Jane Giles was born December 25, 1819 in County Cavan, Ireland where her father, George Smythe was a gentleman farmer. After her mother died and her father remarried, Jane immigrated to Toronto. She was 21, intent on studying to become a teacher. However, due to a misunderstanding, she ended up in Ottawa which she made her home for nearly ten years.
In 1848 Jane was invited to the United States where she lived for three years. During this time she met and married George Giles, a salesman, and cutter in a tailoring establishment. In 1851 George and Jane moved to Dundas. On the 1857 Dundas Voters List, George is described as a school caretaker. George passed away from scarlet fever in 1868, leaving Jane and their children.
Needing to support her family, Jane applied for the position of “janitress” at the Dundas Public School where she worked for 21 years. In 1879 her salary was $200 per year plus the use of a house on the southwest corner of the school grounds. During her time as “janitress”, her home was a first aid establishment for the school children, where she fixed many cuts, bruises, and even broken bones, with tender, loving, motherly care. Her kindness was never forgotten by both the students and faculty.
When old age made it impossible for her to continue to work, she retired and moved to Chicago to live with her son.
Missing Dundas, Jane moved back home with the help and kindness of her friends. She moved in to the House of Providence, where she lived for six years until the opening of the Ellen Osler Memorial Home, where she moved to in October 1909, becoming one of their first residents.
Despite her old age, Jane was bright, cheerful, and alert. She was known to take interest in the people of Dundas and town affairs, reading the papers and creating a cheerful influence at the home. Jane liked to keep busy and spent many hours knitting socks and mitts until her fingers went stiff. She also spent her time making cushion covers of which she gave to the Women’s Patriotic League, where a nice sum was raised for them on the Labour Day demonstration. Jane was very patriotic and did as much as she could for the work of the Red Cross.
Jane passed away on December 3, 1915, at the Ellen Osler Memorial Home at the age of 96. She was important in the lives of many Dundas residents. Her pall bearers at her funeral were Lt.-Col. H.C. Gwyn, S.N. Moffatt, S.J. Lennard, Henry Bertram, Lt.-Col. J.J. Grafton and W.A. Davidson.
Thanks to the students of McMaster University Department of History for their assistance with this project.