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Margaret MacLean Before The ROM

by Celio H. Barreto

· Canadian connections,Margaret MacLean,Yokohama,Russo-Japanese War,Japanese Red Cross

Margaret MacLean Before The ROM

Adapted from "Margaret Sarah MacLean", Chapter 3 of Celio H. Barreto's 2017 FPPCM MA Thesis:
Unfolding Margaret MacLean's Orihon-format Scrapbook in The Royal Ontario Museum collection: A focus on Context, Preservation and Access.

Margaret MacLean was a pathfinder. In 1918 she became The Royal Ontario Museum's first Official Museum Guide, and perhaps the first female Museum Educator in Canada. She developed object-based learning methods to bring the museum collections to life, and she did pioneering work with students and visitors with disabilities. Her work focused on the relevance of museum collections to the people of Ontario. She transformed the museum's education mandate to serve students across the province at a time when The ROM served U of T students primarily. She was admired and respected for her contributions to the museum, her knowledge, and story-telling gifts. Newspapers and magazines of the time celebrated her professional achievements and education work. This is the Margaret MacLean in history books.

Margaret MacLean (left) and visiting class of school children, c. 1922.
The Margaret MacLean Fonds,The Royal Ontario Museum.

There is another Margaret MacLean of whom very little is known prior to her work at The ROM. She was adventurous, bold, curious and observant; intelligent, determined and persevering. I have attempted to cast some light into her earlier life by reading her scrapbook, researching her family's public record and learning about the geopolitical context of her time. Here then, is a brief glance at Margaret MacLean before her brilliant career at The ROM.

Gelatin silver photograph (detail) of Margaret MacLean, in Anamori-Inari Shrine, Haneda, Japan, 1904.

Margaret MacLean Orihon-format Scrapbook, The Royal Ontario Museum.

Margaret was born in Cornwall, Ontario, to Alexander MacLean and Sara Smith on December 13th of 1871. She was their only daughter, and the middle child out of seven kids. Her father was a successful businessman, of Scottish descent. Soon after Margaret was born the family moved to Ottawa. There Mr. MacLean bought and ran the Ottawa Times for nearly 10 years before establishing The Canadian Granite Company in the 1880s.

Image of the MacLean home at 910 Bank as it appeared long after its sale in 1925 from a postcard.
"910 Bank Street Road, The History of a House built in the Suburbs of Ottawa in 1876" By Ken Elder, Heritage Ottawa Newsletter, October 2014 Volume 41, No. 4.

He built a large Gothic Revival home on a generous plot of land on Bank Street Road, just south of Ottawa proper in Nepean. Margaret was around 10 years old at this time, but had had very little formal schooling. By her own account, she received only 5 years of elementary education, learning her ABCs at the age of ten. A hand-written comment by MacLean on a Japanese society lady’s wedding photograph reproduced on a Canadian magazine suggest that Margaret attended a very good school nonetheless.

Magazine clipping of Japanese Consul General to Canada, Tatsugoro Nosse's daughter and her new husband in 1908.
Inscription reads " a bride educated in same school as I was".
Margaret MacLean Orihon-format Scrapbook, The Royal Ontario Museum.

In 1891 at the age of 19, she was living at home with her youngest brothers who were half her age. It is possible that a domestic role may have been expected of her as the only daughter, despite the fact that the family had two live-in maids. Accounts remark that Margaret was a voracious reader, no doubt influenced by her father and her older brother who were journalists. While she may not have had a formal education, she educated herself.

A memorial plaque in the ROM’s Canadiana collection commemorates Margaret MacLean’s visit to the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. She may have gone there with members of her family. It was at this World Expo that the electric railway was introduced to NorthAmerican audiences. In the late 1890s Alexander MacLean would play a major role in installing the finest electric railway transportation system in Canada in the city of Ottawa.

Rideau Street 1898 with streetcar.
Library and Archives Canada/C-001109

Her mother, Sarah MacLean (neé Smith), died in 1897, when Margaret was about 26 years old. It appears that Margaret took on the role of looking after the household and her aging father’s ill health. Margaret was given the Bank Street house in 1899. She was an active participant in her community, recognized by The Ladies Aid Societies at Stewarton Church and The Women’s Missionary Society in Nepean, Ottawa. They honoured her with a valuable token of their appreciation for her work with young missionaries before departing for Japan in 1904. This event is published in an area newspaper, datable to May of 1904, making it one of the oldest 20th Century items in the Japanese Scrapbook.

News clipping of presentation to Margaret MacLean before her leaving for Japan in 1904.
Margaret MacLean Orihon-format Scrapbook, The Royal Ontario Museum.

