Thursday, September 30, 2010

Small Island Montreal 1910 Version.

Booker T. Washington pic from Wikipedia. Public Domain.

In 1906, Marion Nicholson of my story Threshold Girl  wrote home from McGill Normal School telling her Mom about 'a field trip' taken by her class: "Dr. Robins (Principal) let us all out early to go to hear Booker Washington. He was great. If I could only see you I could make you laugh for a few minutes at least repeating his jokes."

Booker T. Washington was invited by the McGill YMCA to speak, primarily to students, at St. James Methodist Church. According to an article in the Montreal Gazette the speech was originally to be given at Strathcona Hall at McGill but the demand for seats proved too great.

Marion Nicholson, as I have mentioned, was a teacher at Royal Arthur School, which was in the Little Burgundy area of South Montreal.

Although she never mentions her students or their parents in letters, except to call them 'my very bad children" some of them must have been the children of black citizens, who worked on the railroad and lived around St. Antoine Street. In a 1911 letter, Norman Nicholson mentions being waited on by a coloured porter on a trip on the CPR.

Once again, I entered the term "negro" into Google News Archives for 1908-1913 to see what I'd find in the Montreal Gazette.

Well, very interesting. There were stories aplenty about the "negro problem" in the paper, a host of sensational stories, about race wars and slayings and lynchings and burnings at the stake, mostly in the South.

Booker T. Washington in a speech widely reported condemned 'the criminal negro' and wanted him gotten rid of "making allowances for mistakes, injustices, and racial prejudices."

President Taft was doing his best to put a postive spin on the Negro's place in America, while the Supreme Court was trying to decide what exactly 'constituted a negro." 1/16th negro blood, it seems.

But in Canada, all was well, supposedly: Canada was free from the negro problem...Except there was this newspaper report: In the Canadian Pacific Railway Office, some workers failed to turn up one morning as a result of "the introduction of the colour line were it doesn't belong." A West Indian telegrapher, a twenty year veteran of the CPR, a man named Meddley had been promoted to Assistant Traffic Chief as he was next in seniority. Thus the protest, and many others at the company were threatening to strike.


And of course, there were the minstrel shows, in Vaudeville houses and in Dominion Park, as I've written about. And Uncle Tom's Cabin came out in 1910, one of the first long feature films. (According to Wikipedia, it was the most filmed story of the era and Rev. Hugh Peddley described the story (in a 1908 Montreal speech) as proof that the theatre could be an effective moral agent, sometimes, rarely, that is.)And also the fights. There was a famous fight, the Johnson-Jeffries fight, very highly publicized and very controversial, in 1910, which was also captured on film. Jack Johnson was the first black heavyweight champion and Mr. Jeffries came out of retirement to "re-claim the title for the white race." (I got that from Wikipedia.) He lost. The film has been saved by the American Film Institute, as a rare and important cultural document.

When the fight film was released, in NY Vaudeville houses and not 5 and 10 cent motion picture houses so women and children wouldn't see it, the New York Daily Mirror commented on the efforts to censor it, in the US and across the world by quoting another New York Paper:"The New York World editorially notes a striking phase of the prohibition of the Johnson-Jeffries fight pictures is that the opposition flourishes in those countries where white men are engaged in governing black men without their consent. Strange, isn't it, that so many white men throughout the world should tremble so at one husky black man's pugilistic victory over a white man? And it is the film story of the event that is feared most - an unconscious acknowledgement of the power of the motion picture!"

A few years ago I attended a QAHN (Quebec Anglo Heritage Network) workshop and wrote this about the History of Montreal's Black Community.

Historian Dorothy Williams, author of A Road to Now: A History of Blacks in Montreal (1997) told the audience about the long, difficult but proud history of the Black Community in Montreal (not an homogenous group, by any means). Slavery (using Blacks and Aboriginals) existed in Quebec in the 1700's, but that practice ended in the late 1700's, just before official American abolition. Many Black citizens of the time were free men.

French Canadians often inter-married with Blacks (as well as with aboriginals). When the railway was being built, black labour was brought in, with a Black Community (homes and service businesses) rising up in the West End, near the railway yards. Eventually Black men were relegated to the lower paid jobs on the railway, redcap and porter. A plaque exists in Windsor Station to commemorate their contribution. When Norman travels first class in 1911 a Black porter prepares his berth.

In 1902 the Coloured Women's Club was founded to provide social and cultural aid to the expanding community (much like the St. Andrew's Society.) The Union United Church was founded in 1907 because Blacks were not welcome in other churches and became home to the world-famous Jubilation Choir. Montreal's Jazz scene hopped in the twenties, with Americans (both musicians and tourists) coming up to party, because Montreal was definitely not dry. (There are many illustrious Montreal Jazz Musicians. See: Oscar Peterson, Oliver Jones, Charlie Biddle.) In the 40's, Nova Scotia Blacks came to Montreal and in the 60's Caribbean women, brought in to work as domestics (even if they were professionals) greatly increased the size of Montreal's Black Community. (Read the book Small Island. It's about England but it resonates. It's also one of my favorite novels.)

Unnatural Selection 1910 Style

Isle of Lewis Scot Immigrants. My husband's ancestors or at least relations.

Hmm. As if finding a husband wasn't hard enough for Marion, Flo and Edith Nicholson of my Flo in the City story, based on the letters of

They had to find a good Presbyterian who would not mind that they came to the marriage with only the (homemade) dress on their back.

