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Mabel Meisner Macdonald

Mabel Meisner Macdonald was born in the Fundy shore village of Chipman Brook, NS, in 1898, the twelfth of the twelve children of fisherman James Albert Meisner and his wife Lila Jane. The Meisners belonged to what Mabel's nephew Mariss described as "a good old Nova Scotian family" that had arrived in Nova Scotia aboard the English ship 'Murdock' in 1751.

In 1916, Charlie sent Mabel a photograph of his cement brick factory, with a question scrawled across the back: "Do you think that this has the makings of a house? Most everyone laughs at it." Mabel must have liked what she saw, for soon after she and Charlie got married in Kentville's Presbyterian Church. The wedding seems to have been something of an unusual affair. Charlie gave his bride a rolling pin as a wedding present and the newlyweds walked all the way back from the church to Centreville after the ceremony.

After their wedding, Mabel helped her husband turn his factory into a home. Later, Mabel remembered it as having been arduous work: "we had an awful time. It was so hard." For several months, the Macdonalds lived in a tent on the flat roof of their home. Mabel did all of this even though she did not share her husband's devotion to concrete for its own sake. A 1951 newspaper story on Macdonald House reported that, "Mrs. Macdonald wishes that there could be a little more wood around the place."

Mabel's chosen medium was not concrete but rug-hooking. Using the "Waldoboro method" from Maine to create a relief by hoving up patches of wool, Mabel gave her rugs a wonderfully varied texture. Several can be seen in the Charles Macdonald House Museum. Sometimes Charlie and Mabel would collaborate, with Charlie drawing a design and Mabel turning it into a rug. The finest example is "The Expulsion of the Acadians," a representation of the 1755 Deportation, now in the collection of the Université de Moncton.

Mabel shared her husband's enthusiasms for hunting, camping, and skating, and they often travelled to the Cabot Trail and Prince Edward Island. She also earned a reputation as a great cook, and many people in the Centreville area remember coming to her house for cookies when they were children. The Macdonalds were married for more than fifty years, until Charlie's death in 1967.

After her husband died, Mabel continued to spend summers at Huntington Point and the rest of the year in Centreville, just as she and Charlie had always done. She remained spry and independent in her old age, still travelling when she could and maintaining both of her concrete homes. Mabel died in 1981, just after the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia's major retrospective on Charlie's life and work.

Mabel's Recipes

Mabel Meisner Macdonald is remembered fondly as a good cook and a generous hostess. Neighbourhood children used to walk past her house as slowly as they could, so that she would see them and invite them in for cookies.

Easy Date-Filled Cookies

  • 1 cup margarine
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Cream together the margarine and sugar, add eggs and blend well. Then stir in the remaining ingredients. Drop by teaspoon on cookie sheet. Make a hole in the centre of each cookie, press down a little, then put a teaspoon of the dough on top of the date filling and spread over dates. Bake 10 or 20 minutes in a moderate oven.

Date Filling:
Combine 2 cups dates (cut up) with 3/4 cup white sugar and 3/4 cup water. Cook on stove, then add and stir in 1/2 cup nuts. Be sure to cool filling before putting in cookies. With a teaspoon form a well in the top of each cookie for the date filling.

Mabel's Applesauce Cake

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1-1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 cup applesauce
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1-3/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Combine ingredients and bake in a medium oven for one hour.
Walnuts are an optional but welcome addition.

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