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Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill outlived their husbands and witnessed many years of a changing Canada after Confederation in 1867. Susanna died in 1885 at the age of 82, while Catharine lived to the extraordinary age of 97, passing away just before the turn of the century.
Having raised large families, both Susanna and Catharine became proud and watchful grandmothers in their later years. Catharine in particular achieved matriarchal eminence at Westove, her quiet Lakefield cottage. From Westove, she was able to keep in close contact with much of her own family as well as with several of the grown children of her brother, Sam Strickland (d.1867), and of her good friend Frances Stewart (d. 1872). (See Catharine's letter to Ellen Dunlop, March 4, 1872.) And while the two sisters kept in close contact with their own children and many grandchildren, they were also devoted aunts. Catharine was especially fond of Susanna's daughter Agnes and of Agnes's many children, while Susanna took a maternal interest in Catharine's daughter Mary and son James, both of whom lived for a time in Belleville. (See Catharine's letter to Mary Traill, January 23, 1858, announcing the birth of James's son.)
Of her five children, Susanna was particularly close to her eldest daughter Katie and to her youngest son Robert during her years as a widow. Katie had married John Vickers, an Anglo-Irish emigrant who started the Vickers Express Company -- developing interests as far afield as Fort William (Thunder Bay) -- and who had some success as a Toronto politician. Though the Moodies were for a time estranged from the Vickers in the late 1860s, John and Katie were by Susanna's side after her husband's death. The Vickers made a place for her in their Toronto home whenever she wished to visit her ten grandchildren there (see Susanna's letters to Katie Vickers, June 8, 1872 and to John Vickers, June 13, 1872). Susanna died at their Adelaide Street residence in 1885, having been under Katie's care during her long final illness.
Robert Moodie, though hard-working, was less well off than his older sister. Nevertheless, he welcomed his mother into his home, whether in Toronto or in Seaforth -- the latter during the time that he worked for the Grand Trunk Railroad. Though Robert's wife often struggled with depression, his family encouraged Susanna's extended visits.
A proud Susanna attended her daughter Agnes's fashionable wedding in Ottawa in 1870 to Brown Chamberlin. She kept in contact with Agnes during summer visits to Lakefield. There, Agnes took a cottage called "the Den," adjacent to her Aunt Traill's home. When Agnes's visits coincided with Susanna's, Susanna might see her grandchildren, particularly the talented Mary Agnes and Geraldine.
The lives of her two other children were painful cases for Susanna. Dunbar, her eldest son, took possession of the comfortable Moodie house on Bridge Street in Belleville from his father -- both as a birthright and as a means of protecting his father's equity while he was facing legal action regarding his office as the Sheriff of Hastings County. When Dunbar suddenly decided to sell the house and move to Delaware, his parents refused to go with him and a pall settled over their relations. The Vickers were so upset by the situation that they broke off relations with the elder Moodies for a time. Dunbar later moved his family west to Colorado and then to British Columbia. Though he stayed in touch with his mother by mail, the two seem never to have met again. Things were even worse with Donald, Susanna's second and favorite son. Incapable of applying himself with any consistency, Donald was dogged by alcoholism all his adult life. He failed at opportunities in medicine and law while still in Belleville, and lived most of his later life in the United States, often separated from his wife and given to leaning on his worried mother for sympathy and monetary support.
Catharine was luckier in her children and in the support she received from her Strickland relatives in Lakefield, particularly from Sam's sons Robert, Roland, Percy, and George and their wives. Her eldest daughter, Kate, proved a loyal and supportive companion over her entire lifetime, taking care of the housework and watching over her mother's financial resources. Catharine's other daughters, Annie and Mary, also settled nearby. Annie married Clinton Atwood, an English clergyman's son, and they farmed together, first at Rice Lake and then at Lakefield, on the site of what is now Lakefield College School. (See Catharine's letter to Annie Atwood, May 5, 1871.) While Annie's six surviving children were close to their grandmother, it was Florence, the last born, who did all she could in later years to preserve and extend Catharine's literary reputation. Florence's initiative led to the first Canadian edition of The Backwoods of Canada in 1929. Mary tried school-teaching before marrying Tom Muchall, a likeable but unsuccessful provider. The Muchalls lived in Belleville for a while, but later moved back to Lakefield where Catharine could be closer to their three children. Catharine was also able to help Mary develop her own writing career.
Catharine was preoccupied by the prospects and careers of her four sons, acutely conscious that she had been unable to provide much by way of education for them. James married Amelia Muchall and lived in Belleville as a storekeeper. Their marriage was troubled; several of their children died very young, and James could not shake persistent ill health. He passed away in 1867. His brother Hal (Henry), who struggled like him to find gainful and steady employment, was murdered in 1870 while working as a guard at the Provincial Penitentiary in Kingston. Catharine and her daughter Kate did all they could for Hal's widow and three children, effectively adopting the youngest, Katie. For nearly two decades, the three Kates lived together at Westove.
Catharine's two remaining sons, Willie and Walter, went west with the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), aided by Catharine's Traill family connections. Willie made a successful career with the Company; he moved westward to various posts through the years and wrote regularly to his mother. (See Catharine's letter to William, April 6, 1870.) Willie's letters, which Catharine hoped one day to publish, are a lively component of the Traill Family Collection, extending the family's presence -- and Catharine's awareness -- westward across the prairies. Willie's marriage to Harriet Mackay resulted in ten children, one of whom, William, came east to Lakefield for his schooling. Walter, the youngest son, left the HBC after a few years to work in farming, grain shipping and land development. Though he later moved to the West Coast, his name is still celebrated in North Dakota where a county near Grand Forks is named for him. Two books have been written about Walter Traill by Mae Atwood.