The Klondike Weekly, Dawson City, Yukon Territory

Margaret and Marie

by Darrell Hookey

Originally posted on March 20, 1998

      You would think they would have been friends.

      Marie Joussaye Fotheringham was an eloquent champion of women's rights who had come to Dawson in 1903 to shed light on the turmoil of the working woman. Margaret Mitchell had already assumed those rights and asserted them over any other miner who tried to best her in the rough and ready trade of mining claims. She once spent a night in jail after asserting a lantern upside the head of a male colleague.

      Marie boasted of royal connections in London and the elite of Toronto and Vancouver. It was rumored she was a cousin to Lord Strathcona and a successful author of a book of poetry.

      Margaret was one of the first and most successful women gold miners in Dawson history. She arrived via the Trail of '98 and earned the title of "The Quartz Queen". Yet Marie found Margaret to be as crude as a ... well, as crude as a miner. And Margaret found Marie to be wanting in character.

      It was Marie's less-than-legal financial dealings that earned the ire of Margaret. And it was Margaret's amazing ability to feed and hold a grudge for four years that found one of these pioneer women chasing the other through a dark Dawson City street in 1908. The intended weapon was a lantern.

      Our story begins with Mary Josey, a daughter to a working class family in Belleville, Ontario. She changed her name to Marie Joussaye upon moving to Toronto to pursue a writing career.

      The labour movement of the day recognized the potential to get its message out through Marie's poetry. "Only a Working Girl" was published in the Journal of United Labour in 1886. She was 22 years old.

      Marie was identified as an important leader in the formation of the Working Girls' Union, of which she was president in 1893. In 1895, "Only a Working Girl" was published in her first book, "The Songs That Quinte Sang". The book announced her "allegiance to the Knights of Labour and her defence of working women against the sneers of their social superiors".

      Yet her signature poem was not a mature piece of work. It drew parallels between God, Jesus, royalty and "working girls" and did not promote equality. Instead, it suggested women should respect themselves and be proud of the jobs they do, regardless of how trivial, and just keep working.

      Never having made an appreciable impact within labour or literary circles, Marie moved West. All that is known of these some five years before she travelled to Dawson City is that she wrote three letters to Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier. Her first letter dripped of sincerity and humility as she asked that he pass along a special poem to the Monarch. Her final letter was impatient in tone and bragged of her poems receiving favourable reviews from Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling. She claimed even of receiving a "kind and gracious" response from King Edward VII.

      History next records her arrival in Dawson City with the stretched reputation as a "special writer". However, she told some people she was a journalist writing for Toronto World newspaper and she told others she was gathering material in order to deliver "a course of fully illustrated lectures in London".

      As a writer, she was assured a high position on Dawson City's social ladder.

      She was shown around town by David Fotheringham, a three-year member of the North West Mounted Police and veteran of the Boer War. He resigned his position to marry her November 16, 1903. Marie was 39 years old and David was 29.

      Money was tight for the newlyweds. Yet Marie had secured 35 mining claims on Clear Creek that could be quickly resold to a London syndicate at a considerable profit. All she had to do was to raise $1050 to survey the property to complete the sale.

      Shortly before her wedding, Marie had borrowed $100 from Hannah Muir and had sold a one-eighth share in the venture to Caroline Meredith for $250. Just after the wedding, Marie was given two diamonds by Rose Kirkpatrick. It was agreed Marie would sell them and the funds were to be paid to George White-Fraser, the Dominion Land Surveyor.

      George was never paid and so he never conducted the surveys. Only Rose saw any kind of return -- just $75 for her $600 diamonds -- although Mr. Justice Dugas heard testimony from John Sale that he bought them at a price of $450.

      Both Marie and David testified the entire incident was a misunderstanding. To their profound embarrassment, the jury of six men deliberated only 20 minutes before deciding they were liars. Marie staggered with faint as she was sentenced to two months at hard labour for her crimes. And on that day, as on most days when Marie appeared in court, Margaret Mitchell was on the front steps of the court house laughing and jeering at her.

      Very little was known of Margaret, or "Stampede Maggie" as some called her. It wasn't until her death in 1920 that it was learned she had a son from a common-law marriage in Ottawa, Kansas. Her son was 42 when he attended the funeral of his "Aunt Maggie" and was told at the coffin, "There lies your mother". Shortly later, a daughter, too, was found.

