Life and Work
Grace’s parents, Hugh Henderson Stewart and Barbara Clelland (Allison) Stewart were both born in Scotland. Grace’s father was born in Tradeston, near the city centre of Glasgow and adjacent to the River Clyde, which intersects the city. However, his family was a recent arrival to the city from Acharacle, Argyll in the Scottish Highlands. Grace’s mother, Barbara Stewart, was born in Lanark County, Scotland, an area just south-east of Glasgow, and grew up in Bishopbriggs, Glasgow.
Hugh Stewart worked on a farm in the Barrhead area of Glasgow and there that Hugh and Barbara met while she was delivering milk to farms in the Glasgow area. When the two married in Barrhead, Scotland, on July 6th, 1906, they decided that the open spaces and freedom described by family and friends already in Canada were too much to ignore, and they settled on immediately travelling to Canada to begin their life together.
The couple arrived in Canada not long after their marriage and set their sights on the west, specifically Alberta. Hugh’s brother, John Stewart and his wife Jean, had already made the journey to Canada and had taken root in the New Norway area, and it was to that locale that the couple travelled. At first, Hugh and Barbara Stewart stayed with John and Jean, but after Barbara voiced her misgivings about a future life on a farm, the couple with John’s help, began their search for another opportunity.
A piece of land in Wetaskiwin, west of the water tower was purchased. John helped the couple build their new home. Not long after they settled in Wetaskiwin, on June 9th, 1907, Grace Scott Stewart was born. Her brother, Allan, was born the following year, in 1908, then in 1912, Grace gained a sister, Flora, and in 1925, she gained an additional brother, Hugh, completing the Stewart family.
The Stewart family worked hard to create their new home and soon attained a comfortable place within the community. The family joined the Knox Presbyterian Church which had been built in 1893 by Scottish settlers. The church was the first one to be built in Wetaskiwin and quickly became a keystone of the community. It provided an opportunity for new members of the community to integrate and feel welcome. For the first few years the Methodists in the region attended the Presbyterian Church as well until the Methodist Church was built in 1895. The two churches remained closely linked and in 1925 when the two churches joined to form the United Church, the Presbyterian Church was used to house both congregations.
At a young age, Grace was an active member of the Knox Presbyterian Church, and belonged to the Chickadee Choir, in addition to being a consistent presence at Sunday School. When a Canadian Girls in Training (C.G.I.T) chapter started in Wetaskiwin, Grace immediately joined. When Grace was sixteen, she attained the position of secretary, and by the time she was eighteen, she was president of the group. As a member of the group, Grace took part in activities intended to prepare girls for adulthood by cultivating four vital areas in life: the physical, the spiritual, the intellectual, and the social. Through the group, Grace took part in various activities such as nature hikes and socials.
Grace was no stranger to hard work, and it showed in her schoolwork. She excelled at school, even having one of her essays, “The Growth of Parliament,” chosen to be published in the Wetaskiwin Times. As Grace was a bright student, no one was surprised when she graduated from the Alexandra Public School in Wetaskiwin and announced her decision to attend Normal School to earn her teaching certificate. Grace was accepted into the Camrose Normal School and began her studies on October 3rd, 1927, graduating on June 3rd, 1928. Grace taught at several rural schools, including Nashville, Fairybank, and Rosebrier. Grace’s dedication and pride in her work that so marked her personality proved to make her an exceptional teacher.
In December of 1929, Grace accompanied her sister Flora on a visit to Lemuel and Edna Mellett’s, for whom Flora had babysat. In addition to Flora and Grace, Lem’s sister, Bessie and his brother Robert Spencer, or ‘Spen’ as he was typically called, were visiting. When the night wound to a close, Spen offered to drive Grace and Flora home. Spen and Grace hit it off and when Spen learned that Grace taught at the Rosebrier School he offered to drive Grace to her lodgings with a local Rosebrier family, at the beginning of the week and to collect her at the end of the week to return her to Wetaskiwin. Thus began the courtship, or the “driving courtship” as Spen referred to it.
On June 9th, 1931, Grace and Spen were married in Edmonton, Alberta. The two promptly set out for their honeymoon to Banff, Alberta. When Spen and Grace returned to Wetaskiwin to begin their new life together they moved into the flat above the Mellett Sheet Metal Works, which was owned and operated by Spen. The couple would remain in the flat for many years. On March 19, 1932 Barbara Anna Mellett was born and on April 9, 1933 William Robert Mellett (Bill) was born. Grace quickly fell into her role as mother and homemaker keeping house above the young family’s tinsmith business in downtown Wetaskiwin.
