The Connor Ladies of Pinnacle Street
The Tin Box Memories

The Connor Ladies of Pinnacle Street

Author: Connie Carson

Connie is a well-known local story-teller and professional who has a passion for the history of the City of Belleville, in particular, the downtown streets.

I was very fortunate to personally meet two of the three Connor ladies who left a lasting impression in our community. It’s my pleasure to share a bit of their story with you.

Dr. Emma Connor

Emma was born in 1869 on the family farm on Gallivan Road in Sidney Township. Her parents were William Connor and Mathilda Sarles, and she attended the Marsh Hill School. She went on to University, where she was one of only three women to be accepted by the Women’s Medical College at the University of Toronto. She graduated with honours, pursued graduate studies in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and returned in 1904 to settle in Belleville, taking over the practice of another pioneer of local medicine, Dr. Elizabeth Embury.

Dr. Emma bought a vacant lot with her father’s help, then designed and built a spacious brick home at 240 Pinnacle Street. This was very prime real estate in 1904. The south-facing office had a separate entrance and curved wrap-around veranda. Attention to detail was evident throughout, with beautiful oak-trimmed rooms and a library reading room. An intricate English Rose Garden ran along the perimeter creating a profusion of flowers all summer long.

Her sister, Alice Connor, married Dr. Walter Northcott; they lived in Brantford, but he was unhappy practicing medicine and they relocated to Belleville. He became an engineer, and they moved in with Dr. Emma. Alice managed the house and the business side of Emma’s large medical practice for as long as Emma was alive.

Her brother’s wife, Annette Gardner Connor, was not well, and Dr. Emma invited Annette’s children William, Dorothy, and Grace to live with her. She was a gentle but firm presence in their lives and studies. Her nieces and nephew lavishly praised their brilliant aunt for their successes in life. Sadly, she suffered a massive heart attack and passed away in 1936 at 67 years old.

Dr. Emma Connor, at barely five feet tall, was an impressive and persuasive force of nature in the Quinte area. Her dedication and compassion to the community was legendary.

The 1930 nursing graduates at the Belleville General Hospital shared their admiration for Dr. Emma with this dedication:

To one whose aim has been to guard our health, whose skill has eased hours of pain, whose encouragement has urged us on in fresh endeavour, we would dedicate this book with affection and esteem, in the hope that something of her spirit of service may abide with us in the new paths we are about to tread.

Dorothy and Grace Connor

Dorothy Frances Connor was born at her home on Octavia Street in Belleville in July of 1908. Her sister Grace Margaret Connor followed in March 1910. They were both delivered by their Aunt, Dr. Emma. Connor.

When the sisters reached high school age, they moved into their Aunt’s house on Pinnacle Street. They both went to Belleville Collegiate High School, graduated with honours, enrolled in a nursing programme in Toronto, and took an additional year of public health nursing. Dr. Emma must have been very proud.

In 1935 the two tiny sisters, barely five feet tall, started wearing the distinctive uniform with starched white collar and cuffs of the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON). For the next 30 years, they drove their stylish Model T Ford around the community, carried their black leather bags, and knocked on doors to provide health care to hundreds of patients in their homes.

It generated a charming, small-town, good feeling to see the petite figures of the Connor sisters wearing their gardening smocks, hats, and rubber boots while meticulously tending their Aunt’s beautiful roses in the shadow of the Corby Library. They were pleased to be named Honourary Lifetime Members of the Belleville Garden Club.

They had some unlikely gardening companions in the form of a group of young offenders from a Group Home. When their work was done, these rough-and-tumble boys would sit patiently, learning about the gardens and the surrounding area’s history, then talk about it on the way back to their residence. This was truly a win-win situation.

This writer’s recollection of the Connor sisters began in 1952 when my mom hired one of them to teach me piano at their grand home. At that age, I still couldn’t tell them apart. They both greeted me at the door with a welcoming smile and escorted me through an elegant dark oak-trimmed doorway. We continued past a fantastic grand piano and into a room containing a much smaller piano. I was SO impressed that a house could actually have two pianos!

My lessons lasted two weeks before the ladies kindly refunded our money, told mom I was a VERY expressive little girl and suggested dance lessons could prove more beneficial for me. They were always friendly and very kind when I ran into them on Front Street and at the Library. For over 40 years, they never failed to stop, say hello and ask how my mom was doing.

In 1996 they gave up their home and moved into the Bridge Street Retirement Residence, and each lived for 96 years before Dorothy passed away in 2002, and Grace followed in 2005.

Kind words and good deeds were woven into the fabric of so many lives by these three amazing women, and the world is a better place for having had them in it. Thank you, Connor Ladies of Pinnacle Street, for what you have given our community. Although the gardens are no more,  we know you would be pleased that your legacy continues with the recent refurbishment of the Connor House and the installation of four doctors from the Queen’s University Family Health Team on the premises.

When you stroll along Pinnacle at Campbell Street, pause for a second, and picture these diminutive powerhouses tending their gardens and enjoying the distant sound of piano music from within the Connor House.