Emily (Martin) Garrett


Emily Garrett
Surname as Student: Martin
Other Surname: Garrett
Education: United Colleges (Manitoba College)
Graduation Year: 1927
Designated: 1929
Where: Manitoba Conference
Denomination: United Church of Canada

  • 1927: Deaconess Candidate
  • 1928-1939: Deaconess, St Andrew's United Church Winnipeg, Winnipeg, MB
  • 1940: Disjoined married J. Garrett

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I didn’t ask enough questions when my mother, Emily Martin Garrett, was alive so I don’t know a lot of detail about her life, but I do know that the experience of having worked 13 years as a Deaconess was meaningful to her identity and life view.

Emily was born to a pioneering farm family near Belmont, Manitoba in 1902. (See her family when she was 18) Her early schooling took place in Belmont and nearby Baldur, and, she attended Normal School in Brandon. (See graduation photo) She spent two years teaching in rural Manitoba where she recalled being mystified by families she encountered who took the Bible literally and objected to the teaching of evolution as being contrary to Biblical teachings. The Martin family attended Belmont Presbyterian Church and at Church Union in 1925 they became United Church. They were theologically more liberal than some rural neighbours.

Emily took classes toward her B.A. at Wesley College, the former Methodist school but she graduated from the two year Manitoba College Deaconess Program in 1927. (Photo on the left is her graduation from Deaconess Program) (Deaconess school report excerpt from 1927 Winnipeg Tribune)

Manitoba College, formerly Presbyterian, began the Deaconess program in 1920, the only training program of its kind west of Toronto.[i] Emily was designated as a United Church Deaconess in June 10, 1928 by Manitoba Conference after a year of probation at St. Andrew’s Elgin United Church in Winnipeg See photo. She worked her entire ministry career, from 1927 to 1939, at St. Andrew’s, in one of Winnipeg’s inner city neighbourhoods. The year she married Jack Garrett, she was officially disjoined from the Deaconess Order.

Emily spoke of working with immigrant people in the area, mostly Scottish immigrants at that time. It was the Great Depression and it was demanding work being with people who experienced poverty and all the challenges of being in a new land. The church was the centre of activity with a full schedule of Sunday services, Sunday school, Mission Band, Mother’s Club, CGIT, and in the summer, Fresh Air camp. (See Emily at Camp Robertson) She spoke of pastoral situations that moved her; of funerals for folks who were so isolated that only she and the attending minister were present, of personally helping to pay for needed medical treatments in the days before universal Medicare. Emily had a strong passion for the social gospel. Although generally quiet and reserved, she was quick to speak out against stereotyped biases about people and poverty.

Emily’s reserve was noted by her fellow students on the campus of the “The United Colleges”.

Beside her photo in the 1927 Yearbook (VoxWesleyan) are these words:

“Her voice was ever soft,
Gentle and low, an excellent thing in a woman.”  (King Lear)
A gentle. serene presence: a capacity for thoroughness: a task done, always well done. With these characteristics, the highest and the best are easily within your reach, and your ministry will abound in fruitful service.

It is no surprise that she is described this way.  What is surprising though, is the referral of her work as ministry.  This was not common at all.  Deaconesses were lay women, officially they were not considered to be in ministry. In fact, the responsibilities of the Order would sometimes be defined as, “all aspects of church work except for ministry.”  This view was widely held unofficially as well. In the United Church ministry was a permanent vocation, and involved an inherent change within those marked for ministry that could never be removed.[ii]  The vocation of Deaconess was regarded as temporary, argued on a theological principle that a woman’s God given, primary vocation, was that of wife and mother.  Women couldn’t have a permanent vocation to ministry because the vocation of wife and mother always trumped.  Women were judged incapable of sustaining two vocations at the same time.  It was one or the other.  Once a woman was married therefore, other vocational pursuits must be ended.  Ministry in the United Church in this era was reserved for ordained ministers and essentially ordination was reserved for men, even after the United Church began to ordain single women in 1936.[iii] One wonders what it was about Emily that drew out the word “ministry” to describe her work. (See Emily on a vacation to Norway House around 1932)

Emily met her husband , my dad, Jack Garrett, at St. Andrews. As was the case for many men during the Depression my father and his friends were unemployed. They used their time volunteering and playing sports at St. Andrew’s. Jack and Emily were quietly married on August 26, 1939 at the home of Dr. Duckworth, minister at St. Andrew’s.  I was born in 1942 and Lorne, my brother, was adopted in 1946.  (See Emily and children)

The church put an end to Emily’s formally recognized ministry; she could no longer work in the capacity of a Deaconess after marriage. In an interview Emily gave in 1989 for her congregational newsletter she described that it was considered “very bad” for a married woman to work. This statement just hints that Emily resented the marriage bar imposed on her at the time. She didn’t let the lack of official designation stop her however from conducted ministry, albeit informally. She continued to be active at St. Andrew’s until Jack took a job with Winnipeg Hydro at Pointe Du Bois, an isolated dam side community, in 1943. There Emily was an active lay person in the Anglican Church…the only church in the company town.

Emily also sustained personal relationships with some of the St. Andrew’s people and her Deaconess friends, like Zaidee Stoddard, relationships that lasted a lifetime. She followed with keen interest the work of other Deaconesses, here and in mission fields across the world. She always respected the role and contribution of single women.  She encouraged others to consider church vocations. She was proud of the work of the United Church in establishing pension plans for unmarried women.

After moving to Transcona (in Winnipeg) in 1950, Emily became actively involved in the life of Transcona Memorial United (TMUC). She gave lay leadership in many areas. She was a life member of the United Church Women, having previously been active in one of its forerunners, the Woman’s Missionary Society. Beyond the congregation, she was involved in Winnipeg Presbytery and outreach work within the Presbytery.

An excerpt from the 50th anniversary book of TMUC remembers her …

She moved among us. On a given day she could be found at Stella Mission or at Young United or elsewhere, but going for others. She never had a car but she travelled all over the city by bus. Her life was one of a strong faith in God and humankind. Her demeanor was always kindness.

Emily returned to volunteering at St. Andrews in her later years and was volunteering in the clothing depot the day that fire destroyed the old building, November, 12, 1968.

Emily was widowed in 1983 and moved to Senior’s Housing in Transcona. She maintained a lively interest in politics and in issues facing the church. She attributed her ability to live independently to the kindness and practical support of neighbours and church friends. Those church friends and clergy supported her through a 16 month stay in palliative care at St. Boniface Hospital, and when she gained sufficient strength to be moved, they cared for her a further 6 years at the Convalescent Home until she welcomed death at age 96, on November 5, 1998.


This biography was written by Jackie (Jacqueline) Garrett with additional material by Caryn Douglas, in April 2014. The 1927 United Colleges graduation photo is courtesy of University of Winnipeg.   Winnipeg Tribune excerpt courtesy of Marlene Chisholm.

The other photos are courtesy of United Church Archives Winnipeg. To see more of Emily’s photographs, visit UCCArchivesWinnipeg.ca


[i] For a history of the Deaconess Program at Manitoba College see Training Deaconesses the Manitoba Way, by Sherri McConnell

[ii] This is still the understanding of ministry in the United Church.  Diaconal Ministers are now fully members of the Order of Ministry and it is a life long vocation.

[iii] The church only ordained single women until 1957, and there were very few ordained women prior to the mid 1970s.