In this month’s Founders and Builders Series, we introduce you to CFHA co-founder Grace Pincoe. This essay is written by her daughter Ruth Pincoe and Jane Zavitz-Bond.
Grace Pincoe – A Faithful Founder and Pillar of CFHA
by Ruth Pincoe and Jane Zavtiz-Bond
Grace Lillian Cochrane, the third and youngest daughter of Eliza (née Falconer, Lizzie) and Henry Cochrane was born on 22 June 1906 at 12 Boustead Avenue, in the west end of Toronto. Eilza’s Scottish family had been farming in Ontario for several generations; Henry’s family emigrated from Ireland in the mid-1800s. Henry’s death from typhoid in January 1912 left the family in difficult circumstances. There was no social safety net in those days, but Lizzie was a practical and determined woman. Her eldest daughter, Beatrice, left school at age thirteen to take a secretarial job while Eliza took in boarders and cleaned floors in a local bank. Her middle daughter, Edna, finished high school and then worked at the Post Office. Nonetheless, books, music, and education were respected in Lizzie’s household. The three Cochrane girls were also mentored by an elder cousin who encouraged them to learn through reading.
Grace’s love of books, libraries, learning, and boats focussed her life. Unsatisfied after a year in Normal School (her mother’s choice), she completed a short library course and found work, but her real desire was to go to university. Her cousin helped to persuade Lizzie, who finally agreed to one year. Grace enrolled in Victoria College, University of Toronto, completed her first year as a full-time student, and continued with night classes and summer school to graduate with her class in 1930. She was an intelligent and determined young woman.
Grace met Roland Pincoe in 1930 when she was working at the newly-opened Runnymede branch of the Toronto Public Library. They shared a love of music and art. They also shared an enthusiasm for Northern Ontario, and Grace had a canoe. At the depth of the Depression, marriage was out of the question, but they both had jobs and could save a little. They were married on 3 February 1937 and moved into a small house Ellis Park Road, on the west side of Grenadier Pond. Money was short, but their time there was happy. For low-cost holidays they took canoe trips in northern Ontario, first in Algonquin Park, later in Temagami, and in 1943 down the Moose and Abitibi Rivers to James Bay. By 1941, however, Grace’s mother was in her last years and her sister Edna was not well. Grace and Roland moved to 12 Boustead Avenue to care for her mother and her sister. The move was unavoidable, and they stayed for the rest of their lives, but their deep regret of the loss of theirhome remained.
As a city employee during the Depression, Grace had to leave her library job when she married, but she was not a “housewife.” She had other gifts. Grace found part-time and occasional jobs with a variety of organizations that had libraries, including the Art Gallery of Toronto (now Ontario), Marani & Morris (an architectural firm), the School of Missions (later the Ecumenical Institute), and a private library in the home of Robert and Adelaide McLaughlin in Oshawa.
Grace and Roland’s daughter Ruth was born in 1946. In the mid 1950s Grace went back to full-time employment as head of cataloguing for Etobicoke Public Library. She was a gifted cataloguer with a passion for subject analysis. After the launch of Sputnik in October 1957, she argued for moving space travel from the Dewey 500s (theoretical physics) to the 600s (applied science), arguing that “the future is longer than the past.” In the mid-1960s Grace moved to a cataloguing position at the Toronto Board of Education Library. She also worked with the Board’s Historical Collection, her first involvement with archives, and she attended an archives course at the University of Toronto Faculty of Information Science. She retired from the Board in 1971.
Grace had come came to the Religious Society of Friends around 1950 through her friendship with Kathleen Savan (née Green) and began to attend Meeting for Worship at 60 Lowther Avenue. (Kathleen, her two sisters, and her brother had been good friends with Roland and Grace since the in the 1930s, and Kathleen spent he war years in China with the Friends Ambulance Unit.) Care and service were natural for Grace and these aspects of Friends cemented her commitment. She became an active member of Toronto Monthly Meeting, and of course served on the Library Committee. (Jane Sweet, another member of that committee met Grace when they both worked at the Board of Education, and came to Friends through Grace.)
