19th Century Lesbians Beatrice & Grace

By Douglas Fevens • Yarmouth, NS • 2019-06-18

“The death of a very estimable lady of Yarmouth, in the person of Miss Grace Goudey, took place on Saturday afternoon [December 20, 1930] at the home of Miss Beatrice B. Cann, William Street, with whom for many years past she had resided. ... Several years ago she went to reside with Miss Cann and ever since had been her very close and dear companion.” So reads in part the obituary of Grace Stanwood Goudey. The “several years” were in reality at least thirty years for Grace was enumerated on the 1901 census at Beatrice’s home on William Street and would be again for the 1911 and 1921 Census of Canada. An indicator that Grace was more than just a “friend” or “lodger,” to Beatrice as the censuses indicated is found in the Yarmouth listing of McAlpine’s Nova Scotia Directory 1907-08. Grace is not listed as a lodger at Beatrice’s, but that she is at “home” there.

Beatrice & Grace’s story really begins years before they were even born. In August of 1851, 25 year old Hugh English Cann, carpenter, seeking his fortune leaves Yarmouth setting sail on the schooner Brilliant bound for Boston. Excepting for his obituary in The Yarmouth Herald of January 4, 1898 there is little record of his travels. In part it reads:

“In the early fifties he became enthusiastic over the gold discoveries in Australia and New Zealand. and at once embarked for those distant lands. He was very successful in his undertakings, having become a merchant and active trader. He came back to Nova Scotia and built the brig Stranger, and again embarked in that vessel with his brother Lyman E. for New Zealand. ... He became a large shareholder in the New Zealand banks, and also the leading hotel at Otago. About 20 years ago [ca. 1878] he returned to Yarmouth, where he has since resided, and became actively engaged in shipping and other local institutions.”

Fountain at the intersection of Forest & Prince Streets, Yarmouth, NSHugh built his residence, at what is now, 56 William Street in 1885. In 1895 he presented the town with a fountain which was placed at the intersection of Forest and Prince streets. He never married. (Photo is from the Yarmouth County Archives.)

For the 1891 Census of Canada, Beatrice was enumerated in two households, that of Jonathan Harris, her father, and that of Hugh Cann, a great uncle. The return for the Cann household states Beatrice’s age as eighteen and her occupation as that of a clerk in a dry goods store. In 1896, by an Act of the Nova Scotia Legislature, Beatrice changed her name to “Beatrice Bent Cann,” but on the 1891 census return it is “Beatrice H[arris]. Bent.” Some sources erroneously state that Hugh adopted Beatrice. This error may be attributed to an obituary for Hugh in 1898 which states, “He leaves an adopted daughter, Miss Beatrice B. Cann.” However, this is a figurative and not a legal description of their relationship. If she was his daughter she would have been his next of kin in his estate papers of 1898, which she is not.

As with Beatrice, the 1891 census also states that Grace is employed at a Yarmouth dry goods store. Could it be they worked in the same store and that is where they became acquainted with each other?

Hugh Cann died January 1, 1898 and in his Last Will & Testament dated October 14, 1891, left his home at 56 William Street and the “residue” of his considerable estate to his executors in trust for Beatrice for her lifetime. Should she have married she would have lost the benefits of the trust. This clause of the will may have been included to give Beatrice cover on rejecting male suitors.

On February 9, 1899 an item was published in the Yarmouth Light: “Miss Beatrice Cann and Miss Grace Goudey left on Saturday evening by steamer Boston en route for Florida, where they will spend the balance of the winter.” Grace was aged 31 and Beatrice 26. It would seem they were setting sail for a lifetime together, for when Beatrice passed away over half a century later, she was laid to rest in her “family plot” (her words) next to Grace in Yarmouth Mountain Cemetery. They were a family.

We're still looking for information on Beatrice and Grace!  If you have any photos or any more information, or know of any stories of them, please contact douglas.fevens@wayves.ca.

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