Food is an important part of holiday celebrations, but do we always appreciate the people who prepare our festive treats? All too often, historical records focus on the wealthy party-goers, while the people working behind-the-scenes are forgotten. This photo from the Vanderhoef collection is a classic example: the notation on the back names the dog, but not the woman.
The woman’s simple, dark clothes covered by a large functional apron and her position at the servant’s entrance of the former Stevenson home suggest she belongs to the working class. (The ruins of this house are located on private land today, but can be seen from the trails in Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park.) This home was occupied by the wealthy New York Vanderhoef family from 1914 to 1919.
Known historical documents identify only two female servants here: maid Jenny Johnson and cook Margaret Mole. Jenny was able to surreptitiously “borrow” the gowns of slender Mrs. Vanderhoef, so this stocky woman appears by default to be Margaret. Margaret had auburn hair and blue eyes, stood five feet tall, and weighed 180 pounds (years later, in 1924).
Born in England, Margaret Thompson married Anthony Redman Mole in 1907. Andy immigrated to Calgary in 1910, and Margaret joined him in 1914. Eight months later, Andy enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force of the First World War. Margaret then found work at Glenbow, as the cook in the home of Mrs. Gertrude Vanderhoef and her young daughter, also named Gertrude. In spring 1916, Margaret was widowed. She was 34 years old.
While at Glenbow, Margaret cooked elegant meals for the Vanderhoefs and their guests, working with specially imported foods like cantaloupe, and turning common vegetables into fancy dishes by “lacing strips of beets in and out and arranging them in tiers.”
When the Vanderhoefs left Glenbow, Margaret moved to a mansion in Calgary’s Mount Royal district, where she worked for Eugene Coste, founder of the Canadian Western Natural Gas, Light Heat and Power Company. She then worked in the Mount Royal residence of real estate magnate Charles Traunweiser (owner of Calgary’s Yale and Empress hotels), where she was responsible for such events as fancy bridal shower teas.
The lack of Margaret’s name on the back of the Vanderhoef photo, might be an indication of under-appreciation, but an alternate interpretation is possible. In 1924, Margaret travelled to the New York residence of her “friend” Miss Gertrude Vanderhoef. Perhaps Margaret was so beloved that her identity was obvious to the photo’s former owner.
Wishing you all a Happy Easter full of yummy treats, and sending special good wishes to those who create them!