Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Friday, March 24, 2023

Canadian Heroines, Part 4: Jennie Butchart

In my sixteenth summer, I traveled with my parents to Victoria, B.C. to visit my brother. While there, we toured Butchart Gardens. Sadly, I felt unwell and spent half the tour resting in Dad’s truck. Nearly 50 years later, I still haven’t returned and I wish I’d felt well enough to appreciate the amazing beauty surrounding me. If you’ve visited, you know these magnificent gardens were once an ugly lime quarry. You may not know the woman responsible for this transformation started with no gardening experience.

In 1866, Jeanette Foster Kennedy was born in Toronto to Irish parents. Orphaned at 14, Jennie lived with an aunt in Owen Sound. She joined their family of seven children and enjoyed skating, horseback riding, and even hot air balloon rides. At Brantford Young Ladies’ College (one of the most prestigious schools in Canada at the time), her artistic talent earned her a scholarship to study in Paris. By this time, however, Jennie was in love. At 18, she forfeited Paris and married Robert P. Butchart.

On their honeymoon in 1884, the couple traveled to England where Robert obtained the cement recipe that would make him one of the first in Canada to produce Portland Cement. By1902, the Butcharts were ready to move to British Columbia with their two daughters. By horse-drawn buggy over a rough trail from Victoria, they traveled to their new home and factory on Tod Inlet. Soon, business boomed at the Vancouver Island Portland Cement Company. With her certificate in chemistry, Jennie worked in the plant’s laboratory.

Five years of extraction depleted the limestone quarry. Jennie had often told her husband, “You’re ruining the country, Bob, just to get your old cement.”

Perhaps she should have recognized how the success of the cement precipitated the success of the next step. Determined to turn the ugly hole left behind into something beautiful, Jennie seconded quarry laborers to haul away rocks, debris, and rusting machinery parts. They brought in rich soil by horse and cart, and planted a row of Lombardy poplars to conceal the old cement factory. Over the next ten years, Jennie oversaw the development of the “Sunken Garden.” Breathtaking arrays of trees, shrubs, and rare flowers began to attract visitors and Jennie welcomed them with open arms.

By 1915, about 18,000 people toured Butchart Gardens annually. Still, Jennie refused to charge admission, often serving tea to her guests. In 1926, they added the Italian Garden, followed by the Rose Garden, the Star Pond, and the private garden. In 1931, the City of Victoria named Jennie Butchart “Best Citizen of the Year” for her contribution to what today we might call intense recycling. Over thirty years, Jennie added new plants, fountains, and sculptures from all over the world.

By the late 1930s, Jennie and Robert could no longer handle the work and turned the gardens over to their grandson, Ian Ross. Ross turned Butchart Gardens into a successful family business. Jennie died in 1950 at age 82. Her ashes were scattered in Tod Inlet.

In 1991, Canada Post released a Butchart Gardens commemorative stamp. In 2004, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada designated the Butchart Gardens a national historic site. Today, approximately one million people visit from all over the world each year.

This story reminds me of a song we sing at church called “Graves into Gardens.” Elevation Worship released the song, based on a story found in 2 Kings 13 and the premise that God brings dead dreams to life. When we declare resurrection power over everything we sow, nothing will be wasted. What we may see as an ugly, depleted quarry, God sees as a glorious garden. I hope I can return to Butchart Gardens someday. I hope you get to go, too.

Jennie Butchart, 1921. Photo by Harry Upperton Knight. City of Victoria Archives photo M00906


Friday, March 17, 2023

Canadian Heroines, Part 3: Victoria Cheung

If I asked you to name the first Chinese Canadian (male or female) to graduate as a doctor in Canada, could you? How about if I asked you to name the only Canadian missionary to have worked in China throughout the Japanese invasion, World War II, and the Communist revolution? Hint: it’s the same person. Don’t feel bad, I couldn’t have named her either.

Victoria Toy Mea Cheung was born in Victoria, BC in 1897, the same year as Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Cheung was born during a time when Canada did not welcome the Chinese, when the only people forced to pay a head tax were immigrants from China. Did her parents name her Victoria in hopes that she would be better accepted by the dominant white society?

Victoria’s father, Sing Noon Cheung, had immigrated from his South China village, lured by the Canadian Pacific Railway to help build the transcontinental railway. After the final spike was driven in 1885, he began a small business in Victoria and saved enough money to bring his wife to Canada. He was one of the first Chinese converts to Christianity in the city. His wife, Yin Han, a highly educated woman, had become a Christian in China.