Despite her busy life, Grace always found time for her correspondence. She maintained contact with friends from her childhood and from her days at Normal School as well as family members in Scotland. Her family regarded Grace as the family correspondent. During the war years, Grace and her mother would send care packages to family members in Scotland who were under severe food rationings. Boxes filled with Christmas cakes, shortbread, canned foods, including Prem, candies and tea were sent to help alleviate the strain caused by the wartime rationing. One relative wrote to tell Grace that the care package provided them with their Christmas dinner.
In 1932, Grace and Spen made the decision to purchase a lot at Crystal Springs on Pigeon Lake. The following summer a cottage was built on the lot. For the first few years, the visits to the lake were brief and typically involved weekends and holidays. Later, when Barbara and Bill were in school, and the school term ended, Grace and the children would spend the summer months at the cottage, with Spen making the trip on weekends and holidays. Raising a family in the confined space above the family’s tinsmith business was challenging, and the cottage at the lake became a summer haven for the family to relax and enjoy the outdoors. The cottage would continue to be a favourite holiday spot for the family and especially for Grace, who in her later years enjoyed sitting in front of the cabin viewing and listening to the songbirds. It remains a family possession and summer retreat.
Throughout the years, Grace’s involvement in the church never wavered. Her involvement during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s was particularly strong. She was a long time member of both the Women’s Association and the Women’s Missionary Society when the two organizations joined in 1962 to become the United Church Women. Grace served as secretary in 1947-48 and as group leader and president for the Women’s Association in 1955-56, and as president for the Women’s Missionary Society before the unification of the two groups. After the two groups combined, Grace also served as president of the United Church Women. In addition to her involvement with the United Church Women, Grace was a member of the Red Deer Presbyterial United Church Women and functioned as secretary in 1962 and was elected president of the Presbytery of Women Association in the same year. In addition, she served as secretary of the Women’s Inter-church Council for over twenty years.
While a member of the Women’s Association, Grace took part in many fundraising events, such as the Doll Committee, in which she and other members made doll clothes to sell to raise funds for the church. Later, as a member of the United Church Women’s Association, Grace along with her group were kept especially busy catering for events around the county which included weddings, funerals, graduations, as well as other major events. As secretary of the United Church Women, Grace took minutes, ordered materials, and assisted in the planning of the World Day of Prayer. Grace was notably dedicated to the United Church and was recognized for her dedication on several occasions. In 1961, the United Church’s Women’s Missionary Society honoured Grace as a Life Member of the group. In the following year, the United Church recognized Grace for her involvement yet again by honouring her as a Life Member of the Church. Grace was also publicly acknowledged for her twenty years of service in the Inter-Church Council.
Grace was well known by friends and family for her expertise in the kitchen, and she was always ready with a varied selection of treats when company arrived. Grace’s daughter, Barbara, remembers her mother spending hours at a time making bread, cookies, cakes, and all manner of desserts, much to the delight of her family members and friends. For many years, the Melletts would host a New Year’s Day holiday gathering for the extended family. Grace and Spen would welcome their relatives into their home to enjoy a truly memorable meal. When Grace was not caring for her family or occupied by her many church responsibilities, Grace also enjoyed needle crafts. Grace became accomplished in sewing, knitting, tatting, crocheting, and embroidery work, creating wonderful pieces. Reading was another delight and one she cherished, her choices eclectic and encompassing.
One event that held a special place in Grace’s memory was Spen and Grace’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. The golden celebration took place on June 9th, 1981 at Pigeon Lake and was attended by the Mellett’s many friends and family. The couple were honoured by those most dear to them and received congratulations from the Governor General, the Lieutenant Governor, the Premier of Alberta, and the Prime Minister, much to the delight of Spence and Grace. Sadly, Spen passed away in August of 1984.
After Spen’s death, Grace continued to live in the flat she had occupied with her husband for many happy years. However, due to concern from family members about her safety, she made the decision to leave the flat. In 1985 after fifty-four happy years, Grace moved into an apartment in the Legion Arms. It was not long before Grace made a new home for herself, making friends with some of the other residents. She remained at the Legion Arms until her health began to fail in 1990. Sadly, Grace passed away on March 20, 1993 in the Long Term Care facility at the Wetaskiwin Hospital.
Compiled in 2011.
Sources: United Church Books I and III, Anniversary Church History 1893-1973, Barbara Dorosh, Oriole Wilson