Alice Emma Trainer was born on September 23, 1863, in Goderich, Ontario. She was the seventh child of Bernard and Louisa Saunders Trainer. Bernard Trainer, who had emigrated from Scotland to Canada, served as High Constable for Huron County and supplemented his income by working as a carpenter. Louisa, along with the rest of the Saunders family, had come from England. Goderich in the 1860s was a thriving town known for the mining of high-quality salt, and it was a popular spot for tourists who came to enjoy the healthful air of Lake Huron.
When Alice was only six years old, her mother died after giving birth to twins Isabella and Albert, who also died in infancy. Much of the responsibility for raising the family now fell on Alice’s oldest sister, Matilda, who was nineteen. When Bernard Trainer died in 1880, Matilda effectively became the only parent. By this time, Goderich’s period of prosperity was coming to an end, and the older Trainer boys, Ephraim, James, and Bernard, soon headed to Chicago in search of economic opportunity.
Very little is known about Alice’s youth in Goderich. The Canadian Census tells us that in 1881 Matilda, Bertha, and Louisa Trainer were all working as teachers, while 14-year-old William attended school. Alice, eighteen, had finished her education at Goderich’s Central School. The sisters seem to have been regular churchgoers, though they frequently moved among the various Protestant denominations of the city. They likely were members of some of the many voluntary associations that flourished in Victorian Goderich: sporting, music, and drama organizations; charitable and self-improvement societies.
Photo at top: Court House and Square, Goderich, 1865. From the Collection of the Huron County Museum & Historic Gaol.