Genealogy Hedgecoe-McKenna History

Matilda Nickle

Any genealogist that’s been at this a while will understand my recent experience.  I was headed along, seeking information on Matilda Nickle, daughter of Mary Margaret Forbes and Andrew Nickle of Strabane, Tyrone, Ireland who had immigrated to Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  Matilda married Andrew Sym in 1868 when they met in Montreal, you’d think there would be a plethora of available information on the couple and yet, I guess with the variations of Sym, Sim, Simm, Sims and so on that they’re most difficult to trace.  Mark has done the majority of the work on these lines so for me, it was a challenge to find anything he hadn’t seen before.

In hunting for records for the elder, I came across records for her niece – Matilda Nickle.  Mary Nelson and Andrew Nickle named their daughter for his sister, and Matilda Nickle was born 16 Jun 1875 in Donegal, Ireland.

Some might question why these Nickles, connected to me via Mary Ann Walker who married one of the many James Nickles (Also son of Mary Ann Nelson and Andrew Nickle) are so imperative to my personal research.  As I’ve mentioned before, to clarify, my Aunt from the Keffer side is no other than a Nickle descended from this exact same line.  So in her being both my Aunt and my cousin – What a tangled web we weave – We’ve long endeavored to collect information to share with my Aunt and her family when we have time to get together and share it.

In finding the younger Matilda on the 1911 Census, my heart started pounding…  I slowed down.  I took another look.  In the unfortunate standard fashion, the titled of her residence was transcribed as ‘Penterland Hospital St Isaane’…  I don’t know about you, but to me, St. Insaane set off a few warning bells that had nothing to do with Catholic Saints.  Memories of Kankakee Hospital research flooded my mind.

Image of the Protestant Hospital for the Insane in Verdun, Quebec from

Image of the Protestant Hospital for the Insane in Verdun, Quebec from

From our research, we know Matilda Nickle was an Inmate in the Protestant Hospital for the Insane in Verdun, Quebec, which has since been annexed into Montreal, Quebec in the 1911 and the 1921 Census.  The hospital has since been known as the Douglas Mental Health University Institute (2006).

The Protestant Hospital for the Insane was noted as a progressive institution, in that they encouraged inmates to work, either on their own farm where they grew food for their own tables, or with arts and crafts that were sold for funding the hospital.  There was also an outpatient program put into place.  Below we’re adding a photograph from the McCord Museum collection taken by William Notman & Sons titled ‘Handicraft show, Protestant Hospital for the Insane, Verdun, QC, 1913-14’.  A second photograph from another angle is available.  As well – There is an additional photograph of the Hospital taken about 1890.


We have not been able to locate Matilda Nickle’s grave, as she doesn’t appear to be in Mount Royal Cemetery with her family, not by death record or cemetery record.  The site itself does not appear to have a cemetery on its grounds like Kankakee.  It’s clear that before 1900 the deceased and unclaimed bodies were handed over to the ‘Inspector of Anatomy’ where I would guess, they were used for medical research.  (Montreal GenWeb’s page confirms this

Information on the Protestant Hospital for the Insane:

After the Asylum by Dominic Dagenais –

The Asylum Projects preservation efforts on historical information on world wide hospitals is absolutely invaluable for anyone seeking information about where their ancestors resided.

Information on Thomas Joseph Workman Burgess, Medial Superintendent of the hospital –

As well, I strongly encourage the reading of this article by Daniel Francis.  One of our comments questioned the institutionalizing of their relative and if it were possible to have someone who was not mentally ill placed in ‘care’.  This article goes into the matter in historical case and context in depth for Canadian Hospitals, which don’t sound much different from American ones at all.

Sane or Insane? The Case of Rose Lynam by Daniel Francis –

Another article of interest is a blog posting by Genealogy: Beyond the BMD about her great-grand Uncle who was at the hospital as an inmate:

In leaving you all for today, I’m going to include a snip that Genealogy: Beyond the BMD shared – Because it’s stunning all on it’s own.  Quebec Angelophone Heritage Network’s Medical Milestones Quebec Heritage Newsletter included this listing from 1890-1910 as ‘probable causes of insanity’


Always one for making things pretty, Jenn is our resident artist. Métis, British Home Child Descendant, family historian and genealogist, she is always looking into some new branch of research and encourages historical preservation and education.

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