The Passing of Mrs. Marguerite Scott-O’Donnell

The Passing of Mrs. Marguerite Scott-O’Donnell


by Peter Stuart

On the morning of February 3, 2011, at the Enfant Jesus Hospital in Québec City, a truly remarkable person breathed her last breath, and in doing so, quietly and peacefully exited this life and entered the next.

Her name was Marguerite Scott-O’Donnell, born in Québec City on the twenty fifth of March 1908, which made her just shy of her 103rd birthday at the time of her passing. She was born to James Guthrie Scott, and Cordelia Jackson, both prominent English-speaking residents of Québec city in their day. Marguerite’s Father was one of the typical self-styled and self-made men of his day, with relatively little formal education, but with what he had he built on it prodigiously by reading extensively and having a very strong thirst for knowledge and learning, which he passed on to his children and grandchildren.

The Scotts had originally come from Dundee in Scotland and had come to some prominence and fortune by becoming involved in trade and commerce in Québec City during the period of great commercial expansion which took place at Québec in the wake of the Conquest, and, especially in the wake of Britain’s turn to her Canadian colony to supply her fleet with timber in the wake of the Napoleonic blockade of the Baltic states in the early part of the 19th century.

Québec City and its port therefore flourished and attracted many enterprising Scots and Englishmen from Britain intent on making good in this particular far-flung corner of the Empire. The Scott family indeed did reasonably well, James Guthrie becoming intimately involved in the affairs of the Port, and the Québec Board of Trade, which was to become the precursor of today’s Chamber of Commerce, and general Manager of the Québec Lake St. John Railroad, which was to become the first man-made link between Québec City and the rich resource hinterland of the Saguenay-Lake St. John region of the Province.

Marguerite grew up in this environment of relative privilege for her day, living on St. Louis Street just within the gates of the Old Town, in a fairly well-appointed townhouse with electricity, running water, and a telephone, which was quite rare in those days. The family had at least one domestic servant to help Mrs Scott in the running of the domestic affairs of the household.

However, from a very early age, regardless of her relatively privileged upbringing, and I would say, in great part because of the light of knowledge and compassion that it afforded her, she became very much aware of the plight of those less fortunate, especially in the case of animals, horses and dogs in particular.

Her earliest recollections of childhood, which she recounted to me on a regular basis during my long tenure as her domestic worker, was just how poorly treated the draught horses were in Québec City at the turn of the twentieth century.

This instilled within her a lifelong  passion for involvement and leadership within the Humane movement as well as the SPCA, not to forgot also her sitting on the board of bio-medical ethics at Laval University, where she stood up for animal rights at every turn when it came to issues surrounding the use of animals in scientific experiments.

Marguerite was renowned, throughout her married life to her beloved husband Don, with whom she shared her love of animals, to think nothing of rushing out to the Québec Bridge, at the drop of a hat, at the behest of some anonymous tip off, to go save some poor stray dog which had been unceremoniously dumped on the Bridge and left for dead by its owners.

The same went for rescuing dogs from the frigid waters of the St. Lawrence River, with dear Don watching in bewilderment as Marguerite hiked up her skirt and waded into the chilly water to rescue the poor retched pooch from what would have surely been a soggy grave.

Marguerite Scott-O’Donnell was also a very talented artist and contemporary of some of the leading lights of the Québec and Canadian art world of her day. She studied and completed her course in Fine Art at the Beaux Arts in Québec City as a young woman, and studied at the same time as such greats of the Québec and Canadian art world as Alfred Pellan and Jean-Paul Lemieux, becoming personally acquainted and quite close with both men in the early part of their careers, even continuing a lifelong friendship with Mr. Lemieux well into the latter part of his life and career. 

Marguerite was also a loving wife, mother, teacher of art, and mentor to many people such as myself, for whom her life served as an inspiration and an example of perseverance and tenacity and an iron-clad will to live life to the very end.

She married the man she loved, Donal O’Donnell, who worked most of his life at the ammunitions factory just north of Québec City, and from whom she had to be separated for long periods of time during the Second World War when he had to attend meetings for lengthy periods of time in New York City to plan the supply of munitions for the war effort.

She bore two daughters, whom she loved dearly, and in raising them to be bright and successful wives, mothers themselves, and to succeed in their studies and careers on top of it, when asked, was told that these two precious daughters of hers were her crowning achievement as a person.

All in all, Marguerite Scott-O’Donnell’s life story was the life of Québec City in the twentieth century and even beyond. I can only hope that my life will be as full and as rewarding as hers was. Québec city will be just a little bit poorer because of her passing. May she rest in peace, and enjoy her eternal reward. I should say she’s earned it.

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Tags: Peter Stuart

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    BRUCE ALLEN 24 March, 2011, 18:32

    I was also lucky to know Marguerite, her family and now her great grandson.
    Your article is greatly appreciated. What a life she experienced.

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