(Evangelical Church for the Deaf, courtesy Toronto Public Library Archives tspa_0111020f.)
It is hard to know for certain, but it may well be that the answer lies with the recipient of the Easter postcard below:
The card was postmarked in Guelph on 7 April 1917 with the following message:
Hello Lizzie! // Thank you for remembering me in Fathers letter. How are you? I hope you have a joyous Easter you’ll soon be coming home. Ruby & the baby are coming home in May, so I am busy. Fond love, SelinaI am not sure who Selina and Ruby were, but Lizzie refers to the addressee of the postcard, Miss Elizabeth Carter, resident at the Institute for the Deaf in Belleville, Ontario. Miss Carter was a daughter of Samuel Carter and a pupil at the school. I suspect that Miss Carter accounts for her father's and Alec MacGowan's interest in the deaf.
Elizabeth Carter was born on 30 May 1899 to Samuel and Emma Carter of Guelph. Samuel Carter (usually known as Sam) was from a family of weavers of Ruddington, England, and immigrated to Canada in 1882, where he was a founder of the Royal Knitting Company. In 1898, the Company's factory was located on Norwich Street near Cardigan (now a condo building).
Besides being a prominent business person, Sam Carter was an active member of Dublin St. Methodist (later, United) Church and took part in political life. As an Alderman and Mayor, Carter promoted public ownership of utilities, such as the Light and Power Company and the city's street car system. He was elected as M.P.P. in 1914 and ran unsuccessfully for federal office in 1921.
(Samuel Carter, courtesy Wikimedia Commons, Fair use, Link)
Records of Sam Carter's life are reasonably plentiful but records of Elizabeth's life are not, so we must make do with snippets such as the postcard above. For example, the Sessional Papers of the Ontario Parliament record that Lizzie Carter was a pupil at the Ontario Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb in 1909. Similar records suggest she attended that school through at least 1917. This school still exists and is now known as the Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf in Belleville. A postcard from ca. 1910 gives an idea of what Elizabeth Carter knew as her home away from home:
(Courtesy Toronto Public Library Archive PC-ON 183.)
The school was founded in 1870 as part of the new Province of Ontario's effort to provide education broadly for all its young citizens. When Elizabeth came along, it was the obvious place for her family to send her to school, as Guelph had no similar facilities. The Institution was a boarding school, so Elizabeth was away from her family a fair amount at an early age, which was no doubt stressful for her. As illustrated above, her family and friends sent her postcards to stay in touch. I have three in my collection, including the one above and the following:
This card was sent to Lizzie on 23 May 1913 by her sister, Edith, along with the following message:
Dear Lizzie // Just a card to tell you I’m going to Laconte to-morrow to see Josephine. I will remember you to her. Tim (??) & Alex & Fred are all playing foot-ball to-night. Will take you up to see them when you come home. With love, EdithThe card is a generic one that was likely used for cities all over the continent, so it likely does not show a local geographic feature. It was just a cheap and accessible way to stay in touch.
Ellis (2019, p. 128) notes that the method of instruction typical of the time was oralism, that is, teaching lip reading and speaking to the exclusion of sign language. Reasons for the approach stemmed from what was seen as an overriding need to integrate deaf people in to the general population by conforming to common practices, which did not include learning of sign language:
Bolstering pure oralism were eugenicists, nativists, progressives, and many medical professionals. They feared the expansion of a deaf community that used only sign language and intentionally separated itself from hearing people, disdained signing deaf people as backward, or viewed deafness as a pathological condition that needed modern medical treatment. Pure oralism, used in day school classes in public schools, was presented as a powerful corrective to these problems." Palen wrote that speech and lip-reading instruction represented "the making of the deaf child a part of the community, instead of apart from the community."A fascinating overview of instruction at the Institution from 1925 is available. It displays the oralist approach to teaching and suggests how Elizabeth Carter was educated during her time there. Appropriately, the film is silent.
(Courtesy of the Library and Archives of Canada.)
In spite of this education, Elizabeth Carter did learn sign language, which students used to communicate with each other outside of their classrooms.
(Emphasis on teaching sign language to deaf pupils is known as manualism and is now normal practice in schools for the deaf.)
Although he was not deaf, Rev. MacGowan learned it also, perhaps because of Elizabeth herself.
Alexander MacGowan Jr was born in 1887 in Stirling, Scotland. Alex MacGowan Sr, a weaver, immigrated to Canada with his family in 1903 and found employment as a foreman at the Guelph Carpet Mills on Neeve street just south of the Speed River.
(Guelph Carpet Mills, courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 19220.127.116.11.)
