Born Clara Flos Jewell (1889-1970) in Dundalk, Ontario, she completed school in Toronto, where at some point she preferred to use the name Flos as she’s listed in the newspaper honour rolls as Flos Clara Jewell.
At some point, she took a teaching position in Bobcaygeon, where she taught for at least five years.
Dorothe Comber‘s book, “Bobcaygeon History: Amy Ellen Cosh Memorial,” has this note in the section about the Rokeby School:
Miss McGuire taught in the Rokeby School. She was a lovely person and a splendid teacher. She and Mr. Simpson were united. Miss Floss [sic] Jewell was one of the assistants. About 1920, after she had gone away and married, she wrote a fiction story about Bobcaygeon which was published, “The Judgement of Solomon.” Of course the names were changed but some people thought that they recognized some of the characters.”Bobcaygeon History: Amy Ellen Cosh memorial, Dorothe Comber with committee, 1972, page 72.
The December 3rd, 1908 edition of the Weekly Free Press notes, “Upon severing her connection with Rokeby school, Miss McGuire was presented with some valuable silverware by her pupils and ex-pupils in remembrance of her kindness and interest in their welfare.”
McGuire left in 1908. The 1911 census shows Flos single and living in Toronto.
Flos and David were married on 23 April 1915, therefore Williams must have taught at the Rokeby School between 1911 and 1915. The phrasing “gone away and married” would suggest that just like McGuire, Flos quit teaching to get married.
The Rokeby School was the Verulam School Section (S.S.) No. 6 built in 1873 to move students out of the tavern lean-to where they’d been studying. (The school in the make-shift room attached to the tavern is thought to be Bobcaygeon’s oldest school.) The Rokeby School was constructed at 35 North Street, which became Pieter van Oudenaren’s Garage, an auto repair shop. Pieter took over the garage from his father, Harry van Oudenaren, a Kawartha Lakes author, until he left auto repair for cheesemaking.
By 1921, according to the 1921 census, Flos and David were living in Calgary.
After settling in Calgary, being separated from her Toronto-area friends and family, and with her salesman husband travelling, Williams took up writing. She was a member of the Canadian Authors Association, in the same Calgary chapter as Nellie McClung. In addition to writing four novels, Williams contributed a number of stories and poems to anthologies and periodicals to qualify for membership to the Canadian Womens’ Press Club.
A young woman and a brilliant one, and editors and critics who know her work prophesy that she will go far in the world of letters. The very fact that this first book of hers was one of the runners up in the recent Hodder & Stoughton Canadian $2,500 contest, that this well established firm accepted it at once and sent it forth to the world, stamped with its approval, is no mean compliment to a young and new writer. Mrs. Williams didn't write her book as one in search of fame, for commercial purposes, or in the beginning for the publishers. Once the theme was conceived it was written, four thousand words at a time, for the real enjoyment of writing, until it had developed itself into a full-length novel. It is a story that arose first in the heart and was committed to paper because of that prime requisite of any author — the urge to write. It had never been seen by anyone. Then one day Mrs. Williams saw the advertisement of the Hodder & Stoughton contest. She submitted her manuscript, curious to see how it would come out. Immediately there came back a letter of warm commendation accompanied by an offer to publish it. It had been picked as one of the four runners up in the contest. Mrs. Williams was born in Toronto [Dundalk] and educated in that city, being a graduate of the Jarvis Collegiate Institute, the old grammar school of Upper Canada, and of the Toronto Normal School. Later she taught at Bobcaygeon in the Kawartha Lakes district, which she has woven in, as the beautiful setting of her book. Six years ago she came with her husband, David S. Williams, and her twin sons, to reside in Calgary, in which city her book was written.“Calgary has four women authors” by Elizabeth Bailey Price; Canadian Bookman, March 1926.
The Globe review for Judgement of Solomon called the book “a well-written novel” with “a real plot, not a particularly pleasant one, handled with skill and delicacy and well sustained to the end.” (The Globe, December 5, 1925.)
The Judgment of Solomon is a work of fiction, following the story of Blake Lamon during his days as a medical student at the University of Toronto. He leaves school to run the family farm, acting on the promise he made to his dying mother. He marries Mary, the girl next door, and then has an affair with his wife’s cousin, Anne Thurston (a girl of 18 who’s living with them as their housekeeper). Anne gets pregnant, and Blake dies before his son, Blake junior, is born.
