This summer, Trinity’s Rolph-Bell Archivist, Sylvia Lassam, travelled to cottage country to experience a memorable piece of college history. On the shores of Lake Rosseau in Muskoka sits a 1930s-era cottage built by Mossie May Kirkwood, Dean of Women and Principal of St. Hilda’s College, and her husband, William Alexander Kirkwood, Professor of Classics and Dean of Arts. Sylvia spent several hours over two days talking with Naomi Kirkwood Kuhn, daughter of Mossie May and William, and her son Roland, both graduates of Trinity College. They graciously shared their memories of this iconic woman.
The cottage itself was almost entirely designed by Mossie May, with a large central two-storey living area, large windows to see out over the lake, and a nearby boathouse. The cottage was built during the Great Depression, when construction everywhere had slowed. Because of this, highly skilled craftsmen and builders were eager to work wherever they could. The skill that went into constructing the cottage has undoubtedly contributed to its longevity, and it remains more or less the same today as when it was built nearly nine decades ago.
The connection to Trinity goes beyond just its owners. During Mossie May’s term as Dean of Women (and stretching on a few years after she stepped down), students from St. Hilda’s senior class were invited to spend part of the summer at the cottage. It was a memorable bonding experience for the women, and all who recorded their reminiscences recall the time spent there very fondly. Hortense Wasteneys (4T7) wrote about the cottage in Sanctum Hildam Canimus: “Our junior and senior years ended with Mrs. Kirkwood’s house party at the family cottage on Lake Rosseau. We slept in the boat-house and in the gallery bedrooms. We took turns preparing meals. How delicious was the smell of bacon and pancakes wafting upstairs when it wasn’t one’s turn to cook breakfast! We walked in the violet-filled woods, picnicked, rowed and canoed on the lake in the sunshine…and sat by the roaring fore in the book-filled sitting room in the evenings. It was a funny, happy, friendly time. We learned to appreciate each other in new ways, which I am sure was one of Mrs. Kirkwood’s hopes for us when she planned her house party.” (pp. 57-58)
Mossie May Waddington grew up in what is now North Toronto, attending the Eglinton Public School and St. Clement’s before enrolling at Trinity College in 1907. She graduated in 1911 with first class honours in English and History with Classics. She worked as an editor and enrolled in graduate school, and in 1915, due to the absence of faculty during wartime, began teaching Greek to divinity students at Trinity. She went on to receive her Ph.D. in philosophy and in 1919 began teaching English at University College. She married W.A. Kirkwood in 1923 and shortly after become the first Dean of Women at UC. She published several books, all with a focus on women and their chances for greater opportunities in a quickly changing world while simultaneously insisting upon the necessity of family life for the good of society. In 1936, Mrs. Kirkwood was appointed Principal and Dean of Women at St. Hilda’s College and began teaching in Trinity’s English department. One of her most enduring legacies were the Thursday night dinners featuring a guest of honour from Canada’s arts and culture scene, including academics and members of the Group of Seven. She stepped down as Dean of Women in 1953, but remained a professor until her retirement in 1960. Trinity granted her a Doctor of Sacred Letters degree in 1977, and she passed away in 1985.
For all that we know about the Kirkwoods and their time at Trinity, there is plenty that we don’t know, simply because the records do not exist. This is why the archivist’s trip up north was so vital: she was able to conduct an oral history with Naomi to fill in some of the gaps. The audio recording of the history and a transcript will be available soon for interested people to access in the archives. In the meantime, if you wish to know more about Naomi or her mother, pick up a copy of Sanctum Hildam Canimus, a collection of reminiscences about St. Hilda’s College published in 1988. Naomi wrote the first chapter which examines the similarities and differences between her time and her mother’s at the college.