Margaret Heddle was born in Shapinshay, Orkney, Scotland to William Heddle (1832-) and Isabella Stewart (1833-). They lived throughout Orkney, Scotland together with Margaret’s sister, Isabella (1860-). Margaret immigrated to Regina, Saskatchewan in 1911 with the reason for voyage being that she was “to be married”.
She is listed as a clerk and her previous occupation was as a domestic. She made her way to Kootenay, BC where she was a domestic living with a young family. Over the next few years she made her way to Ontario and eventually moved to Galt where she was living as a housekeeper in 1915.
She became destitute as a single woman at the age of 68 and entered the Poorhouse on December 19, 1916. While she was in the House, she allegedly suffered from ongoing abuse at the hands of the Keeper and the Matron of the time,Herbert and Lucy Martin. She allegedly endured the physical abuse for months before she wrote to the Majesty the King in hopes of sending her back to Scotland where she was treated better than she was in Canada. In her typewritten letter, she detailed the continuous ridicule and violence that she suffered when she first arrived in Canada in 1911 until the time of her letter on September 27, 1917. The letter itself took over two months to reach the Lieutenant Governor on November 29, 1917, at which point it is unclear as to what happened to the letter. Below is the letter Margaret wrote while staying at the House.
House of Refuge
27th September, 1917.
H.M. The King.
May it please Your Majesty to pardon a loyal subject seeking your protection from unmerited persecution since coming to Canada seven years ago. I have had every annoyance that could be invented, some of them so coarse and insulting as to be unnameable.
While working in a Hotel in Nelson B.C. the Housekeeper there (Miss Parker) piled double work on me when ever she could, and ended by turning me out without giving me a reason for it. Since coming to Ontario, I have had the same kind of thing to endure while working in a Woolen Factory in a Town called Galt. I was constantly alloyed by some fellow workers one struck me across the back of the neck with a broom stick another named “Sivermore” hissed in my ear that she would “shut me up” on yet another occasion some one put broken glass on the lavatory seat, which cut me and was weeks in healing. I could not see the glass on the seat as it was a dark room and no artificial light in it. I had to give up my work there, I sought protection by law from the Mayor of the town a Mr. Edwards who sent me word that he had not the power to do so, and asked me if I would come into their County Poor House called the House of Refuge. So far from proving a refuge to me it is if possible worse still as the Master here called Martin is an absolute ruffian he has seized me by the wrist instead of allowing me to walk quietly dragged me into the house prison, with the walls covered with tobacco spit and shut me up there; at other times he has knocked me down, cut and bruised me. I have borne the marks for weeks then he and his wife came into my room one night and beat me in bed till I was marked, and abused me, and this without cause, he has several accomplices, and this treatment has gone on for months.
I can bear it no longer and have no redress except by appealing in your Majesty. It is extraordinary that a free born British subject who has committed no crime against King or country, is to be treated like a slave in a British colony.
I am quite ready and willing to submit to the closest investigation in the matter. But I beg your Majesty in the meantime to be graceously pleased to put a stop to it.
I am, etc.,
(Sgd) (Miss) Margaret Heddle.
Source: Archives of Ontario
She remained in the House until February 1, 1918 when she was “taken to Hamilton”. Shortly after this, Margaret was taken to the Provincial Lunatic Asylum located on Queen Street in Toronto where she stayed until her death on April 30, 1927. She died of senile dementia at the Ontario Hospital and was buried in the Groveside Cemetery in Brooklin.