Ursula MacDonald: Mother. Teacher. Cursive writer. Baker. Born Dec. 3, 1924, in East Royalty, P.E.I.; died April 28, 2020, in Charlottetown, of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; aged 95.
Much to the delight of her children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, Ursula MacDonald was a serious cookie baker. Simple homemade cookies, such as a molasses toughie or a raisin spice. No sprinkles or icing. A bit earnest, but delicious and often served warm from the oven. Ursula’s style was reflected in her baking: steady, measured, strait-laced – and full of love.
Ursula grew up in the middle of four brothers and six sisters born to Wendelin and Frances Morrissey; they lived on farmland that is now part of Charlottetown’s airport. The practical, hard-working family ensured the children were educated and pursued careers in fields such as nursing, the clergy, farming and teaching. In later years, when her brothers died, she remained close with her sisters.
Sharp and detail-oriented, Ursula graduated from Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown with a Teacher’s Certificate in 1943. Her first job was in a one-room schoolhouse and she would spend the next 35 years as a teacher on the Island.
In 1950, Ursula married John MacDonald, a lanky army veteran with a twinkle in his eye, who worked for Parks Canada in Prince Edward Island National Park. They were opposites with an attraction: John was a storyteller with a wry sense of humour while Ursula was more reserved and no-nonsense, with an understated sense of humour. Sometimes when John told a tall tale, she would give a slight eye roll, then add a quiet comment or two. She didn’t undercut the story, just added a relevant tidbit to give it a firmer footing.
They raised four children, Cheryl, Margaret, Michael and Charles, on a farm in Pleasant Grove, near Charlottetown. John and Ursula were welcoming to family and neighbours in a kind, modest way, often over a game of cribbage. Ursula was always quick to offer a cup a tea, a sandwich and, of course, cookies.
Over the years, as her family would come back for visits: She’d set down a plate of cookies with tumblers of milk poured from a cold glass bottle, then sit back and smile. The cookies would keep on coming.
Ursula had a special bond with the other women that married into the MacDonald clan. Ursula and sisters-in-law Betty, Kay and Teresa called themselves the “outlaws,” but they were beloved by the family.
Ursula’s writing was beautiful, her grandchildren’s less so. Ever the teacher, she organized cursive writing lessons for them, drawing on her mastery of the MacLean Method of handwriting. She believed handwriting was a necessary, proper skill. She took pride in writing neatly and perfectly, even a grocery list. No scribbles or scrawls.
Ursula was down-to-earth and practical, never frivolous or flowery. John died in 2016 and Ursula lived her final years with her daughter, Margaret, and later in a retirement residence. She died peacefully during the pandemic and was laid to rest, quietly and without fanfare, beside other MacDonalds.
Ursula was one sweet toughie cookie.
Jim MacDonald is Ursula’s nephew.
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