Agnes Sorrel Forbes, “A Mother to the Community”

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Agnes Sorrel arrived in Fort Saskatchewan from Glasgow, Scotland, in 1895. She came to Canada to marry Alexander Forbes, Fort Saskatchewan’s first Presbyterian minister, who had arrived less than a year earlier in December 1894. Rev. D.G. McQueen married the couple on Tuesday, September 24, 1895, in Edmonton. A concert was held shortly after the wedding on October 7th at St. Paul’s in Agricola as a reception for Agnes’ arrival in Fort Saskatchewan.

 

Agnes quickly endeared herself to the townspeople after she turned Alexander Forbes’ one-room “bachelor’s shack,” a building previously used as an office for a lumber company, into a manse that was open and welcoming to everyone. A new manse, built in 1896, on the site of Legacy Park, became a refuge for settlers for miles around seeking help and comfort. On one occasion, Agnes took in a family of seven orphaned children, feeding and caring for them for several months before family members arrived from the United States to take custody of the children.

 

During the construction of the new manse and church, Agnes turned the old log church, on the grounds where the 1909 Courthouse now stands, into a restaurant where she provided meals for the workers constructing the new buildings.

 

Agnes also provided the first nursing services in Fort Saskatchewan. She received medical and nursing training in Glasgow and put her skills and knowledge to use attending to the sick in their homes.

 

Agnes Forbes was known for her tireless spirit and energy to which she threw into every endeavor. On an arduous trip to Peace River country in 1909, locals told the Forbes they would not make it through the “rough and stumpy” road and a forest fire fifty miles away. In response, Agnes exemplified the fortitude of early pioneers when she quipped “Oh yes, we’ll get through. We’re Scotch, you know.”[1]

 

Sadly, for the people of Fort Saskatchewan, Agnes’ time in town came to end after fifteen years. In 1910, the Forbes departed to take on the Presbyterian mission at Grande Prairie, where Agnes again turned her attention to helping the sick for the next seven years until she passed away in August 1917.

 

According to Rev. William Smith, Home Mission Superintendent, Agnes’ funeral held in Grande Prairie was “touching beyond the power of expression. Every place of business was closed and blinds drawn during the afternoon. The procession would have filled the Church three times over, comprising Protestant and Catholic, white man and half breed, people who had left their harvesting and driven 30 miles to pay their last respects to one who had been a mother to the community.”[2]

 

Agnes Forbes’ Lodge, the first seniors home for women in Fort Saskatchewan, located at 10115 108 Street (now a private residence), was named for her in 1948.

[1] Peter Ream, Fort on the Saskatchewan,2nd ed. (Metropolitan Printing, 1974), 121.

[2] Ibid., 123.

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