I finally have in my hand the death notices of the Gillies family and feel like I have been entrusted to find out as much as I can about each one of them. The death notice of John Stark Gillies was tucked away with a photo of a woman whose image had been taken in Washington D.C. Who was this person? No matter how hard I tried I could not seem to find a Gillies who lived in that part of the world. So while some of this story about the life of John Stark Gillies is factual, the woman’s life is not and remains a mystery.
On the 23rd of October 1938 John Stark Gillies, age 70, president of the Gillies Company was reported to have had a heart attack at the stroke of midnight. Widely recognized in all parts of the lumbering business, the late J. S. Gillies was president of a family business that bore his name and that of his grandfather, father and brothers.
John was born in Carleton Place in 1868, a son of the late James Gillies and Eleanor Ackland and was educated in the local public and High School and later attended Queen’s University in Kingston Was this woman a friend from his educational days that he had maintained contact with throughout the years?
I envisioned this Edwardian soap-and-water beauty unassuming and funny and actually felt her spirit tripping over something at John’s funeral with her soft laughter heard throughout the building.
On October 9th,1920 John married Margaret Russell of Arnprior who I am sure was aware or was friends with this woman. I looked for signs in the photo and wondered why she was unmarried or had she been? Was she simply a spinster friend of the family?
John Gillies took great interest in the affairs of the Braeside community which was made up mostly of Gillies employees. From that first sawmill that was erected above the village of Lanark on the Clyde branch of the Mississippi in 1842 to later moving to Carleton Place family history was made.
In 1853, Peter MacLaren became a partner of the Gillies and the firm became known as the Gillies and MacLaren Company. The second timber limit was acquired by the company, the Gilmour Limit on the Mississippi River in 1862. To cut the timber for this second limit, a second mill was opened in 1866 in Carleton Place. There the firm operated under the name of Gillies and MacLaren and this quiet but studious deep thinking man was known to have 100s of volumes of books in his library. Did this friend of his past spend occasional summer nights with the family reading books and discussing the affairs of the world?
The death of John Stark Gillies brought a profound loss to his hundreds of friends, not only in Braeside, but throughout the Ottawa Valley. Gillies always had great concern for his employees and was said to have no human failings by friends. What advice, would this woman in the photograph doled out to him if she had the chance to be at his deathbed?
The newspaper article said more than 70 cars left his late Braeside residence for Arnprior the day of his funeral to where his interment occurred. Beautiful floral tributes covering areas from floor to ceiling filled Mr. Gillies home. The funeral parlour car was filled to the top with tributes and the cortege followed by many people on foot who slowly left the home for services.
In imagining the mystery female sitting in the sixth row at his funeral, I could see myself in this woman. She had lived a small life, as do most of us, but the world she carefully assembled was rich and meaningful in ways she never grasped, and John S Gillies appreciated her being in his life.
As the pallbearers: Robert Campbell, Brodie and Allan Gillies, and nephews Arnold and Kenneth Muirhead walked solemnly into the church carrying the body of John Stark Gillies you noticed that she didn’t quite fit into the family’s lifestyle. I could detect that she was holding something back in the old faded photo now sitting beside my computer.
Among the 100s of floral tributes that grazed the church her single flower revealed that it just didn’t take much for her to make a difference every day. Maybe she didn’t get to say goodbye and tell John how much his friendship meant due to the abrupt timing of his death. There is a lesson there as she probably didn’t need to say anything because her daily life was a kiss of love to all.
Three brothers and sisters remained after he died as well as his wife. Siblings A. J. Gillies, G. A. Gillies, D. A. Gillies, Mrs. W. J. Muirhead, Mrs. N. S. Robertson and Mrs. K. C. Campbell remained to carry on the Gillies traditions.
I imagined that in the end she was just someone who once bought a ticket to the world of being friends with John Stark Gillies. She is you and she is us and she endured the most painful goodbye of words never explained or said.
But now I’ve come back again
Why do I find it hard to write the next line?
Oh, I want the truth to be said
I know this much is true
Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in The Townships Sun andScreamin’ Mamas (USA)
Clipped from The Ottawa Journal, 05 Jul 1910, Tue, Page 1