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social activist and mayor Grace Hartman

by Mary Lue Hinds | January 30, 2002

It all began in 1900 in the town of Markdale, Ontario, where she was born Grace Armstrong, daughter of Mark Armstrong, a manufacturer and magistrate after whom the town was named. Early on, Grace developed the traits of leadership which bloomed throughout her long life. She topped her class scholastically and excelled in athletics, particularly in skating, running and gym. As a very young girl, she organized a group in Markdale to collect salvage during the World War One – salvage of products made of metal was probably one of the earliest attempts at recycling. She was also the youngest ever president of the Young People’s Association at Markdale Methodist Church.

After high school, she enrolled at Victoria College, University of Toronto, where she was president of the Women’s Literary Society and vice-president of her year. Ontario College of Education followed university, after which Grace taught English, French, Latin, Phys Ed and Art at the high school level.

Always interested in other cultures, Grace took a two-year break to travel around the world to see things firsthand. She taught English for a year at a French normal school and French at an English private school. Travelling on to Japan, Grace took lessons in Japanese dancing and made a study of classical drama, all the while teaching others Canadian folk dancing and customs.

In 1938, she married George Hartman, who was superintendent of power plants for International Nickel Company at High Falls, near Sudbury, Ontario. George was a distant cousin and was somewhat older than Grace. Theirs was a wonderful partnership, with George being a strong pillar of support for his wife’s many activities.

Cultural, civic and women’s issues were of particular importance to Grace. In 1943, she became president of the Sudbury Women’s Canadian Club; she organized and was first president of the Women’s Voluntary Services of Sudbury, setting up a canteen for active service personnel near the downtown railway station. They fed and socialized with thousands of servicemen in an average month.

During the summer months of the World Ware Two (1939–1944), she directed a farm service camp for 100 teenage girls on fruit farms in the Niagara district. Because male workers were off at war, women and girls took up the slack in many arenas. It provided income, summer jobs and pride of labouring to provide Britain and Canada with nutritional food.

In 1945, Grace was appointed the first woman member of the Sudbury High School Board, a position she held for five years and an event which marked the beginning of her public service career. In 1950, at the urging of the Sudbury Business and Professional Women’s Club, Grace ran for alderman, topping the polls. She served for 17 years, becoming Sudbury’s first woman controller in 1956, and first woman deputy mayor in 1962. On October 5, 1966, Mayor Max Silverman died in office and Grace was elected mayor by city council.

Mayor Grace Hartman was in place for Sudbury’s centennial celebrations, and she went to work to try “to see Sudbury develop its image along educational and cultural lines, and away from the old picture of a frontier town.” One of her most successful projects was to have an amphitheatre built on a tract of land bordering on Ramsey Lake, which had been given to the citizens on the death of Mrs. W.J. Bell. Grace wanted concerts to be held for young and old, resident and tourist, embracing the cultures of local ethnic groups. To this day, the amphitheatre is the site for the annual Northern Lights Festival Boreal, one of Ontario’s largest folk festivals. In September 2001, through the efforts of many Sudbury women’s groups, it was named The Grace Hartman Amphitheatre – a fitting tribute to Grace.

George Hartman, her strongest supporter, died in 1960. She filled her life with civic works, becoming the second woman president of the Ontario Municipal Association in 1960, the first president of the Sudbury University Women’s Club, president of the Sudbury YWCA, Sudbury Welfare Council, Sudbury Citizenship Council, Sudbury IODE (Nippissing Chapter), Sudbury United Church Women’s Association, Sudbury Progressive Conservative Women’s Association and Sudbury Airport Commission. She served on the board of the Sudbury Public Library, the Sudbury and District Home for the Aged, the Sudbury Business and Professional Women’s Club, the Beta Sigma Phi Sorority and the Royal Ontario Museum.

In 1969, Grace married Arthur Grout, a prominent businessman from Chapleau in northern Ontario. He also supported her full-time public service projects. One of those closest to her heart was encouraging women to run for public office. In 1973 Grace presented an investment certificate to the Sudbury BPW, the interest from which was to be used to help defray “expenses incurred by any Sudbury woman who runs for office for the first time.” During Ontario’s International Women’s Year celebrations in 1975, Grace Hartman was designated one of the 25 leading women of Ontario.

Grace and Arthur moved their home base to Toronto, travelling extensively to all four corners of the world, wintering in Florida and summering in Chapleau. Grace’s love of dancing continued well into her 80s, when she was still taking dance classes four times a week in Florida. As she told it, “dancing gives me pleasure and exercise.”

Mr. Grout passed away and Grace married Mr. Meade. She became blind but never lost her sense of adventure and independence. She travelled from Toronto to Sudbury in June 1982 to receive an honourary Doctor of Laws from Laurentian University where she had once worked in the extension department and where she had established two scholarships, one of which is for a mature woman graduate in the social sciences. In the early 1990s, she again flew alone to Sudbury to receive an award from the Sudbury BPW. She had to ask directions to her gate at the Toronto airport but refused assistance. She gave an outstanding speech to a full house at the cavern at Science North without the benefit of notes, as she could not see to read. It was a very emotional highlight in a life of public service.

Grace died at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto on May 23, 1998. She paved the way for women to run for public office, to chair public boards and to continue their education to the highest level. Through it all, she remained a stunning woman who always dressed impeccably, right down to the white gloves at official functions. In difficult circumstances, she never lost her cool – the requisite of a CoolWoman.

more to consider

Grace Hartman’s 98 years on earth have been referred to as “a lifetime of community service.”

The more one works for improvement and justice, the greater the possibility of defeat and criticism. A difficult time for Grace was when she ran for mayor of Sudbury in 1956.

One of the planks of her platform was the building of an amphitheatre in Bell Park to add another dimension to Sudbury’s image. Her opponent, Joe Fabbro, scoffed at her idea and the election was won on promises of building hockey arenas. Sudbury wasn’t ready for such a vision, although it came eventually in 1967. Grace had a strong husband and good friends to whom to turn. She also had an inner strength which came from her church. These resources seem to be found in many successful people.

Grace Hartman, like so many women in the first half of the 20th century who have become legendary in the struggle for equality, came from an upper-middle-class Methodist background. Why do you think this is?

The Famous Five from the Person’s Case are prime examples of women who led comfortable lives, yet chose to spend time and effort to promote women’s entrance into non-traditional territory. First of all, these were women whose parents could afford to pay for their education. Their parents valued education. With education comes enlightenment. Remember that Methodists built the public school system in Canada. Secondly, these were women who could afford to take on a time-consuming cause; because of their husbands’ or fathers’ financial position, they didn’t need to work and had the time and energy to lead the way for other women.

There has been criticism that a lot of them were WASP, middle-class women with contingent prejudices. Grace Hartman fit the profile perfectly; United Church, above-average education, above-average financial stability. What were her prejudices? She had a great sympathy for immigrants, and a genuine appreciation for the culture of other countries. She cared about the less fortunate, and sought to remedy injustice in a practical way, through adequate support facilities, particularly with regard to women and girls. She wed the philosophy of the mid-century Progressive Conservative party, for which she tried to get a provincial nomination, to her strong social conscience and concern for fairness.

This feature was first published on section15.ca’s predecessor site CoolWomen.

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