Monday, October 6, 2008

Nellie (Mooney) McClung - a true Canadian icon

Grey County has been home or birthplace for men and women who have made contributions beyond our county’s border. Nellie McClung was one of these.

Nellie McClung, born Letitia Ellen Mooney entered this world on 20 October 1873. [1] The Mooney family lived on a 100-acre farm at Lot 8, Concession 1, Sullivan Township (about 1 km or 1.5 miles south of Chatsworth). Her parents, John Mooney, a Methodist Irishman and Letitia McCurdy, a Presbyterian Scotswoman, were already parents to William (Will), George, Elizabeth (Lizzie), Jack and Hannah. Life was difficult in rural Grey County in the 1870s. All the family worked hard but the land was rocky and they could not get ahead. People were heading west. After hearing glowing reports about available land in Manitoba, her eldest brother Will, with the encouragement of his mother, headed west in the spring of 1879 to find a suitable property for the family. [2]

In May 1880 when Nellie was not yet seven, the family set off on a trip by land, water and rail via Minnesota that would take them to Manitoba. Nellie would live the rest of her life in Western Canada. The place where the Mooney family homesteaded was isolated at first with no neighbours. Nellie was ten by the time the Northfield School was built about two miles from their home. Although, Nellie did not learn to read until she began school, she appears to have been a quick learner. When she was sixteen, she travelled to Winnipeg to take her teacher training at the Normal School. [3]

Nellie McClung’s accomplishments were many. In addition to being the wife of R. Wes McClung and mother to five she was a teacher, an author, a temperance leader, a politician, a lecturer, a suffragette, a hard worker for women’s rights and a social activist. Canadians remember her for the role she played as part of the “Famous Five” with their petition to the British Parliament seeking clarification of the word ‘persons’ in the British North America Act as it related to the Canadian Senate. On 18 October 1929, the British Parliament decided that women were indeed persons in Canadian law. [4]

Nellie McClung returned twice to Grey County. In 1915, she spoke about temperance and in 1932 she spoke about her writing. [5]

In Grey County, a cairn and a historical plaque honour the many contributions of Nellie McClung. People gathered for the unveiling of the cairn near her birthplace on June 8, 1957. [6] The Ontario Historical Trust Foundation erected the historical plaque on September 28, 1975. [7]

During the winter of 2006-7, the plaque was damaged. A new plaque is now in place and the Grey County Historical Society will be the host to the rededication ceremony Sunday, October 19 at 10:30 a.m. by the roadside plaque on the grounds of the Chatsworth United Church. This date is most fitting as it falls between October 18 – Person’s Day and October 20 – her birthday.

We are pleased that some of Nellie McClung's relatives will be able to attend.

Never retreat, never explain, never apologize--get the thing done and let them howl.[8]

Sunday, October 19
9:45 a.m. Chatsworth United Church Congregation invites all who wish to attend their service
10:30 a.m. Rededication at roadside plaque
11:00 a.m. short presentations and displays with a lunch hosted by the congregation
Please RSVP by October 12 if you plan to stay for the lunch jiles AT bmts DOT com

[1] Letitia Ellen Mooney Ontario birth registration #04890 (17 November 1873); digital image, ( : accessed 23 June 2008), citing microfilm MS 929 reel 10, Archives of Ontario, Toronto
[2]Charlotte Gray, Nellie McClung (Toronto: Penguin Group (Canada), 2008), 9-11.
[3]Gray, 11-22
[4] “BBC h2g2 Nellie McClung, author and activist” BBC ( ; accessed 23 June 2008)
[5]“Nellie McClung of Grey County” Owen Sound Sun Times 5 September 1951; Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library, vertical file “Nellie McClung”
[6]“Grey W.I. Memorial to Nellie McClung Unveiled at Chatsworth, Saturday”, Owen Sound Sun Times Monday 10 June 1957; Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library, vertical file “Nellie McClung”
[7] “Historical Plaque to Commemorate Nellie McClung” Flesherton Advance, October 2, 1975; Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library, vertical file “Nellie McClung”
[8] Quote by Nellie McClung in Times Like These

The above is from an article I wrote about Nellie McClung that appeared in The Historian, July 2008.


  1. I enjoyed this post about Nellie McClung. Wish I could be there for the rededication.

  2. Thanks Kathryn. You can be there in spirit.

    I am hoping that it will be wonderful event.

  3. I've been trying to find the source of her famous "let them howl" quote. I searched her book "In Times like these" based on your reference back to it on this page.

    That quote does not appear anywhere in "In Times like these".

    Can you help me source the quote?

  4. My Dad has a picture of what looks to be a group of school children and parents with a handwritten note signed by Nellie McClung. It is an Easter greeting. His family were early settlers at Lower Fort Garry so perhaps some of the family could be in the picture. Is it possible to get more information if I scan it?

  5. Deb
    If you email me a scan of the photo, I will see if I can identify any of the NcClung family members. If I can't identify them, perhaps one of her descendants can. May I post the photo on my blog or that of the Grey County Historical Society.

    Do you know what year the card was sent?

    email me at jiles AT bmts DOT com

  6. I am doing Nellie McClung for my school Heritage Fair project and I was wondering if you knew the names of her children? I cannot find the names of her children anywhere. I know that she has five children. I also wanted to know if you know if her kids had children and if they did what are thier names? It would be greatly apprecited if you found this out.

  7. I was also wondering if you knew how many books Nellie wrote. Again for my Heritage Fair project.

  8. Anonymous - could you email me directly?

    By the 1911 census Nellie and Wesley had 4 children. They are in Lisgar, Manitoba. You can find them on the free website Search for Nellie L McClung. Her husband is given as Robert W McClung. The children are John 9, Paul 7, Florence 5 and Horace newborn.

    By 1916 census available only on Ancestry (subscription), there is another son, Mark, who is 4 years old. They are living in Edmonton, Alberta.

    Yes some of them had family who are still living. Because of privacy laws, I would have to have the individuals permission to pass on their names.

    Clearing in the West is available online

    The Dictionary of Canadian Biograpy Online gives a listing of her major works.

    Your public library likely has some of her books and books that have been written about her.

  9. Thank you that helped a lot


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