My husband David is a genealogy buff, and recently he finished writing a history of my Malcolm ancestors who came to Victoria from Scotland in the late 19th century. One of them, John Malcolm, a mason, was the contractor who built Victoria High School where three generations of my family went to school.
Last month was the 100th anniversary of the building, and two of my sisters, my husband and I were there to celebrate. We went to a classroom to watch four students reenact a classroom scene from 1914.
During the course of the play, one of the students was called “Miss Malcolm” by the teacher. My sisters and I, all of us former Miss Malcolms, exchanged glances. Then, one of the other students called her “Mabel”, and I looked at my husband.
After the production we spoke to the teacher and students involved. They had chosen Mabel Malcolm having seen her name in the school paper “The Camosun.” She was a member of the Portia Club, a woman’s debating group. We told them that Mabel Malcolm was our great-great aunt, and everyone felt a little frisson of amazement.
According to my husband’s research, after high school, Mabel went to Normal school and got a third class teaching certificate, which meant she could only teach in rural schools. She worked in Revelstoke and Fields, BC. It was her intention to get a first class certificate, but her career was cut short by the onset of the symptoms of a disease that would eventually be diagnosed as Huntington’s Chorea, a devastating genetic neurological disorder. She ended her days in Essondale, then called an “insane asylum”, in Vancouver, BC., such a sad ending for someone whose life had held so much promise.
I am sure Mabel was speaking to me that day. I know she wants me to be remembered for more than her disease, and I hope to take up her story one day. After all, that’s what I do: write about dead people. Because they speak to me.