And let's face it, they were over-educated for their social standing (financially speaking) and as they couldn't marry down.. well...prospects were dim.

And now there was the promoters of the eugenics movement to futher muddy the marital waters, suggesting that it was up to women to maintain and increase the purity of the race, to prevent 'race suicide', as it was called.

They must make sure their future husbands had good genes, too. No criminal genes, no 'feeble-minded' genes, no inferior race genes.

"Women rather than men have always been the conserver of race purity," says Dr. H. E. Jordon. "In eugenics she will find an intelligent guide to the selection of the father of her children, to the reduction of 3/4ths of all diseases, to the elimination of 1/2 of the morbidity of children."

(I must admit, I'm fascinated by the eugenics movement. Such nonsense being promoted by such prominent folk. No wonder this chapter of history has been effectively censored. (Hitler didn't help, either.) According to one source, the movement originated in England in 1867, but didn't become "powerful"until 1900.

Here are some quotes from a 1912 lecture in Montreal that botanist and social activist Carrie Derick attended. "The incident of 'genius' among royalty is 100,000 times higher than that among industrial classes." "The Upper classes and country folk are fairer and taller than the industrial classes of the city" -and from these people derive all the literary and artistic talent" "Racial elements of southern origin have been the least productive of men. " Hmm. Take that Pablo Picasso, who in 1912 had just moved to his new digs in Montmartre.

The New York Times has more on the movement than the Gazette, which suggests that it was more popular in the US.

Mendelian science was sometimes invoked by the proponants of eugenics. All screwed up of course. And still Carrie Derick, botanist, bought into the BS.(But who understands Mendel and all that pea-pod business.)

They sort of had it backwards, from what I see, at least with respect to physical health. (The morality aspects of the movement were plain racism and class warfare, disguised as science.) They believed you in-bred people to keep bad genes out, so that European Royalty had it right, as opposed to the opposite, that you mixed the genes to breed strong genes in.

Even the Church got into it. No one could be married in the Church without a blood test.

"In a sermon preached at the Episcopal Cathedral, March 23, 1912, no persons would be married by the clergy of the Cathedral, except upon presentation of a reputable physician, showing that the contracting parties are physically and mentally normal, and that neither has an incurable or communicable disease."

All very ironic. Of course, the Nicholsons were a case for inbreeding. The Isle of Lewis Scots were a hardy lot, and from what I have read, in the early 1800's their genes were almost the same as the genes of the Norseman who landed there many centuries before - and that because the population were so isolated.

Natural selection had killed off the weaker ones (I'm guessing) so many of these people lived to a ripe old age, many women into their nineties, on a diet of oatmeal and dire deprivation. Apparently, this group had few health problems, that is until they emigrated to other parts of the world. But that decline likely had more to do with the change of lifestyle.

Norman was a Nicholson, from Isle of Lewis, but by way of Skye, and Margaret was a McLeod from Isle of Lewis. All these immigrants inbred after coming to Canada for a generation or two.

My husband's family is a good example of how it went. Norman married Margaret, both from Isle of Lewis stock. Marion Nicholson, their daughter, married Hugh Blair, product of lowland? Scotland with a French Canadian mother and Cree grandmother. Marion's kids married English speaking Montrealers, Marion Hope, her second daughter, married Thomas Gavine Wells, Anglican, sort of, product of Welsh-Canadian and Irish American and I'm guessing African American (Virginia) (cousin of General Douglas MacArthur) and their kids married English and French Canadians (Roman Catholic but not too serious about it) who married, well, people from all over the world, including East Indian (Hindu, sort of) and Franco-Gypsy.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Marion's Multicultural School

Well, I am exploring the 1910 Montreal Jewish community for my book, Flo in the City, about a girl coming of age in that pivotal era, when I came across a 1910 Gazette article that combines information about the Jewish Community with information about Marion's school board.

A back to school HEADLINE in September 1910 says that 30 percent of the students in the Protestant System are Jewish.

The article says that there is a 2000 pupil increase in the Protestant Board in 1910 due to annexation of two wards.

The article says that there is a shuffling of male Principals in four schools, and they are still looking for a Principal for William Lunn, although a senior woman teacher is filling in for the interim. (BIG SIC). Flora goes to teach there in 1912 and that school certainly has male principal at that time, although, he is Canadian and NOT ENGLISH, as in British, which makes Margaret, Flora's mom, very happy.

Luckily, few teachers in the board have resigned in 1910. Well, Marion sure didn't. Marion's school, Royal Arthur, partially burned down in 1909, but luckily the new building was ready for 1910. Still, there was overcrowding in some schools as new buildings were being finished.

Apparently, many Protestant students were bussed a long way into the city.

And I'm going to quote this last bit, even though Google news archives says no copying.. but it's too good to paraphrase, so I have gone to McGill and looked it up myself on the microfilm...Phew that was a tiring trip and those machines at McGill, so antiquated, but as an alumus, I am allowed to use the library.

"The Montreal schools, judging from impressions gained from the principals, on the opening day yesterday will this year be even more cosmopolitain than ever. The percentage of Hebrew children in the schools will be more than thirty, some of the schools in the poorer districts, such as Dufferin containing few of any other creed. The children at the schools are of many races and a pleasing feature is the eagerness shown by Montreal's new citizens to place their children where they could get as fair a start in life as childen of the others. Many of the children who applied for admittance could scarcely speak English,and the teachers had in some cases a difficult task, hardly knowing how to deal with these foreign youngsters."