It seems that Alex MacGowan Jr worked in the factory until the early 1910s, when he decamped for the University of Toronto, graduating with a degree in the Arts in 1919 and in Theology from Victoria College in 1921 (Globe, 4 July 1936). Perhaps through connections in the local weaving industry, MacGowan met the Carter family and took an interest in Sam Carter's daughters. Indeed, he may be the football-playing Alex mentioned by Edith in her postcard to Elizabeth in 1913. Evidently, Edith was impressed and became Mrs. Alex MacGowan on 9 June 1921. In 1936, he became the sign-language-using minister of the Evangelical Church for the Deaf in Toronto. Since neither he nor Edith were deaf, it is likely that his interest in the matter stemmed from his sister-in-law, Elizabeth. No doubt Sam Carter's own interest in the same church, and its new minister, were due to the same reasons.
Elizabeth Carter's doings after graduation from the Institute are not easy to trace. Tidbits come periodically from the social column of the "Deaf-mutes' Journal", a weekly publication for deaf readers that featured a "Canadian News" section. As the daughter of a prominent Canadian, news about Elizabeth appears periodically in its pages.
The first mention comes in the 25 July 1925 issue:
While Mr. and Mrs. William P. Quinlan were lately in Elmira, they called on Mr. and Mrs. Roland Hillis to meet Mrs. Quinlan’s schoolmate, Miss Elizabeth Carter, of Guelph, who with her mother, was visiting her sister, Mrs. Hillis, at that time, and all were delighted to meet each other.From the 22 July 1926 issue, we learn that Miss Carter shared the fashion sense typical of a young woman her age:
Miss Elizabeth Carter and her mother, of Guelph, are spending the summer at that well known summer resort, Grimsby Beach.
Miss Elizabeth Carter, of Guelph, was a guest of Miss Margaret Golds for several days, prior to the latter’s recent marriage and helped the bride-to-be to prepare her trousseau for the big event on June 24th.A new figure in Elizabeth's story appears in the column of the 23 January 1930 issue:
Miss Elizabeth Carter, of Guelph, is now one of our bobbed hair flappers.
Miss Elizabeth Carter, of Guelph, and Mr. Alfred Pemphrase [sic], of Windsor, were in this city [Toronto], over the New Year’s recess, wishing their many friends the season’s compliments.In such a gossipy column, the fact that Miss Carter and Mr. Penprase are keeping company seems to have special significance, even though nothing is said explicitly.
Both are mentioned together again in the 16 April 1931 issue:
We were so pleased to have these two smiling ladies from Guelph, the Misses Elizabeth Carter and Mary McQueen, in our midst over Easter. The former’s father, Mr. Samuel Carter, former mayor of Guelph and M.P.P. for South Wellington, as well as her sister and brother-in-law were also with us. As was Mrs. Alfred Penprase, of Windsor.Mr. Alfred Penprase was born in 1897 in Elmstead, near Windsor, Ontario. He and his elder sister, Ruth, were both deaf and both attended the Institute in Belleville. Alfred and Elizabeth were there at the same time, implying that they were then acquaintances, at least.
It seems that Mr. Penprase returned to Windsor after his studies and tried his hand at various jobs. The Deaf-Mutes' Journal of 14 May 1931 makes the following observation:
After our Bible conference at Easter, Mr. Alfred Penprase, of Windsor, remained here [Toronto] to look up some means to prepare himself for the future, and now he is taking a course in the art of linotyping and likes it fine. Whenever there is a meeting at our church, you are sure to meet Alfred’s genuine smiles and warm handshake.What would cause a young man to turn his thoughts to preparations for the future?
Mr. Alfred F. Penprasa [sic] first appears in the Guelph City Directory in 1933. The following year, Mr. Alfred Penphrase [sic] appears with the occupation of poultryman. In the 1935 directory, he appears as Mr. Alfred Penphrase [sic] (Elizbth), meaning he had a wife named Elizabeth, and then resided at 245 Dublin Street, the Carter home. Elizabeth Carter became Mrs. Alfred Penprase on 24 September 1934 and the couple moved into Mr. & Mrs. Samuel Carter's residence, where Elizabeth had remained.
The last mention of the Penprases in the Deaf-mutes' Journal (17 February 1938) that I know of says the following of the new couple:
From Guelph blew in Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Penprase for a short visit with friends. Mrs. Penprase, to convince some of her skeptical friends that her home town is much colder than it is here [Toronto], went and got herself a beautiful fur coat. Ensconced in cold-proof apparel she returned home with a song on her lips to know she can now battle King Winter on even terms.Alfred and Elizabeth continued living in the house after the deaths of Elizabeth's parents.
Though not detailed, this glimpse into the life and times of Elizabeth Carter invites us to consider what the Guelph and Ontario of former times was like to someone who experienced it from an unusual perspective.
Elizabeth died in 1968 and is memorialized at the Carter family plot in Woodlawn Cemetery along with Alfred.