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Memorable Manitobans: Margaret Ann Bjornson / Lady Margaret Elton (1915-1995)

Film producer, historian.

Born in 1915, daughter of Olafur Bjornson and Sigurdur Brandson, she grew up at the family home at 764 Victor Street, Winnipeg. She attended Daniel McIntyre Collegiate and the University of Manitoba where she was co-editor of The Manitoban (1935-1936). In June 1936, she left for an extended trip to Europe aboard the Empress of Britain. There, she studied German literature at a university in Munich and visited relatives in Iceland. On her return, she spent several weeks visiting her sister Edith in Hartford, Connecticut.

In February 1937, she was a keynote speaker at the Icelandic National League convention at the IOGT Hall on Sargent Avenue giving her impressions of Iceland and was elected to the committee that would go on to create an Icelandic young person’s group for Winnipeg. From 1939 to 1941, she was an English honours student at the University of Manitoba under professor Roy Daniells and on the editorial staff of the school’s Manitoba Arts Review (1941). In July 1941, she married classmate Alan H. Adamson although the marriage later ended in divorce. The couple went to Ottawa to work for the fledgling National Film Board of Canada under its first commissioner, John Grierson. Bjornson worked as a researcher and producer on numerous films including the 1941 short, Iceland on the Prairies.

She went to Britain after the Second World War where she met, worked for and, in 1948, married Arthur Elton, the pioneering British documentary filmmaker of the 1930s and 1940s. During the war, he was Britain’s Supervisor of Films at the Ministry of Information and afterwards moved into the production side of the film industry.

Elton became the 10th Baron of Elton in 1953 and Bjornson became Lady Margaret Elton. Along with the baronetcy, the couple inherited Clevedon Court in North Somerset, England which had been the ancestral home of the Elton family since 1709. They donated the home to the United Kingdom’s National Trust in 1960 in lieu of paying estate taxes and then set about the long process of having it restored to its former glory. She returned to Winnipeg at least one time, in 1957 to see family and open the annual tea of the Ladies’ Aid Society of First Lutheran Church, an organization with which her mother was closely associated.

Lord Elton died in January 1973 and she kept up the work on the home and grounds. She also spent ten years researching the history of Clevedon Court and the Elton family for her book Annals of the Elton Family: Bristol Merchants & Somerset Landowners which was published the year before her death. She died on 16 May 1995 after being struck by a vehicle in the Chelsea district of London, England. She left three children: Julia Margaret Hallam Elton (b 1949), Rebecca Wiggin Elton (b 1951), and Sir Charles Abraham Grierson Elton, the 11th Baron of Elton (b 1953).

Sources:

“Travelling abroad,” Winnipeg Tribune, 21 November 1936.

“To remain east for Christmas,” Winnipeg Free Press, 12 December 1936.

“Engagements,” Winnipeg Tribune, 14 July 1941.

“Margaret Ann Bjornson and Alan H Adamson wed,” Winnipeg Free Press, 19 July 1941.

“Margaret Ann Bjornson and Alan H. Adamson wed at colorful home ceremony,” Winnipeg Free Press, 19 July 1941, page 15.

Obituary [Margaret Ann Elton], Independent, 7 June 1995.

Coroner attacks use of helicopter ambulance,” The Independent, 2 August 1995.

NFB Kids: Portrayals of Children in the NFB 1939-1989 by Brian John Low, University of British Columbia, 1998.

Professing English: A Life of Roy Daniells by Sandra Djwa, University of Toronto Press, 2002.

Ferguson's Gang: The Remarkable Story of the National Trust Gangsters by Polly Bagnall and Sally Beck, National Trust, 2016.

Clarendon House, The National Trust.

Elton, The Peerage.

This page was prepared by Christian Cassidy.

Page revised: 23 August 2019

Memorable Manitobans

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