Well, I like this paragraph. It reads like a March of Time, without the pictures.
But it paints a picture of a 1910 Montreal filling up with immigrants (despite what the Immigration Officials told the NYT.)

Here's a link to the Google archive page, so you don't have to go downtown to the McLennan Library at McGill.

And this 30 percent number is why, at this time, there's a controversy going on regarding school board representation. I have to read up more, but it seems to me that Board were changing over from an appointed Board to an elected Board and many people didn't want the Jewish Parents to participate. Stay tuned.

Sexy Teachers?

Maria Montessori, pic off Wikipedia. In Public Domain

You know, a real problem I have with Flo in the City, my story about a girl coming of age in the 1910 era, is to make it 'sexy.'

I'm writing about teachers, after all. Look at the movies: I just blogged about Gigi and Irma la Douce. Shirley MacLaine in her stage show joked a lot about how she always played prostitutes. Well, prostitutes are pretty well the most popular female profession in movies, at least up until recently. Teachers? Ah. Who ever won an Oscar for playing a teacher? Wait, I think Maggie Smith did. Jean Brodie. Well, anyway, do you know of any other sexy teachers in the movies? That Katherine Ross character in Sundance Kid and maybe Gudrun, or whoever wasn't played by Glenda Jackson in Women in Love, or, come to think of it, Colin Firth in Fever Pitch. So writing about Marion taking an extra course to learn the phonics method, isn't very sexy.

OK. Where am I going with this. Let's start again. Back in first grade I remember learning to read with phonics. Mrs. Dobie, my tall, thin, stern, spinsterly teacher (yes!) wrote each sound combination (what are they called, phonemes)on the board using coloured chalk. I was excited by this, really! It was like learning a secret code! It didn't take me long to pick it up.

My husband, on the other hand, has other memories. He is dyslexic. He is 54 and still hasn't learned phonics. I only discovered this 10 years into our marriage (I had been streamed in school so never met a person with learning disabilities.) One day I pointed out a typo in an email he was writing, avlaiable, he wrote and he couldn't see the mistake. AV AIL A BLE I said. He didn't get it. And he works with scripts at work, as an electronic editor for news.

Obviously, in 1912, if Marion (my husband's grandmother) was learning 'the new phonics system' it had just been put into place at school. In 1912, yet another new system of learning was getting a lot of publicity, the Montessori Method. Maria Montessori, an Italian doctor had had some success teaching 'deficient' slum children to learn and now she was touting her method, for 'normal kids' in North America.

One article I found claims she believed that children should be taken away from their parents as early as possible because parents weren't equipped to properly educate their children.

We all have an idea of what the Montessori Method is, as it was widely adopted for kindergartens. No less a man than J W Robertson of the Royal Commission on Industrial Training and Technical Education spoke to a woman's group about the Montessori Method in 1913, the year the Commission's Report was published.

According to a report in a Toronto paper, "The (typical)kindergarten teacher is doing her best a good part of the time, to amuse and interest and vitalize the pupil. The Montessori Method is to move behind the pupils and to let them amuse and interest and vitalize themselves."

As described in another online article, the children learn to read at their own pace by playing around with plastic letters spread on the floor, making the words they want to make, etc.

Robertson wanted public schools to adopt this method, but only for kindergartens, I assume. This 'aut0-education' method would not have done much to create diligent little workers and devoted homemakers and professional housekeepers which was what the Royal Commissioners concluded the country needed.

The problems of industrialization would not be solved by allowing children to learn what they wanted at their own speed. (What happens if a girl, Heaven forbid, decides she likes mathematics? Or a working class boy Homer and Pliny?)

I'm being cynical here, but even the Canadian Council Report in their Recommendations in 1913, thought the employers and schools should work more closely together. And many women on this Council wanted girls to go into the Technical Trades, so that they could support themselves. Robertson didn't want this. Women could be trained as domestics, he thought, for good help was getting hard to find and housekeeping for others was good honest work.

(In a very odd exchange at the meeting of the Canadian Council of Women in 1913, one woman on the WORK committee wants a resolution calling for women to be trained as domestics, as the lack of good domestics, especially for childcare' is a big problem 'indeed a child welfare problem' and Miss Derick agrees by saying that Technical Training will take care of that. (These are two different things. And I doubt Carrie Derick was feeling sorry for rich women with nanny problems. But many women involved in social work were wealthy 'society women'. Well, most of them were, because they had the time and influence. And while these wealthy women were out lobbying on behalf of the wretched, someone had to be watching the kids.)

PS. I may have had a stern spinsterly teacher in grade one, but my second and third grade teachers were Hot, if I recall. At least my father liked to come to Open House. They were also Jewish, which is an important fact, with respect to Flo in the City. In 1910, it was being debated whether Jewish women should be allowed to teach in the Protestant School Board. I'm going to get to that soon.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Gigi, Irma and Good Girls Like Flo

An act at the Moulin Rouge. These women were essentially under age prostitutes.

As I research Flo in the City, my story about a girl coming of age in 1910 Canada, I am led to rethink my ideas about prostitution. It is clear that that our ideas about prostitution haven't evolved at all in 100 years, and that despite the fact that women have made huge gains in education, and freedom of sexuality, the so-called social evil (as they called it) still exists. And I assume from watching shows like Big Bang and How I Met your Mother, where the nice desirable woman is a bit tarty, that there's little stigma remaining with respect to sexually active women and that the Goddess and the Whore polarities no longer exist. (I may be wrong.) I've also just watched Irma La Douce and Gigi, movie satires based on more biting plays (or books) about the subject of women and their sexuality, where marriage is the happy ending. My head is spinning a bit, trying to figure out where this all fits into Flo in the City.