At age five, Victoria attended kindergarten at the Oriental Home run by the Women’s Missionary Society. Originally a place of refuge for at-risk girls and women of Asian descent, the Chinese Rescue Home had become a segregated school offering a public school curriculum, evangelical teachings, and lessons in the domestic arts. Enrolled as a boarder, Victoria could visit her family at home only a few blocks away.

A popular and smart girl, Victoria taught Sunday school, participated in girls’ groups, and resolved to become a medical missionary to China. The idea was preposterous in British Columbia, where provincial legislation prohibited Chinese people from entering professions. Being Chinese wasn’t Victoria’s only hurdle. The University of Toronto was the only medical school accepting female students. Thanks to a full university scholarship from the Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Society, Victoria joined the medical school there in 1917. When she graduated in 1922, she was one of only 14 women in a class of 79 graduates.

After interning at Toronto General, Victoria joined the South China Mission, taking charge of a hospital in Kongmoon and serving as both a skilled surgeon and an efficient administrator. Despite political upheavals that forced most other Canadian doctors and missionaries to return to Canada, Victoria stayed for 43 years. As a Canadian, she traveled with a British passport. But somehow her name was not included in the British consulate’s list of female missionaries in China, a list used in times of crisis for emergency evacuations. Some speculate that, since “Canadian women were white,” and since “doctors were male,” and since “missionaries were, by definition, of European heritage,” Victoria Cheung could not possibly have been all three. Whatever the reason, this oversight worked in her favor during the Japanese occupation. Victoria kept her Canadian citizenship hidden, preferring to pass as a Chinese national so that she could stay and continue her work.

Victoria Cheung continued to serve through war, invasion, and the communist takeover that made her Christian faith illegal. Any connections to Canada or the west had to be kept strictly hidden. Her patients included residents of four refugee camps where she vaccinated against or treated smallpox, cholera, malaria, dysentery, and typhus. Times proved so bad at one point that a starving mother tried to sell her two daughters to Dr. Cheung.

Victoria Cheung stayed in China until her death in 1966 at the age of 69. For more on this remarkable woman, read A Woman In Between: Searching for Dr. Victoria Cheung, by John Price and Ningping Yu.


Friday, March 10, 2023

Canadian Heroines, Part 2: Leone Norwood Farrell

Dr. Leone Norwood Farrell, Ph. D.

Everyone has heard of Dr. Jonas Salk, the American virologist who developed one of the first successful polio vaccines. But have you heard of Dr. Leone Farrell?

If we found the Covid-19 pandemic frightening, imagine the early
1950s when children everywhere were suddenly unable to walk, some dying within days of being stricken. At least 9,000 Canadian children were infected with the polio virus in 1953. Some of the survivors were crippled for life. Some ended up in iron lungs.

So naturally, when Dr. Salk developed his vaccine in 1952, hope began to grow. The potential vaccine was untested, however, largely because no method existed to develop enough vaccine for large-scale testing.

Enter Dr. Farrell. Born in 1904 in a farming community near Monkland, Ontario, and raised in Toronto, Leone Norwood Farrell graduated from Parkdale Collegiate Institute, earning a scholarship in Science and academic prizes in English and History. She studied Chemistry at the University of Toronto, completing her Master’s degree in 1929. Her master’s work led to a research project on the microbiology of honey. This was followed by a year at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK, studying the metabolism of fungi in penicillin. After returning to Canada, she became one of a small group of women of her generation to earn a Ph.D. in the sciences by completing her doctorate in biochemistry in 1933. Although she was a strong supporter of women in the lab, she did not consider herself a feminist. Colleagues described her as a classy dresser, most often wearing high heels and a silk blouse beneath her lab coat.

She joined the staff at Connaught Medical Research Laboratories and was an experienced researcher by the time the polio trials started. She had developed what became known as the “Toronto Method,” (I can’t help thinking that if she’d been male, it would be known as the “Farrell Method”) which was a new way of cultivating bacteria in large bottles which were gently rocked to keep the mixture in constant motion. In the early 1940s, Farrell adapted the method for the production of the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine on a larger scale. Her method meant vaccines could be accessed for one-tenth the cost. Farrell had spent the war years focused on the elimination of diseases like cholera and dysentery, and giving lectures to medical students and public health nurses.

