Challenging the Conspiracy of Silence: My Life as a Canadian Gay Activist


159 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-9683829-0-8
DDC 306.76'62'092





Reviewed by John Stanley

John Stanley is a policy advisor at the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and


Dora Lee started her professional career at the age of 13 as a scullery
maid in a small town in Dorset, England. Evelyn Fitzmaurice, the future
Duchess of Devonshire, was also 13 when she arrived in Canada as the
daughter of the new Governor-General, Lord Lansdowne. In 1916, the lives
of these two women crossed as the Duke of Devonshire was appointed
Canada’s Governor-General and the Duchess hired Dora Lee to travel to
Ottawa as their second cook. Two years later, Dora was elevated to first
cook, but a year later, she gave in her notice. Although the reasons for
her leaving are unknown, the author’s thorough research suggests that
Dora left because she may have been jilted by another member of the
Ottawa staff.

Jill Downie uses the stories of Dora and the Duchess to explore life
above and below stairs in Edwardian England. The Duchess, we learn, was
Mistress of the Robes to Queen Mary and she attended the Coronation, but
Evie Devonshire remains a cool and distant figure as she was to those
who knew her.

Dora’s personal life is more accessible because the author had
contact with her eldest son, but it is the trail through various
kitchens that proves most fascinating. Her employers included the
chairman of the Pears Soap Company, Consuelo Vanderbilt, and the
Guinness family. The Guinnesses sent Dora to train with Escoffier at the
Ritz in Paris while she was still a kitchen maid. It was there that she
learned how to run a kitchen and acquired her skill in sugar sculpture.

Storming the Castle includes photographs of the principal characters
and small reproductions of the postcards from friends and admirers that
Dora kept throughout her life. The book is laced with menus and recipes
and the whole might make a splendid gift for a cook with a sense of


Egan, Jim, and Don McLeod., “Challenging the Conspiracy of Silence: My Life as a Canadian Gay Activist,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 20, 2024,