MACKAY, Isabel Ecclestone




Author Tags: 1900-1950, Fiction, Kidlit & Young Adult, Poetry, Women

In the wake of Pauline Johnson's death, Isabel Ecclestone Mackay emerged as the First Lady of Literature on the West Coast of Canada in the 1920s among the genteel drawing room set. With the learned assistance of Charles Hill-Tout, Judge Howay and R.L. Reid she fashioned a collection of so-called legends called Indian Nights that appeared posthumously in 1930.

Born in Woodstock, Ontario, November 25th, 1875, Mackay was the daughter of Scottish-born Donald McLeod MacPherson and Priscilla Ecclestone of England. She was educated in the local public schools and Collegiate Institute. In April, 1895, she married P. J. Mackay, Court Stenographer, and they had three daughters; Phyllis, Margaret, and Janet Priscilla. They moved to Vancouver in 1909. Active in literary groups, she befriended Pauline Johnson and helped raise funds for the publication of Pauline Johnson's Legends of Vancouver in her role as the first president of the Canadian Women's Press Club. As the executrix of Johnson's will, she was rewarded with the bequeathment of 'three of my smaller toilet pieces, videlicet: my shoe-horn, my nailfile, and my tooth-brush handle'. Mackay's own melodramatic poetry appeared in publications such as Cassell's, Harper's, Scribners', Independent, McClure's, St. Nicholas, Youth's Companion, Red Book, Life, Ainslee's, Smart Set, Metropolitan and Canadian Magazine. Two of her poems on historical subjects, 'Marguerite de Roberval' and 'The Passing of Cadieux', received the Globe's $100 prize in poetry competitions. Mackay also wrote plays that were produced in Canada and the United States. One play called "Treasure" won a Canadian I.O.D.E. playwriting competition in 1926. The Second Lie, in Canadian Plays from Hart House Theatre, Vol. 1 (Macmillan, 1926), edited by Vincent Massie, was one of the first published plays in B.C.

She was not Vancouver's first female novelist, but she figured prominently in the Canadian Authors Association, serving as the president of its B.C. chapter.

Partially set in Vancouver, her first novel The House of Windows is a comic tale of good intentions and skulduggery gone awry following the adoption of an abandoned baby by a department store clerk and her blind sister. In the tradition of the serialized working class girl romances popularized in the United States by Laura Jean Libbey, House of Windows combines the trappings of working class realism with escapist fantasy, culminating in an unlikely romantic climax. A baby is abandoned at Angers & Son, a department store in an unnamed city in Eastern Canada. One the shopgirls takes the baby home and raises it as a sister, with the help of her blind sister. At 16, when times are tough, the adoptee named Christine becomes a shopgirl at Angers & Son, only to be kidnapped by an older woman and imprisoned in a brothel. The kidnapper is herself a former shopgirl at Angers & Son who was forced into prostitution due to ill treatment from the store. To take her revenge on the department store owner Adam Torrance, this woman has kidnapped Mr. Torrance's baby girl sixteen years earlier. After the kidnapper writes a letter to Torrance to inform him that his long-lost daughter--Christine--is still alive but soon to be ruined, Torrance's nephew rescues Christine in the nick of time before her virtue is ruined. All's well that ends well. The nephew becomes engaged to Christine and Torrance becomes engaged to the blind sister. This novel also touches upon female emancipation. Near the outset, when the heroine gets her first job as a shopgirl, she says, "I've done it! ... Let's celebrate! ... I've got a place, a position, a job, a 'sit'! I'm an independent working person. Votes for women!"

The Window-Gazer, partially set in Vancouver, is a discreet tale of a woman's slowly increasing affections for a chronically distracted professor. Her final novel Blencarrow is about a Gaelic community in Woodstock and the love of three men for one woman.

Mackay lived primarily at 967 West 10th Avenue in the 1920s, previously residing at 1656 Pendrell Street and 1034 Denman Street. Her homes were meeting places for writers in the mannered tradition of the literary salon. She died in Vancouver on August 15, 1928. Her papers are at the University of Waterloo.

BOOKS:

Between the Lights 1904 -- poetry

The House of Windows (Cassell & Company, 1912) -- novel

Up the Hill and Over (1917) -- novel

The Shining Ship and Other Verse for Children (1919) -- children's verse, illustrated by Thelma Cudlip.

Mist of Morning (1918) -- novel

The Window-Gazer (1921) -- novel

Fires of Driftwood (1922)

Blencarrow (1926) -- novel

Indian Nights (McClelland & Stewart, 1930) -- poetry

The Complete Poems (1930) -- poetry

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2003] "Women" "Poetry" "Kidlit" "1900-1950" "Fiction"