Pinehurst Island, 1000 Islands, near Gananoque, ON K7G 2M2, Canada
Mount Pleasant Cemetery Toronto, Toronto Municipality, Ontario, Canada
Helena Jane Coleman (April 27, 1860 — December 7, 1953) was a Canadian poet, music teacher, and writer. In a 1911 letter, Ethelwyn Wetherald explains the sleeping arrangements at Pinehurst Island (one of the Thousand Islands near Kingston, Ontario, became a gathering retreat for women writers): I had the most charming little front bedroom, with a wide open door giving on a balcony overlooking the river. On one side of me was Helena Coleman’s room and on the other Marjorie Pickthall’s, and as the partitions were thin varnished boards reaching about halfway up, we three had most delightful talks in the early morning and while dressing. Marjorie Pickthall is lovely in soul and body–pure undiluted genius. She is very dear to me and I can never be grateful enough for this opportunity of knowing her. Wetherald’s description of Marjorie Pickthall suggests the respect and admiration she felt toward her. The link between Pickthall and Helena Coleman is explained by Alex Kizuk: “At the University of Toronto, Pickthall attracted the friendship and encouragement of the older poet Helena Coleman”. In a separate article, Pickthall is described as an “intimate friend” of Helen Coleman, niece of Helena Coleman. The use of the term “intimate friend” by early Canadian critics appears to have been their coded way of intimating loving relationships between women. Wetherald herself has been suggested was in an intimate friendship with Helena Coleman.
Helena Jane Coleman was born in Newcastle, Ontario, the daughter of the Rev. Francis Coleman, a Methodist minister, and his second wife, Jane C. Gould. Her English-born mother died in 1862. One of her five older half-brothers was geologist Arthur Philemon Coleman. (Her father's first wife, Emmeline Maria Adams Coleman, was a descendant of John Quincy Adams, and sister of educator Mary Electa Adams.) She attended Ontario Ladies' College in Whitby, Ontario, with further study in Germany.
Coleman taught piano at Ontario Ladies' College from 1880 to 1892, as head of the music department, while her brothers' aunt Mary Electa Adams was the principal. There she was a friend and colleague of Margaret Addison, who became a dean of the school. Coleman was also a friend of New Zealand writer Edith Joan Lyttelton, during her stays in Canada. Coleman was a mentor to Canadian poet Marjorie Pickthall. Her friendship with fellow Canadian poet Ethelwyn Wetherald was especially intimate. Coleman's poems appeared under dozens of pseudonyms (using masculine, feminine, and indeterminate names) in many Canadian and American magazines, including Atlantic Monthly, Collier's, and Ladies' Home Journal, until 1906, when she published Songs and Sonnets (1906) under her own name, by the Tennyson Club of Toronto. Further poetry collections were Marching Men: War Verses (1917) and Songs (1937). Her stories and articles continued to appear under various pseudonyms. Another book by her, Sheila and Others (1920), was a collection of short stories and bore the byline "Winifred Cotter". She was a member of the Canadian Authors Association, and of the University Women's Club of Toronto.
Helena Coleman used crutches that she called her "helpers", after surviving polio in childhood. After 1928 she used a wheelchair. Coleman lived most of her life in Toronto with her brother Arthur, and with a niece, Helen Coleman. She died in 1953, aged 93 years, in Toronto. Her papers are archived in the E. J. Pratt Library at Victoria University.
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