EARLY YEARS IN MONTREAL
Birth and Lineage
Edith Norma Shearer was born on August 11, 1902, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Her father: Andrew Shearer was born on January 26, 1864.
Andrew’s father: James Shearer was born around 1823 in Cathness County, in the Highlands of Scotland. He came to Canada in 1843 and became a partner in Shearer, Brown, and Wills Lumber and Contracting Company.
Andrew’s mother: Eliza Graham was born in 1828. She was James’s housekeeper when they married on June 23, 1848. They had three daughters, two of whom were Ida (born 1869) and Emerald (born 1872); and two sons, Andrew and Cresswell (born May 24, 1874). Cresswell Shearer became a Cambridge zoologist.
Her mother: Edith Mary Fisher was born on August 28, 1873, in the village of Islington in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Edith’s father: Edwin Fisher owned a flour mill on the Humber River.
Edith’s mother: Emily Cooper was born on July 21, 1846. She married Edwin around 1870. When Edwin died at age thirty, she supported their daughters Edith, Dortha Maria (born 1871), and the child later known to Norma as Aunt Bee, by working as a Mother Matron in a women’s college.
Andrew Shearer married Edith Fisher on April 24, 1899. He built a two-story brick house for her as a wedding present. It still stands at 507 Grosvenor Street in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Douglas Graham Shearer was born on November 17, 1899.
Athole Dane Shearer was born on November 20, 1901.
In her unpublished memoir notes, Norma Shearer describes her childhood as “an unbelievably happy period.” This appears to be true. Around 1904 Andrew Shearer assumed control of his father’s business, which was located at 225 St. Patrick Street, at the corner of Shearer Street. Andrew managed the thriving plant for twelve years, and his family lived in comfort and style. Norma’s Grandmother Emily lived nearby and warmed the family scene with her humorous chiding. Norma was also fond of her mother’s brother, “Uncle Perce,” who acted under the name of Edwin Percival. When he visited, his stories of theater life excited Norma, who was already taking piano lessons. Norma attended Westmount High School, where she excelled in sports and drama. She was admired for her fashion sense and her decisive approach to life.
In 1919, partially as a result of World War One, construction came to a standstill in Canada. Andrew Shearer was forced to liquidate his interest in the company, and it was taken over by his nephew James Shearer. Andrew made bad investments, and within a short time, he had to sell the Grosvenor Street home and move his family into a rented home. The next home he found for them was such a comedown that Edith left him, took the girls, and moved to a boardinghouse. (Douglas was working as a chauffeur.)
Norma had no training but was fascinated by show business. Desperate, Edith set her sights on New York. She asked her brother Percival, who was managing theatrical troupes, to supply letters of recommendation to both theater and film directors.