The setting for the family farm was “a four-mile drive over wretched roads, from Robson” with Robson being the pseudonym for Bobcaygeon, a place the main character, Blake Lamon does not love.
Blake hated the gossip and scandal-mongering of small villages, the almost consistent lack of charity, the eagerness with which the inhabitants put the worst construction on the actions of their neighbours. Robson was particularly disgusting in this respect. The town was situated between two lakes. A river and a canal cut through the town. On every side was unusual beauty, and the little village, with its ugly houses, with their wedding-cake verandahs jammed close to the sidewalks, buzzing from morning until night with scandal, was to Blake like a festering sore on the beautiful landscape.The Judgment of Solomon, 1925, page 54.
By this description Robson is undoubtedly Bobcaygeon. When Blake marries, he agrees to move into his wife’s neighbouring farm, called Beehive Farm. This must be a nod at ‘The Beehive’ home to James Dunsford, built in 1839 between Bobcaygeon and Fenelon Falls, now part of Eganridge Resort, Golf and Spa.
Mary’s verandah commanded a gorgeous view of Sturgeon Lake, whose waters washed all the western boundary of the farm, its wooded shores curving around Green Bay, the favourite haunt of black bass for which the lake was famous.The Judgment of Solomon, 1925, page 36.
Green Bay is on the Pigeon Lake side of Bobcaygeon, just off Riverside Drive, while The Beehive is on Sturgeon Lake at Hawkers Bay. Familiar territory, in any case.
After Blake’s death, Anne stays with Mary to help raise Blake Junior, whom they are raising as Mary’s child. Outside of Anne and Mary, only the doctor knows the truth. Once Junior is old enough to go away to school, Anne moves to a place of her own in Robson.
While she’s living in Robson, Anne meets some familiar characters. For anyone who knows that E.J. Pratt, Arthur Phelps, and Frederick Philip Grove spent every summer at their cottages in Bobcaygeon, they would instantly recognize them in the characters “Ned Andrews,” “Arthur Dawson,” and “George Groves.” Anne suddenly finds that “for the first time in her life this lonely woman felt that she was among her own people.” (p. 245.)
And they seem to respect her:
Ned Andrews marvelled at this women. She confessed to having lived almost entirely to herself, yet she had the appearance, the poise, of a woman of the world. She unhesitatingly acknowledged that she had been a housekeeper on a farm, yet good breeding and refinement were obvious.The Judgment of Solomon, page 255.
Williams would have been a solitary woman, living on her own, while her salesman husband was away. Williams seems to have made herself the template for Anne.
Ned is a bachelor, whereas, E.J. Pratt was married. Nevertheless, Pratt was the template for Ned. Here’s Ned as described by another character:
“He is a Newfoundlander: a long, thin, good-looking, loose-jointed man, rather shabbily dressed. The cleverest man on the staff, with an almost uncanny ability in using his knowledge. He impresses one as living intensely every instant. He is much interested in questions of the day, and has influence in high quarters that would amaze the majority of his friends. Add to that the fact that he writes the most beautiful poetry in Canada to-day, and that he is a confirmed bachelor at forty, and you have the man.”The Judgment of Solomon, page 248.
The characters ask to hear Ned’s poem titled, “Charlotte.” Is it coincidence that Pratt had a sister named Charlotte?
In the book, Anne and Ned fall in love, but Anne is unwilling to commit because of her history with Blake and because Blake Junior hasn’t fully accepted her as his mother.
During her time in Kawartha Lakes and as a member of the Canadian Authors Association, Williams became known to these “Bobcaygeon Boys.” Phelps, Pratt, and William Arthur Deacon had cottages where they stayed every summer, after completing their professor duties at the universities.
Two of Williams’s books were published by Graphic when Frederick Philip Grove was editor. Grove was friend to the Bobcaygeon Boys, spent time at their cottages, and corresponded with them on a regular basis. Graphic also published the words of Grove, Deacon, and Watson Kirkconnell (another Kawartha Lakes writer and Phelps’s colleague.) Deacon was a well-known book reviewer and critic for Saturday Night and the Globe and Mail, where Williams’ books were reviewed.