After her retirement Grace devoted an increasing amount of time to the Friends House Library. By this time she had developed a deep interest in the history of Friends in Canada. One thing seemed to lead to another. Jane Zavitz remembers that Grace and Kathleen Hertzberg both told her about their conversation on the stairway at Pickering College during Yearly Meeting, after a session that included Canadian Quaker history. They both saw a need for an organization that could to find, preserve, and publish research on the history of Quakers in Canada.
Grace wrote to a number of Friends and other individuals who might assist with undertaking a Friends historical body, asking them to identify factors that would allow such an organization to flourish, and what they would be willing to undertake. Responses were positive but only a few individuals agreed to fill major roles. After some months, however, a nucleus of individuals was assembled. In August 1970 there was a presentation at Canadian Yearly Meeting and, in November, Representative Meeting approved the concern for the formation of a Canadian Friends Historical Association. The CHFA was underway. It sounds easy, but establishing even a basic structure required energy and patience. The elderly Arthur Dorland (author of The Quakers in Canada) was unable to play a major role, but as honorary chairman his reputation carried weight and helped to give the new organization recognized standing.
When CFHA was launched in 1972, forty-one individuals paid their annual dues, and for the princely sum of two dollars, received the newsletter that Grace helped to prepare. She could take advantage of the holdings of the Friends House Library to support CFHA work, and her skills and experience were a perfect fit. She always had more ideas to carry out, and her enthusiasm for new projects abounded. She soon attracted others who became involved and in turn made important contributions to CFHA’s success.
Almost immediately, Grace began collecting biographical information about Canadian Friends in a rapidly expanding card file. She was always ready to respond to research questions and any new details that turned up were entered on the cards in pencil. She also began indexing the occasional biographical accounts published in The Canadian Friend. Grace’s index and card file was the beginning of one of CFHA’s most significant projects.
During CHFA’s first decade (1972–1982), Grace planned tours of Quaker sites in conjunction with the annual meetings, and sometimes during Canadian Yearly Meeting. Locations included the early meetinghouses and burial grounds of the Norwich, Niagara, and Yonge Street Monthly Meetings. Information was distributed in advance to encourage participation. Jane sometimes drove Grace over the planned route so that she could determine travel time, and spot interesting highlights. Grace also prepared related bibliographies that were published in the newsletter, along with the accounts she had enlisted CHFA members to write. The year that CHFA met in the Maritimes, Ralph Green was invited to speak about of the Nantucket Quakers who came to Canada following the American Revolution. A tour was not possible, but Grace made maps and display boards to illustrate the talk.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of Grace Pincoe’s influence on CFHA. She was a primary force in its creation and continuing existence. Her work is carried on today in the Canadian Friends Biographical File and the Register of Canadian Quaker Sites. Her spirit and imagination modeled the generous nature of the organization. She greeted all inquirers, and welcomed their questions. She was fully present for each person she met. As was said at her Memorial Meeting for Worship, she brought others into the fellowship of Friends and the CFHA.
Grace’s retirement years were not completely devoted to the CHFA. Some years earlier, she had purchased a small wooden sailboat from Kathleen and David Savan, called the Hermit Crab (because it went sideways). She stored this boat (and its successor) at a club on the Toronto Island where she spent some of her happiest days. She also investigated the genealogy of her family, and did research on Irish immigrants to Canada.
In the early 1980s Grace’s health declined. She suffered from osteoarthritis and also developed dementia. She remained at 12 Boustead Avenue, the house where she was born, lovingly cared for by her husband Roland and her daughter Ruth. She died on 18 October 1987.
Jane Zavitz remembers: “In my work in the CYM Archives, supported and encouraged by CFHA, I sensed Grace’s solid support in the presence of an old library storage unit that holds supplies for our work and some files. Her daughter, Ruth, passed it on to us after Grace’s death. As we move into a new technological era, Grace’s spirit of search and her care and love for Quaker history remains the foundation of our association and our work. She showed the way. May we continue in that spirit.”