And as I think about all the articles from 1910 that I have read, I am coming to realize that the existence of prostitution was used to restrict the freedom of ALL women.

Now, I've long believed that all women are prostitutes of some sort, or that it is hard not to sell your sexuality as a young woman. Coco Chanel, who had no connections, was some rich man's consort before she became famous: she used his money to start her business. In fact, this is a theme of Flo in the City, my book in progress about a girl coming of age in the 1910 era based on the letters of And today, as I see that a Toronto Judge, a female Judge named Susan Himel has struck down 3 provisions of Canada's prositution laws, essentially decriminalizing the profession, I wonder, maybe it is about time.

Here's the opening to the National Council of Women's Report on Equal Moral Standard and Prevention of Traffic in Women. The report states that girls are lured away from uncomfortable homes or boring lives in villages by promises of marriage, then drugged and forced into a life of prostitution in the city. If only women had something to do at night, something safe and wholesome, the problem would improve. (See my earlier blog, Marion Nicholson, feisty and broken down) (There's only oblique mention of the fact that most women in cities aren't paid enough to live in the city.) The report goes on to say the clients should be prosecuted to a greater extent than the prostitutes for prostitution is as much a man's problem as a women's.

"One of the gravest problems which confronts the people of Canada today is the social evil. When every thoughtful citizen has some general idea as to its nature and magnitude, yet few understand, even approximately, the real facts.

In this one vice, 15,000 is spent annually in Chicago alone and no less an authority as Dr. Kelly of Johns Hopkins University has startled the Christian World by stating that white slavery , directly or indirectly, costs the people of American 3 billions of dollars each year!

And regarding Canada, careful investigation has proved that the condition of our Dominion is scarcely less appalling. All of our cities and many of our towns and villages have within their borders palpable evidence of this evil.

It is estimated that on this continent there are over 300,000 girls of the night. And the Vice Commissioners who have investigated say there are ten men for every one of these women. As the life of the girl is so short it provides 60,000 victims to supply the demand. And many of these victims come from Canadian homes.

The great question is this, what shall we do under the existing conditions to lessen the existence of this vice. And how should we convince the general public as to the extent of this traffic and its diabolical methods of working and of the unspeakable inheritance of suffering and degradation it is laying up for future generations.

Moral purity is the foundation of a nation: Canada is building this splendid structure of her Dominion, let us see that she checks this dry rot that is even now eating into her foundations. "

Ah, that PURITY business again. It was the buzzward of 1910, that's for sure. Everyone was seeking purity: in water, in milk, in food, in soaps (Ivory) and in women (just another consumer product). Oh, and also in race... the eugenics movement.

Odd, the Montreal Council did not submit a report on this and it was Montreal, that according to some, had a real problem in this area.

Thrills at the Thrill Park

Coney Island Shoot the Chutes.

I know that Dominion Park is going to be a 'character' in my book. It just has to be. I had never heard of the place before I read the Nicholson letters (posted on In my days, Montreal kids seeking fun went to Belmont Park, in Cartierville, which was already dilapidated in the 1960's, and later La Ronde, on Ile Notre Dame which was opened for Expo67. My own sons went to La Ronde and banged their brains into the back of their heads riding the extreme roller coasters over and over and over. La Ronde is still there, owned by Five or is it Six or Seven Flags.

Anyway, in 1907, Herbert Nicholson went to the new Dominion Park, (Notre Dame East) and wrote: "I was down at Dominion Park last night. This is the new one that you have read so much about. Well, there is everything that you have heard of in your life. They take you up and slide you down into a little lake and then you have a railroad that goes up and down and around curves and through all kinds of places so fast that you lose your breath." (Editor:remember, autos only were allowed to go 15 miles an hour in the country.)

So, what had the girls read about: Well, Dominion Park advertised for a full three months before it opened in June 1906, which built up people's expectations. Dominion Park was after all, 'the biggest amusement park Canada has ever known'...(and outside of Coney Island, nothing in the US equals it either)'offering a new series of entertainments to Montrealers.'

Opening attractions include the Duss Band, and the Nohlens, a dazzling act on the double trapeze. The regular attractions, the Shoot the Chutes (what Herb was talking about. La Ronde had La Flume, or something) the Airship Swing, the Scenic Railway, the Old Mill, the Johnstown Flood - and the Infant Incubator Building, featuring real premature infants being cared for and 'fed the way nature designed.' Hmm.. A foreshadowing of the Dionne Debacle.

