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Jessie Louise Beattie

Jessie Louise Beattie

Inducted 1995

Jessie Louise Beattie was born at "Willow Bank", her parents' home in Blair on 2 Oct 1896, the youngest of the seven children of Frank and Janet (Fleming) Beattie. It is said that she compressed several careers into one lifetime including those of librarian, teacher and social worker but she herself held her most important vocation to be that of "author".

At an early age she demonstrated an ability to make language do her bidding and began composing poetry at age 5. She published her first work when she was 15. It was a poem written in honour of Dr Charlton, a Galt physician who cared for her during her various illnesses. The poem was printed in the Galt Reporter and was soon followed by others written under the name Rainbow Bright.

Following graduation from high school, Ms Beattie went to work in libraries in Kitchener, Buffalo and Hamilton. By 1928, however, she returned to Blair to see to the needs of her aging parents.

The following year, the Dickson family, who lived across the road from her parents' home, asked Ms Beattie to tutor their three daughters. Unsure of how to handle the situation she contacted the Ministry of Education which provided her with a licence to teach privately anywhere in Ontario up to the high school entrance level.

With her teaching licence in hand she converted a room in the Beattie home into a class room and set about teaching the Dickson children. Her teaching, however, did not interfere with her writing and in 1929 Ryerson Press published a book of her poems called Blown Leaves. This was followed, in 1931, by a second book of poems called Shifting Sails. In 1935 her first novel Hill Top was published by The MacMillan Company and in all she published 20 books, three plays and an operetta.

By now well versed in the literary arts, Ms Beattie gathered about her a number of teen-age girls from Blair and, with them, formed a Literary Club called the "Cruisers". It was soon apparent that there was a general lack of reading material available to the group and, with the Great Depression in full swing, money to buy books was scarce. The Cruisers decided to raise some money by putting on a play but they couldn't find a script that suited them. Undaunted, Ms Beattie decided to write the play herself and produced The Four Leaf Clover. The play, which included a cast of 21, was first staged in the Blair Union School early in 1934.

The play proved a resounding success but in a way no one foresaw. The Ontario Welfare Council of Ontario became aware of the project and between 1934 and 1937 engaged Ms Beattie to travel to rural areas and small villages to teach play production skills as a means by which these areas could develop winter recreation and local fundraising activities.

Following this assignment Ms Beattie took a position, from 1937 to 1939, as House Mother at Coronation Cottage at the Ontario Training School for Girls in Galt. Here she was confronted with a young girl who could be taught little using the usual teaching methods. With the permission of the Ministry of Education, Ms Beattie introduced, with considerable success, a teaching method aimed at Handicapped Children that had been developed in California.

During the Second World War, Ms Beattie lived in Vancouver, working at the Vancouver Public Library and writing a column called "I Listen In" for the Vancouver Province.

While pursuing all her other careers, Ms Beattie continued to write books that were well received. Unlike some authors who are strong only in one area, she had success in various literary forms publishing books on travel, adventure, biography and fiction as well as her autobiography.

Following the Second World War, Ms Beattie settled in Hamilton with her new husband David Gaffin. She continued to tutor students and to write but by 1967 she began to lose her sight. Despite this setback, she continued to write, her books now dictated onto tape. Her last book was published in 1983. She died in Hamilton on 5 Oct 1985 just two days after her 89th birthday. She is buried in the Blair Cemetery with other family members.


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