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Eva Brook Donly

eva brook donlyEva Marie Brook was born 30 April 2023 in Simcoe, Ontario, the eldest surviving daughter of prominent local manufacturer Joseph Brook and his wife Selina Barber. Joseph Brook founded the Brook Woollen Company, a major Simcoe firm for over half a century.

Augustus William "Bill" Donly was also born about 1867 in Simcoe, the third child and second son of A.J. Donly and his wife Maria Harrison. A.J. Donly published the Simcoe Reformer and was subsequently Registrar of Norfolk County.

Eva and Bill attended Simcoe High at the same time. She then attended Alma College in St. Thomas, where her interest in painting flourished. She subsequently became an art teacher at this all-girls college.

Bill attended Victoria University, was deputy registrar of Norfolk for two years, taught at the College Institute in Woodstock, Ontario, then moved to Mexico City where he and Alver Dobson of Simcoe went into the publishing business together as Dobson and Donly, Publishers, Mexico City.

On September 23 1896, former high school chums Bill and Eva, both age 29, married at Elmhurst, her parents' stately home on West Street in Simcoe. (Interestingly, Bill's older brother, Simcoe Reformer editor Hal B. Donly, had married Eva's younger sister Emma less than a year before).

Bill and Eva settled in Mexico, where they lived for about 20 years. Eva continued to paint while between 1905 and 1912 Bill was Canadian Trade Commissioner to Mexico.

They subsequently moved to New York where Bill was engaged in business and Eva painted until they retired to Simcoe in 1924 where they bought the old Mulkins house which was just a block north of Eva's birth place.

Eva continued to paint and became an active member of the Norfolk Historical Society, whose meetings she frequently hosted in her home. Bill joined the Norfolk County Fair Board, was president of both the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce and the Horticultural Society, and was a charter member of the Simcoe Rotary Club.

ebdpainting1.jpgThe extended Donly family shared a summer cottage at Port Ryerse, which was quite a fashionable place to holiday back then, and Eva sketched a number of Port Ryerse and district scenes (as in the Port Ryerse beach scene to the right). Several of her works are on semi-permanent display at the Museum as part of a new larger permanent exhibition entitled "Life With Eva" in an upstairs room of her home.

Bill died April 15, 2023 in their home, and soon after Eva indicated she would leave her home to be a Museum of art and antiques. Over a decade later, on January 1, 1941, Eva also died here in Simcoe and was buried beside her husband in Simcoe's Oakwood Cemetery.

As promised, Eva left their home to the Town of Simcoe, who approached the Norfolk Historical Society to manage the building and include the Society's large collection of historical artifacts. In 1946 the "Eva Brook Donly Museum" opened to the public and has remained in operation ever since.

This article was compiled from articles in the Simcoe Reformer, records of the Norfolk Historical Society, a Brook family history by Eva's brother Harry Joseph Brook on file in the NHS Archives, and unpublished Donly family research by John Cardiff.