Phoebe Nobbs Hyde

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Phoebe Nobbs Hyde, the great-granddaughter of Robert Ward Shepherd and his wife, Mary Cecilia Delesderniers Shepherd, was born in Montreal in 1910.

Phoebe Nobbs Hyde

She and her younger brother, Frank, grew up in Westmount, spending the summers in Como with their grandfather, Dr. Frank Shepherd.

These were happy times – fishing with Grandfather as well as helping him in his garden, boating, and swimming in the Ottawa River. It was safe to swim in the river in those days. The roads were not paved, but the summer dust was kept under control as Grandfather Shepherd made sure that oil was spread in front of all the family houses.

From the age of 10 to 14, Phoebe’s summers were spent in Nova Scotia, where her father had bought property but she missed Como. Happily, summers in Como resumed for her in 1924.

How did Phoebe acquire Greenwood?

In 1901, when Mary Cecilia Shepherd died, Greenwood was left to her youngest son, Del. Del had done major renovations and additions to the old house which included the east living room, the entrance hall, the gable bedroom/porch extension and the new central stairway, all of which added greatly to the charm of the entrance hall and the house itself.

When Del died in 1924, (his wife had left him for an ‘unheard of’ Reno divorce!) he had already sold Greenwood to his sister, May Robertson, who then exchanged Greenwood with Dr. Frank Shepherd for Rose Cottage which he had acquired from his nephew a few years previously and which May coveted.

Now Dr. Shepherd gave Greenwood to his daughter Cecil, Phoebe’s mother. With the help of her husband Percy, together they turned it into a comfortable summer home. During the renovations, the family camped out and used the stone patio area as a summer kitchen, an experience that her daughter loved.

Even at the age of 14 years, Phoebe felt it her responsibility to keep the house for a family museum. Many of the old artifacts and family treasures can still be seen in the house and continue to be appreciated.

After Phoebe completed school, she was sent to finishing school in London, England. It was here that her talent for drama was recognized and encouraged.

She was 18 years old and the year was 1928. She had already met a handsome Cunard Line officer, Andrew MacKellar on her first trip to England and she was in love!

By now she had started her studies at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and her father insisted that she finish her course before marrying. She and Andrew were finally married when she was 24 years old.

Being married to a ship’s officer led to a different kind of life. They had an apartment in London, but Phoebe still spent her summers at Como. In summer, she only saw her husband when his ship came into Montreal which was 4-5 days a month.

It was during these Como summers, that she started to get together with friends and relations to do Shakespeare plays in the Greenwood garden. Her great-aunt May Robertson was also an enthusiast in this project and she loved acting.

For seven summers, well into the second world war, they held a “Shakespeare festival”, acted by young people and adults of the community. It was wonderful opportunity for all, as Phoebe coached them in elocution classes and in the delights of acting in Shakespearian and other plays.

Eleanor Abbey, Phoebe's cousin, shared this feedback about the experience...

'I was one of the lucky young people who had this experience, though it was not so appreciated at the time, being 8 – 12 years old, but looking back today, I realize how invaluable it was. We were all very fortunate to take part.'

Marjorie McMurtry Moore who was a teenager at the time gave this commentary...

'Phoebe drew any interested person into her plays and recruited others! Aunt May Robertson was of my Grandmother’s generation and was often included. Aunt May shone as Juliet’s nurse, and was the main character in a play about a little girl whom she coached to spell a difficult word – Mississippi – in the big test. We who saw this play will never forget it.

She was very patient with our amateur attempts at acting. I think she opened for us an appreciation of Shakespeare, which has remained all our lives.'

After the war, Mrs. MacKellar returned to England and resumed a “normal” life with Andrew. There she started lecturing on Canadian and Indian folklore to women’s groups and schools, etc., as well as studying at the British Museum.

Every summer she came back to Canada and often traveled west to collect material for her Indian folklore, much appreciated in Great Britain and to squeeze in some “One Woman“ shows at the same time. This was the start of her monologues.

Around this time, her mother (Cecil) sold Greenwood to her daughter.

In 1959, Andrew MacKellar died. A memorial service was held in St. Mary’s Church and today you will see a plaque to his memory inside the church.

They had an unusual life, but Phoebe said that she would not have changed it for an ‘ordinary’ married life. Her only regret was that they did not have children.

The following year, Phoebe married Reid Hyde, her adopted uncle. He was 82 years old and she was 50.

The Reid Hydes spent the winters traveling and the summers at Greenwood which was still not winterized. At this time, they were able to buy Rose Cottage from her cousins George and Marydel Robertson. The Hydes then lived comfortably in Rose Cottage, during the winters, despite his ill-health. He died 6 years after their marriage.

During the next 30 years, Phoebe was a permanent resident of Hudson and became very involved in the community. She was President of the Hudson Historical Society and President of the Garden Club. She started the annual flower and vegetable show; she helped publish historical books as well as working for St. Mary’s Church.

This energetic woman enjoyed being busy but she also enjoyed the relaxation of swimming in her own pool which she had built in the garden.

In her will, Phoebe left Greenwood to “The Canadian Heritage of Quebec”, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of lands and buildings of beauty or historic interest in Quebec. It is her legacy to Hudson and the surrounding area. The dream of a 14 year old girl had come true!

She also left another legacy in the written transcripts and tapes of her monologues. She portrayed many Canadian heroines: Madeleine de Vercheres, Jeanne Mance, Marguerite Bourgeoys as well as a number of United Empire monologues and others.

Her most famous monologue is that of Sarah Hansen, the wife of the first owner of Greenwood, Jean Baptiste Sabourin, who had been captured by Indians when she was16 years old and brought to Oka. Jean Baptiste paid her ransom in order to marry her.

(This article was written by Eleanor Abbey.) 


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Marion's friendship with Phoebe 
Marion Erdelyi was a friend of Phoebes and actually stayed at Greenwood. Her husband was a Hungarian fencer , capt of the Cdn fencing team and knew Percy …

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Marion Erdelyi was a friend of Phoebes and actually stayed at Greenwood. Her husband was a Hungarian fencer , capt of the Cdn fencing team and knew Percy …

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