Chapter 11 – Some Women Who Made a Difference


March 8th is International Women’s Day.  In this chapter of A Walk In Greenwood, we are giving recognition to a few of  Burlington’s women,  who  through their  circumstances, determination, talent, intellect, and adventuresome spirit, among other individual attributes, were able to accomplish what perhaps other women could never see as a possibility. Included in this chapter are, Margaret Graham, our town Bell Ringer;

Emily Williamson, first female lawyer in Burlington;   Alice Peck, artist; and Margaret Peart who pushed nursing to the limit.
Not included in detail is Ariel Shapland, later Cleaver. Ariel at age 17, entered and won a contest to design a crest for the Town of Burlington. The year was 1913 and her design stood for fifty years, when it was then somewhat modified – quite a legacy for a young woman!



Margaret Graham 1848 -1933   Bell Ringer


Margaret Graham arrived in Burlington from Scotland, about 1910.  Her husband had previously died and a family decision was made to emigrate to Canada. She and a family of 12 settled in Burlington.  We assume that one or more of her children was married as in her obituary, she was survived by two sons and five daughters, one son being deceased.

Initially Margaret worked as a nurse. She said it was hard work.

In 1911, Margaret Graham landed the job of being the town’s bell ringer at $10 a month, this  contract, awarded to her until 1933. She was then 86 years of age, and was no longer able to walk from her home on New Street, the 200-300 feet to the fire hall. A daughter Isabel Wray, who lived with her mother, had been carrying on the task for likely a few years

The bell was rung each morning at seven, at 12 noon, at 1 p.m. and at six in the evening. Margaret was required to climb the bell tower by the fire hall and pull the rope.

When WWI   broke out, her three sons went overseas.  Adam and George were wounded, and Thomas  was Killed in Action, 2 Sept 1918.


In Margaret’s memorial marker in Block 40 of Greenwood Cemetery, a brass circle is imbedded, in memory of this son.  His name is in the centre and is circled by “He Died for Freedom and Honor”.

Margaret Graham’s story was told in January of  1932 , to a Toronto Star reporter. The article was then published in the Burlington Gazette. The article suggested she was the only known woman “horologer” in Canada.                                                                                                                                         Photo – Joan Downey


Emily Gertrude Williamson  1876 – 1957  Lawyer


Emily Williamson was the eldest of seven children born to John and Hannah (Walker) of Nelson Township.  Emily had 2 sisters and 4 brothers, her youngest sister and last child in the family being almost twenty years younger.

After her early education in Nelson Township, Emily attended Hamilton Collegiate and then Business College, from which she graduated in 1913, the gold medalist of her class. Emily used this new business knowledge for the next nine years, as secretary of the Nicholson Lumber Company and for many years following acted as auditor for them as well as other lumber firms. She continued in this capacity while attending Queens University, from which she graduated in 1929 with her B. Comm. Degree.

In 1931 Emily started studying law at Osgood Hall, qualifying for her call to the bar in October of 1934.  Emily chose to put this event off until the following June. This position had not yet been attained by any other woman in Burlington or Halton County.   Emily was now almost sixty years of age and ready to take on a legal career.

Another talent attributed to Emily, was her hobby of acquiring older homes and bringing their former integrity back.  Her last home and residence was on the Lakeshore, (Water Street) on the curve just beyond the Estaminet. In 1959 this home was purchased by the Peck family and became the Alice Peck Gallery.

Emily Gertrude Williamson died in December of 1957, and was interred in Greenwood Cemetery, Block 49.


Emily, ca 1900 BHS Archives


Alice Peck Slavin  1928 – 2000  Artist


Alice Peck, a graduate of art school, moved from Oakville to Burlington with her parents in 1959.  They had purchased an 1843 brick home on the lake, just east of Brant Street. This was the former home of lawyer Emily Williamson.  The home was extensively renovated reserving  two rooms on the ground floor for Alice to start her gallery. At first she concentrated on crafts, pottery, glassware and sculpture. Added to the business was  custom framing, which  paid the bills. Alice worked at framing in the evenings, not taking a holiday for four years.  This first shop, “The Treasury of Canadian Handicrafts.” opened in June of 1960.


An addition to the west end of the house in 1961, became the” Alice Peck Gallery”, which Alice claimed, never made any money. Fresh shows were featured almost every month for 30 years.  Alice often took a chance and showed young local artists, who had yet to gain recognition in the art community. She was able to witness several develop and become successful. Artists Chris Bacon, Robert Bateman,

Photo – BHS Archives

Gerard Brender a Brandis and Gery Puley are names familiar to many of us. Alice purchased a piece from each show for her own collection.

Robert Bateman’s show in 1967 was a centennial project with all of his paintings of Halton County. It was the first sell-out show for the gallery.

Outside of Toronto, her shop became known as the premier gallery in Southern Ontario.



The Alice Peck Gallery was closed in the spring of 1987. Alice and her husband Bernard Slavin moved to a small 1818 home in Niagara-on-the-Lake where she hoped to find time to read, travel and perhaps go back to her own art work.


Photo – BHS Archives

Alice Peck Slavin died in August of 2000. Her remains are interred in Columbariun 2 in Greenwood Cemetery.


Margaret Louise Peart R.N.   1923 – 2001  Nurse

Margaret Peart was born in Burlington to a family for whom, education beyond high school was expected. She attended Fisher’s Corners Public School and Burlington Central High School, after which she enrolled in St. Josephs Hospital School of Nursing, in Hamilton, graduating in 1944.  Margaret then attended the School of Nursing, at the University of Toronto, receiving a Certificate of Nursing Education.  About ten years later after various nursing positions, Margaret completed the Hospital Organization and Management Certificate Extension Course, sponsored by the Canadian Hospital Association.
 “The Burlington Pearts” a family history, filled 2 pages of the details of Margaret’s career as a nurse. The following are just some of her endeavors. Her first nursing position was as General Staff Nurse at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto. She then returned to St. Joseph’s in Hamilton to teach for two years.  She served as Charge nurse, outpost Hospitals of Ontario, was Director of Nursing and Principal of the School of Nursing at the Bellville General Hospital. From 1959 to 1967 Margaret was Director of nursing at the Doctors’ Hospital in downtown Toronto.


In 1970, Margaret returned again to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton where she worked her way from Assistant Director of Nursing to being appointed Assistant Executive Director in 1986.

Margaret held memberships in many related associations and was the recipient of several awards in recognition of her contribution to the nursing profession.

Margaret retired from nursing in September of 1989 and became actively involved with the Halton Branch  V.O.N. as a Board Member , then President.

Margaret Peart died in March of 2001. Her remains were interred in the family plot, Block 9, Greenwood Cemetery.


©Peggy Armstrong


Sources: B.H. S. Archives

              Burlington Gazette