But it was during the Polio pandemic when her method shone. When Connaught received the contract to produce 3,000 liters of virus fluid needed for testing, Dr. Farrell was charged not only with planning the building of labs and incubators but of training staff. During the winter of 1953-54, she and her staff worked around the clock so that each Thursday, a station wagon could pull up to the door to collect the priceless cargo. From there it went to pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. By the spring of 1954, two million children had participated in field trials of Salk’s polio vaccine and mass immunization swept across North America. Later, Leone Farrell wrote: “Miraculously, there were no poliovirus infections among the large staff involved, although I believe everyone thought at least once that they had contracted the disease.”

In a speech to women in 1959 about the qualities required to become a good medical researcher, she said, “You will want to know why and when and where, and whether pigs have wings… You must let your imagination take flight, while you keep your feet on the ground.”

Dr. Farrell continued her career at Connaught for 35 years, working on other vaccines and antibiotics until her retirement in 1969. In later years, she developed Alzheimer’s Disease and died of lung cancer on September 24, 1986. She’s buried in Toronto’s Park Lawn Cemetery.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Canadian Heroines, Part 1: Lillian Freiman

March 8 is International Women’s Day and, once again, I’d like to tell you about some memorable women who left their mark on our country and our world. First woman in the spotlight, Lillian Freiman. What I love most about this woman is that she didn’t just toss money at causes. She immersed herself in the work.

Being born female alone would have been a strike against the likelihood of her becoming a leader. Being born Jewish would be strike two. Somehow, Lillian Freiman rose above. She knocked the ball right out of the park using her resources to benefit others.

Her father provided a great example. On June 6, 1885, Lillian was born the fifth of 11 surviving children to Moses and Pauline Bilsky. The family settled in Ottawa in the early 1890s and Moses became a prominent member of the city’s Jewish community. Their home was open to all who needed help, particularly new immigrants.

By the time she was a teen, Lillian had joined the Ottawa Ladies’ Hebrew Benevolent Society. She also started working with troubled youth through the city’s Children’s Aid Society. In 1903, at 18, she married Archibald J. Freiman, a Lithuanian-born Jew who founded Freiman’s, a successful department store. Lillian bore three childrenDorothy, Lawrence, and Esther—before the Great War broke out. Nevertheless, she devoted herself to providing comforts to the soldiers at the front and those stationed in Ottawa. In 1915, she installed 30 sewing machines in her home, where women gathered to make sheets, blankets, and clothing to send overseas. This club later became the Disraeli Chapter of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE).


In 1917, Freiman foresaw the difficulties returning soldiers would face in their transition back to Canadian society. She helped form the Ottawa chapter of the Great War Veterans’ Association of Canada. This organization later became the Royal Canadian Legion. Freiman contributed space in her home and furnishings for the office that served as the local headquarters. She wrote the first letter of the organization at the desk she donated.

When the great flu pandemic struck Ottawa in 1918, Mayor Harold Fisher recruited Lillian Freiman to organize a special body to deal with the crisis. She rose to the challenge, working relentlessly with Dr. Robert Law. Lillian organized 1500 volunteers who nursed the sick and provided food and clothing. A born caregiver, she set up and managed three temporary hospitals.

In 1921, when Lillian learned of a poppy initiative occurring in France, she saw the potential of a similar campaign to help Canada’s veterans and their families. She gathered women in her home to create cloth poppies. The first Poppy Day occurred on November 11, 1921. Freiman chaired the Legion’s Poppy Campaign from that year until her death in 1940. The lower half of her coffin was covered with red poppies.

Perhaps Lillian’s greatest achievement—and most personal investment—involved Ukrainian war orphans. Government regulations passed in the 1920s made it difficult for immigrants, especially Jews, to enter Canada. Not one of Eastern Europe’s 137,000 Jewish orphans had been granted entry to Canada or the United States. Freiman arranged a meeting with Frederick Charles Blair, an official with the Department of Immigration and Colonization. She requested that a thousand Jewish Ukrainian war orphans be allowed into the country and launched a campaign to raise money and find adoptive families. In 1921, after raising $100,000, she traveled to Belgium to oversee the transport and placement of about 150 children. The Freimans adopted 11-year-old Gladys Rozovsky.


Lillian Freiman died on November 2, 1940, at the age of 55. She was the first Jewish Canadian to receive the Order of the British Empire.


“As a daughter of an ancient race, I must not look back on the past and be overwhelmed by unhappiness, but from our long history, I must derive strength to go on. Courage is the lesson that the Jewish past teaches every member of our race.” 

–Lillian Freiman

Lillian Frieman, 1885-1940