Friday, 25 July 2014

Week 30 - Mary Tait Sinclair Simms

Mary Tait Sinclair Simms (1891 -1959)

My Grandma Simms was born on October 21st in 1891 to James and Elizabeth Sinclair.  Her middle name - Tait - was the maiden name of her maternal Grandmother, Mary Henry from Week 2 of the blog. She was the eldest daughter and with younger siblings including Ellen, Jean, Lizzie, Alexander and Bill , she no doubt had plenty of experience with little ones by the time her own children came along.  Mary attended the one room schoolhouse called Bankburn School near the family farm, also called Bankburn.

Bankburn School

Bankburn School Photo from about 1905.  Mary is the young lady standing at the top right.  Her sisters Nellie and Jean are the two girls on the bottom at the left with white bows in their hair.
Ellen, Mary, and Jean Sinclair in a studio portrait maybe in the teens?

Aunt Dodie and her mother Mary behind in 1957.

Ninety-nine years ago this week, on July 28, 1915, Mary married Alexander Simms.  He had been a hired man on her father's farm for a time after he came east from Mountain, Ontario.  They began farming south of Oak River and in 1919, moved to the farm where I grew up and my parents still live. 

Mary had 6 children in all, including 2 sets of fraternal twins.  Twins can be found in several places on the Simms side of the family tree and Dorothy has twin grandsons. Gwennie's twin Glenn James died in 1925. 
Mary's surviving children in about 1950 - Bob and Don, Doris, Dorothy, Gwennie

They operated a mixed farm together until Alex's untimely death in 1941.  Mary continued to farm with the help of her family and hired help.  They had 320 acres for grain crops like wheat, oats and barley. The land needed to be cleared of trees and broken up to make more arable land.  Horses were used until a tractor was purchased in 1942.  In 1952, the family got a combine to replace the threshing machine.  Mary also raised chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese.  There was an egg grading station in Oak River where she sold the extra eggs not used by the family for income.  She also milked cows and shipped cream to put groceries on the table. Oldest son Bob learned carpenters skills, daughters Doris and Gwen went to Normal School to become teachers and Dorothy took Secretarial School.  Donald was class valedictorian from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg in 1954 with an Agriculture Diploma.  Education was obviously very important to Mary and she made sure that her children had every opportunity for theirs.
1947 Driver's License with Mary's signature at the bottom

Needlepoint picture made by Mary Simms
Like many of the women of  her day, Mary was skilled at handiwork.  She knitted sweaters, socks and mitts, crocheted and embroidered.  She made clothes for herself and her family and mended them and made them into quilts when they were completely worn out.  Her sewing machine is one of the few belongings that they were able to save from a house fire on New Year's Eve in 1923. 

Dad remembers that she canned fruit, made jam and jelly, and preserved anything that was available. Wild raspberries grew along the fence line east of the farmyard and rhubarb and saskatoons were plentiful in the summer.  Pin cherries grew north of the house and he recalls picking them by the milk pailful and that they made a wonderful jelly. Gooseberries were not his favourite, they had a taste all their own apparently! 

Eaton's 1940 Catalogue with the rocking chair for sale that I now have which belonged to Grandma Simms. 
SE 15-14-22 in 1959

Grandma Simms struggled with breast cancer for several years and died in Hamiota Hospital at the age of 68 on February 25, 1960.  She is buried at Whitebank Lea Cemetery with her husband and son Glenn.


  1. Hi Sharon - Could you tell me the rest of the names in the 1905 picture of Bankburn School? I'm looking for information about my great grandmother, Marjory (sometimes spelled Marjorie) Thompson Smith. I believe she is back row, second from the left. Her brothers Harry and Joshua and sister Norah would have been in school at the same time, but I'm not sure I recognize them. Norah might be back row, third from right. Any help would be appreciated!

    1. Hi Amy! I'm not sure if I have other names for this picture but I do have more info on the school. Please send me an email at and I'll send you it after work today. Sharon