Gardens | History | Elsie Reford

Elsie Reford Family

Elsie Reford was born Mary Elsie Stephen Meighen on January 22, 1872. She grew up in Montreal where her father was president of the Lake of the Woods Milling Company, the largest flour milling company in the British Empire. Her mother, Elsie Stephen, was the youngest sister of George Stephen. George Stephen was a railway baron who had made a fortune building and operating a railway from St. Paul, Minnesota into Manitoba in the 1870s. The St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway was the foundation of a business empire that spanned the North American continent and made Stephen and his principal partners, his cousin Donald Smith (later Lord Strathcona) and J.J. Hill, some of the wealthiest men of their time. In 1880, Stephen founded the Canadian Pacific Railway. As president and principal financier, he was chiefly responsible for building the transcontinental railway that linked Montreal to Vancouver, completed in 1885. Stephen’s accomplishment earned him recognition from Queen Victoria, who made him Sir George Stephen, baronet, of Montreal and Grand-Metis, Quebec.

Stephen lived in Montreal, but took several weeks off every summer to indulge in the sport of salmon-fishing on the rivers of eastern Quebec. In the 1870s he leased the Metis River and then bought 100 acres of property overlooking the river in 1886. In 1887, he built Estevan Lodge, a rambling wooden building sufficiently large to accommodate his fishing parties. Stephen was elevated to the peerage in 1891, taking the title Lord Mount Stephen after the mountain in the Canadian Rockies named in his honour. The first Canadian to be made a member of the House of Lords, Stephen left Montreal to take his seat at Westminster. Quiet and unassuming, Stephen lived in London and Brocket Hall, a country house outside London. Thereafter, he spent little time in Canada. He loaned Estevan Lodge to his friends, who made an annual pilgrimage to the Metis River to ply its waters. One of the regular visitors was his niece, Elsie Reford.

With no children of his own, Stephen gave his fortune to charity and distributed his possessions among his family. He gave Estevan Lodge to Elsie Reford in 1918. Reportedly Stephen’s favourite niece, she shared his love of salmon-fishing. Every season, she would write her uncle detailing the fish she had caught, their size and the pools where she had the greatest success. As she had inherited a third of her father’s fortune and was married to Robert Wilson Reford, the eldest son of a Montreal shipping magnate, she also had the means to maintain the river and the large staff of guardians and guides who worked at Estevan Lodge.

To learn more about Elsie Reford’s father, Robert Meighen or her uncle, George Stephen consult their complete biographies by Alexander Reford (click on the name to be directed to their bibliography).