-by Jim St. Clair
Christina Colina Macdonald Warwick (1863-1948)
Many of our one-time Inverness County residents are not recorded in histories of our area as being significant in events of their days. Stories of many are still told as families or former neighbours gather. So, it is with Christina Warwick, still remembered by some people for her dark purple hats and shoes as well as her often bold statements.
Born in Stewartdale in 1863, the oldest child of Donald and Janet (Jessie) (MacPherson)MacDonald, she died in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, on Valentine’s Day in 1948. In the 85 years of her life, she lived not only in Stewartdale, but also in Mabou, and Whycocomagh and Shelburne, Nova Scotia, and Brockton, Massachusetts, as well as in San Francisco, California, and Edmonton, Alberta.
Not a person of political or social significance, she left traces of her life in several places and with a number of people. She well represents the many women who were born in our county but who established themselves in other places and whose lives can be identified by objects somewhat cherished and whose unusual appearance can still be recalled.
Often, we do not bring forth for recollection such women whose lives were quite unusual, although their origins were modest.
Her early education was at the Stewartdale School, taught by her uncle James Niven MacDonald (“Fancy Jim” as he was called for his gold watch chain and silk neckties). She was taught songs in both English and Gaelic in class as well as at home. In addition to instruction by her teacher, she was also encouraged to draw by her mother, Jessie(MacPherson)MacDonald, who grew up on Mabou Ridge and was an artist of sorts, one of whose works is in the collection of Nova Scotia treasures at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, a “sampler” in style.
For several years, while in her teens, she lived with her uncle Murdock MacPherson in Mabou, where she clerked at his general store. His house, where she lived, is still standing on the village street. In later years, she expressed much appreciation to her uncle for his instruction on how to direct and manage activities of other employees.
In later years, she lived with him and his wife in Edmonton, Alberta.
Following the encouragement of a distant relative, in her early 20s, she moved to Massachusetts, where she took on the management of a small drug store in Brockton, Massachusetts, which was owned by a cousin. The store was still in business in the 1990s. There she met Caleb Warwick, a trained druggist from England. They married and had four children. His father was a craftsman in England who made oil lamps for use on the outside of horse drawn carriages. One of those lamps is now preserved in the collection of antiques at An Drochaid, the Mabou museum and cultural centre. It is one of the items recalling Christina MacDonald Warwick and her connections.
Whenever she realized she was pregnant with one of her four children (a daughter and three sons), she arranged to journey to Cape Breton in time for her children to be born in Stewartdale in order they might have dual citizenship. She was very proud of that accomplishment four different times.
For reasons not known, after the death of her husband, Caleb Warwick and her daughter Mary Jane from pneumonia, she moved with her sons to California, where she helped her second son Frederick, a trained druggist, to establish a pharmacy, which remained in business for many years.
But wishing to live in Canada, she went to Edmonton, where her MacPherson relatives had moved. There in the 19-teens, she went to work as a manager of housekeeping at the Edmonton Hotel. Her name is on the list of long-time employees at that establishment where she directed the activities of the many maids and waitresses. When she retired, the management gave her a set of sterling silver serving implements, which eventually came into the possession of her son Fred’s family in California. They were inscribed with her name “Christina Warwick.”
Her son William MacIntosh Warwick enlisted in the Canadian army in 1915 in Edmonton. While fighting with his regiment in France, he was killed in action in 1918. In response, his mother had a dressmaker create a woman’s version of her son Willie’s uniform boots and cap and all. It was her custom to wear the outfit at every event recalling the lives of soldiers in the World Wars and at events sponsored by the Canadian Legion. A picture of her dressed in her replica of a World War One uniform appeared several times in newspapers and a copy is on file at a Canadian Legion archive in Edmonton. Her uniform, as well, was given to a legion group in Lynn, Massachusetts, where her son John lived and was employed as a druggist. These are symbols of her deep grief and such activities which she valued.
For the last eight years of her life, she lived in Whycocomagh Village. At any gathering, including church services at MacLean United, she wore a dress, a coat, stockings, shoes, and a hat, all of deep purple hue to identify her continuing grief for her son William (“Willie”). To this day, many relatives have pictures of her in that attire.
As the daughter of Hon. Donald MacDonald, a one-time Justice of the Peace and a member of the Inverness County Council and Clerk of Session of MacLean Church for several years, she always sat in his family’s seat located in the front of the church; at right angles to the pews of the rest of the seats and directly below the pulpit from which the minister spoke. If her sons visited her in Whycocomagh, they too had to take their places in that special location, much to their dismay.
After her death, among her saved possessions was a framed artistic creation done by her mother Jessie (Janet) (MacPherson) MacDonald. It was a fanciful drawing commemorating Jessie and Donald’s marriage in 1859 at Mabou Ridge. It is now in the collection of Nova Scotia original art at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. It is the only one of such style done with pastels and preserved. It was part of a group of Nova Scotia artistic creations which travelled in exhibition across Canada. As such, it is one more surviving token of the unusual life of Christina Colina (MacDonald) Warwick of Inverness County and many other places.