Cordelia’s uncles, the six Workman brothers, were energetic and prosperous Irishmen, well-known in Montreal. Benjamin was a patriarch of the Unitarian Church, first in Montreal and then in Toronto. Alexander was mayor of Ottawa. Joseph, a medical doctor, was the superintendent of the Toronto Asylum and Chairman of the Toronto Board of Education. William was mayor of Montreal, and Thomas–a millionaire–was a federal member of parliament. Corrie’s uncle Henry Mulholland (who was married to the only Workman sister, Ann) and Corrie’s father Samuel Workman ran the family’s thriving hardware business: the Frothingham-Workman company. Corrie grew up surrounded by these educated, influential, wealthy uncles.
Archie Knight’s wife Cordelia was born in Montreal, where her father and his brothers filled many high positions. Her mother was from an equally prominent family in Ottawa.
Cordelia was the middle child of three. She and her sister and brother grew up with plenty of wealth and status, and all the responsibilities that went with it. “Corrie” was expected to marry someone with money and influence.
Toward the end of Archie’s life, he told the story about a speech given by his headmaster at the Renfrew School who “wished to make special mention of a boy who had made wonderful progress in his studies…Archibald P. Knight.”
Archie said “I am quite certain that I was the most astonished pupil in the school. I dropped from my chair to the floor below my desk and obstinately refused to show myself.”
Archie’s keen mind and self-effacing nature lasted until the end of his life. When he died in 1935, a colleague said “Queen’s never had a greater teacher than Dr. Knight. His mind was crystal clear.”
The Royal Society of Canada added, “Modesty and sincerity were his outstanding characteristics.” Beyond all his personal and professional achievements, it’s Archie’s kindness and integrity that stand out as his real legacy.
Archie’s next big interest was marine research. He helped to set up first a floating laboratory and then a permanent one at St. Andrew’s, New Brunswick. Some of his research helped the lobster industry to recover from overfishing, to stop the practice of dynamiting fish, and to prevent fish from being poisoned by sawdust from the lumber industry.
Even when he was well into his seventies, after he retired from teaching, Archie served on the university’s Board of Trustees, and as chair of the Biological Board of Canada, and as president of the Royal Society of Canada.
All this time, while he was teaching and serving as the registrar of the Women’s Medical College, Archie kept studying medicine. After eight years, he had taken all the courses and passed his exams, so in 1886 he graduated as a medical doctor.
Principal Grant hired him as a professor in the medical faculty at Queen’s University, on the condition that Archie would promise to spend some time in the “old country” studying medical education.
So Archie went to Glasgow, studied hard, and at the same time was in charge of buying scientific equipment for the college. When he came back to Canada in 1894, he continued to teach Animal Biology, Physiology and Histology at Queens.