Anne Hart was a librarian by profession, but her aptitude for storytelling and exacting research led her to write her own popular and critically acclaimed books, starting with two authorized fictional biographies of Agatha Christie’s beloved sleuths: The Life and Times of Miss Jane Marple (1985 Dodd, Mead), and The Life and Times of Hercule Poirot (Pavilion/Penguin 1990). Both were eventually translated into seven languages, including Dutch and Japanese.
Equally notable was her success in gaining permission for the books in the first place. The estate of Ms. Christie, who had died in 1976, was very protective of her work and Ms. Hart’s first contact with the estate agent, Hughes Massie Ltd. of London, England, was not promising. “He wrote back and said, more or less, ‘Shut up and go away. You can’t do this,'" she told Memorial University of Newfoundland’s newspaper, The Gazette, in 1998. "But I kept on with it because it was such fun.” So she sent the Marple manuscript to Dodd, Mead, Ms. Christie’s American publisher, and they liked it so much they sent a copy to Ms. Christie’s daughter and estate overseer, Rosalind Hicks. Not only did Ms. Hicks allow it, but she invited Ms. Hart to visit her in Devon and asked her to follow up with a biography of Hercule Poirot. As Ms. Hart told Atlantic Insight magazine in 1985, “It’s true it is a bit of a coup for someone from Newfoundland, but then I took the project very seriously. I felt I had a marketable idea and I set out to be a meticulous biographer.”
In the role of biographer, Ms. Hart also collaborated with Roberta Buchanan and Bryan Greene on the acclaimed The Woman Who Mapped Labrador: The Life and Expedition of Mina Hubbard (McGill-Queen’s, 2005): Ms. Buchanan annotated Ms. Hubbard’s expedition diary, Mr. Greene detailed her cartography and Ms. Hart wrote her personal story. Ms. Hubbard (1870-1956), had set out in June, 1905, with dresses, supplies and four escorts, crossing 927 kilometres from North West River to Ungava Bay in 61 days, mostly by canoe, completing the journey that had defeated, and killed, her husband, Leonidas, two years before. (Ms. Hubbard also competed against, and triumphed over, the rival expedition of her husband’s former partner, Dillon Wallace).
Unlike other adventurers who focused on hardships and peril, Ms. Hubbard “just loved the whole thing,” Ms. Hart told The Beacon newspaper in 2005. Significantly, the journey resulted in notable advancements in geographical knowledge, and is an achievement in the history of Canadian women’s scientific work, Parks Canada historian Marianne Stopp said in an e-mail. Eventually recognized for her contributions, Ms. Hubbard was made a Fellow of Britain’s Royal Geographical Society in 1927, and her book A Woman’s Way Through Unknown Labrador (1908) is a classic of Canadian exploration literature.
Ms. Hart “was the first to research the life of this explorer of interior Labrador, and to find unknown, original documents,” Ms. Stopp said. “In doing so, she both brought [her] to life and gave her the gravitas that she and her accomplishments deserved.” Before Ms. Hart’s work, Ms. Hubbard “was largely considered a plucky little miss whose accomplishments were really those of her male crew,” Ms. Stopp continued. “The same thinking would never be levelled to male explorers such as David Thompson, Henry Youle Hind, Albert Peter Low and many others, who were entirely dependent on their Indigenous, Métis, and or backwoodsmen travel companions.”
The biographical work Ms. Hart did “became the foundation for my research for the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada,” Ms. Stopp said. That body in turn recommended to the federal government that Ms. Hubbard “be designated as a person of national historic significance, which was ratified in 2018. This could not have happened without [Ms. Hart’s] in-depth study of Hubbard Ellis’s life.”
Ms. Hart’s passion for history also informed her work as head librarian of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies at Memorial University, leading her to start the library’s archives (now Archives and Special Collections), a script bank and a repository for literary manuscripts, as well as a preservation unit, which now serves the whole university. She also started the Newfoundland and Labrador periodical article index, which now numbers 100,000 articles dating back to the 1600s.
Ms. Hart “was very good at initiatives,” said Joan Ritcey, who became as head librarian after Ms. Hart’s retirement in 1998.
The Centre for Newfoundland Studies, established in 1965, has a mandate “to collect all material possible on all aspects of Newfoundland and Labrador.” As Ms. Hart explained to The Gazette, “One thing that is important to us is that we like to collect a lot of ephemeral stuff. Everything that everybody else would throw away,” even political pamphlets, or snow-clearing notices. The centre includes more than 93,000 volumes as well as many thousands of texts, maps and photographs.
She oversaw as many as 18 staff and kept tabs on the vital day-to-day routines of the library while looking after everything from research plans to acquisitions. “A lot of material also comes through private collections, so she networked with [collectors]," according to Ms. Ritcey.
Ms. Hart did it all gracefully. “She was really very nice to work for,” Ms. Ritcey said. “Like the best teachers you love in school she let you know she thought you were very capable, she let you design your own work. She had faithful teams. We would want to please her.”
On Oct. 9, two days after her 84th birthday, Anne Hart died in Victoria, where she had moved in 2016 to be with her daughter, Susan. She had suffered from various health issues.
Margaret Eleanor Anne Hill was born Oct. 7, 1935, in Winnipeg, to the former Adeline Olive Earls, a teacher from Clones, Ireland, and Edgar Murray McCheyne Hill, of Guelph, Ont., who became chief engineer for the western region of the Canadian National Railways. She had two older siblings, Mary and John. Her parents died before she was six and she was raised by her father’s sister, Anita, and her agriculturalist husband, Wylie Baird, in Nappan, Cumberland County, N.S. Her rural upbringing included attending a two-room schoolhouse.
She earned an arts degree from Dalhousie University and a Library Science degree from McGill University, and worked at Dalhousie Library’s Kipling Collection and the Science Museum in London, England. During her studies, she met David Stanley Hart, a psychologist, and they married in 1959. They had three children: Susan, Peter and Stephen. She moved to Newfoundland in 1962, when Dr. Hart was hired by Memorial University’s Psychology Department. She started working at the university in 1969, becoming head librarian at the CNS in 1976.
She was a careful researcher and a good writer; in those precomputer days, she composed on cue cards. She also wrote and published poetry and short stories – her story Help Me, Hepplewhite won the Chatelaine Short Story contest in 1975 and was later adapted as a radio play for the CBC. Her writing is also featured in the first collection of Dropped Threads: What We Aren’t Told, along with such other authors as Margaret Atwood and June Callwood (Vintage Canada, 2001).
A volunteer with many feminist and literary organizations and causes, she was a founding member of the Writer’s Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women, and served with the Newfoundland Public Libraries Board, the provincial Human Rights Association, the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council and the Winterset Foundation.
Soft-spoken, refined and funny, she was very private but nonetheless garnered recognition for her work. She was named a member of the Order of Canada in 2004 for “building a priceless and internationally renowned collection of Newfoundlandiana,” and received an honorary degree from Memorial University in 2006.
Ms. Hart was predeceased by her son, historian Peter Hart, in 2010. She and Dr. Hart divorced in the 1980s, but remained friends, even lunching together a week before Ms. Hart died. She leaves her daughter, Susan, and son Stephen.