Who Was Rachel McKay?

  • Jul. 10, 2014 12:00 p.m.

Pipestone Flyer

The City of Leduc has a program where individuals who have made major contributions to the development of the community are honored with having a neighbourhood or community park named after them. To date four women have received that honour. One of them is Rachel McKay.

Rachel McKay was born in August of 1873 in Breechburg, Ontario of Irish Catholic decent. On April 23rd, 1896 23 year old Rachel married a 28-year-old young man from Pembroke in our nation’s capital. Owen McKay was a likeable young man working for the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR). Unknown to them, at the time, the two were destined to make a major impact on the development of Leduc.

In 1898, the CPR wanted to add a station manager to the Leduc Station. Up to that time George A. Liggins was both the section foreman and station manager for Leduc and as the volume of business increased the CPR decided that they needed a separation of duties and offered the station manager position to McKay. Owen was working in Northern Ontario in the Muskoka District and had just become a father with the birth of his daughter, May, in 1897, but was able to convince Rachel that their future laid to the west.

Owen was a skilled telegraphy operator and very likeable with his enthusiastic approach to his work. He would often say that CPR stood for Courtesy, Patience, and Reliability.

He realized that homesteaders needed service when they needed it and often that was not during business hours, so he made himself available day or night. Over the years this would take a toll on his body, especially when you consider the many responsibilities he added to serve Leduc’s municipal needs, and then establish a sideline farm just west of Leduc. Early in 1906 he joined with newcomer Charles R. Carroll to establish a land sale and insurance business, which would evolve into today’s Gaetz Insurance.

Owen would die suddenly in 1907 and never get to see the birth of his fifth child, a girl named Cathleen. Rachel had become a widow at the age of 34 with five young children and only a small farm to make a living. The citizens of Leduc rallied around the young family, and in 1908, when Leduc’s postmistress Jo Clough married and moved to Edmonton, they convinced the government to award the position to Rachel. Rachel would become Leduc’s third postmaster and would continue in that position until 1948.

Rachel’s personality was similar to her husband’s, and it wasn’t long before the post office became the center of not only picking up your mail but also for exchanging the news of the day. For the next forty years Rachel was Leduc’s postmistress and was able to raise her five children in the place she and her husband had come to love. May, her oldest, became a schoolteacher and her son, Kenneth, would succeed her as postmaster by the end of 1948. Her daughter Glennie moved to Los Angles with her husband Jack Haggerty, while Gertrude and Kathy both married and settled in Edmonton to raise their families.

By 1947 Leduc’ population had out grown the capabilities of the post office and when the mail for the Christmas season inundated the Post Office and one could barely see the top of Rachel’s head, the community knew it was time for a bigger Post Office. With the support of the Board of Trade, Leduc was able to convince the federal government to purchase the recently closed Maple Leaf Café and convert it into a post office. It would take most of the year to convert the Café and when it opened in November of 1948 Rachel’s son had become Leduc’s Postmaster.

Rachel was 76 and ready for retirement after being an integral part of Leduc’s progress during its earliest years. Rachel would live long enough to watch the construction of the Federal Building and the new Post Office in 1950 before passing away at 79 in 1951. Her son would remain as postmaster until 1965 bringing an end to the McKay’s involvement in delivering the mail to Leduc citizens after fifty-seven years.

In recognition of the contribution Rachel McKay made to the development of Leduc, a neighbourhood park was named after her along Black Gold Drive across the street from the Gateway Family Church, not far from where her husband and she had established their small farm. Who was Rachel McKay? She was an example of that pioneer spirit that made Leduc the city it has become and a woman that did what she had to do to survive and make a lasting home for her children.

Pictured: Rachel McKay Park alongside Black Gold Drive in Leduc, AB. Photo by Tom Dirsa

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