Frances Davie: a life in another time…

Frances Davie is gone.

This pleasant, loving, charming, talented woman who has taught literally thousands of students both piano and voice, died last week at Barrie Manor. She was 86. The last surviving member of the at one time famous Davies of Canada, Frances left the family home of over half a century to an auctioneer’s hammer last year and moved to a retirement home nearby.

Sounds like a pretty normal situation, doesn’t it? Elderly woman, taught piano and voice for years, moved from her home, now passes on.

But Frances Davie was anything but normal. Likewise her brothers Noble and Nelles.

In fact, the entire Davies family, father William, mother Vera, and three children–Noble, Frances, and Nelles, travelled Canada and the United States in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, giving musical concerts that were heralded as sophisticated musical excellence.

A fourth Davie child, Malcom, lives in the United States and spent his life as a church minister. Himself a musician, Malcolm is the last surviving member of the family, here to bid farewell to his sister this week. In the past decade, Malcolm has come to Barrie to bury first Noble, then Nelles, and now Frances.

I’m holding right now a program, with a bright red cover, announcing a concert featuring The Davies of Canada, presented by the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Barrie. While there’s no concert date listed, it would ben in the 50’s as phone numbers of advertisers started with PA8… no dial service then!

Frances Davie, Mezzo Soprano; Noble Davie, Tenor-Baritone; Nelles Davie, Bass-Baritone; the three children were accompanied and directed by their mother, advanced and sold out on tours by their father.

None of the four Davie children ever married, and after the deaths of their parents, Nelles, Frances and Noble continued to live in their Napier St home. Noble became the business manager of the trio while Nelles and Frances taught. Two pianos could be heard non stop, the grand piano in the back sunroom and the upright in the front teaching room. Voice, scales, progress of student after student.

And once a year, unusual home-based recitals with children playing, everyone enjoying a singalong, parents squeezed into family furniture as the Davie teachers tried to recapture their performing lives.

So few Barrie residents really knew the Davies, but audiences across the country and in the United States during the middle decades of the past century were excited, enthralled by the range of music presented in show after show, church halls, theatres, church basements, any venue where people could gather.

Touted as The Davies of Canada, the three were truly representative of another era, bound together by a musical history that was as powerful as it was unique. Always gracious, lookalikes of each other and replicas of their parents, Noble, Nelles and Frances could be seen every single morning out taking their ‘morning air.’ Dressed formally, walking sticks in hand, Frances in long skirts, the men in shirts and waistcoats, they would walk. And walk. And walk. Four miles on average during a workday morning. Ten miles on weekends. Now and then the walk would end with a treat breakfast at a restaurant, but only rarely.

Cars would slow as the trio, walking together along a sidewalk, would progress. The Davies cut quite a figure.

After Noble’s death, Frances and Nelles continued the routine.

They also continued to teach, managing their affairs as before, with a tremendous emptiness at the death of their brother.

And when Nelles died, Frances continued on alone. We lived nearby and frequently she’d make her way up the street, pausing at our walkway so I could run out, give a hug, have a chat. Frances was a woman of great grace, the definition of ‘lady.’

When the house was packed away and auctioned off, Frances completed her career, ending with about 40 students… an amazing feat for an amazing woman. Her move to Barrie Manor allowed her to stay in the neighbourhood which had been her home for more than half a century. And she slipped gradually away, aware and then unaware until she was ready to go.

For those who were students, for those who just enjoyed the sight of this trio of siblings walking, walking… they were famous, The Davies of Canada.

Goodbye, Frances. And, thanks!