Well, I have already thought of a scene at the Park. (I've written about it before.) Marion is there on Victoria Day with a proper young man and it is hot and crowded and they are watching a novelty act where a swarthy muscle man fights with snakes in water (a true act) and she, well, has a 'strange' reaction.
(I sort of know how she might have felt: I attended the final day of an exhibit at the National Gallery two weeks ago, one that had graphic porn images and I had to stand there like nothing special beside some total stranger. Whichever way you tilt your head, human genitals are not beautiful, that's for sure. Of course, a lot of great art was created as porn, or, at least, as titilation for rich men. But I digress (borrowing from Monty Python).
This scene all ties into the eugenics movement of the era, where some people insisted light skinned races were superior to dark skinned races, as well as the immigration policy where officials wanted only Northern types to come to Canada.. Swarthy, southern, sexy and animal = disturbing. Something like that.. Irony, Marion would soon marry Hugh Blair, proper Presbyterian from Three Rivers, - with a French Canadian mother and a Cree great grandmother. talk about swarthy. Hmm.
Anyway, they passed the Lord's Day Act in Canada in 1908 (that both the religious types and union types wanted.) But Dominion Park and the Ouimetoscope were given passes (or they could pay the fines) and they stayed open. If you give the masses a day off, you have to give them something to do. Young people, who work hard all week, don't want to spend their Sundays praying.
Yes, stores had to close on Sunday, even Jewish stores. Some people suggested that it wouldn't harm anyone if certain Jewish bakers were allowed to stay open on Sunday to provide bread only for Jews. "Only a few carts would be on the streets."
My next blog, probably, will be about the Jews in 1910 Montreal. But I have a lot of information to digest first. (I would like to have Marion go to Ben's for a smoked meat, but I can't really get her there. She would have been told to avoid these districts. (And there were no Jewish teachers then, but there was a big controversy over letting Jewish women teach. ) Maybe I can have Herb bring her one.

The Morality Ladies

Queen Victoria in her carriage.

Blame it on the movies. Most people's idea of these Canadian Council of Women Reformer types at the turn of the century, is of some ridiculous looking old woman (in a HUGE hat) going from book store to book store trying to get some fabulous work of literature banned. (I just saw this in the Life of Emile Zola, with respect to his Nana.)

But as I show on this blog and in my book Flo in the City, these Women's Groups were responsible for improving the lives of many a disenfranchized city dweller - and for getting women the vote.

Not that some of them didn't waste their time going from book store to book store trying to see if the establishments carried 'immoral' material -although they would have been better served just checking out their husband's secretaries, I imagine. (The desk, I mean.)

It seems in 1912, postcards were wicked, (we can all imagine the type, probably available for purchase on eBay today, for a big price).

And there was a list of censored books. The Canadian Council of Women had to get special dispensation from Canada Post to be able to get these immoral books in the mail so these ladies could judge for themselves.

Yes, this is reform at its silliest. (Sort of like protesting over Katy Perry's Sesame Street cleavage. I mean, when I was four I was given this Rosemary Clooney children's album. Now, that was world class cleavage- and singing talent for that matter.)

In 1912, just like today, many people blamed the 'bad behavior' of adolescents on the motion pictures. The Montreal Council report quoted an expert who claimed to know of such incidents, where kids imitated the robbers in movies.

To be fair, I visited the Bibliotheque Nationale a few years ago to check on what they had in their fonds about the Montreal Council of Women. They have very little, but one item was of special interest. The Social and Moral Reform League of Canada, or some such organization, was lobbying to make it a criminal offence for unmarried people to co-habitate, but Julia Parker Drummond, after consulting experts, replied that 'you can't make people moral by law.' She saw this initiative as unfairly targeting the poor, for it was the poor and new immigrants who lived together outside of wedlock. In those days, it wasn't youths who lived together, it was older people with families and such who moved in common law. (The Canada yearbook shows only a few divorces in Canada for these years, but in those days, people 'just broke up housekeeping' and moved somewhere else.) In order to get a divorce you had to apply to Parliament. (I assume some rich people just walked away from their marriages. My husband's grandmother did. Twice.)

Here's a snippet from the Montreal Council of Women's Committee Report on Immoral Material.

"Your convenor reports an average increase in the number of moving picture shows, there being 69, more than in all Canada 5 years ago. Many of these have been visited more than once by members of the Committee. The Chief of Police has been most courteous in interviews regarding important matters. The Pictures are somewhat improved, but the vaudeville is still of a very ordinary tone (sic.)Some managers interviewed would like to exclude vaudeville, as it is expensive, but the public demands it.

Objections are expressed resulting from darkened halls where the pictures are shown. There is a menace to morals in this and it should be prohibited.

Posters and postcards are undersupervision but the latter are found, especially in smaller shops."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Exposing the Dark Underbelly of History

Emma LaJeunesse, Opera Star, known as Madame Albani.

I happen to have a paper theatre bill on hand for a performance of Madame Albani, unknown year. It is from the Nicholson Collection. Maybe one of the Nicholson women attended...Well, very likely. They attended operas in Richmond, so their letters reveal.

Madame Albani wasn't Italian, she was a French Canadian from Chambly, (last epoque's Celine Dion) who made it big and was performing at Covent Garden in the late 1800's.

The Nicholson girls liked fine things, and I assume Italian Opera, was one of these fine things.

Italian lace too. Italian cheese, too. And in 1910, Edith mentions in a letter that she went to see Creatore and his Italian band, where she met Marion. That would be Giuseppe Creatore, an Italian American bandleader who was devoted to Italian opera.

This morning, as I continued researching background to Flo in the City, my book about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1910 era in Montreal, based on the letters of I decided to enter the term "Italian" into Google News Archives, to see what came up for the Montreal Gazette.

I wanted to find out what feelings and images and ideas the word "Italian" evoked in the Nicholson girls in 1910.

(You see, a few blogs back I wrote about how the Immigration Policy of 1911 deliberately tried to dissuade Italians form immigrating to Canada . Despite this, they came, about 60,000 in the 1900-1910 and the same amount for 1910-1920. And they came to Montreal, mostly.)

