles for
sale to the railway for use in dining cars, blossomed into canning co-operative
plants. Another invitation was extended to host the cooking school at the
Chicago Women’s World’s Fair. It was billed as “The Farm Kitchen”, but according
to Kate it was quite posh. “After a few
days, I too became accustomed to this Alice in Wonderland atmosphere and earnestly
talked economy from a $5000 farm
kitchen" (Aitken, 123).
The Cooking schools were also held at the
Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. Kate went on to become Director of
Women’s Activities. “My weakness has always been that the success of the job
meant far more to me than the financial returns. Money isn’t everything. To be
part of a project that started with a twelve-foot booth and worked up to a five
building enterprise, is to be caught up in the magic of growth, than which
there is nothing more exhilarating" (Aitken, 139).
Kate’s start to a very long broadcasting career,
came while doing a cooking show live from Prince Edward Island. It was a hit. Kate
hosted and wrote the shows. “I was allowed to follow my own format of news,
household hints, fashions, and human-interest stories" (Aitken, 142). Her
programmes were heard three times a day throughout the year. She was heard
locally, nationally and internationally. Kate’s broadcasting career led her to
travel the world covering important events as well as meetings and interviews
with famous personalities at home and abroad.
When television became popular, she also found
herself doing food commercials for a weekly variety show.
In 1945 she was “retained by the British
Ministry of Food to do a survey of food conditions in newly liberated or
conquered countries" (Aitken, 177). This
gave her firsthand experience of the aftermath of war.
On a lighter side, another venture was “The Spa”
just outside of Toronto. Kate started a
weekend getaway for women, in a country setting. The experience came complete
with theme decorated private rooms, dining and lounge area, beauty rooms,
health care, masseuses, walks in the woods and a full staff. The retreat
offered relaxation and plenty of pampering. She had acquired a great deal of
know-how from writing beauty columns and covering fashion shows for newspapers
and magazines. Not to forget her co-ordination
of the “thirty seven fashion shows” daily at the National
Exhibition (Aitken, 132). Her expertise was
Kate was appointed to the Canadian Radio and
Television Board of Broadcast Governors in 1958.
After a long and fruitful life, Kate Aitken
passed away on December 11, 1971. Her final resting place is the Beeton United
A memorial plaque was placed in her honour on
June 3, 1973 in Beeton Community Park.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, “Mrs.
A.” was, and still is, a true inspiration for women in all walks of life. Her
place in the long line of influential women is well deserved.
Aitken, K.S. (1959). Making your living is fun. Toronto, NY: Longmans, Green.
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