      Margaret didn't earn her fortune the ol' fashioned way. Instead, she would study all the records at the mining recorder's office and uncover valuable properties forfeited through non-representation or non-assessment work. Often her profit would run several thousands of dollars.

      She made it her business to know the mining regulations inside and out just as she knew who had staked claims and who hadn't. This is how Margaret knew Marie had never staked any claims on Clear Creek. It wasn't a "misunderstanding" at all ... Marie Joussaye Fotheringham was a thief.

      Although Marie and David moved to Indian River to homestead and operate a profitable road house, Margaret was always there when she returned to town. Margaret would make faces at her and make loud comments to no one in particular about a certain "diamond thief".

      This behaviour carried on for four years while Marie stubbornly ignored it, hoping to carry on with her new life. England and Toronto World newspaper were no longer mentioned.

      But it happened one night, January 25, 1908, that Margaret went too far.

      From the street she saw Marie sitting at a table in the Thistle Restaurant. Since the restaurant was empty, Margaret went to the window to make faces at her and was routinely ignored once again. When Marie thought she was gone, she went to the door and opened it to find herself less than a metre from Margaret's face and below an upheld lantern (the very same lantern that landed Margaret in jail once before).

      Marie slammed the door. Again she waited until the coast was clear and ventured out to find Mrs. Ericson at the home of Mrs. Sutherland. Once she got to the middle of the street, Margaret could be heard running toward her with the lantern. She found safety in Harrington's Grocery.

      Finally, she made it to Mrs. Sutherland's house only to find Margaret was inside bragging of giving someone a "chase for their life".

      Three days later, both were in court before Mr. Justice Craig as Marie was seeking a bond to force Margaret to keep the peace.

      As both women were not well liked in Dawson City and their hatred for each other was intense, the court session bordered on the ridiculous. Marie exercised her right to question all witnesses (including Margaret) and the resulting exchanges caused the court spectators to be "convulsed time and again in laughter".

      The Dawson Daily News called the hearing a "serio-comedy" and went on to report: "The dramatic personae in the court this morning was quite varied, and of the proper size for the presentation of a drama of quick action and bright and intense dialogue and they provided it for more than an hour."

      Margaret was placed under bonds for $200 to keep the peace for one year. Yet both women were given a lecture and "some wholesome advice" that was not recorded in the court transcripts.

      Until her death 12 years later at the age of 72, Margaret remained mentally and physically spry and active as she continued to collect wealth.

      Marie and David ended up in jail for a month in 1912 for failing to pay their debts. They had argued they were unfairly assessed for taxes as they planned to refurbish a Dawson hotel.

      Marie published a second book of poems, "Selections From Anglo-Saxon Songs" in 1918. In 1924, they moved to Mayo where David built a steamer called Klondyke. Money was still tight and it affected his new business as a five-day trip would sometimes take two weeks to complete since he couldn't afford to buy pre-cut wood along the route. Marie published the Mayo-Keno Bulletin, a semi-weekly newsletter that was as outspoken and unpopular as she was. She moved to Vancouver in 1929 while David remained to work in the mine at Keno Hill until his death in 1936. It is recorded that Marie was present at the funeral. It is the last piece of information available on her until her own death in a Vancouver rooming house March 24, 1949.

      Marie's life was full of disappointments. She was an eloquent and passionate speaker and she was given every opportunity to shine and yet she never quite did. She had dear and close friends who described her as very giving and concerned about those disadvantaged; and yet she had some nasty enemies, too.

      Margaret saw Marie's fall from the favours of Dawson City's social elite and stubbornly refused to allow her to join the company of the working class. As a fervent Imperialist and admirer of anything British, Marie should have known one does not easily jump social classes. She should have stayed true to the working class she professed to admire and support. Despite a false start in Toronto, she could have been a powerful voice for both the women's and labour movements. Perhaps today we would have had a road named after her ... perhaps Margaret and Marie would have been friends.

© 1998-2020 by Darrell Hookey

This article has been provided by Darrell Hookey and The Yukon Reader


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