As for Mr. Alexander MacLean, he had become quite a popular politician, being elected four times to the office of alderman between 1889 and 1902. As mentioned earlier, he was instrumental in the Electric Railway system of Ottawa, and had for many years been a government contractor before that. He was a well known figure in the capital as a journalist, business man, and proud Scott dedicated to the charitable work of the St. Andrew's Society of Ottawa.

St. Andrew's Society of Ottawa, Presidents of St. Andrew's Society of Ottawa, 1909


In 1903 Canadian interest in trade with Japan began to grow. Canada had a very successful participation in the First National Industrial Exhibition in Osaka, where its agricultural, food and technology products were received quite well. Agriculture Minister Mr. Sydney Fisher, reported right away to Ottawa the great success Canadian bread (wheat) had had at the fair. Upon his return, he made a case for the great trade potential with Japan to senior government officials in Wilfried Laurier’s Cabinet:

“The use of bread is becoming more common every year among the Japanese and this demonstration [at Osaka] of the superiority and relative economy of Canadian hard wheat flour has laid the foundation of what will, in a few years, become an enormous trade, not only with Japan, but throughout the far east generally.”

Fisher reported to the newly appointed Governor General of Canada, the Earl Grey on the great demand for Canadian wheat in Japan. This fuelled hopes and dreams for economic growth. Such high demand for Canadian wheat from 45,000,000 Japanese people would prove to be a most bountiful and profitable venture. It would finally justify the expensive and currently unsustainable transcontinental railway two-fold: first, it would be the logistical link to move wheat to the western ports for export to Asia, and two, it would be the transportation system that would bring new European immigrants to settle the vast prairies where they would grow the coveted wheat for Asia.

Expectations were highly optimistic and quickly grew like wild fire once the Special Japanese Envoy to Canada, Nosse Tatsugoro reinforced these views with his own. He stated that Japanese people were leaving behind their traditional diet of rice and choosing to eat bread more often. At the time, Japan’s impressive rate of westernization and modernization made claims like these entirely plausible. It was decided that same year that the fastest way to get these new trade links established was to forgo government to government treaties, and send Trade Agents to foster direct trade on behalf of Canadian businesses. It is under this momentum that Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier appoints Alexander MacLean as Trade Agent to Japan in November of 1903.

Internal Memorandum appointing Alexander MacLean as Commercial Agent to Japan, November 19th, 1903.
Library and Archives Canada

Japan had been forcibly opened up to international trade by U.S. Commodore Perry in 1854. Unequal treaties with the United States were followed by other unequal treaties with European powers, among them the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Germany and others. Japan already had a tightly controlled and regulated trading post with the Dutch at Deshima Island in Nagasaki Bay since the early 1600s. Japan was well aware of the disastrous consequences unequal treaties and European imperialistic ambitions had wrecked on China and other Asian neighbours.

The Commodore meets the Shogunate /

By the early 1890s Japan had modernized dramatically and renegotiated most of the unequal treaties as it sought equal standing on the geopolitical stage. In 1894 and 1895 it fought a war with China, defeating that country’s armed forces and making territorial gains on the mainland and Taiwan. In 1894 Japan and the United Kingdom signed the comprehensive Alliance Treaty. Its first article provided for the right of subjects from either nation to travel to, do business in, migrate and establish themselves freely in any of either empire’s home islands and territories. Canada flatly refused to be a signatory party, effectively excluding itself from the Alliance treaty. It can be said that Japanese migrants were neither welcome nor wanted in Canada at the time.

Anglo Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation 16 July 1894.

By World Imaging [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or
GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

In spite of these discriminatory conditions, Japanese and Canadians engaged in commercial activities privately and directly. Many Japanese companies established trading networks with Canadian counterparts on their own initiative and vice versa. The Canadian Pacific Railway Company had won a contract to deliver mail from the United Kingdom to Hong Kong in the 1880s. This prompted it to build a new fleet of fast steamships to sail between Vancouver and Hong Kong via Yokohama and Shanghai. This line would eventually grow to include other ports of call in Japan, China and The Philippines.

Along with the RMS Empress of China and RMS Empress of India, this fleet Vancouver - Yokohama route from 1891 to 1922.
"Canadian Pacific Railway R.M.S. "Empress of Japan" passing out of First Narrows",
City of Vancouver Archives, Major Matthews Collection, AM54-S4-: Bo P11.

In 1891 the first of the new luxurious mail ships, The Empress of Japan entered service. Her sister ships, The Empress of India and The Empress of China, followed suit in the next three years. These ships crossed the pacific in an impressive ten days, and made it possible for a traveler in London to reach Hong Kong in about 22 days traveling exclusively on the Canadian Pacific Railway Company’s rail and ship transportation network.

