A BIOGRAPHY OF A “GRACIOUS LADY” (December 11/07)

You may remember her for her talent as a doll maker. Between 1950 and 1980, she made hundreds of dolls, of which many were based on historical and literary characters. One of the most popular and most in demand was the Evangeline doll, which for years was available at a Grand Pre gift shop, and today is treasured by many collectors.

On the other hand, you may remember her as a school teacher; she taught at Kings County Academy in Kentville for 20 years.

In a way, she also has a historical connection with Kentville through her ancestors. A few generations ago her family owned the Elderkin farm, which today is part of the agricultural station in the east end of Kentville.

School teacher, doll maker, and a “gracious lady with an interesting personal history” is how Kings County Museum curator Bria Stokesbury describes Marguerite Gates. I’ve only touched on a few of the highlights of Marguerite’s life. Stokesbury talked with Marguerite this past summer at Annadale House in Wolfville, and the interview that follows, which I’ve condensed, tells a more complete story.

Marguerite (Sharpe) Gates was born on February 23, 1915, in the Galleghar House, located on Main Street across from the Kentville Agricultural Centre. Her parents were Ellen (Stillwell) Sharpe and William Kenneth Sharpe. Through the paternal line, her family once owned property which now forms part of the Agricultural Centre. Her great grandfather Sharpe married Agnes Elderkin and through this union, the Elderkin farm and land, along with three other farms, were purchased by the government in 1915.

After the early death of her mother, Marguerite and her siblings lived with relatives in Kentville. Marguerite attended school in Kentville and following the Great Depression, eventually found work at The Advertiser as a proofreader and copy holder. Her boss at Kentville Publishing, Frank Burns, learned of her artistic ability and put her to work on the floats entered in the blossom festivals in the early 1940s.

Marguerite worked at The Advertiser for three years before marrying at age 26 in 1940. She met her future husband, Lloyd Gates, during the war years at the Palace Dance Hall in Kentville. Marguerite and Lloyd remained married for 64 years.

In addition to being a homemaker and mother, Marguerite returned to school in the early 1960s and received a BA and BEd from Acadia University. She proceeded to teach at Kings County Academy, retiring in1980.

Her artistic ability also found another creative outlet. In the 1950s she took up doll making. Oftentimes the dolls were based on historical personages or characters from literature, such as Evangeline or Alice in Wonderland. The Evangeline doll was in high demand and sold well at a gift shop at Grand Pre Park. Marguerite made some 300 dolls between 1950 and 1980.

One prized doll was based on the woman that started the Women’s Institute in 1897. This doll placed first in a 1980s competition which celebrated the Institute’s 175th anniversary. The doll remains with Marguerite and is a prized possession.

Following the death of her husband in 2005, Marguerite took up residence in Wolfville at Annadale House, where this interview was conducted. The complete interview (not the condensed version I’ve given readers) will be available for future generations in the Kings County Museum’s archives.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s