The articles I read from 1908-1913, revealed a world of gangs (there was a sweep of an immigrant neighbourhood in 1908, where police randomly searched young Italian men for razors, knives and guns) and hard, life-threatening work. (Italian men, it seemed, worked at manual labour in dangerous jobs, where they sometimes (often) were injured or died. And if they went on strike or protested, they were fired en masse. Once 100 men were fired for protesting money being deducted off the paycheques, ostensibly medical charges.)

There were a lot of murders associated with Italians reported in the paper, usually gang or work related, but sometimes crimes of passion. And at least one Italian woman ( a recent arrival of 26 who worked first in a restaurant and then as a domestic) killed herself because her boyfriend's wife came over from Italy to join him.

Dr. Louis Laberge of the Montreal Health Department (who I have written about extensively) explained that this Italian (and Chinese) crime wave was cause by the stresses of tenement living. The Italians were living "Oriental style" with too many people crammed into one house. He wanted forced inspections.

So, Italians in Montreal had it hard, it seems. But still they came and became an integral part of our city.

And, then, once again I was led to a dark period in history (one that has been erased from the books). I found an interview with Maria Montessori, which led me to look up more on the "eugenics" movement.

Remember, the Italians who came here to start a new life, weren't the "elite." Immigrants never are. (The Nicholsons were descendants of the lowest of the low, Isle of Lewis Scots, cleared from the land.)

The Eugenics Movement, to put it crudely, was about eliminating inferior beings, mental defectives, criminals and even those swarthy Southern types. (No kidding.)

Some people say the inherent weaknesses in this position. One writer asks, "Would Shakespeare's illiterate parents have been permitted to procreate? And another person has an interesting take: "As long as men are attracted by beauty and women by strength, we need no eugenics movement." It's true, even in today's techno-age, the ideal couple isn't Bill and Melinda Gates. It's alway a super jock married to a super model.)

But many people, many people of social stature including one US President, thought the idea of sterilizing the inferior and testing would be couples was a great idea.

I suspect that the eugenics movement got moving because of the 'scary' wave of immigration to North America.

Anyway, here's a link to a 2003 book that tries to bring this story into the light.

I find it suspicious that the Stanford Binet test (IQ TEST) was invented in 1912, at the height of the eugenics craze. So does the author of this book.

The idea of IQ is sacred today. (Just the other day a news report said that manganese in Quebec water may be lowering children's IQ by six points. Oh my!)

But maybe IQ is a load of BS designed to promote the interests of one group over another. Maybe we've all been had...Of course, we'll never know, as it is the people with high IQ's who run the world by virtue of having done well in the school system, with the exception of very rich men who are given a pass... HMMMM.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Material World 1910

Automobile Imports from US in dollars... 1906 459,000 to 1910 1,569,000.
Typewriters, 282,000 in 1906 to 303,000 in 1910
These figures are from the Canada Yearbook 1910, a financial almanac, summing up industry in Canada. The Big Picture.

My story, Flo in the City, about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1910 era, is the small picture, one of many, many small pictures that made up the Country of Canada in that era.

Norman Nicholson, of Richmond Quebec, and my husband's great grandfather kept household accounts for 40 years. I put the accounts for 1900 on this blog.

These accounts tell a story: THE story of how a middle class family lived in 1900 Canada.

But the Big Picture has a HUGE impact on the small picture.

In this 1910 Canada yearbook, I can see why Norman Nicholson was not doing well in 1910. The pulpwood and specifically hemlock bark industries had tanked.

Now, forest products were still a major export for Canada, if not THE major export.

This yearbook sheds light on all the little stories inside my Flo in the City story: the story of where the women got their material, for one, wools and silks from Great Britain (Empire, I guess) and cotton from the United States.

It seems that men's ready made clothing was a bigger industry than women's. No surprise, women still made their clothes. The imports of sewing machines from the US had remained steady since 1905. Margaret Nicholson had an American sewing machine, a White.

Canada exported more to the UK than it imported, but it was vice versa for the US. Remember, Laurier lost his free trade election in 1911. The figures in this yearbook explain why as much as the plodding prose in history books.
Pork, a huge export to the UK, (or bacon) played a part in the Free Trade Election, if I recall. Wheat, too.

And the Story of Wheat is explained in this Yearbook as well! Yes, Margaret had to pay 5 dollars a bushel for wheat to make her prize winning breads and cakes. And that figure stayed static over the years, even though Canada's wheat production increased exponentially, which doesn't seem fair as that meant Canada had to import less wheat from the US. But the Powers That Be wanted to export the excess wheat to the UK. At least that's how I figure it.
(In Montreal, there's a huge bulding looming on the horizon, The Five Roses Flour Factory on the waterfront. It was built in 1912, to mill flour to send overseas, from what I recall reading and I think that Heritage Montreal is intent on preserving it, even if it is the ugliest thing.)

"Now began with construction of Elevator No. 1, the building of the great grain elevators that are the most obvious feature of Montreai Harbour. Their towering height, the shapeless size with no proportion to the sight or scene they occupy, make them, to the eye of art, a blot on the landscape, a disfigurement of nature's
work: In any case they mean so much to the life and industry of Canada, to the life of Imperial safety, that the eye that looks on them becomes trained to a new adjustment." Stephen Leacock in his History of Canada.

Of course, autos and automobile parts were a burgeoning industry. (Canada exported autos as well.) And that industry, I think, was the major industry throughout most of the 20th century. And then that industry, well, you know what happened.

