Martha (Fallow) McMullen




Life and Work

Martha (Mattie) Fallow was born in New Richmond Quebec, on January 24, 1893, the seventh daughter of John Gavin and Janet (McKenzie) Fallow, who relocated their family to Red Deer in 1910. Mattie took a business course at the Sprott-Shaw Business College. She then worked as bookkeeper and stenographer for Fleischman's Yeast Company, Calgary.

Mattie loved to sing, and she attended whatever church had the most active choir, including Calgary's First Baptist Church, on 4th Street and 13th Avenue SW. She also took singing lessons from Madame Ellis-Brown in Calgary and participated in numerous musical operettas and presentations.

In 1918, with both her parents recently passed away, she moved to Nordegg where she lived with her sister and brother-in-law, Mary and Dunc Stewart, at 37 Elizabeth Street. She worked as Brazeau Collieries Stenographer and, later, as Secretary to the General Manager.

In 1923, after the Stewart family had left Nordegg, Mattie moved into the duplex at the minesite which, that same year, had been converted from the original Alberta Provincial Police jail and barracks to a residence for Nordegg's single working females, such as teachers, nurses, and office workers.

Mattie also loved to skate, and to ride horses. Fortunately, she also enjoyed taking pictures, and she collected a number of photos of life in early Nordegg. She travelled a great deal of the area on her horse, Dolly, including swimming her horse across the North Saskatchewan River near the area now known as Preacher's Point. During a time in history when women were expected to be very proper, with their lives severely restricted by customs and expectations, Mattie continued to live her life as she chose, doing things she loved. And life in Nordegg helped to foster that type of freedom. This need for freedom to choose her own path is a trait Mattie has passed on to her female descendants, now reaching to a fourth generation.

Mattie and her sister, Mary, both taught Sunday School at the Protestant Church. They encouraged these classes to save pennies until there was enough money to purchase a train bell, which then was installed in the church steeple. She continued to be involved in everything that was musical in nature, including singing in the church choir and actively participating in the British concert tradition.

During the first 20 years of Nordegg's existence, ethnic societies and groups had been formed. This gave people a feeling of solidarity - of belonging somewhere - a very necessary personal connection in a land as large and sparsely populated as Canada, in the early years of the 20th century.

The British society, following the trends of British Ontario and of London, England, undertook to produce major musical theatre presentations. Performers, Orchestra Members, and Technical Crew all were British; costumes were elaborate and productions were challenging. When the preparation was complete, the production was presented to all Nordegg people.

In this way, a continuing interest in the arts, music in particular, was fostered among all the townspeople. During the middle years of the town's existence, this concert tradition continued to be part of Nordegg life, embracing all ethnic groups. Mattie was one of a core group of Nordegg women and men who encouraged young people to participate in such activities.

This strong interest in music, fostered among Nordegg's young people, meant that a Music Teacher was considered a requirement in Nordegg. Usually this was a Nordegg resident who had had extensive musical training. However, in the late 1930s, the demand for training resulted in a full-time music teacher, Evelyn Mosley (Norman), being hired from "the outside world," and relocated to Nordegg.

Through this strong interest in music, Mattie met Arthur (Mac) McMullen, who had come from Whitehaven district in England in 1926, to work at the mines in Nordegg. Mac was an accomplished pianist. He was called upon to direct the orchestra formed to accompany the British musical theatre productions.

During the years of the 1920s when Mac was in Nordegg, the organist at the Protestant Church asked him to handle the music for special occasions, such as Harvest Festival and Christmas.

By 1927, Mac had moved from the boarding house, to "batch" with a few other single men, which included the druggist and the school principal. The house they had rented was across Stuart Street from the United Church. On the evenings that regular choir practice was scheduled, Mac was able to see when the church lights were turned out - his cue to get outside if he was going to be able to talk to Mattie.

In 1928, Mattie Fallow and Arthur McMullen were married in St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Cathedral, in Edmonton. By that time, Mac was Brazeau Collieries' Mining Engineer and, as a member of Senior Management, the couple were assigned a home on Marcelle Avenue. One of the first items moved into their new home was their upright baby grand piano, purchased by Mattie a few years earlier.

Mattie and Mac had two children, both born in Nordegg: Margaret Anne, January 13th, 1934, and Arthur Edward, April 27th, 1937.

The love of things musical continued unabated and, in 1936, when a Catholic Church was built in Nordegg, Mac became the organist, while Mattie led the choir. Among strong Nordegg memories held by their children is that of falling asleep on Saturday nights to the sound of a group of people singing around the piano in the living room.

Both children began music lessons at an early age, and were involved in musical activities of the town. Although neither committed to music as their major focus in life, both remained heavily involved with it.

Following the example set for them by Mattie and Mac, both children had a piano in their own homes after they married, and their children also were given a musical background.

The youngest grandchild of Mattie and Mac McMullen, Patrick Belliveau, has carried the tradition of music even further by becoming a professional musician (saxophone), with an international reputation as a jazz instrumentalist and performer.

Martha (Fallow) McMullen died in hospital, in Calgary, on March 17th, 1976. She is buried beside her husband, Arthur McMullen (1991), in the Red Deer cemetery. Their tombstone depicts the mountains of Nordegg, and the Church to which they gave so much in the way of music.

And the strong tradition of music, developed and nourished among all Nordegg people, lives on under many guises.