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by Jan Reed
Residents of Sault Ste. Marie benefit daily from the investments and generosity of Augusta Hursley Seal, who in 1983 bequeathed $1.5 million to the city. In an effort to further the physical, spiritual and educational well being of the people of Sault Ste. Marie, Mrs. Seal dedicated her estate to the City to fund recreational programs, facilities and equipment; to St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral Catholic Church; and to the Bayliss Public Library.
"Gussie", a native of the Sault, is remembered as a small, elderly woman who spent summers here; wearing a mink coat even in 80-degree heat, attending daily mass at St. Mary's Church with her aunts, and meeting friends for breakfast at the Ojibway Hotel.
Mrs. Seal was of a pioneering family. Her ancestor, Major William Kingdom Rains, born in Wales June 2, 1789, fought in the Napoleonic Wars from 1807 through 1813 and emigrated to Canada in 1830, where he settled on Lake Simcoe with his family. Hearing of the fur trade, he petitioned the crown for permission to homestead an area of St. Joseph's Island with his family and 100 other people. He built a sawmill at Rain's Landing, and also exported maple syrup. When he died in 1874 his son, Major Tudor Rains, carried on.
Elmira Rains Ritchie, Blanch Rains, Mrs. Williams, and Augusta Seal's mother, Mrs. Hursley, were all sisters, and came to the Sault from St. Joseph's Island. The daughters of Major Rains were well known in this city.
The men of the Hursley family were ship captains on the Great Lakes. When the first Methodist Church was built in 1893 on the corner of Spruce and Court Streets, among the first contributors were H. D. Rains, Capt. J. Hursley, Miss Maud Hursley, Capt. James F. Hursley, Capt. Wayne Hursley, and Capt. Jay Hursley.
Hursley and Augusta Streets were named for them.
Mrs. Seal was also related to the John Bayliss family, who were very active in the Free Methodist Church and surrounding community and whose daughter, Judge Violet Vail, succeeded Judge Charles Chapman as judge of probate here. Another daughter married Capt. Herbert Letcher, who donated the bell to the new Methodist Church in 1893. The only living member of this family is John Vail, son of the late Judge Violet Vail, who lives in lower Michigan.
Augusta married Sam Seal in 1950. She had already begun buying Dow Chemical Co. stock. At the end of 1940, Dow stock sold for $1.41 a share. At the time of her death, November 7, 1983, in Knoxville, Tennessee, Dow closed at 32-3/8, making her 45,479 shares worth $1,472,383. Mrs. Seal never forgot Sault Ste. Marie. Her will instructed that the stock be divided among her favorite city institutions. Seventy-five percent ($1.1 million) would go to the city, along with Mrs. Seal's directive to improve recreation programs, parks, and playgrounds. Another $220,000 went to St. Mary's, which was founded in 1641 and sorely in need of restoration. The pastor, Rev. Ted Brodeur, called the donation 'a gift from God.'
Mrs. Seal's relation, Joseph Bayliss and wife Estelle were local authors and historians, who wrote "River of Destiny" a work dedicated to the Sault area, it's history and people. In 1971 the Bayliss's willed money for the building of a new home for the Carnegie Library, which was completed in 1975. The generous gift of Augusta Hursley Seal to the library has enabled the ongoing purchase of books and other educational resources for children and young adults. To honor the memory of Mrs. Seal and her gift to the community the children's wing of the Bayliss Public Library has been dedicated to Mrs. Augusta Hursley Seal and proudly bears her name.