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For years, Kate Scott Aitkens admirers have made the quiet pilgrimage to Beeton to explore the childhood village of a marvelous and versatile Canadian woman. Long before there was an American homemaking guru by the name of Martha Stewart, Canada had Kate Scott Aitken. For more than fifty years the name Kate Aitken was a household word, as she dispensed timely and knowledgeable advice for homemakers and young mothers. Her voice was easily recognized on radio throughout Canada. She was sought after by world leaders for her compassionate and easy interviewing style. She could get to the bones of an issue quickly and effectively without incurring the wrath of the interviewee.
Kate Aitkens career began in the early 1900's when she operated a very successful home canning business, processing foods grown on her husbands farm near Beeton. One of the first women lecturers for the Ontario Department of Agriculture, she held the position of Director of Womens Activities for the Canadian National Exhibition for fourteen years. Kate was also consultant to a chain of drug stores, and Beauty Editor for a large Canadian Weekly. During the depression she did a series of cooking schools in Montreal, and held the position of Womens Editor of the Montreal Standard. Her popular radio broadcasts were heard twice a week. These broadcasts were especially appreciated during the years of the Second World War, when she brought a semblance of peace on the home front to thousands of Canadians. When the familiar introduction of the announcer came across the airwaves - "And now heres Mrs. A." the radio was turned up and household noise suppressed as Canadians listened attentively to every word she spoke.
Kate held the nations women attention with her calm radio manner and compassionate nature. While bombs were falling in Europe, Kates counsel on that "it looks bad at the moment, but it cannot help get better" gave relief to worried mothers and wives. Women sat a kitchen tables, pencils poised to copy down-to-earth recipes utilizing wartime rations. Knitting needles clacked and sewing machines roared into life when she asked women of Canada to knit and sew for the war effort. Her booklets and pamphlets focusing on cooking, etiquette, glamour, travel, making a living and raising children, on homemaking, personal hygiene and womens career choices were snapped up as fast as they could be printed. Women were impressed that for years Kate was considered as one of Canadas best dressed women.
During her lifetime Kate Scott Aitken traveled more than two million miles to bring the latest world developments to her listening audience. She had a penchant for being in the right place at the right time and barely escaped government crackdowns in China and Korea. She was in Kenya at the start of their 1950's uprisings. Interviews with personalities such as Hitler, Mussolini, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were highlights of her career. Among her list of interviewees were three prime ministers - MacKenzie King, Louis St. Laurent and Lester Pearson and United States president, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Although born in the late nineteen century, Kate Scott Aitken made an easy transition to television and left her mark as a gracious hostess and consummate interviewer. She firmly believed that a woman could juggle career and home; could enjoy traveling alone and could achieve an independent standard of living. She lived what she preached. Dedicated to cooking at an early age, her Streetville home had more than two kitchens at her disposal to test recipes. Her popular Kate Aitkens Cookbook is still available and the book of choice for many thousands of Canadian cooks. Her biography, Never A Day So Bright, is a charming account of Kates childhood years in Beeton. When it was published it prompted the first wave of visitors to Beeton.
Kate Scott Aitken was born in 1891 to parents of Scots-Irish heritage, who originally came from Eramosa Township in Wellington County. Her father, Robert, was said to be related to Sir Walter Scott. Shortly after they were married, Robert and Anne Scott settled into the general store on the east corner of Main and Centre Streets in Beeton. The sprawling building, erected after a disastrous fire destroyed much of Beetons main street, was a combined home and general store. There, surrounded by domesticity, Kate learned the art of cooking and homemaking at her mothers side. Anne Kennedy Scott was an excellent cook and homemaker.
Kate Scott grew up into a charming young woman, who began teaching school in Adjala Township at age fourteen before leaving for the west for several years. She returned to Beeton to assist Anne in the store after her father died. In 1914 she married her childhood sweetheart, Henry M Aitken.
When the Aitkens purchased acreage across from the family mill in Beeton, Kate began a career in experimental farming. She raised poultry, planted apple trees, sold produce and, recognizing the need for good canned foods, started her operation. This challenging career, and Kates outgoing nature, led to speaking engagements with Federal and Provincial Departments of Agriculture and writing assignments for a prominent farm journal.
Visitors find many vestiges of Kate Aitkens life in present day Beeton now part of the Town of New Tecumseth that Beeton, Tottenham, Alliston and New Tecumseth township. All share beautiful and rich agricultural land of Simcoe Countys high country, home to the headwaters of the Nottawasaga, Credit and Humber Rivers. The crossroads community of Kate Scott Aitkens youth, although recently discovered by the commuting public, still retains its small village atmosphere and charm. In the late nineteenth century it boasted three churches, three hotels, a library building and impressive homes on Centre Street. The churches are visible, two on Main Street including the Presbyterian Church that Kates family attended; and the Methodist Church, now Trinity United, on Centre Street, that her mother slipped away to on a Sunday evening. Centre Street with its ancient maples and unique built heritage, is one of the most charming residential streets in Ontario. A stroll down this picture perfect street is a must for architectural buffs. Bring a camera.
The three story building on Main Street where theatrical fetes were held is impressive. Privately owned, it has not yet been restored to its former glory but the large decorative windows of the auditorium are still obvious. Due to the resurgence of interest in Mrs. A, the present owner of Kates childhood home has plans to restore the building. Many structures in the commercial area still boast exteriors and interiors reminiscent of Kate Scott Aitkens era. Aitken is honoured with a plaque, mounted in the arena which is located at Kates former farm, "Sunnybank". The local library welcomes visitors and delights in showing their collection of "Kate" material.
The train brought the world to Beeton. Its regular arrival was a high point for villagers. Mail and strangers were awaited with equal anticipation. Kate and her parents enjoyed trips from Beeton to Toronto, the Royal Winter Fair and Canadian National Exhibition. Today, the South Simcoe Railway carries on the tradition by operating a steam train between Tottenham and Beeton during the busy tourism season. Vintage rail cars and a steam engine offer a delightful nostalgic trip for the visitors and rail buffs.
For more comprehensive information on Kate Aitken, visit the South Simcoe Pioneer Museum in Alliston. This community lays claim to two more important Canadian figures, Sir Frederick Banting, co-discoverer of Insulin and T. P. Loblaw, grocery chain magnate.
When Kate Aitken died at "Sunnybank Acres" in Streetsville near Toronto on December 11, 1971, she left Canadian woman a legacy of timely advice and cookery which has yet to be equaled.
IF YOU GO:
10 Wellington Street
Alliston, Ontario, L9R 1A1
Alliston, Ontario, L9R 1A1
Hours of business: Wednesday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Tottenham, Ontario, L0C 1W0
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