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A story not fully told


Few even know of Mary Bagot, the 18-year-old dark haired girl whose elevated social position enabled her to marry Vincent Jones, son of the Rector of Ambleside and 18 years her senior. While much has been written of her husband Sir Vincent Jones, Mary's life in Grand Falls and her role in building our community has been mostly forgotten. Mary Bagot had grown up in the Lake District, in the stately home of Levens Hall near Kendal. Sir Vincent Jones, with a prestigious position at the newly formed Anglo Newfoundland Development Company, convinced her father that he should be allowed to marry his daughter, thus giving her a life of privilege and comfort in the new community of Grand Falls. Grand Falls was not exactly a modern city in 1910 and the hardships for all were many as the newly married Mary would soon find out.

My perspective -

Few even know of Mary Bagot, the 18-year-old dark haired girl whose elevated social position enabled her to marry Vincent Jones, son of the Rector of Ambleside and 18 years her senior. While much has been written of her husband Sir Vincent Jones, Mary's life in Grand Falls and her role in building our community has been mostly forgotten.

Mary Bagot had grown up in the Lake District, in the stately home of Levens Hall near Kendal. Sir Vincent Jones, with a prestigious position at the newly formed Anglo Newfoundland Development Company, convinced her father that he should be allowed to marry his daughter, thus giving her a life of privilege and comfort in the new community of Grand Falls. Grand Falls was not exactly a modern city in 1910 and the hardships for all were many as the newly married Mary would soon find out.

The life of Mary (Bagot) Vincent-Jones is described quite vividly in Sally Taylor's book, The Great Outsiders. In her book, which, by the way, is available at the Harmsworth Regional Library, Mary's life is described as a tale of courage and hope as life began in this frontier town in the middle of Newfoundland.

"From the window of the railway car, the young and privileged girl witnessed her first terrible sight of the poverty of Newfoundland: of women wearing rags, their children dressed in sacks with string around their necks; of crippled men born with legs but no bones inside them, the result of malnutrition and neglect. Outside of the parameters of Northcliffe's settlement, the people survived as best they could on potatoes and cabbage. But by March, when the cabbage had disappeared, they fell upon hard tack, salt cod and a few wild seabirds. Seaweed, mud and straw filled the wide gaps in the axe-hewn cabins: the large, sickly families all lived in one small room - the air within fetid and unhealthy. Grand Falls, for all the starkness of its raw wooden buildings, cinder roads and clouds of sulphur emanating from the paper mill was like a centre of promise and hope," notes the book.

Mary Vincent- Jones was all alone in such a place, with no one from her class or station to keep her company. She would never forget the hardship she witnessed on the journey to what she believed was the Promised Land. From her picture window at the newly built Grand Falls House she could watch the Northern Lights and in the summertime the sky filled with dark red sunsets. But that was it. As the newly formed town was being built Mary was very much in a very lonely place in her life.

"When Northcliffe next arrived, accompanied by his wife, personally to inspect the work of Vincent Jones, he and Lady Northcliffe were surprised to find this lovely English girl inviting them to tea.

They spoke of England, which she dearly missed, and Mary told Lord Northcliffe how different she found the landscape of Newfoundland and how she missed the topiary gardens back at Levens Hall. And with customary civility Northcliffe asked if he could send her anything from home. From this display of kindness, and without warning even to herself the young girl suddenly burst into tears, telling Lord and Lady Northcliffe she was so lonely she didn't know what to do or how she could continue to live, and could he send newspapers please? She lived in a town, she said that manufactured paper for newspapers, and yet there was none for her to read, and so she felt excluded from the outside world."

Thereafter, Northcliffe made arrangements for every newspaper he produced to be sent personally to Mary Vincent-Jones in Grand Falls, Newfoundland. Even today, a copy of the Daily Mail arrives at Grand Falls House on Lincoln Road. It is addressed simply "To Grand Falls House."

Later Lord and Lady Northcliffe sent ships, each loaded with rich soil from Devon and finally a gardener to help Mary plant her English garden in Newfoundland. With this distant support, the young Mary found her way and adapted to this rough new land. Today the beautiful flowers of Grand Falls House are a reminder of how it all began.

We are also told that when the typhoid epidemic came to Grand Falls later that year Mary Vincent Jones pitched in alongside the nurse, Miss Gilmour, and two young doctors. She had already had the disease when she was fourteen and so helped to nurse the many patients in the hospital that Lady Northcliffe had donated to the town.

In her book, The Great Outsiders, Sally Taylor concludes by saying this of Mary.

"Thus did Mary Vincent- Jones grow into her own person, increasingly tough and distant, a surprisingly strong willed and solitary figure in the town. Later she would travel to outposts outside of Northcliffe's territory, seeing as she could to the needs of those whose lives he hadn't touched. There is a story told of her in later years, caring for a woman sick with typhoid that had eight children. When she saw the family was wrapped in newspapers to keep warm, Mary Vincent-Jones took off her own clothes, and ordered her young daughter to do the same, and gave them to the women. She never knew that Northcliffe's mother had once wrapped her children in newspapers to keep them warm in wintertime."

As I look back on the history of how this town was built there has been very little written about this truly exceptional pioneer lady. The great adventure of building the paper enterprise here was left to the men while the loneliness was left to the women to endure. While I am sure there are many stories of women who helped, in their own way, build this town it's my perspective Mary Vincent-Jones is perhaps a story not fully told.

As this final chapter in the life of our paper mill is being played out, let's not forget all of those who helped make its success a reality especially the women whose work goes unmentioned.

Roger Pike writes from Grand Falls-Windsor. He can be reached at roger.pike@nf.sympatico.ca.

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