Dorothea Deans: “Women’s Editor”

Group of Women at Bognor Hall. Date Unknown. Courtesy of The Grey Roots Archival Collection

We digress in this blog to shine a light on the woman who wrote the biography of  Christopher Alexander Fleming of Owen Sound, Ontario.  C.A. was a much loved and distinguished educator, auditor, and publisher in Grey and Bruce Counties.  After he died in April 1945, the Fleming family engaged Dorothea Deans to memorialize C.A.’s life and character. Dorothea, the women’s editor for the Sun Times in Owen Sound for over 20 years, was a perfect choice: She wrote well – her prose was warm, clear, and concise;  she had known C.A. thorough her work; and she had lived in that port city most of her life.

Family members would have provided Dorothea C.A.’s writings and correspondence, along with papers he and his cousin Roy Fleming had collected on family history. She must have interviewed many family members and business colleagues, and she could research many of his accomplishments in the newspapers.  In the first paragraph of the foreword, she laid out the scope of the work and nature of her subject carefully and reverentially.

This sketch of the life of Christopher Alexander Fleming is in no way an attempt at an interpretation of a man and his period. He is too close in time for that and too dear to family and friends to need translation. Rather, it is a record of facts about his hereditary background, his youth, and his long, productive years, gathered together like the photographs of an album, the acts of a play, the blueprints of a building. Somewhere, within the facts and the intangible things they imply, love and beauty, work and sacrifice, truth and aspiration, is the immortal personality. [1]

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Owen Sound in the 1850s

Jennie Fleming, the youngest of the Fleming family who settled in 1850 at Kilsyth, Derby Township, had deep memories of her pioneer days.

“As a frequent visitor in the early days to Owen Sound, Derby’s market place, she saw this hamlet on the arm of Georgian Bay grown from a little village of Sydenham into the thriving commercial town and city of Owen Sound. She sometimes recalled the fact that at first on entering the town she had to cross the Sydenham River on a log where the Second Avenue bridge [sic] now stands, and walk deep in mire on the main part of Poulett Street.”(1) [Roy Fleming, 1942]

Roy Fleming more than once recalled that in Owen Sound’s early days his Aunt Jennie crossed the Sydenham River by traversing – very carefully, we might surmise – a felled log, and then in town having to deal with the muck of the main street. One can imagine Jennie, a vital woman who lived into her nineties, reflecting on the changes she had witnessed since her arrival to the forested wilderness – walking long distances as a teenager, driving horse-drawn buggies on gravel-covered roads in her twenties, travelling by express trains to Toronto in her seventies.

Felled trees probably served as bridges in more than one spot – and in those years the tree could be at least three feet in width and easily tall enough to reach from bank to bank.  In 1841, according to Paul White in Owen Sound: The Port City, it was possible to cross the Sydenham River on the west side of town by tree. He wrote, “The only easily accessible crossing was to the south of the new community, at the present day site of the mill dam on 2nd Avenue West. Here, a tree had been felled and travellers could pass over the river by walking on the bridge created by the fallen log.”  (2)

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