Noeline Marion Selwyn Bruce

Posted by on Jul 15, 2015 in Tributes |


A Community Project to honour women who have enriched our lives

The Ban Righ Centre supports mature women who are starting or returning to education at Queen’s University. In taking this significant step, these women found role models, advocates and inspiration in other women. Then, as they engage in their studies and in their activities beyond Queen’s with friends, family, peers and colleagues, these students effect continual and positive change, extending the reach of their mentors and the Ban Righ Centre. Through “Who Is She?” we honour women who make a difference.

Noeline Marion Selwyn Bruce

Honoured by: Priscilla  Galloway

My mother, Noeline Marion Selwyn Bruce, was born on March 24, 1899 in Christchurch, New Zealand. She was a co-founder of University Women’s Clubs of New Zealand, and completed her Master’s degree in economics, teaching at college before going to Columbia for further study in music education. At Barnard College in New York City, her economics teacher was a young doctoral candidate named Allon Peebles. They were married a year later.

I don’t propose here to tell my mother’s life story, but I want to show her deep sense of social responsibility, her bright mind, and her adventurous spirit, which took her into areas unusual for women in her day.

My book, Too Young to Fight: Memories from our Youth During World War 11, won the world-renowned Bologna Ragazzi award, nonfiction for young adults, in 2000, the first Canadian book to receive this prestigious honour. It’s an amazing book, and I’ll always be proud of it. But I have one ongoing regret. All the families represented in the eleven memoirs in that book were seriously disrupted by the war. Families were separated, often for years. In my introduction and notes about each author, I did not do justice to our mothers.

We missed our fathers, so often absent, or, like mine, working day and night. But our mothers mostly held the family together. Some of them, like Jean Little’s doctor mom, worked as well. Others, like mine, took on major volunteer jobs. Mother became Division Commissioner of Girl Guides for Carleton-Russell counties.

Mother was no ivory tower executive. Because of gas rationing, we could not travel to the official guide campsite. Mother set up a tent camp in the Gatineau at Lac Philippe, and quartermastered it. That means she estimated quantities and ordered food and supplies for about 120 girls and staff. Our Guide Company raised money by collecting scrap paper, which we piled up in the unheated summer kitchen of the Peebles’ Ottawa home and sold. I think we bought-eventually-three war surplus bell tents. These were like big tepees, supported by one sturdy centre pole. They had two-foot walls but no floor. We dug trenches to keep the rain from coming in. I think we paid $30 each for them. It took mountains of scrap paper! (Yes, we recycled lots of things during the war-we just didn’t call it that. We also re-used and repaired. All the manufacturers were making guns-or ammunition-or building tanks. Nobody made new refrigerators or washing machines.)

Camp was amazing! We had to carry pails of water from the nearest well, at the farmhouse down the hill. It was a bit of a trek to the lake, but we had a super swimming program, directed by Mrs. Currie, who later started the synchronized swimming club, the Ottawa Aquamaids, where I developed the skills that made me a member of the Queen’s swimming team. Helen Currie was my partner, and we won a synchronized swimming first.

Flag raising in the morning, and the national anthem (it was a different flag then); campfires and sing songs at night. One overnight hike. Inspections-once by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, once by Princess Alice, whose husband, the Earl of Athlone, was our governor general back then. No doubt my mother organized it all. In another age, she would have made a superb corporate executive.

For most of my life, I’ve believed my father was my model, and in some ways, that’s true. But I grew up believing I could do anything-and for that confidence, misplaced though it sometimes was, I must thank-and pay tribute to-my mother. Noeline Bruce Peebles was a remarkable woman.

Dr. Priscilla Galloway, Arts ’51, Ph.D., U. of T