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CHARLES DOBIE : LOCAL HISTORY
LANARK COUNTY, ONTARIO
MARION KATHLEEN McLEAN & MARY DUNNETT

Marion Kathleen McLean
and Mary Dunnett.

By

Marion Mclean's older brother, Cecil, had died in 1900 at the age of one year and two months -- no other children were born to James & "Minnie" McLean, leaving Marion to grow up an only child on the main street of Lanark Village, behind her father's tailor shop and next door to her grandmother's milliner shop.

Baby Marion McLean
Baby Marion McLean.

When Marion's father retired from tailoring, they moved to nearby Perth where they had purchased the old stone Post Office in downtown Perth.

Here Marion lived with her parents for many years even after she became a working school teacher. Never married, upon the death of both of her parents (in the same year), her best friend Mary Dunnett, originally from Brighton, Ontario, moved in with her. While they were living, Marion's parents had never allowed Mary in their home.

Marion also owned and operated a baby and children's clothing shop in Perth where most articles were hand-knit or hand-sewn. She and Mary lived together here until Marion was forced to go into a nursing home (Lanark Lodge), followed closely by Mary whose seemingly perfect health declined instantly after Marion went into the Lodge. They shared a room there until their deaths.

Marion resembled a delicate, antique 'n old lace china doll, and was exceptionally fastidious when it came to social graces, whereas Mary was the opposite in every way -- boisterously happy, wonderful big grin, engulfing bear-hugs, -- warmth exuded from her eyes and her whole being, from her muddy "Wellies" to her old wool jacket worn for gardening. Marion didn't garden -- but she picked flowers, did fine "fancy work" and kept family notes in tiny, perfect handwriting.

I can only imagine the pain those two went through for many, many years although within the family I never once heard a single insulting word or comment made about them by anyone -- they were always and simply Aunt Marion and Aunt Mary who lived together forever. Believe me, I listened to every adult converstation I could, nosey I was -- but there was never anything uncomplimentary said about either of them.

Despite that, I think they suffered. I think that because I remember being at a family funeral a few years back, when they were still in the house in Perth -- before they went into Lanark Lodge -- and at the church luncheon afterward Joe and I were sitting with two of the Sharbot Lake Prentice cousins at a small table while Aunt Marion and Aunt Mary were sitting at a table close to us. These tables seated four and there was a very large crowd shuffling about finding seats to enjoy the sandwiches and tea luncheon. As they all settled in I noticed no one was joining "the aunts" at their table and mentioned to my cousin -- "there's room at Aunt Marion and Mary's table." My cousin looked at me like I was nuts and said, "well . . . . you know . . . . you know how people are . . . . it's sad." I asked her what she was talking about. She looked at me with great surprise and asked, "Didn't you know?" I asked, "Didn't I know what?" . . . . "They're gay . . . . I presumed you knew that . . . . everyone knows that." No, I'd never even given it a thought. Then, I looked over at these two lovely, very elderly ladies and felt my heart fall. They continued to sit alone, quietly sipping on their tea, while people who couldn't find a seat, stood.

I started watching them closely and only then noticed how all the other good church folk just sort of steered a bit clear of them. Many of course had to smile as they walked close to them, but no one stopped to chat with them and no one sat with them although there was not likely a single soul in that room who didn't know them -- the only two empty chairs in the room were at their table. I felt sick. Joe and I got up and went over and sat with them and drove them home as soon as we finished our damned tea -- all four of us were happy to get away from the now-obvious poisoned air of the People of God. That was the one and only time their being gay was ever mentioned or spoken of that I heard -- my cousins didn't find any problem with it, which is likely why they never mentioned it, but neither did they find any problem with the way the rest of the gathered Good Folk were acting -- they'd probably seen it before. I suspect these ladies had long ago learned to deal with this atmosphere and I suspect they spent a lot of time in that little stone house alone and didn't become all church-involved like the other small town elderly ladies seem always to become. They kept to themselves and were greatly respected by their nearest neighbours and much loved by all my cousins and before that by their parents, my uncle James Prentice and his wife Marjorie.

Marion and Mary lived in peace and happiness together until the end of their days. When I last saw them, visiting at Gravestone of Marion McLean
Gravestone of Marion McLean.
their home in the old stone post office in downtown Perth, we were served tea in the front parlor, prepared by "their girl", and Marion gave me all of her family news clippings for the family history -- she had kept all neatly for years in a small book.

In their last years, grand-niece Linda Prentice Bush of Sharbot Lake became their main family caretaker. After they became residents of the Lanark Lodge, niece Linda Prentice Bush and her sister Lorna Prentice Duncan were suddenly removed as her executors and a new strange name appeared on a brand new Last Will. Marion died in 1996 and up to the summer of 2009 we grand nieces were still trying to have her date of death inscribed on her gravestone -- the one she bought and paid for herself, had her name and date of birth engraved -- all that was left was the date of death to be engraved. The executor, as of this writing (2009) still "hasn't got around to it" and refuses to allow family to pay to have this done.

Proud of perfecting every last detail, this seems a final insult to a gentle lady whose life was tied up with little bits of perfect -- from her neat home to her lace collar pinned with a perfect cameo. She is buried near her parents in the Lanark Village Cemetery; the place of burial of her lifelong companion "Aunt Mary" is unknown, what is known is that Mary Dunnett died within a year of Marion's death.

Marion Kathleen McLean
Marion Kathleen McLean.


Perth Courier, 6 March 1903: "Lanark Links: A young daughter has come to brighten the home of Mr. & Mrs. J.G. McLean."

Lanark Era, 1982: Article on the Lanark Village Museum: "The Christening robe of beautiful wool cashmere, handworked by Mrs. J.G. McLean for her baby daughter Marion McLean, in 1903, months of work to be sure - a labour of love - is a delight to behold. The christening was performed by Rev. D.C. McIntosh."

Perth Courier, June 14 1929: "Perth Teacher Engaged Nearer Home - Miss Marion McLean of the Brighton High School staff, daughter of Mr. & Mrs. J.G. McLean of Perth, has been engaged as teacher in English, Literature, Geography, History and Composition at the Smiths Falls Collegiate Institute in place of Miss Elsie McBride who recently resigned, and will begin her new duties in September. The salary will be $1800 per annum."



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