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The power behind Sir John's throne


Bert Riggs,

(an archivist with the Centre for Newfoundland Studies at Memorial University),
whose column, A Backward Glance
appears in the Telegram each Tuesday

Transcribed From the Telegram

By: Barbara McGrath



Mitchie Anne Crosbie was a trusted advisor to her husband in his ventures. (Photo courtesy of John Perlin)

It has often been said that behind every successful man is a strong womanwho is a key to that success. One such woman was Mitchie Anne Crosbie. Born at Exploits Island, Notre Dame Bay, June 8, 1876, Mitchie Anne Manuel was one of 12 children born to Josiah Manuel and Elizabeth Butt.

Josiah Manuel was head of the major merchant house on Exploits Island and one of the most prolific and skilful shipbuilders in Notre Dame Bay. Staunch Methodists, committed to providing the best possible education for their children, Josiah and Elizabeth sent Mitchie Anne to St. John's to attend the Methodist College.

While living in St. John's, she met John Crosbie, whose parents, George Graham Crosbie and Martha Chalker, both had connections with Exploits Island.

From the moment he first saw her at Cochrane Street Methodist Church, John Crosbie was determined to marry Mitchie Anne Manuel. And marry they did, at Exploits Island on Sept. 5, 1899. They left the island that evening to catch the train, which would take them on a five-week honeymoon to the United States and Prince Edward Island.

Building an empire

Then it was back to St. John's, where John Crosbie went about creating a successful business empire and a lengthy political career. He was a member of the House of Assembly from 1908 to 1928, except for one year during 1923-1924, and served in cabinet for much of that time.

Mitchie Anne Crosbie was a trusted advisor to her husband in his business ventures. At home she was wife, mother and homemaker. She ruled with a firm hand, a loving mother who had strict standards of conduct and morality, a charitable employer who demanded an honest day's work for a fair wage from the household staff.

Thirteen children were born to Mitchie Anne and John Crosbie: Jean (1900), Nina (1901), Vera (1902), Ella (1904), Ches (1905), George (1907), John (1908), Margaret (1910), Edith (1911), Percy (1913), Olga (1916), Alexander (1919) and Thomas (1924).

Jean died at age 17 while in the United States for treatment for tuberculosis. Thomas died a short time after his birth. The others grew to adulthood and have made significant contributions of their own to the business, educational, social welfare, political and cultural life of Newfoundland.

In 1919, John Crosbie received a knighthood from the British government for his contribution to the war effort: he had served as Newfoundland's minister of militia and minister of shipping. With this honour, Mitchie Anne became Lady Crosbie.

When Sir John died on Oct. 5, 1932, Lady Crosbie was without the man who had been her constant and loving companion for 33 years. She was the main beneficiary of his estate, and it was a position she took quite seriously. While management of the family businesses became the responsibility of her oldest son, Ches, she played a major role in their operation.

The younger sons eventually assumed management positions in the various family enterprises. She hosted weekly "boys day" luncheons for her sons and their business associates. At these, her advice was readily sought and wisely given, although not always heeded. For example, she was opposed to the investment of funds in the construction and operation of a herring processing plant at Bay of Islands. From Manuel family experience, she was convinced that it would not succeed, a sound judgment eventually proven correct.

She was astutely aware of the way business worked. When the British food processor Unilever began to make inroads in Newfoundland in the late 1930s, she recommended and supported the sale of the butter factory her husband had begun in 1925. She saw Unilever's eventual takeover of the factory as inevitable and reasoned it would be more profitable to sell from a point of strength.

Lady Crosbie lived most of her life at Devon Place, the house on King's Bridge Road that Sir John had purchased from May Munn, widow of John Shannon Munn, who with his three-year-old daughter, Betty, had perished in the wreck of the SS Florizel in 1917. That house became the focal point for family life, a place where her children and grandchildren congregated for intimate family gatherings and more formal functions.

The place of politics

She was an ardent opponent of Newfoundland's entry into the Canadian Confederation. After that event came to pass, Ches Crosbie recognized the economic necessity of support for Confederation and the Liberal party under Joseph R. Smallwood.

As several of his brothers remained opposed, Lady Crosbie had to enforce a no-politics decree at her weekly luncheons in order to maintain peace. Mitchie Anne Crosbie died, after a prolonged illness, on May 22, 1953. The Evening Telegram reported: "The community has lost a highly respected and beloved citizen, one who ... gave much of her time to church and social work and was always in the forefront in patriotic and philanthropic endeavours." Her greatest legacy is her children, in whom she instilled the qualities of perseverance, hard work, community service, fair play and dedication to Newfoundland that governed her own life. She was buried next to her husband at the General Protestant Cemetery on Waterford Bridge Road.

Bert Riggs is an archivist with the Centre for Newfoundland Studies at Memorial University. ...



This page transcribed by Barbara McGrath (October 2000)
REVISED: 29 May 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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