In Search of Velma Brown [Moore]’s Toronto Days

Velma Jane Moore, Winifred Barnstead, Winnifred Reynolds in Toronto, 1921

Our Starting Point

I’m going to start the search for my grandmother’s Toronto days with my mother’s account:

I never knew that Velma lived in Toronto until I saw pictures of her Toronto days. I assume she went there after graduating from Dalhousie. An article in a New Brunswick local paper about Ronald [Brown] and Velma’s visit to Ronald’s Aunt Ann Worden during their honeymoon says that Velma was a graduate of Ontario University Library School. She then worked at the Toronto Public Library. A picture of her and the head of the department she worked in said 1919-1922 on the back. . . . I don’t know if those are the years she worked under the woman or the years she worked at the library. Velma attended a Bible class from 1920-1921. Velma had a very good friend, Winnifred Reid (married name) and fellow worker at the Library. Winnifred and her husband, Jim, ended up in Hamden, Connecticut, where Winnifred worked in the reference department of the Yale Library. They and Ronald and Velma visited back and forth through the years. I used to take Liz to visit them when we lived in New Haven. I don’t know when Velma left Toronto or if she spent time in Economy before going to the States.1

As you can see, there were significant periods of Velma’s life that her descendants knew nothing about until we had the opportunity to go through The Family Archives when my mother’s sister Margaret died in 2009.

Jim Reid, Baby Liz, Winnifred Reynolds Reid, Hamden, Connecticut, 1956

Leaving Economy

After Velma’s brief career as a teacher in Colchester County, Nova Scotia from September 1918 – June 19192, she was hired as an assistant in the Cataloguing Division of the Toronto Public Library in Ontario, the only assistant hired in 1919.3 At a distance of over 1,000 miles, the move from Economy to Toronto would have been no small undertaking for a young woman of twenty-two in 1919. Finishing the school year at Colchester West on June 30, 1919, she would have moved to Toronto sometime between July and December of that year.

The immediate question, of course is, why? Weren’t there libraries in Nova Scotia? With a little digging, I soon learned that Ontario was at the forefront of public library development in Canada at that time; Ontario was also at the forefront of library training, along with McGill University in Montreal.4

The Dalhousie Connection

Also in the frame are two Dalhousie University connections, which I suspect may have prompted the move to Toronto. The Winnifred Reid my mother mentions in her account of Velma’s Toronto days was Winnifred Reynolds before her marriage, one of Velma’s Dalhousie friends. Winnifred graduated from Dalhousie with the Class of 1919.5  She worked as a cataloguer at the Toronto Public Library from 1920-1922.6

Velma’s boss at the library, Winifred Barnstead, was also a Dalhousie University graduate, Class of 1906.7 In reading about the history of Canadian librarianship in the first part of the twentieth century, I discovered that Ms. Barnstead was a very influential figure.8 Velma learned from the best!

Winifred Barnstead, Velma’s Boss in the Cataloguing Department of the Toronto Public Library from 1919-1922

Winnifred Reynolds Reid

Winnifred’s critique in the Dalhousie Gazette shows her to have much in common with Velma; it’s easy to see how they would have been friends:

Stately and dignified, in cap and gown with a scroll in her hand, Winifred [sic] Reynolds will not be recognized by many. Quiet, but nevertheless possessing a deep sense of humor, Winnie was exceedingly well liked by those who knew her, but she was hard to get acquainted with. She took her studies seriously with good results.9

As my mother’s account indicates, Winnifred continued her career as a librarian. I found her listed in the 1955 edition of Who’s Who in Library Service10:

Winnifred retired in 1964 as the Head cataloger and Research Associate at the Yale Law School Library.11

More to come about Velma’s Toronto days! I’m also sorting through information about the public library system in Toronto that might be interest to other family historians looking for social context for ancestors who lived in Toronto in the early part of the twentieth century.


For additional information:

Oral history of Winifred Barnstead, recorded at the University of Toronto in 1974, the year she died: https://play.library.utoronto.ca/aUBKrGlYlUZY

Article describing Winifred’s Barnstead’s role in the establishment of librarianship education at the University of Toronto: https://www.exlibris.ca/lib/exe/fetch.php?media=wiki:newsletters:elan_special_summer_2004.pdf


1Kay Brown Gauffreau, “The Ancestry & Life of Velma Jane Moore Brown” (unpublished manuscript, December 2013), 25-26.

2E-mail from Harold Stewart, Little White Schoolhouse Museum, Truro, NS 11/19/17.

3Annual Report – Toronto Public Library, 33rd ed. (Toronto: Armac Press, 1920), 74.

4Mary Ellen Quinn, Historical Dictionary of Librarianship (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), 72.

5“Convocation,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 11, 12, 13 (July 11, 1919): 11.

6Dorothy Ethlyn Cole, ed., Who’s Who in Library Service: A Biographical Directory of Professional Librarians of the United States and Canada, 3rd ed. (New York: Grolier Society, 1955), 404.

7“History: Biographies,” Ex Libris Association, last modified February 10, 2016, accessed October 14, 2018, https://www.exlibris.ca/doku.php?id=history:biographies:barnstead_k.

8 Diane Henderson, “University of Toronto: Faculty of Information Studies,” ELAN: Ex Libris Association Newsletter, Summer 2004, 8-9.

9“Critique,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 11, 12, 13 (July 11, 1919): 7.

10Cole, Who’s Who in Library, 430.

11American Association of Law Libraries, Biographical Directory of Law Librarians in the United States and Canada (St. Paul, MN: West Pub., 1964), [snippet view accessed in Google Books].

8 thoughts on “In Search of Velma Brown [Moore]’s Toronto Days

    • Yes, it is, and I’m enjoying being able to provide her with additional information to help fill in some missing pieces. The work she did to put all of the family history together into two coherent documents was a huge task.

      Liked by 1 person

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