Memorable Manitobans: Elena “Lily” Jamon (1918-2009)
Born at Sirko on 3 April 1918, the third of ten children of Anasia “Anna” Chobotar (1895-1986) and John E. Jaman (1891-1970), sister of John Jaman, her birth registration records her name as Elena Jaman although her family called her Lily. An interest in photography may well have been acquired from her father who owned the only camera in his community, a Conley, that he used to document community events. His camera is now on display in the Gardenton Ukrainian Museum. She attended Somme School until the age of thirteen. Two years later, she was living in Winnipeg, first working as a nanny, then as a fabric cutter and quality controller with the prominent clothing manufacturer, S. Stall and Sons, in the Peck Building.
In 1942, she moved to Toronto where she found work as a darkroom technician with the studio of Pringle and Booth whose work was prominent in catalogue and fashion photography. At Pringle and Booth, so the story goes, when a photographer needed a hat for one of his models and none was available, Lily twisted two gloves together and thus launched a career as a milliner. The needlework skills she acquired at home from her mother and sisters, as well as her years working as a cutter, her distinctive sense of colour and design, and her capacity for hard work, soon transformed this fanciful story into reality. Beginning in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, El Jamon established herself as one of Toronto’s most fashionable and sought after couture milliners. In Toronto, as her hat-making grew into a successful business, she changed the second “a” in her surname to an “o” and designed a distinctive “El Jamon” label for her hats.
In 1953, Tom Patterson, founder and artistic director of the Stratford Festival, invited her to become its first milliner. There, for more than a decade, she worked closely with designers such as Tanya Moiseiwitsch and Desmond Heeley. The red cap, designed by Moiseiwitsch and made by Lily, which Alec Guinness wore as the title character in Stratford’s inaugural production of Richard III, is preserved today in the Stratford Archives. Her career as a milliner flourished in the 1960s and well into the late 1970s. In Toronto, she created distinctive, often dramatic hats for clients such as Elizabeth Gordon (wife of Walter Gordon), Maryon Pearson (wife of Lester Pearson), Brenda Davies (wife of Robertson Davies), and Christine Bissell (wife of Claude Bissell). Her client list of more than 700 women included philanthropists, academics, businesswomen, designers, artists, and housewives.
Her creative talents were not limited to millinery. For friends such as Frances Boorer (an interior designer), Elaine Campbell (wife of Norman Campbell and co-creator, with Don Harron, of Anne of Green Gables: The Musical), and for her daughter Natasha (born 1946), a top fashion model, she designed and made elegant dresses, coats, and separates, with a keen eye for fine fabrics. Later in life, she expressed her creativity through drawing and watercolour painting.
She died on 24 October 2009 and her cremains are in the Garden of Remembrance of Mount Pleasant Cemetery at Toronto. Today, El Jamon’s hats are in museum collections across Canada, including the Costume Museum of Canada (Winnipeg), Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto), McCord Museum (Montreal), Agnes Etherington Art Centre (Kingston), Fashion History Museum (Cambridge, ON), and Mobile Millinery Museum (Ontario). Hats by El Jamon are worn today with flair and love by the descendants of highly accomplished women, who knew their minds and signaled this to the world through the hats they wore.
Birth registration [Elena Jaman], Manitoba Vital Statistics.
Obituary [John E. Jaman], Winnipeg Free Press, 25 September 1970, page 34.
Obituary [Anna Jaman], Steinbach Carillon, 9 July 1986, page 13.
This page was prepared by Deirdre Macdonald.
Page revised: 13 April 2021