Tom St. Amand
Unfortunately, the physician’s diagnosis was accurate.
It was 1853 in Port Sarnia, and 45-year-old Christina Cameron was suffering from severe pain in the joints. Inflammatory rheumatism, the doctor said.
It was an incurable disease at the time and would eventually leave Mrs. Cameron an invalid, before killing her in 1868.
Christina Cameron, wife of Malcolm, one of Sarnia’s founders, might have faded into history if her husband hadn’t named one of Port Sarnia’s earliest streets after her.
Christina Street was then a “rough country road” that ran north through Cameron’s property. Though the street changed, the name has endured for 180 years.
We know relatively little about Christina herself, but enough to say she was an engaging woman who faced adversity with courageous.
Born in Scotland in 1808, she was the daughter of Glaswegian Robert McGregor, Esq. who owned a successful cotton-spinning company.
A family record reveals Malcolm Cameron visited Glasgow around 1830 and entered into a life-long partnership with Christina, who was his cousin. They married when Malcolm returned on a business trip in 1833.
In 1836, one year before the young family moved from Lanark County to Port Sarnia, Christina gave birth to their only child, a daughter, Christina Colina.
In Port Sarnia, various accounts indicate Christina was a pleasant person who was soon involved in the new community. Local historian Charlotte Vidal Nisbet noted her grandparents so liked and admired Mrs. Cameron they allowed Christina Street to retain its name even though it crossed into Vidal property.
On occasion, she co-signed indentures for real estate transactions with her husband. One of them was for the 1841 acquisition of land just north of the current City Hall from Commander Vidal. Christina and Malcolm, devout Presbyterians, donated the land for the building of St. Andrew’s, the first Presbyterian Church in Port Sarnia.
Early on, Mrs. Cameron enjoyed an active social life. In the early 1840s, diary entries of Richard and Alexander Vidal and Christina’s cousin, William, record she was their guest at various meals and teas. Or they would accompany her to Moore to visit Captain Wright’s family, or to join her as a dinner guest of the Talfourds in Froomfield.
Then rheumatoid arthritis struck.
A specialist offered one slim hope. The thermal spas of Baden-Baden, Germany, were renowned for their therapeutic properties and the mineral water might be the remedy for Mrs. Cameron’s ailment.
In 1855 or 1856, Christina, perhaps with daughter Colina, spent a considerable time in Baden-Baden. Other than temporarily invigorating her general health the waters, sadly, had no perceptible effect on her disorder.
She returned to Port Sarnia, living with her husband and daughter in their two-storey brick house on the east side of Christina Street, just south of the current Imperial Theatre. She later lived in Ottawa when her husband’s position as Queen’s Printer took him to the capital city.
Friends who visited Christina, now bedridden at the Cameron’s Besserer Street home, were awed but not surprised by her unselfish and loving solicitude in the midst of her agony. For 15 years she suffered with “exemplary patience.”
Mrs. Cameron passed away in Ottawa on Oct. 9, 1868 and her body was brought by train to Sarnia where a crowded funeral service was held on Oct. 14th.
As a show of respect, Mayor Gurd asked that Sarnia’s shops be closed during the funeral.
Christina Cameron is buried at Lakeview Cemetery.
Tom St. Amand is a retired high school teacher in Sarnia