Judith (Maclaren) Caldwell '51

"Friendship To All" 

By Janet Uren '68 

“Friendship” is important to Judith Caldwell, and she has made a point of keeping in touch with old school friends. To that end, she has been hosting an annual Elmwood luncheon in recent years, bringing old school friends together in a light-filled house overlooking the St. Lawrence in Prescott.

Judith Caldwell is a veteran of the Elmwood boarding school of the 1940s. She was Judy Maclaren in those days. Though she has lived in Prescott for many years now, Judith is Brockville born and bred. She arrived at Elmwood as a very little girl, just eight years old, in 1942, and left nine years later, having served her last year as head girl.

On her father’s side, Judith was the daughter of James Maclaren, a Brockville lawyer, son of a local industrialist and the descendant of Scots who immigrated to Canada in 1822 and bought or built a series of mills in Wakefield, Buckingham and Ottawa. At one time, the Maclarens were one of the most important lumbering families in eastern Canada.

On her mother’s side, Judith is the daughter of Helen Barker, a beautiful American girl who came north to visit friends and ended up staying to marry Alan Gilmour, the son of a family of wholesale grocers in Brockville. Helen and Alan Gilmour had two daughters. When Alan died in 1930, Helen remarried. She and her new husband—James Maclaren—were both 36 at the time. Judith was the only child of this second marriage and, with half-sisters who were considerably older, she grew up as virtually an only child. She was glad to acquire a whole new family, therefore, when she was sent off to Elmwood at the age of eight.

One of those fellow boarders literally became a sister. “Betty Caldwell of Prescott, whose brother Geoffrey I later married, was a prefect the year I got there. We have been friends for a long time.”

Judith was young to be a boarder, and the adjustment was not easy. “Elmwood was hard at first,” she admits. “I missed my home. I remember mother put me on the train one time, and I got right off. It turned into quite a tug-of-war. Mother took me home and, next morning, put me in the car. I was at Elmwood in time for the 9 o’clock class.”

Judith settled in eventually. In fact, one Christmas she wrote breezily to her parents announcing that she would not be home for the holidays, preferring to spend the break with friends. “We had such fun,” she remembers. “Life was lived to the sound of that wonderful old bell, going ding dong, ding dong. We had an outing every weekend, and sometimes they’d form us up into a ‘crocodile’ and march us off to Ashbury, two by two, for chapel or a dance.”

It was wartime. Judith recalls the air raid drills at night, when the girls were roused out of their dormitories and sent downstairs, pillows and Hudson’s Bay blankets in their arms, to the lower cloakroom. She also remembers that food was rationed and that a number of English evacuees were attending Elmwood.

One of Judith’s roommates at Elmwood was an English girl, Elizabeth Abel-Smith: she was the granddaughter of Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, wife of the Governor General of the day. “I was invited to Sunday dinner at Rideau Hall,” Judith recalls. “Princess Alice was so nice. She sat on the floor with us and played games, just like any grandmother.”

In Judith’s day, Elmwood was ruled with a rod of iron by the notorious Mrs. Buck. On the way back from a dance once, Judith and a few bold girls detached themselves from the parade to go for an unsupervised walk around the block with their ‘beaux.’ “Next day, we were ‘interviewed’ by Mrs. Buck.”

In the classroom, Judith was no star. “I wrote home once when I was in Grade 10, very proud, to say that I had come third in my class. The only thing, there were just three of us in the class!” It was discouraging. In her second-to-last year at school, 1950, Judith wrote a fantasy diary for the yearbook in which she imagined herself returning to school for her eighteenth year in 1960.

“I certainly hope that I pass this year.” In fact, she was quite capable of stunning her teachers with 90% in algebra. In French, she did literally stun the teacher at lunch by attempting to state that she was “full.” What she said, in fact, was “J’ai plein” (“I’m pregnant!”) “That didn’t go over well.”

In 1950, Judith was appointed an officer of the school. “Judy began as a Monitor,” said the yearbook, “but due to her friendly and efficient disposition, she soon rose to the exalted ranks of a House Senior. A member of Fry, Judy more than fulfills the idea of her house motto, ‘Friendship to All.’” The following year, Judith closed out her career at Elmwood as the “brown-haired industrious head girl.”

Despite her limitations as a scholar, Judith shone as an athlete. She was sports captain in her final year at Elmwood and a “crack” skater, working with the same trainers as Barbara Ann Scott (the famous Otto Gold and Sheldon Galbraith). In fact, Geoffrey Caldwell was a childhood sweetheart of Barbara Ann. Then he came and “swept Judith off her skates.” She had just been accepted as a skater with the famous Ice Follies, but decided to marry instead.

Judith is still giggling over some of her school adventures, but she is grateful as well. “The school gave me friends. It gave me a sense of self-esteem. It also taught me that we had to give back to the community.” That was a principle that her new mother-in-law reinforced. “She sent me right out canvassing for the blind.” Judith’s work since then over many decades earned her the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 2012.

Judith Caldwell has backbone. Suffering a serious illness in August 2018, she got out of bed, got dressed and went to the closing performance of The Taming of the Shrew at the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival, an endeavour that she has tirelessly supported. The whole audience stood up to applaud.

Judith Emma Caldwell passed away peacefully on Wednesday, August 22, 2018 surrounded by her family and faithful four-legged friend “Brig.” She will be greatly missed by the Elmwood community.