Cecilia Jowett


From the book "About Face" by John Reeves, quoted with permission:

People are seldom at ease with their own portrait.  The physical image you create rarely conforms to the mental image they have of themselves.  There are, however, exceptions to this rule and Cecilia Jowett was one. Jowett spent the greater part of her life working as a country nurse, first in a pioneer community near Cochrane, and then in Longford Mills, a village nine miles north of Orillia, on Lake Couchiching.  While living and working in the Orillia she got to know Stephen Leacock, who encouraged her to write about herself. 

Jowett's autobiography, No Thought for Tomorrow, was published by Ryerson Press in 1954.  Miss Jowett was an old family friend, and when she learned that I had become a photographer, she asked me to produce a portrait of her, which I did in March, 1965.  Her poignant response to the pictures I shipped to Longford Mills was unexpected and touching.  I quote her letter in part: "The photographs came safely and I do thank you for the honor you have shown me in granting my wish that they are yours, your work, and mean much more to me therefore.  One pose, quite unconsciously on my part, is like "Whistler's Mother," so nothing is really new under the sun.

The strain and stress of the past years shows clearly in my face ("faces") and they are truly real and characteristic.  The large photographs I will hang at some distance, to get the best effect and ask myself often "See what life has done to the pretty girl in the locket, at 16 years of age"...The lack of money for good skin cream over the past 35 years didn't help the wrinkles, but then, again, it is myself as I am today and neither Heaven nore....can alter it."




Cecilia Jowett

Author, missionary nurse, animal rights’ advocate and youth hostel housemother , Cecilia Clara Ellen Jowett was sent to Canada in 1901 along with her sister Ethel Annie by the Dr. Barnardo’s organization. The girls were taken to the Hazelbrae Home in Peterborough, Ontario. Cecilia was placed in the Barnardo’s Homes in England when she was three and was only five when she arrived in Canada with an identification ticket pinned to her coat. At first, the sisters were separated. Happily, through the efforts of the minister whom Cecilia was with, a placement for Ethel was found nearby. Cecilia’s mother moved to Canada in 1905 as a widow along with Cecilia’s two step-sisters and her brother. Even though she quickly remarried, the family was never really reunified. In Cecilia’s book entitled “No Thoughts of Tomorrow - The Story of a Northern Nurse, that Canadian author Stephen Leacock encouraged her to write, she does not mention her mother nor her sisters, although throughout the book constantly writes about her longing for her family.

In her book which was published in 1954, she wrote in her book: “When I was five years old I was brought out to Canada from England, with a ticket pinned to my coat, and with the resolve already in my childish heart that someday I would make a place for myself in the great, cold world, where I could help others as the kind nurses had helped me.” Cecilia was able to fulfill her dream, graduating from the Orillia General Hospital and then offering her services to settlers in a rural northern Ontario community where she lived with her brother Ernest in a shack before building a humble cabin. There, she lived for seven years. 

Through a legacy left by a grateful patient, Cecilia was able to return to the land of her birth and meet her father, who had abandoned her family by going off to sea when she was an infant . Realizing that there was no room in her father’s life for her, she returned to Canada to Rama, where she had once worked as a young nurse during the Spanish Flu Epidemic. There, alone with her dog Prince, she lived out the remainder of her years, helping the sick and the poor.

One other comment from her book, shows her dismay and the stigmatization that she faced as a young girl in Canada and then  remarked upon later on in life: "Oh, I'd never take a child like that into my home" I have heard ladies say, "You never know how they will turn out." And there I was, a graduate nurse, in their homes, rendering skilled assistance, perhaps saving or helping to save a life.