A kindly sym­pa­thetic heart

Part 1 of a se­ries on Char­lotte Ni­cholls, who used her wealth to help oth­ers in Peter­bor­ough

The Peterborough Examiner - - LIFE -

Peter­bor­ough has been home to many high-pro­file women. Many carved their rep­u­ta­tions as writ­ers, of which we might note Frances Stewart, Catharine Parr Traill, and Mar­garet Lau­rence. Oth­ers earned fame as artists, of whom Kather­ine Wal­lis was an out­stand­ing ex­am­ple dur­ing the early 20th cen­tury. Many were so­cial ac­tivists, many get­ting their train­ing in the Peter­bor­ough Protes­tant Home be­gin­ning in the 1860s and last­ing to the cur­rent cen­tury. Of th­ese, the lead­ing lights were Louise Wal­lis, Helen Haultain, Jane Gifford Hall, Char­lotte Ni­cholls and Mar­garet McWil­liams.

Char­lotte Ni­cholls (1817-1893), best known as Peter­bor­ough’s most gen­er­ous bene­fac­tor and phi­lan­thropist, was also a so­cial ac­tivist. Dur­ing her life­time she was ac­tively sup­port­ing the Peter­bor­ough Protes­tant Home, St. An­drew’s Church, the YMCA and the Ni­cholls’ Hospi­tal.

Char­lotte Ni­cholls was born in the County Ca­van, Ire­land, and came to New York with her older brother, John F. Jack­son (b. 1814), who was from the 1840s to the 1870s a sad­dler or har­ness maker in Madrid, New York, in St. Lawrence county. His wife was Lucinda (or Lorinda), was born in New York state around 1818.

Her brother’s son, Ben­jamin A. Jack­son (1842-1896), was one of the heirs of the Ni­cholls es­tate. Ben­jamin’s brother, Robert D., showed up in the cen­sus for 1860. Both broth­ers were de­scribed as sad­dlers, like their fa­ther, and Ben­jamin re­mained a sad­dler or har­ness maker into the 1880s in Madrid.

Ben­jamin was ap­pointed a life­time trustee, but only lived six years longer than his aunt, dy­ing Oct. 29, 1896 in Peter­bor­ough af­ter suf­fer­ing a stroke that caused paral­y­sis from which he never re­cov­ered. He was a na­tive of Madi­son, N.Y., and was sur­vived by his widow, Su­san M., aged 37. Ac­cord­ing to the obit­u­ary in the Peter­bor­ough Ex­am­iner, his only pub­lic po­si­tion was as a trustee of the Ni­cholls es­tate, but “The kindly pres­ence of the de­ceased will be greatly missed in his large cir­cle of friends.”

Char­lotte Ni­cholls lived for sev­eral years in New York City, and for many years she lived with the mother of Robert Ni­cholls, a promi­nent mer­chant in Peter­bor­ough, whom she mar­ried in 1847. She moved to Peter­bor­ough in 1843, and about 10 years later the cou­ple moved into the Greek Re­vival house on Ru­bidge Street, which was built for Pere­grine Mait­land Grover around 1847 and used by the Corinthian Lodge for a few years be­tween 1849 and 1853. The Ni­cholls added two wings on the house which oc­cu­pied a small city block be­tween St. Peter’s Ro­man Catholic Church (a cathe­dral af­ter 1882) and St. An­drew’s Pres­by­te­rian Church.

The Re­view obit­u­ary noted, “She was a lady though who did not take self­ish en­joy­ment out of her vast riches, but with a hand of benev­o­lence and char­ity scat­tered her kind­nesses here and there, and many a poor fam­ily will miss the loss of a kindly sym­pa­thetic heart and lib­eral hand, and will ever cher­ish the me­mory of their bene­fac­tor. All th­ese lit­tle acts of kind­ness did not see the light of day or come to the pub­lic gaze, but they were prompted by the same spirit that in­spired her to more mu­nif­i­cent deeds. Th­ese are fa­mil­iar to all our cit­i­zens, and will serve to keep green the me­mory of the de­parted.”

In the 1885 re­port of the Peter­bor­ough Protes­tant Home, Jane Gifford Hall re­ported, “The Com­mit­tee of the Peter­bor­ough Protes­tant Home in pre­sent­ing their an­nual re­port, de­sire to thank the Most High for his great good­ness to this in­sti­tu­tion dur­ing the past year. In April, when our fi­nances were in any­thing but a flour­ish­ing con­di­tion, Mrs. Ni­cholls very gen­er­ously sent the hand­some do­na­tion of $500, one amongst the other no­ble acts she is do­ing for our town. This en­abled the Com­mit­tee to get re­pairs and im­prove­ments made around the premises, as the sheds, etc. were fast fall­ing into a state of di­lap­i­da­tion, also a ve­ran­dah was put up on the side fac­ing the rail­way for the com­fort of the in­mates.”

