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A Real Companion and Friend:
The diary of William Lyon Mackenzie King

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Behind the Diary

A King's Who's Who Biographies

Isabel "Bella" Christina Grace King (1873-1915)

Isabel 'Bella' Christina Grace King, ca. 1910

Source

Isabel "Bella" Christina Grace King, ca. 1910

Bella King was Mackenzie King's elder sister. As a young woman, she was very active in the church and in social work. She wanted to have a career, and began studying to become a nurse, but the family disapproved and persuaded her to abandon this idea. Later she took a job as a bank clerk. She died, probably of a heart attack, in 1915 at the age of 42. This photograph is from King's personal collection.

Bella, Mackenzie King's older sister, was the first born of the King family. During her childhood, the family lived in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario. In 1893, they moved to Toronto. There Bella devoted much of her time to activities at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church and at the Nelson Street Institute, which had been built by the church as a centre for its social work. She particularly enjoyed working with young people.

In 1898, she travelled to Boston to study nursing at the Children's Hospital. She enjoyed the work but her father and brother Willie disapproved. W.L.M. King was a student at Harvard at this time and he saw Bella often while she was in Boston. In his diary, he frequently mentioned Bella and his feeling that nursing was not right for her. "I think Bella will likely go home by Xmas. At least I will seek so to persuade her." (Diary, November 27, 1898) His persuasion was successful, and Bella returned home.

Around 1903, Bella began to study home economics at the Mackenzie Institute in Guelph. This ended when she returned home to care for her mother who was suffering from the flu. Bella never married and spent much of her time caring for her aging parents.

In 1913, Bella started a job as a clerk at the Bank of Commerce. She worked until 1915 despite objections from Mackenzie King. She left her job because of an injury and poor health. Then her health took a severe downturn, possibly the result of a heart attack, and, on April 4, 1915, she died. A year later the Nelson Street Institute dedicated a memorial tablet to her.

King's diary contains many affectionate references to Bella. One example is: "This is the 3rd anniversary of dear little Bell's death  -  What a beautiful Christian girl she was!" (Diary, April 4, 1918)

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