In 1926, Deacon asked Pratt to review Williams’s novel, New Furrows, for the Globe and Mail. In his letter to Deacon, Pratt said, “I had this review up to four hundred words but by a second pruning I managed to get it down to 335. I hope it will do though I don’t think it is ‘any great shakes,’ as I can only accomplish anything worth while when I have the impulse to let myself go.” (https://www.trentu.ca/faculty/pratt/letters/texts/260909dea.html)
His review was lukewarm at best. The review appeared in the October 16, 1926 edition and started out well with Pratt calling the book “a refreshing change from the usual run of “Western” novels.” After describing the premise of the book, Pratt says, “Beyond the love affair which develops between Marie and a handsome English “mountie,” the book has little plot. Nor are the obstacles to the courses of true love more than ordinary complexity–the war, absence, misunderstanding and hurt pride account for them.” He then goes on to say the value of her story “lies largely in the simplicity of its telling” and that “Mrs. Williams has not hesitated to make her people her mouthpiece on many vexed questions.” He ends the review not with words for the story itself, but by describing the book as “an attractive piece of book-making, done in the distinctive style of the Graphic Publishers.” Deacon was at the time editor for the Globe and Mail, and their friend Grove was editor at Graphic Publishers. Pratt’s evaluation of the novel would have carried a lot of weight.
Although he must have been flattered to be a character in Williams’s first book, he clearly reverted back to his default belief that women’s fiction wasn’t worthy, and one shudders to think what he might have said had he been able to “let himself go.” Perhaps he wasn’t flattered by Williams portrayal of him at all.
Williams was well-connected to the literary world in another way. Her salesman husband’s travelling partner was Stephen Leacock’s brother. (Butter Side Up, Gray Campbell, 1994.) No doubt she heard plenty of amusing tales.
In 1931, Williams had three books published along with short stories and poems, when her story “The Blue Bowl” was picked up for Chatelaine. The editor contacted her, asking for a photo and a brief write-up of her career to include with the story. Her response shows that imposter syndrome is not a modern construct and that for mothers, writing is a challenging career:
“Your letter fills me with despair for two reasons. First it reminds me of the time I asked an old Indian
squaw to let me take her snapshot for a quarter, and she knocked the money out of my hand, saying that she wouldn’t be ugly all over Canada for a quarter! And second, because in the matter of my career- I haven’t had one!”
“I taught school in Toronto, married and have twin sons. My sons are my chief hobby as well as being my greatest creative effort. I have no convictions about anything- or rather I have to have a fresh bunch daily. To such an extent is this true that the only time I ever wrote a letter to a newspaper, I had to write an answer the next day, refuting all my arguments.”Chatelaine, November 1931.
Her last novel, Fold Home, took second place in Ryerson’s Annual Canadian Book Contest in 1949.
Butter Side Up by Gray Campbell (1994) tells the story of the founding of his publishing company, Gray Publishing, the first publishing company in British Columbia. At the time, Williams was retired and living on her own on the waterfront a few houses down from Campbell. In his book, Campbell describes her as a “wise old owl” and “a witty raconteur, very much in tune with current literature and state affairs.” He began bringing her manuscripts to evaluate. He says “as a retired novelist, she had the ability to size up a writer’s potential by reading a few pages.” And while he acknowledges his company wouldn’t have succeeded if not for Williams, he makes no mention of paying her for her work.
The street “Flos Williams Lane” in Toronto’s Cabbagetown is named for her and she’s included in Canada’s Early Women Writers Project at Simon Fraser University.
Judgement of Solomon, 1925
New Furrows: A Story of the Alberta Foothills, 1926
Broken Gods, 1930
Fold Home, 1949
Collected Poems of the Poetry Group of the Calgary Branch, 1934, Contributor
Canadian Poems, 1937
New Canadian Anthology, 1938, Contributor
Alberta Poetry Yearbook, Contributor
Canadian Bookman, Contributor
Canadian Poetry Magazine, Contributor
Illustrated Golf, Contributor
Canada’s Early Women Writers. Flos Jewell Williams. Canada’s Early Women Writers, 18 May 2018.