A 1902 map of CPR's global transportation network.
Westward to the Far East, Eliza R. Scidmore, Canadian Pacific Railways.

On February 8th, 1904, two days after diplomatic relations between Japan and Russia were broken off, the Russo-Japanese War broke out after a surprise Japanese attack at Port Arthur. The Canadian government felt even stronger about pushing for trade with Japan, as it would need to feed its people and its army during this new conflict. Alexander MacLean believed that war time embargoes would not affect Canadian trade with Japan, as the war was not taking place on Japanese soil. MacLean and many others in Canada believed that as Japan modernized, appetite for western foods and agricultural products would increase. With this mindset in place the MacLeans left for Yokohama.

Gelatin silver photograph of a CPR RMS Empress Ship at the Yokohama Pier.
Margaret MacLean Orihon-format Scrapbook, The Royal Ontario Museum.

Alexander and Margaret MacLean likely arrived in Yokohama on May 16th, 1904 aboard CPR's luxurious RMS Empress of India. Their first place of residence based on inbound correspondence dated August 17th, 1904; was The Bluff Hotel at No. 2 Bluff, on the hills overlooking the older foreigner’s district known as The Settlement. Alexander MacLean’s offices were located at No. 14 Bund street, on the same premises of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company and the Chamber of Commerce. It was just two doors down from where Felice Beato's studio was located in the 1860s and 1870s. Baron Raimund Von Stillfried would take over the studio in the 1870s and 1880s. From the1880s to the 1890s Adolfo Farsari set up his studio at the same address next to the Grand Hotel: No. 16 Bund.


Hand-tinted postcard showing the Canadian Pacific Rail & Company building (left) at 14 Bund, Yokohama, the location of Alexander MacLean's office. The Yokohama Postcard Club Collection. 

Their next place of residence was No. 15 Bluff, further away from The Settlement. They lived here for most of their stay in Yokohama, likely commuting to work by the electric railway inaugurated that same year. Shortly before being reassigned to Shanghai, the MacLeans lived at No. 58 Bluff, overlooking Motomachi-Dori, on the west bank of the canal separating The Bluff from the city. All of their homes were in the affluent neighbourhoods of The Bluff, the home of well-to-do foreign and Japanese residents.

The MacClean's home on the Bluff, marked with "our house" on the top left corner of this Japanese postcard.
Margaret MacLean Orihon-format Scrapbook, The Royal Ontario Museum.

Margaret MacLean joined the Japanese Red Cross’ Foreign Ladies Volunteer Nurses Association in the late spring. Following the example of the Imperial Princes Komatsu, volunteer nurses around the country were rolling bandages for Japanese casualties of war. The Yokohama chapter was no exception, and its members dutifully engaged in this activity at the British Hospital, which had provided them with a room for this purpose. It appears that most foreign volunteer nurses staid in their local chapters, and very few of them actually treated casualties of war in the field or at Japanese hospitals. Margaret MacLean served in the Yokohama chapter from 1904 to 1905.

Collodion silver photograph, Japanese Red Cross’ Foreign Ladies Volunteer Nurses Association Yokohama Chapter at work rolling bandages in the British Hospital, 1904-5. Margaret MacLean Orihon-format Scrapbook, The Royal Ontario Museum.

It is also at this time that the MacLeans begin to receive invitations to high-society functions and parties. In her scrapbook, Margaret sometimes makes notes on important figures she met, Such as The Marquis Ito, Privy Council of The Empire, with comments such as “dressed like this when I met him”. 1905 appears to be one of the busiest years in the MacLeans’ social calendar. The scrapbook contains a number of printed invitations to a number of high-profile Imperial Family parties, receptions for visiting dignitaries and much more. It also contains two articles published in The Globe by Margaret MacLean in June and July of 1905 describing some of these social engagements.

Collodion silver photograph of Japanese Red Cross’ Foreign Ladies Volunteer Nurses Association at reception, July 1905.
Madame Sufu, Mesdames Scidmore, W.K. Wilson, James Walter, C. K. M. Martin, Lichfield, C. V. Sale, Townend, Irving Bell, Barmont, Emerson, Pratt, Frique, Hawkins, Reidhaar, Ritter, Moon, Lowder, Macbeth, Tegner, Eldrige, Misses Scidmore, MacLean, M. E. Tracy, Julia E. Hardy Davis, Manley, R. Martin and Walter.
Margaret MacLean Orihon-format Scrapbook, The Royal Ontario Museum.

Invitation to an important garden party at the American Legation.

