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POWELL, ANN JANE (Gray), teacher and social reformer; b. 1 Oct. 1853 in Markham Township, Upper Canada; m. 12 Aug. 1879 Henry Gray (d. 1938) in Princeton, Ont., and they had three daughters and three sons; d. 12 March 1924 in Toronto.

Annie Powell’s parents were likely George Powell, a farmer, and Mary Ann Thomas. In the 1860s, after the apparent death of her father, she moved with her mother to Moore Township, on the St Clair River. Educated in Mooretown, she took first prize in reading in the township examinations. She won this distinction on the same day that the battle with the Fenians took place at Ridgeway, 2 June 1866 [see John O’Neill*]; consequently the award was long remembered within the family. It was at this competition too that she met Henry Gray, the fellow student who would become her husband. Following her schooling, she moved across the river to St Clair, Mich., where she trained to be a teacher. Granted a first-class certificate, she taught in the country and then in St Clair and Marine City. During this time, she was the organist in her Methodist church.

After her marriage in 1879, she settled in Vankleek Hill, Ont., where her husband had been made principal of the county model school. About 1893 they moved to Toronto. Though Henry was engaged as a public school principal, Annie had given up teaching, no doubt to raise their growing family. An active member in the churches she attended, notably North Parkdale (where she taught Sunday school) and then High Park, she helped organize quarterly official boards and local branches of the Methodist Ladies’ Aid and the Woman’s Missionary Society. She served as first president of the North Parkdale WMS, established the West District Ladies’ Aid in 1913 (and became its first president), and took part in setting up similar bodies in the central and eastern districts of the city. In 1919 she was honoured with a life membership in the Ladies’ Aid.

In all her commitments Gray was an unrelenting advocate of temperance. With reference to its traditional symbol, the white ribbon or badge, an obituary would note that “a little white pin was always to be seen on her dress.” She participated at all levels of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in the Toronto region: secretary of the local Gordon union, vice-president (1898–99) and president (1900–11) of the Parkdale union, and first president (1911–22) of the Howard Park union. She particularly encouraged temperance Sundays, which focused on services (usually one a quarter) devoted to the cause. In addition, she worked for the travellers’ aid program, another WCTU-supported activity, in which young women seeking work in Toronto were guided to safe lodgings and employment. She was also a superintendent of the journal department for both the Toronto District WCTU and the Parkdale union between 1895 and 1897. This department sought subscribers for the WCTU’s Woman’s Journal (Ottawa) and sometimes submitted information to it on behalf of the union. Between 1905 and 1920 she was superintendent of the department of temperance in sabbath schools of the Ontario WCTU. At the dominion level she was superintendent of the department of Sunday schools from 1920 to 1922. These departments were concerned with supplying temperance literature (leaflets and lesson plans) to Sunday school superintendents in the hope that the materials would be mandated for use by teachers.

Like many WCTU women of her era, Gray was a member of the Royal Templars of Temperance. She belonged to several of its Toronto-area councils and participated at the district, grand, and dominion council levels; among her offices, she was a select councillor for a term and a treasurer for 27 years. Her favourite function was organizing the Templars’ medal contests, an activity also run by the WCTU in other parts of the country, with departmental status. Aimed at schoolchildren and temperance youth groups, the medals (or sometimes books or money) were offered for competition in elocution, writing, posters, scrapbooks, and music. At the time of her death, Powell was the Templars’ dominion superintendent for medal contests. She had promoted them tirelessly in Toronto, where they were a great success, and her leadership considerably increased their visibility and popularity.

Annie Gray died of pneumonia at the age of 70 in 1924, in her home at 238 Keele Street. She left a strong imprint on both her family and the organizations she had helped sustain. Her daughters all became public-school teachers; two sons became lawyers and one a Methodist minister. In the evangelical feminist language of the time, eulogies lauded her for her skills as a wife and loving mother, as a frugal and efficient household manager, and as a good neighbour and friend. According to the Canadian White Ribbon Tidings (London, Ont.), she was admired for her “rigid adherence to duty” and “keen sense of responsibility.” Above all, she had impressed those around her with her “Christian optimism” and courage as a “warrior” in the battle against alcohol. Never a lone soldier, she had marched with the temperance army; her favourite poem, recited at her funeral service at High Park Church, was “A band of earnest women.” Members of the WCTU who filed past her casket dropped in little white bows while representatives of the Ladies’ Aid and other societies quietly deposited tiny flowers. A memorial service was held at the WCTU’s Willard Hall in Toronto on 28 March.

Sharon Anne Cook

AO, F 885, MU 8394.1, 8395, 8396.11, 8397–99, 8404.9–12, 8407–9, 8432–34 (mfm.); RG 80-5-0-84, no.8304; RG 80-8-0-948, no.2217. LAC, RG 31, C1, 1861, Markham Township, Upper Canada, dist.16: 6 (mfm. at AO). Toronto Daily Star, 13 March 1924. Canadian White Ribbon Tidings (London, Ont.), May 1924: 111 (mfm. in AO, F 885). S. A. Cook, “Through sunshine and shadow”: the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, evangelicalism, and reform in Ontario, 1874–1930 (Montreal and Kingston, Ont., 1995). Directory, Toronto, 1894–1914.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Sharon Anne Cook, “POWELL, ANN JANE (Gray),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 22, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/powell_ann_jane_15E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/powell_ann_jane_15E.html
Author of Article: Sharon Anne Cook
Title of Article: POWELL, ANN JANE (Gray)
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 2005
Year of revision: 2005
Access Date: September 22, 2014