In 1912, as a Lenten promise to herself, the young Wanda Wyatt picked up a pen and began to write in a journal. She thought she would keep a record of the daily happenings in her life, and as a student at Edgehill School for Girls in Windsor, Nova Scotia, she had lots of interesting events to record – debating competitions, school outings, subjects studied and resulting grades, sleeping arrangements which sometimes seemed unfair, and even cookies carefully sneaked out of the kitchen. Over a hundred journals later, Wanda maintained her daily record keeping with the aid of her hired staff, who also had become personal friends. It is through Wanda’s diligence, attention to detail, and love of heritage that the Wyatt Heritage Properties exist today.
Born in 1895 to Cecelia Lefurgey Wyatt and James Edward Wyatt, Wanda was a sister to Dorothy (b.1893), also an occasional journal writer. The girls had a younger brother, Ivan, who passed away at the age of two. Wanda’s early education was in Summerside, where she rivalled eventual Premier Thane Campbell for top marks. In September 1908, Wanda entered Edgehill Church School For Girls in Windsor, Nova Scotia, where she stayed until 1913, having earned her Edgehill leaving certificate and accompanying lifelong status as “Old Girl.” She advanced to McGill University in Montreal, being only one of five girls to pass the matriculation exam between 1901 and 1919. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree, busily studying, playing sports and filling any spare time with sojourns to the theatre as well as assisting with the war effort by knitting socks to help keep the boys overseas warm.
Uncertain after McGill as to which direction to take her life, Wanda chose to join her sister Dorothy and mother Cecelia in Chicago, where Cecelia was undergoing treatment for her bronchial and gastrointestinal difficulties at the Lindlahr Sanitarium. After conferring with her father, a Summerside lawyer and Member of the Provincial Assembly, Wanda decided to upgrade her education by taking courses pertaining to the field of law at the University of Chicago. During this time she also took folk dancing lessons with “…the instructress Miss Boyd, who was really quite famous.” Upon returning to the Island, Wanda’s father, Ned, helped pave the way for her entry into the study of law, thus making her the first woman on the Island to do so. Wanda assisted her father in his practice, as well as helped administer the mortgages the family held throughout Prince County.
Wanda Wyatt, from her early days, loved sports. She found skating exhilarating, “especially when the ice was good on the harbour.” Tennis and badminton were favourite activities, enjoyed along with bowling and croquet, popular summer sports. Wanda Wyatt loved to dance and often attended house dances and band concerts on the lawn and in the Town Square. Involvement in amateur theatre and the choir at St. Mary’s Anglican Church were outlets for Wanda’s penchant for the arts as well. Some weeks, Wanda and her friends attended up to three films at Happyland, the local movie theatre. She was a woman who loved to expand her mind, and often recorded in her journals these sojourns to the theatre, as well as her opinions of the films viewed.
Miss Wanda Wyatt lived through two world wars. The first, while she was attending McGill University, left the campus almost deserted of young men. During the Second, due to the establishment on the outskirts of Summerside of the No. 9 Service Flying Training School and its accompanying large influx of young men, Wanda and her sister Dorothy opened their home at 85 Spring Street to boarders. Of those who survived the war, many remained lifelong friends. “It was a very memorable time when so many of our men left for the front. I remember the first group that used to drop in for a singsong round the piano. They left for combat but never returned alive, so I was told.” Wanda and Dorothy hosted many an evening singsong in their spacious front room during those turbulent war years.
Although she never married, saying that “she didn’t want to be a plant – she wanted to live and grow in her own way,” Wanda was heavily involved in a number of activities at any given time in her life. Besides a love for sports and the arts, she was a charter member of the IODE, and an active participant in the Red Cross. She was one of the founding members of the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation and must have often thought about eventually having her home developed as a museum, because she had the foresight to document the provenance, or origins, of many of the lovely antiques within its walls.
Wanda was a meticulous record-keeper who eventually amassed considerable savings. From an early age, she had been avidly trained by her father Ned to care for and invest her earnings. In 1966 she established the Wyatt Foundation, a charitable organization that over the years made numerous contributions to various Prince Edward Island non-profit agencies. It is this legacy that has left the City of Summerside its heritage cornerstone, the Wyatt Heritage Properties. Other organizations that have benefited from Miss Wyatt’s generosity are the Harbourfront Theatre, the College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts, the University of Prince Edward Island, the Prince Edward Island Humane Society, and the Canadian Red Cross, among others.
Dr. Wanda Wyatt lived a very full life accented with a loving family, world travels, hundreds of bridge games, a passion for arts and culture, great affection for her beloved cats, and lifelong friendships. In the last decade of her life she received many honours as a result of her commitment and dedication to Prince Edward Island. This included an honorary doctorate from the University of Prince Edward Island, bestowed upon Miss Wanda Lefurgey Wyatt in 1992.
In January of 1998, at the grand age of 102 years, Wanda slipped peacefully into an everlasting sleep. She was ushered into the next world to the strains of one of her favourite songs, “Beautiful Dreamer.” She loved to show off her house. Today, many visitors yearly admire this gracious lady’s keen eye for collecting as they are escorted through her lifelong home at 85 Spring Street, nestled among the shady heritage streets of Summerside.
(Biographical sketch written by Susan Rodgers, first curator of the Wyatt House Museum.)