It's kind of a circle game, isn't it?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Marion Nicholson: Independent, feisty and broken down

Marion Nicholson, my husband's great grandmother, right, looks very tired and thin in this photo. The stress of her teaching job - and her struggles finding a good place to live, were getting her down.

As I have written on this blog, Marion's difficulties looking for a place to live between 1908 and 1913 is a story arc in Threshold Girl, my ebook on

While her brother Herb could rent out any place we wanted, as long as he had the money to pay the rent, Marion had to pound the pavement, and rely on 'connections' to find a rooming house that would take her. And when she did, unlike a man, she had no personal freedom at all. The landlady or matron assumed it was her duty to oversee her tenants.

And Marion was a teacher, educated at one of the province's finest institutions, with well off friends in town. So imagine how hard it was for women without a personal social safety net.

There was always the Y, where she stayed as a student in 1905, but that place had too many rules.

Well, you don't have to imagine. I tracked down a 1910 article on the Gazette archives about a meeting to consider the building of a hotel just for women.

And what an article.

In November 1910, a handful of people, a few clergyman and some social activist women including Carrie Derick, President of the Montreal Council of Women, gathered to discuss the need for a women's hotel, a safe haven for women visitors to stay a day or two and for women workers to live, RESPECTABLY, that would provide a place for the women to socialize on the premises so "they wouldn't have to go out at night."

Someone listed the prominent Montrealers who supported such a hotel, Birks, Reford, the usual suspects.

Dr. Herbert Symonds, Minister of Christ Church Cathedral,said "The idea is to get a building that is to be a suitable home for at least some of the enormous number of women *probably 50,000,working in the city.

Dr. Paterson Smith added some colourful pulpit style language to the proceedings: "I have spoken to a variety of managers of our employing institutions and they admitted they do not like to say in public what they told me. What some of these girls have to do, and the places they have to live and the sort of future they have to look forward to. It is time that these working women had a place they could live in comfort and peace, earning their living and holding their heads up as decent citizens paying their way."

You see, these men wanted a for profit hotel, so that the girls didn't feel they were relying on charity.

A Mr. Hannah said, "We do not want a hotel with its barroom associations, but a wholesome place where a woman can live with reasonable accomodation and provision for recreation, reading, etc, where working women can live and keep their self respect.

Hmm. They wanted to women be self sufficient, financially, but they didn't want women to be able to choose how they lived their lives.

I think Marion Nicholson would have winced to read this article, despite her aching feet. At 25 she felt it her right to do what she wanted.

In Threshold Girl, I  have Marion say:"I wouldn't mind being invited to one of these meetings, but Heaven forbid they actually ask a working woman for her input."

Yes, Marion wanted a safe place to live where she could relax and be herself and that included going to motion pictures and plays and the Orpheum Vaudeville house and Dominion Amusement Park with friends, family and, yes, young men!

That's why in late 1912 Marion  started looking for a flat where she could live with her youngest sister Flora, cousin Mae Watters and another friend, a daughter of an MNA, while they all worked as teachers. She landed on one on Hutchison, but it was an ill-fated experiment. At least she tried.

 (And then she just got married.)

And gee, I just found out why landords wouldn't rent to a group of women.

They were held accountable for what went on in their places, and that's why Marion in 1912 had sooooo much trouble getting a flat for herself to share with her sister and friends, despite being well-connected and having excellent references.

That's why she had to promise that her mother was coming to live with them.

Oh, this article has a funny aside: apparently an English woman called Lady Briggs insisted on reading a long paper out to the group. Dr. Symonds tried to silence her, with little success.

Then the group attacked her, with only Miss. Derick saying "let the woman speak."

She was a stranger to the group, but I looked her up and she was, indeed, an odd fish. The widow of a British Admiral, who had written a book on the Boer War she came to Canada in 1910 to make sure young women were treated right. (British immigrants?) But after this embarrassment she went to NY where she had some success getting into the society pages as a Daughter of the British Empire. Anyway, This Lady Briggs makes fine comic character in the ebook Threshold Girl

Friday, September 24, 2010

What Edith Heard that Night!

Another ad in the 1913 Report of the Canadian Council of Women.

Here is an account Mrs. Philip Snowdon's speech. Her first name was Ethel, and she was married to a Socialist member of the UK Parliament. Hmm. In those days, a woman didn't only give up her last name, she also gave up her first. In fact, even in the 1960's, women were referred to as Mrs. John Smith, say, in news reports.

Well, this speech did not impress Edith. It wasn't 'militant enough'. But it is interesting to read after 100 years of galloping 'advances' and a century of "la plus ca change" or same ole, same ole.

Yet again it is stated that the women of the 1910 era have won the right to work in most any profession they want. (It just wasn't true: just because there was one woman doctor, doesn't mean it was easy for any woman to become a doctor. Carrie Derick, who attended this speech no doubt, had fought like Hell to become a full professor at McGill the year before. And her duties and pay did not change with the promotion, either.) starts:
As England was the storm-center of the suffrage movement, she thought it well to refer chiefly to that country, and said that while suffragists at times could not help feeling sick at heart at the difficulty in obtaining their aims, in reality during the past century, their cause had made great strides. For their progress dated from 1832, when the successful agitation in favour of adult male suffrage had been the first step in the direction of political emancipation. A hundred years ago there had been no profession open to women, but now they could be doctors, accountants, clerks, while the other professions would be open in time; even the ministry, she thought, would be open before many years. Women could now sit on the public bodies of every kind, except in Parliament, while in the Civil Service, they were paid on the same basis as men. There had been two women on the recent Divorce Commission, and it had been owing to their pressure that it had been decided to recommend equal cause for divorce for men and women. While on the last occasion when the Suffrage Bill was brought up in Parliament, the Government had refused to give it any times; they had offered to introduce any other bill suggested by the suffragists, and though the efforts of the latter, the Criminal Amendments or White Slave Traffic Bill had been passed, legalizing flogging of procurers and allowing them to be arrested without warrant, while owners as well as tenants were made responsible for the use to which their property was put.

