Ramsay, Ada (Macleod), schoolteacher, author, and historian; b. 31 March 1867 in Princetown (Malpeque), P.E.I., only child of William B. Ramsay and Eliza Fraser; m. 28 Dec. 1886 Neil Macleod (d. 1934) in Summerside, P.E.I., and they had eight sons; d. there 2 March 1932.
As is common with women born in rural Prince Edward Island in the 19th century, few documents survive to shed light on the early existence of Ada Ramsay. She appears to have spent her younger years in the Princetown area, where her father worked as a carriage builder. William B. Ramsay was descended from the first group of Scottish settlers to come to the Island from Argyllshire, in 1770. It was perhaps their tale of pioneer determination that piqued Ada’s interest in the history of her native province.
Sometime between 1871 and 1876 the Ramsay family moved to Summerside. Ada attended the town’s Eastern District School and then Davies School, where she met her future husband, at that time teacher and principal (and superintendent of Summerside schools). She completed her formal education with a year at Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown, from which she graduated with first-class standing in June 1883. Like many women of her generation, she taught school, at Belmont Lot 16 in 1884–85 and North St Eleanors in 1886. Her career came to an end in late 1886 when she and Neil Macleod married and took up residence in a large two-storey house on Central Street in Summerside. While Neil was occupied with his teaching and, from 1893, with his law career, Ada spent much of her time rearing their eight sons.
During an era when many women devoted themselves to domestic pursuits, Ada confessed, “I have never thought myself strong on either cooking or housekeeping. I always liked reading better than either.” A member of the upper middle class, she nevertheless fulfilled her familial duties and also her societal ones as was expected. Among her community interests were the Presbyterian Church in Canada and, after 1925, the United Church of Canada and their respective women’s missionary societies, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (she served as regent of its local chapter in 1915–20), and the Summerside Library. She was also involved in handicrafts of various kinds, and was apparently well known for her rug making. She was undoubtedly a member of the Prince County branch of the Canadian Handicrafts Guild, based in Summerside.
Ada’s obituary in the P. E. Island Agriculturalist (Summerside) would note that, “being intensely fond of reading, especially on matters of an historical nature, she read many hundreds of books of the better class, and it is safe to say … became possibly the best educated woman in Prince Edward Island.” Her love of reading led to a love of writing. In 1911, when her youngest child, Kenneth, was six years old, she published the first of many articles. “Skye: the isle of mist,” which seems to have been written from first-hand experience (her husband was a native of this Scottish island), appeared that November in the Canadian Magazine. Over the following two decades Ada produced more than 20 articles, not only for the Canadian Magazine but also for such publications as the Dalhousie Review, Maclean’s, and the New England Magazine (Boston), as well as for Island newspapers. Her writing would be recognized on a national level a few years before her death when she was awarded first prize in a contest in the New Outlook (Toronto) for essays on “the best story I have ever known.” Her winning entry was a review of Maria Chapdelaine, the quintessential novel of French Canada by Louis Hémon*.
Unlike fellow Islander Lucy Maud Montgomery*, who is best known for fiction, Ada focused on topics in local and Scottish history, including the settlement of the Princetown area, the coming of the loyalists and other immigrant groups to Prince Edward Island, the celebration of the sabbath in Skye, and the tale of Margaret Gordon, the Charlottetown native considered to have been the first love of Thomas Carlyle (and later the wife of Alexander Bannerman*, who became the Island’s lieutenant governor in 1850). One of her works, Prince Edward Island (1926), a 15-page sketch of the past and present circumstances of the province, was printed by the Summerside IODE in a fund-raising venture. Like Benjamin Armitage Bremner Ada was an early historian of the Island, and she was often asked to give lectures in person and on radio. She was particularly interested in the history of Summerside, and contributed articles on this subject to local papers. In one of these, written in 1915, she contrasted “the time of the pioneer woman in homespun gown and sunbonnet, picking her steps over the corduroy path to buy indigo and warp at O’Halloran’s shop at ‘Green’s Shore’ [as Summerside had once been called]” with “these days when her silken-clad grand-daughter shops luxuriously in the big department stores of Water Street.” Thirteen unpublished pieces would be issued together in 1980 as Roads to Summerside: the story of early Summerside and the surrounding area.
Employing what has been described as “a delightfully facile and pleasing style,” Ada composed somewhat romanticized narratives on historical topics which she attempted to make relevant to her readers by drawing connections to contemporary people, events, or places. Specifically, she frequently provided information on the genealogical ties between notable historical individuals and their living descendants. Ada often used anecdotes supplied by other Islanders as sources; occasionally she cited such well-known local and regional publications as the Prince Edward Island Magazine (Charlottetown) and John MacKinnon’s Sketch book: comprising historical incidents, traditional tales and translations (Saint John, 1915). Her uncritical approach is typical of much Canadian writing of the era. In contrast to other authors, however, she was at pains to mention the women in the lives of significant men in history.
Although she remained active, Ada suffered from bouts of illness, possibly cancer. She was hospitalized briefly in Montreal during World War I, when she and her husband knew the sadness of losing two of their sons, and then again in 1930. Late the following year her illness recurred and she went back to Montreal for a severe operation. She was able to return to Summerside in early 1932 but only to be admitted to the Prince County Hospital, where she died on 2 March. Tributes in Island newspapers record her as having been a “Woman of Exceptional Literary Talent and an Ardent Social Worker” and “one of the Island’s most brilliant women.” She was buried in the People’s Protestant Cemetery in Summerside.
Ada Ramsay Macleod is the author of many journal articles: “Skye: the isle of mist,” Canadian Magazine, 38 (November 1911–April 1912): 12–21; “A sabbath in Skye,” 39 (May–October 1912): 62–66; “Beside the peat fire,” 40 (November 1912–April 1913): 427–36; “Travels in Prince Edward Island in 1820,” Dalhousie Rev., 3 (1923–24): 31–41; “‘Blumine’ of Prince Edward Island,” 5 (1925–26): 98–104; “Malpeque,” 6 (1926–27): 87–94; “Songs of our Highland forefathers,” 6: 478–87; “Brudenell,” 8 (1928–29): 60–66; “The oldest diary on Prince Edward Island,” 9 (1929–30): 461–74; “Some loyalists of Prince Edward Island,” 10 (1930–31): 319–31; “The Glenaladale pioneers,” 11 (1931–32): 311–24; “Farming in P.E.I. in 1820,” Busy East of Canada (Sackville, N.B.), 19 (1928–29), no.7: 28–29; “Old memories,” Maple Leaf (Oakland, Calif.), 25 (August 1931): 216; and an undated article, “Early days in Prince Edward Island,” held by the MacNaught Hist. Centre and Arch. (Summerside, P.E.I.) in the Macleod family fonds. She also contributed to several newspapers. The Charlottetown Guardian printed “Historical sketch of Summerside,” July 1915, suppl.: 33–36, and “Prince Edward Island in 1820,” 16 March 1929: 11; the Summerside Journal (Summerside) published “A short sketch of Summerside from the time it was known as Green’s Shore until the present,” March 1916, souvenir ed., and “Summerside – its history and gradual development: the history of Summerside,” 20 June 1923: 33–34. Her Roads to Summerside … (n.p., 1980) was edited by Marjorie McCallum Gay.
PARO, Acc. 3466, ser.80.169. Past and present of Prince Edward Island …, ed. D. A. MacKinnon and A. B. Warburton (Charlottetown, ). Zonta Club, A century of women (Charlottetown, 1967).