by George J. Dance


Elizabeth Roberts MacDonald (1864-1922) in Canadian Singers and their Songs, 1919. Courtesy Internet Archive.

Jane Elizabeth MacDonald
Macdonald in Canadian Poets, 1916
Born Jane Elizabeth Gostwycke Roberts
February 17, 1864
Westcock, New Brunswick
Died November 8 1922
Ottawa, Ontario
Occupation teacher
Nationality Canada Canadian
Citizenship British subject
Alma mater University of New Brunswick
Spouse(s) Samuel Archibald Roberts MacDonald
Children 2 sons, 1 daughter (Archibald G., Cuthbert Goodridge, Hilary)
Relative(s) Charles G.D. Roberts, brother

Jane Elizabeth Gostwycke MacDonald (February 17, 1864 - November 8, 1922) was a Canadian poet and children's writer. She was the sister of Confederation Poet Sir Charles G.D. Roberts, the cousin of Bliss Carman, and the father of poet Goodridge MacDonald.


Jane Elizabeth Gostwycke Roberts was born in Westcock, New Brunswick, to Emma Wetmore (Bliss) and Anglican clergyman Rev. George Goodridge Roberts. Charles G.D. Roberts was her elder brother; William Carman Roberts and Theodore Goodridge Roberts were her younger brothers. The Roberts family "provided her with an early home-schooled education and raised her in a creative household that exposed her to a world of great literary thinkers. Her later recollection of this environment inspired Our Little Canadian Cousin (1904), which she based on her own upbringing."[1]

Like her brothers, "Nain" (as her family called her) attended Fredericton Collegiate School and then the University of New Brunswick.[2]

She published poetry in literary periodicals, including The Century Magazine, The Independent, and Outing Magazine.[2] In 1885 her father paid to privately publish her first book of poetry, Poems. In 1889 her brother Charles recommended her poetry to William Douw Lighthall,[1] who included her poem "In the Golden Birch" in his anthology, Songs of the Great Dominion.[3]

She taught at the School for the Blind in Halifax, Nova Scotia in the early 1890's,[2] but resigned in 1896 to be married.[1]

In 1896 she married her cousin, Samuel Archibald Roberts MacDonald. They had 2 sons, Archibald G. and Cuthbert Goodridge, and a daughter, Hilary (who died before her 1st birthday).[1]

In 1899 her poetry was included in Northland Lyrics, a book of verse by the 3 Roberts siblings, Elizabeth and her brothers Theodore and William.

MacDonald began publishing short stories in New York Churchman and Peterson's, American magazines with a wide circulation. In 1904 she published a children's book, Our Little Canadian Cousin, which was reprinted several times.[1]

In 1906 her 2nd book of poetry, Dream Verses, and others, was published "and well received by critics."[1]

The McDonalds moved to Nelson, British Columbia in 1912, and then to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1914. There is evidence that her family was concerned about her welfare at the time, possibly because her husband had a problem with alcohol. She left her husband in 1915, moving with her sons to Ottawa, Ontario.[1]

MacDonald produced "a trickling of new poems" in 1916.[1] When her publisher refused Garvin permission to use her poetry from Dream Verses in his 1916 anthology, Canadian Poets, MacDonald sent him 8 previously unpublished poems, which he printed.[4]

MacDonald worked for women's suffrage and wrote feminist essays. She died suddenly, at home in Ottawa, in 1922.[1]


Poet and critic John Garvin praised her "instinctive knowledge and love of nature and the exquisite fancy and touch, so characteristic of this family."[1]

The New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia says that "her preferred rhythms were simple and rhyming," citing her poem "Poppies" as an example: "When all the world was white with snow / I dreamed of poppies, row on row"(1-2). It notes MacDonald's 1916 poem, "The Whispering Poplars," as an example of "her ability to make words come alive:"[1]

     I hear the whispering poplars
     In the hollow by my door;
     They sound like fairy waters
     Beside a magic shore. (1-4)

In a Dalhousie Review essay, critic Hilary Thompson argued that "'Because of a philosophy that early childhood holds the "dream" world from which poetic inspiration and a sense of immortality emanate', ... Elizabeth chose to superimpose the comforting feeling associated with youthful fancy on present events in her life."[1]





  • "In The Golden Birch," in Songs of the Great Dominion: Voices from the Forests and Waters, the Settlements and Cities of Canada. (edited by William Douw Lighthall). London, UK.: Walter Scott, 1889.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy St. Thomas University.[1]

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 Nigel Alexander Bone & Laura Hennebury, "Jane Elizabeth MacDonald," New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia, St. Thomas University,, Web, June 10, 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Elizabeth Roberts MacDonald fonds: Biographical Sketch," Harriet Irving Library,, Web, June 10, 2011.
  3. William Douw Lighthall, Songs of the Great Dominion: Voices from the Forests and Waters, the Settlements and Cities of Canada (Walter Scott [Windsor Series], 1889), Google Books, Web, June 10, 2011.
  4. John Garvin, "Elizabeth Roberts MacDonald", Canadian Poets (Toronto: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, 1916), 221, A Celebration of Women Writers,, Web, June 10, 2011.
  5. Northland Lyrics (1899), Internet Archive, Web, Nov. 25, 2012.

External linksEdit

Original Penny's Poetry Pages article, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License 3.0.
This is a signed article by User:George Dance. It may be edited for spelling errors or typos, but not for substantive content except by its author. If you have created a user name and verified your identity, provided you have set forth your credentials on your user page, you can add comments to the bottom of this article as peer review.
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.