Ballantyne, Frances Elizabeth Stephens, 1912-2014

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Ballantyne, Frances Elizabeth Stephens, 1912-2014

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  • Ballantyne, Murray Gordon, Mrs., 1912-2014

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Frances Elizabeth Stephens, co-founder of the Priory School in Montreal, was a member of a socially prominent Montreal family. She was born in Paris where her parents, stock broker Francis Chattan Stephens and Hazel Kemp, both children of wealthy politicians, were on an extended honeymoon. They returned to Montreal but when war broke out they left Frances’ 18-month-old brother, John Harrison Chattan Stephens, with her widowed grandmother, and Frances and her mother headed back to England where her father was a lieutenant in the 13th Canadian Battalion of the British Expeditionary Force. Her grandmother, Mrs. George Washington Stephens (née Frances Ramsey McIntosh), insisted that, regardless of the war, she must make her regular spring trip to Paris for the spring fashion collections. She and her grandson (with nanny and maid) went down with the Lusitania when it was struck by a German torpedo. Ironically, the ship Hesperian, bringing her body back to Montreal, was sunk by the same German submarine.
Meanwhile, Frances’ father contracted trench fever in France and was treated in a Red Cross hospital in Rouen. After the family returned to Canada with her father in poor health, he died of Spanish flu in 1918. Six-year-old Frances was with her mother in Toronto -- visiting at Castle Frank, the mansion of her maternal grandfather, Sir Albert Kemp, a Canadian MP and later military minister — when her father died. Her mother remarried in 1920 and travelled frequently; Frances would thus often be left in the care of a nanny or governess. After her mother converted to Catholicism and the family moved temporarily to England, teenager Frances was sent to a Catholic boarding school and became quite pious. Back in Montreal, she attended City House Convent of the Sacred Heart, graduating in 1930. She enrolled briefly at McGill University in arts but dropped out to marry Murray Gordon Ballantyne, son of Canadian senator Charles Colquhon Ballantyne.
Frances became a member of a group interested in education and made friends with Alphonsine Howlett with whom she embarked on a plan to start an English Catholic independent school for children 7 to 12. Her marriage in 1947 did not deter her, and the women began lessons in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighborhood with 25 children with herself as principal. She later put up the funds for a down payment on the Sir Charles Lindsay house on The Boulevard; they moved the school there, with the two friends doing the cleaning and repairs themselves. Frances held that principal’s post until 1981, while raising four daughters and two sons. The Priory School, still on The Boulevard, now has more than 160 pupils plus a waiting list. On her 100th birthday she received a blessing from Pope Francis. She died four days short of her 102nd birthday.


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