Margaret MacLean Orihon-format Scrapbook, The Royal Ontario Museum.

In 1905, Margaret MacLean set off on a four-week visit to China, with the express purpose of experiencing the China not known to non-missionary foreigners. This is a clear statement of her sociological interests. MacLean visited missionaries working in Shanghai and Soochow, and describes in vivid detail her experiences and observations there. Upon her return she focused on writing, and her accounts were published in 1906 as Chinese Ladies at Home. She was engaged in some business deals far way in Ottawa, continued to assist her father, attend official functions and gather photographs and photo postcards in her travels around Japan.

There is one particular dinner they attended at the behest of industrialist Shibuzawa Eichi in November 27th of 1907, being held in honour of Canadian Minister of Labour, Rudolph Lemieux, who was visiting Japan to force that government to curtail Japanese migration to Canada and preserve Canada's friendly relations with both Japan and the British Empires. Lemieux arrived in Japan in the wake of the September 7th, 1907 Vancouver riots.

Letterpress dinner invitation by Eichi Shibuzawa to meet visiting Canadian Labour Minister Rudolph Lemieux.
Margaret MacLean Orihon-format Scrapbook, The Royal Ontario Museum.

White settlers of British Columbia reacted violently when a ship carrying Japanese passengers (some migrants, some en-route to other ports) made call at Vancouver. Consul General Nosse Tatsugoro, who was also Alexander MacLean’s Japanese counterpart in Canada, demanded reparations be made to the injured Japanese. Nosse was a seasoned diplomat with a dual role in Canada, to promote trade between the two countries as Trade Commissioner, but most importantly, to defend and protect Japanese subjects from the at times violent discrimination they suffered in Canada.

Vancouver Riot damage done by the Asiatic Exclusion League to the store of K. Okada, 201 Powell Street.
"When the Geta is on the Other Foot: Xenophobia in the Canadian Immigration Policy Towards Japan, 1907-1908"
Simon Nantais, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 6, Issue 1, January 2008.

A complex web of political compromises permitted racism to inspire new legislation to ban Chinese, Indian and especially Japanese immigrants to Canada, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Continuous Journey Act. The so-called Yellow Peril was gaining strength, and British Columbia passed numerous laws, regulations and measures against non-white and Asian immigrants. Some were aimed at the Japanese in particular, whom were thought to be in direct competition with white economic interests. The Vancouver riots of 1907 against Japanese nationals damaged relations between Japan and Canada, and eventually prevented the dream of profitable trade with that country from materializing. In the wake of these incidents Alexander MacLean was blamed in part for the decline in trade, and dully reassigned to Shanghai.

This was the ultimate irony in many ways. Alexander MacLean had gone on the public record repeatedly to promote more equal relations with Japan and the Japanese. He wanted to promote better business relations, which was his mission, and he consistently spoke in favour the Japanese. On March 2nd, 1908, a disappointed Ottawa replaced MacLean with a certain W.T.R. Preston, "...a kicker and a pusher of approved quality.", in hopes of increasing their commercial profits in Japan. Preston was an aggressive business man whom the Canadian government felt would be better at increasing profits than Alexander MacLean. The myth of the Japan market set unrealistic profit expectations that were never met, and by 1911 all pans to continue growing trade and exports to Japan dissipated with Sir Wilfried Laurier’s death.

Collodion silver photograph of Trade Commissioner Alexander MacLean at his desk with a Japanese guest.
Margaret MacLean Orihon-format Scrapbook, The Royal Ontario Museum.

Once in Shanghai, it appears that Mr. MacLean's health deteriorated to the point where he could not perform his duties, and, according to author John D. Meehan, it was Margaret MacLean who worked in his stead until his death on December 22nd, 1908. Margaret MacLean does not mention this sad event explicitly, but has included a menu from her voyage home on The Empress of China. She has hand-dated it to March 12 1909, a day before her ship docked at Vancouver. An announcement on the Ottawa Journal states that Margaret MacLean held a memorial service for her father at Stewarton Church, in their hometown of Nepean, Ottawa, on March 18th, barely five days after returning to Canada.

Hand-tinted postcard of two ships at the Yokohama Pier.

Margaret MacLean Orihon-format Scrapbook, The Royal Ontario Museum.

Supplemental correspondence found with the scrapbook points to Margaret MacLean relocating to Montreal after her return to Canada, and then travelling around the world before establishing herself in Toronto in 1914, and taking the first steps towards an important career as an educator at The Royal Ontario Museum.

Gelatin silver photograph of Margaret MacLean strolling past a Japanese gentleman in a Yokohama park.
Margaret MacLean Orihon-format Scrapbook, The Royal Ontario Museum.

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