(JOHN S. HELMCKEN'S WIFE)
Cecilia, daughter of James and Amelia Douglas, was born in 1834 at Fort Vancouver, where she spent her childhood years. Cecilia and her sisters Jane, Agnes and Alice were raised in the Fort lifestyle. One of Cecilia 's child hood memories is of being allowed to celebrate her 11th birthday with a card party and supper upstairs in the Chief Factor's House.(1)
Despite the rugged and military style of Fort life, the Douglas girls were trained in the "womanly arts" of the 19th century, such as music, penmanship, drawing, etc. Cecilia spoke and wrote English, as well as knowing her mothers French and Cree languages. As a young woman, Cecilia boarded at school in Oregon City, with two of her sisters. A letter from her father to Ross in March of 1849 says of her education:
". . . Considering all things the charges for board and tuition are moderate and the system of education is sound and practical. They also enjoy the advantage of having in Church a most estimable Clergyman, Sabbath schools, temperance and Juvenile Societies for relief of the poor- and other aids which have an important influence in forming the character and training children to virtue and usefulness"(1)
In 1849, when Cecilia was 15, the family moved to Fort Victoria. Here her father James had been appointed not only as the Governor of Vancouver Island "Pro Tempore", but also as Agent of the HBC in the colony of Vancouver Island, and Agent of the Puget Sound Agricultural Company on Vancouver Island and within the US Territory. It is likely that had Cecelia been born a boy, she would have been employed by the Company as a clerk, and expected to rise through the ranks as her father had done. As a daughter however, her expectations were to marry and raise a family. But she did do some clerical work for her father. In fact it was while Cecilia was working as her fathers private secretary at Fort Victoria that she first laid eyes on her future husband John Helmcken:
"The Fort has been described, but at the windows stood a number of young ladies, hidden behind the curtains, looking at the late important arrivals, for visitors were scarce here, but we were not introduced.
Anyhow, before going away, the room of Mr. Douglas, partly an office and partly domestic, stood open, and there was Cecilia daughter flitting about, active as a little squirrel, and one of the prettiest objects I had ever seen: rather short but with lovely black eyes petite and nice. She assisted her father in clerical work, corresponding and so forth- in fact a private secretary. I was more or less captivated. Afterwards I heard her singing in the Church, and she had a beautiful voice tho' uneducated" (BCARS: ADD.MSS.505, V.12)
John and Cecilia were married in December 1852. They had seven children altogether, though only four of them survived. John says of his wife: "[Cecilia] used to do most of the work; when I look back now domestic affairs seemed to have carried on pretty roughly and Cecelia had more work and less comfort than she ought to have had and would have were it now. Nevertheless we managed to have little dinner parties occasionally. . . Cecilia was a good rider and used to go sometimes with me. We had out Indian servants but Cecilia used to do most of the work Chinamen existed not yet." John Helmcken (BCARS: ADD.MSS.505, V.12.)
At the British Columbia Archives are letters to Cecilia and other members of the Douglas family from her sister Jane Dallas written from 1861-1865 during the time Jane lived in England and then at Fort Garry. These provide good insight to the lives values and perceptions of these "Daughters of the Country". But there is only one documentary record that Cecilia consists of one letter written to her friend Mrs. Tolmie in Nisqually.
But Cecelia's life would be cut short. She died at the age of 31, leaving behind young children for her husband to raise by himself:
"In 1865 Cecilia and Lady Douglas went to the opening of something on Church Hill platforms had been erected, the weather turned out bad, both Lady Douglas and Cecilia took cold. Very little notice was taken of this, and my wife kept about as well as she was able, but soon pneumonia resulted and in a few days, the end unhappily came, after having given birth to a boy. . . She had been a good mother and wife but hardly used by the absence of servants. . .Indeed in looking back I am almost led to the belief that under more favorable conditions she might have lived. Dr. Powell attended her. I was but little at home and probably underrated the extent of the disease for I never attended any of my own family when ill. "JOHN HELMCKEN (ADD.MSS.505.V.12)
SOCIETY AND CULTURE: SOCIAL STUDIES GRADE 8,9,10
Have groups of students create short vignettes that address the role of women settlers to North America in relation to family structure, daily life, the community, and Canadian Identity. Have some students in the group do the same for First Nations women, including how their roles might have changed since the establishment of European settlement. Did the role of the Metis woman differ any from the European or First Nations woman? Students might present their works through film or classroom theater.
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