Henry Selden Hall (1862-1926), Elsie McLuhan’s father and Marshall’s maternal grandfather, was a complex man. In Nova Scotia he had repeatedly uprooted his family from one small farm to another; then homesteaded in Alberta where he could finally possess some sizable acreage; then immediately sold the place as soon as he had fulfilled the homestead conditions of building it into a workable farm with a new house, barn, and out-buildings; then managed other farms in Alberta and Manitoba for hire; and finally, in 1915, enlisted in the war effort at age 53 along with his two sons, Ray and Reg.1
It was this latter event, combined with her husband’s own pending enlistment, which precipitated Elsie McLuhan’s 1915 move with her two young sons, Marshall and Maurice, from Edmonton to her relatives in Nova Scotia.2 Although most of the large McLuhan family remained in Edmonton,3 with some of them apparently renting her house there (it wasn’t sold until 1923), Elsie’s mother had been left alone in the Winnipeg area where she and Henry (sometimes with one or both of their sons) had been living since 1912.4 In 1915 Margaret Hall must have accompanied Elsie and the boys back to her birthplace and remaining family there.
At the end of 1916, or the beginning of 1917, Elsie, her mother and her two boys moved from Nova Scotia back west — to Winnipeg. Herb may have already been with them. In any case the five of them were all living together in 1918 at 314 Rosedale in Winnipeg (Fort Rouge), waiting the return of Henry Hall and of Elsie’s two brothers from the war.
Since they continued to own their Edmonton house, the McLuhans were apparently undecided about eventually moving back to it. Again it may have been Henry who decided the issue. In 1919, he bought land south of Winnipeg in Elm Creek and farmed there, sometimes with one or other of his sons, until he began to sicken in 1924. This precipitated a move back to Winnipeg, where he and Elsie mother’s lived with the McLuhans at 507 Gertrude. Henry died there in 1926, as did Elsie’s mother, Margaret, in 1931.5
Here is a picture of Elsie with her two boys, Marshall (b 1911) and Maurice (b 1913), taken beside their house in Edmonton, not long before they moved away in 1915:6
The house must have been rented soon thereafter since the 1916 census has Herbert living with his parents and two of his siblings elsewhere in Edmonton.
- It would seem that Elsie’s itinerant lifestyle and multi-character one-woman theatre must have derived in some part from her father’s impulsive ways and frequent life changes. ↩
- Herbert McLuhan’s real estate firm, McLuhan, Sullivan & McDonald, collapsed in 1914 or 1915. (It is still listed in Polk’s Real Estate Register and Directory of the United States and Canada for 1915.) What role this event played in Elsie leaving Edmonton may only be guessed. ↩
- James McLuhan, Marshall’s paternal grandfather, died in Edmonton in 1919. Here is his obituary: “Friends of Miss Ethel McLuhan will be sorry to hear of the death of her father, Mr. James McLuhan, 11339 95a street, who passed away Saturday morning (December 7) at the ripe age of eighty-three. Mr. McLuhan was a native of Ireland, but came to Ontario with his parents when nine years of age. He was one of the pioneer farmers of Ontario and farmed for over forty years at Mount Forest, only coming to Mannville about 1900. For some years past Mr and Mrs McLuhan have resided in Edmonton where several members of the family are located. Mr McLuhan was a man of an exceptionally high order of intellect, a genial personality and one who took a broad interest in the affairs of the community and of the world at large. He was a man of wide reading, fond of good music, and keenly interested in astronomy. Those of his family who are left to mourn his passing are his wife, Mrs. James McLuhan (Margaret Grieve), daughters Mrs. Edwin Williams (Jennie McLuhan), Mrs. Peter Mackay (Rita McLuhan), Miss Ethel McLuhan; and sons, John McLuhan, Wallace McLuhan, and Roy McLuhan of this city; and Herbert McLuhan of Winnipeg. (Edmonton Journal, December 13, 1919) ↩
- Before he enlisted in the army, Henry worked farms near Winnipeg, first in the Lilyfield and Meadows areas northwest of the city and then in Arnaud to the south. ↩
- Elsie left Winnipeg and her family in 1933. (For discussion, see Elsie McLuhan on the Mastery of Life.) Presumably she would have done so earlier if her mother had not been living out the last years of her life with them. ↩
- For this picture and others of the house, see the website of the architect in charge of its restoration at https://www.davidmurrayarchitect.ca/historic-mcluhan-house/. ↩