A Francophone at Queen’s
She had never planned to go to university; no French Canadian from Kapuskasing had ever done so.
She arrived on campus with her scholarship and fears of a milieu hostile to her culture and religion. What she found were inclusion, lasting friendships, and a dynamic duality that would shape her family life and a fine career.
In the fall of 1942 an apprehensive young woman stepped down from the train at Kingston. Jacqueline Côté, BA’46, shared with other first-year students the worries about leaving home, about making friends, and about meeting academic challenges. But there was a difference.
As a French Canadian from Kapuskasing, Jacqueline would also have to cope with a world that she expected to be alien and threatening. She had learned, as a member of a minority, that the English language and the Protestant culture were instruments of assimilation and that she had a duty, almost a moral obligation, to preserve her French and Catholic identity. Yet here she was, exposing herself to what would surely be a hostile milieu.
She was in this predicament almost by accident. She had never planned to go to university; no French Canadian from Kapuskasing had ever done so. Her high school principal, a Mr. Cushnie, was impressed by her exceptional academic record and persuaded her to apply for a scholarship to Queen’s, his alma mater. Life changed when she won the scholarship.
The academic challenges she could handle. Queen’s was small enough that her problems of adjustment were eased by Registrar Jean Royce, who discussed Jacqueline’s timetable with her and drew the attention of her professors to the bright young girl who might need some help and encouragement. Fortunately, Jacqueline brought a retentive memory, a discriminatory sense of what was significant, and a determination to excel. She did feel special pressure because she needed to supplement her scholarship and aimed to win three prizes each year awarded for the best mark in the class. She succeeded, although the stress left its mark. For the rest of her life, any test, from a driver’s licence to a dental appointment, brought on a recurrent nightmare.
Jacqueline also found that Queen’s offered no challenge to her religious faith. She joined the Newman Club and was an active member during her years at Queen’s. She was fortunate that Father (later Monsignor) G.J. Hanley, DD’73, the Newman Club chaplain, took a special interest in her, encouraging her, counseling her, and reassuring her when she needed it. Hanley remained an important person in her life until his death in 1995.
More important even than her classes or her involvement with the Newman Club were her years in residence. In that first year, the other girls in Ban Righ knew little of her background, but they generously and apparently unquestioningly included her in their student life. Jacqueline found it a stimulating milieu.
Indeed, in her first year, “Jackie” (as they called her) would form lifelong friendships with Glenyce “Fergie” (Ferguson) Henshaw, BA’45; Laura (Keenan) Master, Arts’45; Bonnie (Judge) McCloskey, BA’45; and Joyce (Hoffman) Woodside, Arts’46. They had grown up in very different worlds from hers, but they and their parents, and later their children, became an important part of Jacqueline’s life.
She also would discover this was not assimilation. She could fit into an English-Canadian setting without neglecting her French-Canadian identity. It might mean investing more effort in language and in relationships, but for her it seemed worth it. The rest of her life was shaped by this duality.
Eventually, she found that bilingual Ottawa best suited this pattern. She married a man whose French was far from perfect but who also found satisfaction in living in both worlds. And later, with the children in school, Jacqueline (now Neatby), began a remarkable career as a volunteer in the development of health and social services, made possible by her unique understanding of the two cultural groups and her commitment to both of them.
And always, she was grateful to Queen’s, which had introduced her to a culture she admired without forcing her to neglect the culture that remained central to her identity.
Jacqueline (Côté) Neatby died of heart disease on October 1, 2008 in Ottawa, at the age of 84.
After she graduated with her Honours BA in 1946, historian Frederick Gibson, BA’42, MA’44, LLD’91, chose her to help organize the papers of then-Prime Minister Mackenzie King, who was nearing retirement and was thinking of writing his memoirs.
This invitation was to mark her life in many ways. Jacqueline was working at the National Archives in Ottawa helping to index King’s papers when she met H. Blair Neatby, who came to the Archives to research a thesis on Wilfrid Laurier and who later became King’s official biographer.
Jacqueline and Blair married in 1961. She is survived by Blair, author of this article, and by their children: Jacques, Artsci’88, EMBA’99; Nicole, MA’87; and Pierre, Artsci’85.