Memorable Manitobans: Lillian Gibbons (1906-1996)
Born in Winnipeg on 24 June 1906, daughter of Ernest Gibbons and Alice Gofe [4, 5], her parents later separated and she was raised by a cultured and conservative mother from whom she gained a delicate way of viewing the world around her. Attending the University of Manitoba in the 1920s she became, in 1928, one of its first female gold medalists in history. She returned to the University in the early 1930s to earn a Master’s degree in Canadian history.
She joined the editorial staff of the Winnipeg Tribune, where she specialized instories on Winnipeg history, railways, hotels, and clubs:
She worked at the Tribune for 40 years until her retirement in 1972. She never married. Lillian was a true “character”, known as much for her personal appearance as for her personality:
She enjoyed walking and watching the horse races at Assiniboia Downs, especially when members of royal family were visiting. Lillian was well known for her frugality, never seeming to buy anything. She read the daily newspapers at the Legislative Library rather than buy them. Many thought she was poor. Yet, she was a shrewd stock market investor, travelling all over North America by bus to attend stockholder meetings. At the time of her death, she left a half million dollars to be divided among her favorite charities.
In 1969, Gibbons published a series of stories she had written about Louis Riel under the title My Love Affair with Louis Riel. A book called Stories Houses Tell followed three years later. Based on the columns she had begun in the Tribune in 1935, the book became a best-seller and copies can still be found in antiquarian bookstores. It told the stories of old houses around Winnipeg and the interesting people who once lived in them. She often visited the houses just before they were demolished and her accounts of over 300 houses and their families is an important part of our historic record. In 1970, she was awarded a Manitoba Centennial Medal by the Manitoba Historical Society. She was recognized by Heritage Winnipeg with a Distinguished Service Award.
Lillian Gibbons died on 13 February 1996 during a trip on the Amazon River near the Brazilian city of Manaus, in her 89th year. She had earlier remarked to fellow passengers, “If I die before we get to shore, just throw me overboard.” (They did not do it.) The minister at her memorial service later observed: “Lillian’s last words ... may seem crude to some but they spoke volumes. She put no value in material things. Unlike many, she did not live as one in captivity. And she knew that in spite of what people might think of her, she was a child of God. Loved. Forgiven. Empowered. Okay.”
Her articles for the Manitoba Historical Society:
1. Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press by Christopher Dafoe, 17 February 1996.
2. Obituary, Globe & Mail by Lesley Hughes, 15 April 1996.
3. Obituary, Today’s Seniors by Barry Mullin, May 1996.
4. Birth registration, Manitoba Vital Statistics.
5. 1911 Canada census, Automated Genealogy.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 30 May 2014
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