MIDDLETON, NS - When Nova Scotians celebrate Heritage Day Feb. 19, the focus will be on one of the province’s great heroines – Mona Parsons.
Her life was the stuff of movies, yet it was as real as the toe of a jackboot or the sharp barbed wire that ringed the concentration camps.
Her life took her around the world, from Wolfville to New York, to Europe, to saving downed allied airmen from the Nazis, to a death sentence by the Germans, and finally to her long walk to safety. Eventually, she made her way back to Wolfville where she passed away in 1976.
But she was born in Middleton and that’s where her life will be celebrated – at Annapolis Valley Macdonald Museum.
And it’s an appropriate spot to tell her story because that same building is where Mona Louise Parsons, born in 1901, went to school and where Janice Pugsley-Slauenwhite operates the museum that now honours Parsons.
Pugsley-Slauenwhite holds a photograph of Parsons taken in 1911. It’s a photo of Mrs. McGill’s class. Mona is standing in front of the teacher and looking down at the younger children in the row in front of her. The Second World War was almost three decades away. The First World War hadn’t even happened.
This Feb. 19 celebration is very important to Pugsley-Slauenwhite - significant.
A sense of Mona
“I think, working here, you get a sense of more than just Mona,” said Pugsley-Slauenwhite.
“We get a sense of all the students being here and it being alive. And so many people living in this area went to this school. But for me, in thinking about Mona, and looking at pictures of her when she was school age and would have been in this building, I think about things - like I wonder where her mind was then. If she ever had any thought about who she was going to be, and the impact she was going to have on the lives of people – because she did save lives in Europe. She saved people. She helped them hide and escape – and I wonder if she thought about her future at all at that point when she was here.”
Mona moved away from Middleton when her father’s business burned and continued on in her studies in Wolfville.
“What was she thinking about? Could she ever have dreamed that she’d be somebody that mattered like that?” Pugsley-Slauenwhite said, noting that young people should feel inspired by her story.
“She was a little girl from Middleton and she is now the honouree for the province for Heritage Day. I mean really, she made a huge difference and she can be a hero.”
“I feel it’s important to remember her because the contributions and achievements of so many women are overshadowed by those of men,” said Andria Hill-Lehr, author of Mona Parsons – from Privilege to Prison, from Nova Scotia to Nazi Europe.
“Her story demonstrates that each of us must stand up for (as Joseph Howe said) ‘what is right; what is just; and what is for the common good,’ regardless of whether the odds seem so terribly stacked against us.”
In its announcement of Mona Parsons as this year’s Heritage Day honouree, the province noted that 2018 is the centenary for Enfranchisement of Women in Nova Scotia.
“We will celebrate Middleton native, Mona Louise Parsons, who was decorated for her acts of heroism during WWII,” it said.
“Parsons and her husband began sheltering downed Allied airmen in their estate called ‘Ingleside’ near Laren, after having dismissed their servants so that their rooms could be used to hide these men,” said a brief Veterans Affairs Canada biography of Mona, who had settled in Holland with her Dutch husband in 1937.
“A special refuge behind a bedroom closet could also be used in case the home was searched. Upon leaving, fishing boats took the airmen to meet up with British submarines for their escape to England.”
An informer reported them to the Gestapo and Parsons was arrested on Sept. 29, 1941.
“She was taken to prison and at her trial on Dec. 22, 1941, she was found guilty of treason and given a death sentence. She responded with such dignity that the judge allowed her to appeal her sentence which was then converted to life in prison at hard labour,” the biography said.
In March 1945, the prison was bombed, allowing Mona and a friend to escape.
“The two walked for three weeks, covering approximately 125 kilometres while exchanging their labour for food and lodging - which was often in a barn,” the biography said. “Eventually, Mona Parsons made it to Holland, where she told a Dutch farmer that she was Canadian and needed to find some Allied troops.”
Incredibly, the farmer took her to the North Nova Scotia Highlanders - a regiment from her home province.
The Feb. 19 event in Middleton will weave together her life’s narrative with images taken throughout her life, readings and commentary by Hill-Lehr, and there will be items on display that were owned by Mona, including a quilt and books. The event is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the museum with a storm date of Feb. 24.
Next year, world famous folk artist Maud Lewis will be celebrated.
Go online: See more at https://heritageday.novascotia.ca/content/2018-honouree-mona-louise-parsons