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Lillian Griffin: A Life Remembered by Rose McCormick Brandon

May 8, 2012

Lillian Griffin

May 14, 1912 was a significant day for 9 year-old Lillian Griffin. On that day, Lily and her sister Grace, boarded the S.S. Corsican in Liverpool. Lily’s parents had both died – her father in 1903 and mother in 1911. 

But Lily wasn’t boarding a ship because her parents had died. When Lily’s mother, Emily, remarried her new husband, William Kelly, took his 3 children and Emily’s 3 (Edward, Lily and Grace) to the MacPherson Home for Children in London. He returned for his children but the Griffins remained in the Home. Lily, age 3 when she last saw her mother, left England with no memories of any home other than the one established by Annie MacPherson.

Lily and Grace hoped all the way to Halifax that they would remain together in Canada. Child immigrants seldom went to the same home as a sibling.  In Canada, the sisters were separated for the first time. Lily went to Woodham, Ontario to work in the home of a Mrs. Harris. Soon after, she was moved to the Alex McCreight home in Toronto. Meanwhile, Grace went first to Thamesville, then to Manitoulin Island, an impossible distance for either girl to travel for a reunion.  Lily and Grace kept in touch by letters which wasn’t an easy task since both girls moved frequently.

Lily moved again, to the Gibson home, where she was employed as a mother’s helper. At age 16, she went back to the McCreight home in Toronto. It seems she had a lasting connection with this family. While with them, Lily attended business college. After graduation, she landed a stenographer’s position at the Provincial Parliament Buildings in Toronto.

Lily wrote to Grace often. The two sisters shared their different lives – Lily a career girl and Grace a young mother. Grace sent photographs of her husband and children. The sisters wrote of their hope to see each other again.

At 22, Lillian contracted tuberculosis, the disease that had killed her mother. She went to Weston Sanatorium in Toronto for treatment. After 4 months of rest and medical attention, Lillian Griffin died on May 16, 1923.

“I miss Lily’s sisterly letters,” wrote Grace to a step-sister back in England. Lillian didn’t live long enough to reunite with Grace and her brother Edward. About the time she died, Edward, who had more money than his sisters, started to search for them. He found Grace in 1924. Undoubtedly he would have also found Lily.

The contact name on Lillian’s death certificate is H. N. Patton. My family has no idea who this person is. Lily’s letters, if some of them had survived, might have given us this information.

Lily’s life, though short, wasn’t forgotten. My grandmother, Grace, told her children about her sister and placed her photograph in a prominent place in her home. Grace’s children then passed on what they knew about Lily to their children. Today, my mother refers to her as Aunt Lily. This photograph of Lily is the only one in existence. It was taken in the sanatorium and Lily sent it to Grace with a letter.

This only surviving photo of Lillian Griffin has been treasured for decades. Her lovely face, in youth’s pretty glow, shines through her sickness. We remember Lily as a child of unfortunate circumstances who became an independent woman at a time when few women did. She was a loved sister with hopes and dreams that sadly went unfulfilled.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary Arnold permalink
    May 9, 2012 2:45 pm

    sad that Lillian went thru so much just to come here and die of T.B…….but thank God that her story can be told , ……………

  2. May 9, 2012 3:25 pm

    Yes, it’s especialy sad that she didn’t live long enough to reconnect with her brother and sister. I know my grandmother missed her a lot.

  3. May 9, 2012 10:12 pm

    It was just so difficult and so unfair those years. My heart is broken for Lillian. She was a beautiful young lady. Thank you for sharing her story Rose.

    • May 9, 2012 10:59 pm

      yes she was a beautiful young lady – in the photo she appears to be checking herself out in a mirror – I hope she liked what she saw 🙂

  4. May 10, 2012 4:55 am

    Such a sad story; especially after she was lucky enough to further her education, thus landing a good job. She certainly was beautiful; thou just wish she could have met up with her loving sister and her brother. But, she has you to tell her story, and we thank you for sharing it.

    • May 10, 2012 12:45 pm

      She hwas headed in a good direction for her life. TB was a dreaded disease then – I’ve wondered if she had it when she came to Canada and later in her life it manifested itself.

  5. Linda Clarkson Pagnani permalink
    May 29, 2012 6:07 pm

    Two sisters who shared so much heartache and then to be separated and never see each other again. Having been blessed with four sisters, the thought of this makes me so very sad. Bless Grace and her family for keeping Lillian’s memory alive.

    • May 29, 2012 7:55 pm

      Yes it was sad that the two sister were never re-united. If Lillian had lived longer, they would’ve been. Grace missed her sister a lot.

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