Helen Ann “Ella” <I>McMartin</I> Phillips

Photo added by Karen G Larsen Nelson

Helen Ann “Ella” McMartin Phillips

  • Birth 29 Feb 1866 Apple Hill, Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry United Counties, Ontario, Canada
  • Death 13 Mar 1961 Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, USA
  • Burial Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Minnesota, USA
  • Memorial ID 97998788


"Born in the Scottish settlement of Glengarry, Upper Canada (Ontario), Canada, Ella was the 7th of 11 children of Allan McMartin and his wife, Catherine (McDonald) McMartin. Both parents stem from UEL families who came to America from Scotland and settled in the Mohawk Valley of New York State when it was still a British frontier province, long before the American Revolution. This family and an extended group of relatives were initially tenants of British frontier personality, Sir William Johnson, who was British colonial Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Johnson brokered frontier peace in New York and Indian alliances with the areas' fierce Iroquois tribes. The McMartins served under Johnson both in French-Indians Wars and later in the American Revolution. Their military skills and loyalty to Johnson was legendary. As other "Loyalists," the family lost all their lands and property during the American Revolution.Thereafter they fled to British Canada. There they were among the first settlers receiving Crown Lands for their war services in the area broadly called "Scottish Glengarry." located west of Quebec Province in British Canada."

"Helen Ann, "Ella," grew up in a Glengarry, speaking BOTH English and the dialect of Gaelic used by the displaced Scots of Canadian Scottish settlments of the early 19th century. There she learned skills and crafts of farming. She could care for domestic farm animals, as well as the homemaker skills of spinning, weaving, sewing and baking the traditional Scot recipes. She had childhood experiences of sledding and snowshoeing in the heavy Canadian winters, maple sugaring in early spring, and making vat-sized quantities of preserves from local apples and other tree fruit and the local wild berries."

"As a young woman, she married a "timbering" friend of her brothers, "Big" Calno Phillips (He was tall, athletic and often involved in the local athletic skill matches of the timberjacks). While farming occupied the local families in summer, winters were used, by young men, to earn cash by "timbering" in Ontario's forests. Eventually, as local forests were cleared, timbering moved ever further West into Michigan and Wisconsin.
This young couple wanted land for their own farm. They set out for "urban work" to get the needed cash to buy land. First, they migrated south into the U.S. where New England industry attracted many young Canadian workers. The 1890/91 City Directories of Waterbury, CT, list Calno Phillips working in the heavy manufacturing trades of metallurgy, at the firm of Plume and Atwood. In 1893 apparently with cash in hand, the family headed West to newly opened Washington Territory with high hopes. They settled on a large ranch parcel in Eastern Washington (Euphrata area). They developed a sheep ranch.Both were familiar with sheep ranching from their experiences in Canadian Eastern Township farms where sheep/wool milling were established. On their ranch in Washington, Ella cooked for not only her own family, but also a bunkhouse of hired farm hands. She had a rugged life in an extreme climate --becoming as she described it "a crack shot and rider."

"Unfortunately, her young husband was killed by a bear there and the ranch needed to be sold. Ella packed up her two young children and returned to her family in Eastern Canada. There she joined the household of her two widowed McMartin sisters, in a large Victorian home situated in Montreal's fashionable Westmount area. There her children had the benefit of excellent urban schooling and enjoyed the many cultural attractions of late Victorian Montreal."

"Ella remained in Montreal until her daughter, Gladys E. married in 1911 and moved to the US where she and her husband, John Sinclair, founded a family. With the birth of her first granddaughter, widow Ella Phillips, permanently joined her daughter's household. By reports of her grandchildren, Ella Phillips became the family caretaker, selfless, competent and beloved caretaker. Known affectionately as "Gram" by successive generations, she helped raise not only her daughter's children, but after the early death of her daughter, Ella moved in "to keep house" for her granddaughters' families. As a 80+ year old great grandmother, Ella Phillips cooked the meals, whipped up homemade biscuits, baked pies and "watched the children" for her great grandchildren in Minneapolis and then in Los Angeles .She knit everyone sweaters and scarves and cheerfully entertained one and all with her stories. She was often quoted as saying her greatest joy was "sitting with the young folks", recounting stories of the Wild West, of the Indians and Cowboys and the long gone western frontier life of her youth. "
"Ella died at age 95 while still caring for her great grandchildren in California. She is buried in Minneapolis with her favorite granddaughter, Gladys. Her life and activities spanned the early history of the US and the breadth of its continental development. She lived a history of adaption--from the cabins and oxen carts of her youth to suburban living and airplane travel of her later years. She witnessed lifestyle changes of the trains and telegraph of her youth to telephones, radio and television of her later years. She was a true pioneer; nothing seemed to daunt her."

" Ella was also fearlessly protective of her family. A family story relates that she once confronted household burglars at night in Minneapolis-- with a broom, threatening to "shoot" them and "turn the dog loose" if they didn't leave the darkened home. Reportedly, her gruff manner and bluff worked, the two intruders ran off. Ella had been the only adult at home with a houseful of children when she had confronted these burglars. As she noted in recounting the same story -- she really DID have a gun "upstairs" in the house. She claimed that she could "shoot heads off rattlesnakes" then just as she had on her ranch long ago. With a twinkle in her eye and broad smile, Ella would assure all in earshot, she had no concerns about protecting her family! She became a legendary family matriarch, much beloved. "

Source: "McMartin's of the Western Frontier" (pub. 2009: Hanover,NH] by D.Montgomery based on subject interviews-oral history CG.

Family Members






  • Created by: D. Montgomery
  • Added: 29 Sep 2012
  • Find A Grave Memorial 97998788
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Helen Ann “Ella” McMartin Phillips (29 Feb 1866–13 Mar 1961), Find A Grave Memorial no. 97998788, citing Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Minnesota, USA ; Maintained by D. Montgomery (contributor 47122518) .