Annapolis Heritage Society | Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia

The Runciman family

by Ian Lawrence

Longtime residents of Annapolis Royal may remember the summertime presence of the three Runciman sisters at “Girvan Bank”, their family home on Upper Saint George Street. Their lovely Regency home was built in 1817 by the Rev. Thomas Millidge, Anglican Rector of St. Luke’s Church, and was sold by the Millidge family in 1841 to George Runciman, an up-and-coming Scottish merchant. For more than 130 years through four generations, the Runciman family owned the house until its sale to the Heritage Canada Foundation in 1977.

Girvan Bank

The Runciman family in Annapolis County originated with George Runciman (1796–1872), a native of Haddington, Scotland, who emigrated to Halifax, N.S. c. 1820, where he married in November of 1823 Isabella Wilson. A year later George Runciman was engaged in business as a dry goods merchant in Annapolis Royal. He was joined there by younger brother James Runciman (1798–1860) who married in June of 1839 Mary Adelia Ruggles (1811–1883), daughter of Simeon Dwight Ruggles and his wife, Margaret Robertson. George and James Runciman operated separate dry goods establishments in town. George Runciman was Town Clerk in 1845 and was named a trustee of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church at its founding in 1858. He was a justice of the peace from 1859 through 1867. By the late 1850s, his firm, dealing in dry goods and groceries, and known as George Runciman & Son, was established at what was called Runciman Corner, the north side of the corner of Saint George and Saint Anthony Streets. The business, under son, John Henry Runciman and grandson James Herbert Runciman, survived total destruction by fire three times, in 1880, 1921 and 1923, before its final closure in 1936. James Herbert Runciman was elected a town councilor in 1897, and for a few years at the turn of the 20th century, he also operated the Victoria Shoe Store and Annapolis Larrigan Company.

Five children were born to George and Isabella Runciman before her death in Jan. 1834, three of whom lived to adulthood. They were raised by George and his second wife, Isabella Caroline Chipman of Kentville, N.S., who married in June 1836. Daughter Isabella Drysdale Runciman, b. 1824, married in 1851 Robert Elias Fitzrandolph. Robert Fitzrandolph operated the firm “Runciman, Randolph and Company” with his father-in-law. The Bridgetown, N.S. company lasted for more than 50 years. Daughter Eliza Runciman (1829–1910) never married.

Son John Henry Runciman (1826–1908) married his first cousin, Margaret Elizabeth Runciman (1843–1908), daughter of James and Mary Adelia (Ruggles) Runciman. They had two children who survived infancy: Ella Stuart Runciman (1872–1953) who never married and James Herbert Runciman (1867–1945).

James Herbert Runciman married 5 June 1895 Annie E. Dargie (1875–1966) daughter of Charles Dargie and sister of Frank Dargie, of the firm Charles Dargie & Son, local manufacturers of a number of items in the late 1800s, from furniture to carriages, sleighs and coffins. The couple had three daughters, the three aforementioned sisters: Marjorie Gordon Runciman, b. 29 Sept. 1896, m. 3 Dec. 1936 at Halifax, N.S. Hon. Albert Belloch Hudson, K.C. of Winnipeg, judge of the Supreme Court of Canada; Dr. Doris Stuart Runciman L.L.D. (26 March 1899- 7 Oct. 1996), a graduate of Mount Allison University (1919) and Columbia University (1928). She was Mount Allison’s first female full-professor where she held the position of Head of the Department of Home Economics from 1930 until her retirement in 1965; and Mildred Runciman (7 Oct. 1909 – 9 Apr. 2006), executive secretary with the Rockefeller Charitable Foundation in New York City.