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Elsie Jury: Pioneering Local Archaeology

Elsie Jury Typing Notes in the Field
Elsie Jury typing notes in the field

The career of Dr. Elsie Jury is just as fascinating as the career of her husband, Wilfrid Jury, and she played a huge role in fostering the acceptance of women in Ontario archaeology!

Elsie was of Irish and Scottish decent; her parents had immigrated to Millbank (Mornington Township) in Perth County in the early 19th century.  Her father was a doctor and her mother stayed at home to raise their family

Elsie was very ambitious, but during the early 20th century education for women wasn’t always valued.  Regardless, Elsie went to the University of Toronto and completed her undergraduate degree, specializing in English and History, in 1933.  She then received her MA in History at Columbia University.  In her MA thesis Elsie wrote about the heritage of her ancestors, the Scottish settlers of Perth County.

In 1935, Elsie went back to the University of Toronto.  She worked as a researcher for the Toronto Public Libraries while she pursued a degree in Library Science from the university. Not long after, in 1942, she took a job at the University of Western Ontario Reference Library. Elsie was very involved in the Ontario Historical Society, helping with their publications, lectures, and research.

Wilfrid and Elsie met at the University of Western Ontario.  In 1944, Wilfrid mentions going on a number of chaperoned dates with Elsie in his diaries. During this time Wilfrid hired Elsie as a historical researcher on the Fairfield project. The dates continued for three years until their wedding in 1948. Elsie and Wilfrid’s marriage marked the beginning of their long lasting partnership and careers.

Elsie played a big role in Wilfrid’s excavations at Saint Marie I in 1947.  As part of her role as historical researcher Elsie contacted every institution, teacher, and historian that could have material on the period to help gather information—she even contacted the Russian Ambassador (Jesuits escaped to Russia during the French Revolution)!

Elsie helped establish Fanshawe Pioneer Village and, of course, the Museum of Ontario Archaeology.

Elsie worked on almost every project Wilfrid worked on during his career as an archaeologist. Elsie would support the endeavours and conduct valuable research to help the projects move forward.  The Jurys’ passion for history and archaeology in Ontario helped further our understanding of Ontario, and promoted conservation of the past.

Even after Wilfrid passed away in 1981, Elsie continued to work with the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, and at archaeological sites across Ontario. She passed away in 1993.


Want to learn more about other women pioneers of archaeology? Check out our blog post about a few of them!

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