The late Ellen Fairclough’s contributions to public life are widely known: her groundbreaking leadership as Canada’s only female Member of Parliament in 1950 and her status as the country’s first female federal cabinet minister in 1957.
But Dr. Joan Heels, a vocal and piano teacher, remembers her as “Aunt Ellen”, a caring and thoughtful woman who both contributed to and carried on her family’s strong tradition of musicianship.
Ellen Fairclough, nee Cook, grew up playing piano, and shared her talent by playing the organ at local churches. She even had a live show on CHML Radio with her younger sister, Mary, Joan’s mother, who sang to Ellen’s accompaniment on piano. Joan says her mother told her that they earned about $5 per show and promptly spent some of it on sheet music for their next performance.
Ellen and Gordon Fairclough’s son, Howard, started piano lessons at age five and his cousin Joan, just a year younger, tagged along. “Howard played in dance bands in Toronto and he was fabulous,” Joan recalls. “He could play anything off the top of his head; you should have heard him at parties.”
Howard, whose health had been weakened by a bout with polio in his teens, died in 1986. Afterwards, Ellen and Gordon met with Hamilton Community Foundation to talk about how they could both honour Howard’s memory and assist budding musicians in Hamilton.
Ellen was no stranger to Hamilton Community Foundation, having served as a board member and chair of the board in the 1970s. She appreciated the opportunity the Foundation provided for Hamiltonians to leave a legacy and contribute to a permanent endowment fund for the city’s benefit.
The Howard Fairclough Organ Scholarship Fund at Hamilton Community Foundation was created by Ellen and Gordon Fairclough to benefit young people with talent and the potential to become professional-level organists. When Ellen passed away in late 2004 at the age of 99, a share of the residue of her estate was added to the fund.
“A lot of people don’t know that Ellen was a musician in her own right, and also an artist,” Joan says. “And certainly she was a caring mother and a very devoted aunt. I always looked forward to our time together.”
Excerpt from 2005-2006 Annual Report