Blog originally posted March 5, 2018
In celebration of International Women's Day, the Simcoe County Archives is sharing a series of letters from a woman who led a remarkable life during an eventful time in world history.
In the 1920s, Christina Frances MacDougall of Barrie, Ontario, was a missionary at the North Henan Mission in Weihui, Henan, located in central China, during a turbulent period in Chinese history known as the Warlord Era.
The Warlord Era
Emperor Puyi of the Qing Dynasty abdicated in 1912 after the military rebelled. Yuan Shikai, President of China and General of the Army, was unable to put down the revolt and when public opinion followed that of the rebels, he brokered the abdication of the Emperor and assumed power himself. His rule proved autocratic and anti-parliamentary, and led to several revolts when local and regional military commanders reacted against his self-appointment as President-for-life and, eventually, first Emperor of a new dynasty. He died in 1916, after which military commanders and their forces entered into a period of conflict and shifting alliances, or cliques. Around this time, in the south of China, Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek formed the Nationalist Party, and with assistance from the Soviet Union, created the Republican Army. In 1928, the Republican Army reunified the country by bringing local warlords into its ranks. They remained in effective control of their respective areas until the 1949 creation of the Communist government.
While still in Weihui, Henan, Christina Frances MacDougall wrote replies to letters she had received from students at Barrie Collegiate Institute. These letters shed light on the life of a County woman teaching in China. Some also provide a fascinating first-hand account of civil conflict in that region.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the letters is the manner in which they were transported and stored. They were written on narrow sheets of rice paper, which were affixed together to form a scroll. The scroll contains 10 individual letters and when unrolled it measures just under 8 metres long. In addition to her handwriting, the scroll also features decorative paintings of flowering plants.
The scroll was recently digitized by SCA staff, and can now be viewed in its entirety. The letters have been separated into individual files for ease of access (Note that an unknown length of the scroll is missing from the beginning)
2007 -147 - Page 1 - Unknown Recipient or Introduction - Copyright: Public Domain
2007 -147 - Page 2 - Dear Helen - Copyright: Public Domain
2007 -147 - Page 3 - Dear Doris - Copyright: Public Domain
2007 -147 - Page 4 - Dear Jean - Copyright: Public Domain
2007 -147 - Page 5 - Dear Vera Glenny - Copyright: Public Domain
2007 -147 - Page 6 - Dear Ailsa - Copyright: Public Domain
2007 -147 - Page 7 - Dear Bessie - Copyright: Public Domain
2007 -147 - Page 8 - Dear Reta L. - Copyright: Public Domain
2007 -147 - Page 9 - Dear Vera Luck - Copyright: Public Domain
2007 -147 - Page 10 - Dear Reta M. - Copyright: Public Domain
2007 -147 - Page 11 - Dear Ruth and Ending. - Copyright: Public Domain
The letter was donated to the Simcoe County Archives in 1996 by the daughter of one of the recipients, and fell into the public domain in 2010.
Christina Frances MacDougall
Who was the woman behind this incredible record? The truth is that we do not know very much about Christina Frances MacDougall. The letters she wrote are undated, and do not speak directly to her life in Canada. Research has revealed a few facts which give us an indication of who she was, and what her life in the County might have been like:
- Based on research in the Barrie Examiner (28 Sep. 1922, 30 Nov. 1939, and 16, 17, & 24 Mar. 1959), Archives' staff believe that Miss MacDougall was born in China, a daughter of the Rev. Dr. John MacDougall and Frances Childerhose, who went as missionaries to China in 1899, shortly before the Boxer Rebellion
- She had five siblings: Florence E. MacDougall, Mrs. C. G. Stairs, Kenneth MacDougall, J. Lorne MacDougall, and Baldwin C. MacDougall.
- On 21 Sep. 1921, Christina gave “a most instructive and inspiring address" to the St. Andrew's church Women's Missionary Society.
- On 21 Jul. 1925, a letter from Christina MacDougall was read by her sister during a meeting of the ladies of the Presbyterian Unionist Group. (The Northern Advance, Barrie, 23 Jul. 1925, p8.)
- Christina went on to various mission posts in Sudbury, Copper Cliff, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Glace Bay, and Winnipeg. In 1939, the year of her father's death, she was at St. Colomba's Mission in Montreal. If you can shed any light on her life, please contact us.
- She retired from active work in 1954 and lived with her sister in Barrie until her death in 1959. She is buried at Barrie Union Cemetery.
Simcoe County Archives Education Holdings
The Simcoe County Archives holds the following County of Simcoe Corporate records
- Education Committee minutes and reports from 1855, 1914-1968
- Special Education Committee minutes from 1969
- Health, Environment and Education Committee records from 1980-1984
- Children's Services and Education Committee reports and minutes from 1985-1990
In addition, the Archives holds the historic records of the Simcoe County District School Board (but not individual student records), school attendance registers (closed to the public for 90 years from creation), and photographs of some, but not all, schools and classes.
To find out more about education in the County of Simcoe, come visit us at the Archives
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Puyi," Encyclopaedia Britannica online. Last modified December 10, 2014. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Puyi.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Qing Dynasty," Encyclopaedia Britannica online. Last modified January 19, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Qing-dynasty.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Warlord," Encyclopaedia Britannica online. Last modified December 10, 2014. https://www.britannica.com/topic/warlord-Chinese-history.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Yuan Shikai," Encyclopaedia Britannica online. Last modified November 8, 2015. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Yuan-Shikai.