From Bolsheviks to birds: the fascinating life of Louise de Kiriline Lawrence

By Judith Enright

The Louise de Kiriline Lawrence fonds housed at Library and Archives Canada (LAC), is rich in content and diverse in media. It was donated to LAC in the 1980s by Mrs. Louise de Kiriline Lawrence and details a life that any researcher would be hard-pressed to categorize.

Louise de Kiriline Lawrence (neé Flach) was born in Sweden in 1894 into a wealthy and well connected family. She was extremely well educated and fluent in five languages. She chose nursing as a profession and joined the Red Cross to work in Denmark at a prisoner-of-war exchange camp. It was here that she nursed back to health then married Gleb de Kiriline, a wounded Russian officer. The two then moved to live and work in northern Russia. Gleb de Kiriline went missing after the Bolshevik revolution and Louise spent four years in a futile search to find him.

A black-and-white photograph showing a couple standing in front of a wooden building. She may be in a nurse’s uniform and he is wearing a Russian military uniform.

Louise and Gleb de Kiriline (MIKAN 3722648)

In 1927, Louise immigrated to Canada where she worked as a Red Cross nurse in Northern Ontario. She became the head nurse to the Dionne quintuplets and played a crucial role in their survival during the first year of their lives. Due to the notoriety of the Quints, Louise wrote a series of articles for Chatelaine magazine chronicling her experiences with the children and their family. She retired from nursing in 1935.

Louise married Leonard Lawrence in 1939. While her new husband was overseas during World War II, Louise devoted herself exclusively to nature studies and nature writing, particularly ornithology.

De Kiriline Lawrence conducted the majority of her nature studies and nature writing from her property on Pimisi Bay, in Northern Ontario. It was here, while living in a log cabin, that she began banding birds, keeping diaries, creating sketchbooks and writing hundreds of articles for various nature publications along with several books including her autobiography entitled Another Winter, Another Spring: A Love Remembered.

A black-and-white photograph showing three women outdoors under a tree. The woman on the right is seated and smiling at the photographer, the one in the middle is also seated but engrossed in her book, and the one on the left is lying down and looking at the photographer.

Louise (in the middle) with friends (MIKAN 3951807)

LAC is now the guardian of the Louise de Kiriline Lawrence fonds. It includes material pertaining to wildlife studies, bird data and illustrations along with ornithological reports, correspondence both personal and professional, book and periodical notes and manuscripts along with family papers. Also included are over one hundred drawings, over 700 photographs, audio material, award medals, wood blocks and a few lithographs as well as material regarding her life in Sweden and Russia.

Louise de Kiriline Lawrence died in 1992.


Judith Enright is an archival assistant in the Aboriginal and Social Affairs Section of the Private Archives Branch of Library and Archives Canada.

4 thoughts on “From Bolsheviks to birds: the fascinating life of Louise de Kiriline Lawrence

  1. Pingback: Canadian History Roundup – Week of July 17, 2016 | Unwritten Histories

  2. I’m pretty sure that Louise is the middle person in that second photo, not the one on the right. Louise fans might also be interested to know that a historic plaque has just been erected in her honour in Pimisi Lake Park near Rutherglen, Ontario. The plaque is just a few hundred metres from the cabin where Louise lived, wrote and studied nature for more than 50 years.

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