The Peter­bor­ough Protes­tant Home be­gan as an out­door re­lief ser­vice in 1862. Women of the town had pointed out the need as many peo­ple faced poverty in Peter­bor­ough ev­ery bit as im­por­tant as the hard­ships of the Bri­tish cot­ton mills, to which lo­cal sup­port had been gen­er­ous. Poverty in Peter­bor­ough was ex­ac­er­bated by the win­ter, and by men who left their fam­i­lies for the sea­son or for­ever. By 1869, it was pro­vid­ing in­door re­lief in a home; its sec­ond home was the old brew­ery on Stewart Street, just around the cor­ner from Hutchi­son House. The Mid­land Rail­way line, dubbed the “Miss­ing Link” was built in 1882, and in its first mile ran along the creek, later known as Jack­son Creek, next to Hutchi­son House and be­hind the Peter­bor­ough Protes­tant Home.

Char­lotte Ni­cholls was elected vice-pres­i­dent at the sec­ond meet­ing of the Re­lief So­ci­ety in 1862, a po­si­tion that she held for sev­eral years. Her hus­band, Robert Ni­cholls, of­fered in 1862 to sup­ply the so­ci­ety with some goods at cost and to re­ceive and store pro­duce and other ar­ti­cles in his fa­cil­i­ties, which in­cluded a large stone ware­house still vis­i­ble be­hind the Bank of Mon­treal.

In June 1865, the min­utes recorded that, “Mrs. Jenk­in­son was called to ap­pear be­fore the Com­mit­tee to give her con­sent to com­mit­ting her child to the care of the Ladies Com­mit­tee of the Home, and to agree to sign a doc­u­ment to that ef­fect, with which ar­range­ment she was well pleased. Mrs. Ni­cholls & Mrs. Kirk­patrick ap­pointed to call on Mrs. Hill, and as­sure her, by shew­ing her the afore named pa­per, that the mother would not in­ter­fere in any way with the child, but that Mrs. Hill could re­tain her, as bound to her by the Ladies’ Com­mit­tee, un­til 18 years of age, with the un­der­stand­ing that Mrs. Hill do bring her up in a Chris­tian man­ner and keep in her mind a re­mem­brance of her mother.”

The ladies’ com­mit­tee acted as vis­i­tors, much like later so­cial work­ers, who mon­i­tored those in their blocks who might be of need and could be helped by the so­ci­ety. The so­ci­ety, for ex­am­ple, au­tho­rized vis­i­tor Char­lotte Ni­cholls to spend 50 cents to help a Mrs. Wil­son and as well to pro­cure fire­wood for her.

Peter­bor­ough had no hospi­tal be­fore 1883. There had been im­mi­gra­tion sheds at Hospi­tal Point in 1847, but mostly peo­ple felt that hos­pi­tals were only for sol­diers or the poor. Peo­ple need­ing short term help could come to the Protes­tant Poor Home or the county jail. In one very sad case, a young lad work­ing at a lo­cal ho­tel was burned by an ac­ci­dent with the lamps which he was light­ing. The Protes­tant Home served as a hospice where he died. He had the as­sis­tance of sev­eral vis­i­tors and doc­tors.

The Protes­tant Home re­ceived $20,000 from Char­lotte Ni­cholls’ will, and in 1912 it was a ma­jor fac­tor in re­build­ing a new build­ing, meant to meet mod­ern stan­dards of hy­giene, on An­son Street.

In 1883, Char­lotte Ni­cholls pur­chased Moira Hall to be used as a hospi­tal and by 1886 set in mo­tion the plans for a much larger and up-to-date fa­cil­ity with the best of equip­ment. This was the 15th hospi­tal in On­tario, and a pre­cur­sor for a dra­matic change in at­ti­tudes to­ward hos­pi­tals; they were now seen, not as har­bin­gers of death, but as places that saved lives. The larger hospi­tal opened in Jan­uary 1890, just months be­fore her death.

The Ni­cholls Hospi­tal on Ar­gyle Street near Ge­orge con­tin­ued to ex­pand; the en­dow­ment given in Char­lotte Ni­cholls’ last will and tes­ta­ment lasted un­til the 1930s. Af­ter be­com­ing a mu­nic­i­pal hospi­tal, Ni­cholls Hospi­tal was re­placed in 1950 with the new Peter­bor­ough Civic Hospi­tal in the west end which lasted into the cur­rent cen­tury when re­placed by the Peter­bor­ough Re­gional Health Cen­tre.

El­wood H. Jones, the archivist at Trent Val­ley Archives, can be reached at el­wood@ trent­val­le­yarchives.com


A view of the old Ni­cholls Hospi­tal from Ge­orge Street near Hil­liard. (Trent Val­ley Archives, Elec­tric City Col­lec­tion, F50 2.062)


Ae­rial view, 1919, of the north end of Peter­bor­ough. The Ni­cholls Hospi­tal is at bot­tom left; the Peter­bor­ough Protes­tant Home is cen­tre and the Iso­la­tion Hospi­tal is up­per left. The Peter­bor­ough Protes­tant Home at this lo­ca­tion was made pos­si­ble by the be­quest of Char­lotte Ni­cholls; the for­mer home had been on Stewart Street north of Brock. (TVA, Elec­tric City Col­lec­tion, F50, 2.254)


Robert and Char­lotte Ni­cholls in front of their home at 415 Ru­bidge Street, now the Ma­sonic Tem­ple. (Trent Val­ley Archives)


Nurses at Moira Hall, the first Ni­cholls Hospi­tal, 1885. (Trent Val­ley Archives, Elec­tric City Col­lec­tion, F50 2.061)


Ni­cholls Hospi­tal, 1905 (Trent Val­ley Archives, So­den book­let)

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