These steps reflected a big change in the attitude towards women and had resulted from the efforts of the suffragists. In effect, the public was converted to the suffrage for women, but the party system of politics stood in their way. Each side was afraid that if women got the vote they would fail to vote intelligently ; in other words, would not vote as they wished. This was the attitude in spite of the vast number of adherents that had been enrolled on their side and notwithstanding the quantities of petitions that had been sent to the Government. Then why did they not win? It was on account of the lack of unity among their adherents; while perhaps the temperance advocates were in their favour, the latter preferred to concentrate their efforts on getting their temperance measures passed, instead of seeing that if women suffrage was secured, their objects would be assisted. It was the same with educational and other reformers. And while the party system prevailed they could only get the vote when they could force Parliament to give it to them.

They had appealed to honour and fair play, but finding this of no avail, most of the suffrage party had cut loose from party associations. It was said that woman’s sphere was the home; this was true enough, and nowadays that politics were simply glorified housekeeping women had all the more claim to their share. A few years ago, it was only foreign questions that were discussed, but now social matters were to the fore. The question of housing the poor, for instance, was essentially connected with the home, as was the question of sweater labour, which involved thousands of women and children. (The power of woman’s vote in politics would be to glorify the value of human life, the real property of women who had brought them into the world- as opposed to inanimate property, which men from the earliest times sought to acquire and thought about. It was a question of property versus human life and honour, championed by women. Legislation where women had a hand in it, in California, New Zealand, and elsewhere, was not revolutionary, but it tended to improve the world for the little children to be born into. A good many perfect homes had been made in the world under the system of men’s legislation, and the speaker thought that if men and women worked together, a perfect state might be evolved. Women would make mistakes, if they go the vote, just as men had, but their cause was righteous and in the interest of common humanity.

Car Crazy 1910!

The Russell, a Canadian Automobile Company in 1913.

The 'automobile' is just another character in my book Flo in the City, about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1910 era in Richmond Quebec. Autos, as they were called (cars were trams) got their tire-holds (so to speak) in the towns, not the cities.

Cities had tramways (and in some cases subways) and the road traffic was chaotic for the most part. And cars, which were considered recreational by most people, just didn't belong on city streets.

But they were there, anyway.

In an earlier blog, I found a 1913 letter to the Editor of the NYT, where a New Yorker complains that the auto speed limit in Montreal is 7 miles an hour, too slow he thought.

So I looked it up on the Gazette Google archives. The speed limit for autos in the city in 1912 was 8 miles an hours. It was 15 miles in the country. (Just imagine how much FUN Flo Marion and Edith had riding cars over the hills of Richmond, Quebec!)

There were other auto regulations (mostly ignored, it seems, at least the drivers of horse drawn vehicles claimed as much. The auto drivers blamed the horse-drawn vehicles). A car had to stop at least 10 feet behind any other vehicle at a crossing. (What is the rule today?) Driving on the wrong side of the street was an infraction too :) (I did that just the other month, but let's not mention it.)

And some people, instead of complaining about the chaotic traffic, decided that new rules were needed. Perhaps slower vehicles should be asked to keep to the curb. And then you could raise the speed limit for autos to 15 miles in the city. (Some wanted that.)

The Automobile Club of Canada, Montreal, even suggested that drivers be regulated, that their every infraction be recorded and that their moral character and physical well-being be periodically tested.

Cars were "it" that's for sure. In March 1909, it was publicized that President Taft and his family would be primarily using an auto (well two of them at a cost of 12.000 dollars) for transportation. And their cars will 'know no speed limit,' travelling at up to 25 miles an hour.

And in the US, there were some people lobbying for an end to auto racing, as it was too dangerous. "That the welfare of the automobile industry demands the abandonment of automobile racing. Benjamine Brisco, President of the United States Motor Car Company, in answer to those who have criticized his recent broadside against speed competition of motors cars, while admitting that racing has served well in making for better cars, and in adding to the prestige of motoring,Mr Briscoe believes the purpose has been fully served and the industry is now in the position where it in being injured instead of benefitting from motor car racing, with the attendant dangers to human life."

What can I say? All very interesting. You know, the 1910's was the age of 'menace.' The Menace of the Motion Picture. the Menace of the New Woman. The Menace of Tainted Milk. The Menace of the Slum. Some menaces real, some menaces imagined.

Today, with our 24 hour media feeding our fears by focussing on all the bad things that could happen to us, so we barely let our kids out of our sight, etc.. there's one real menace, one real danger that we largely ignore, driving. Statistically speaking, the most dangerous thing we moderns do is to get into our cars each morning.

The other day the local news ran a story that manganese in water may be lowering our kids IQ by 6 points. A story, no doubt, that will lead people to go out and buy filters for their fawcets and pay for bottled water. (Hmm, good for business!) Yet every newscast has a couple of car death stories each day, and we still get into our cars. Hmm.

I think this is because car deaths aren't a 'primal fear' while tainted water and child abduction each are. (Hunter and gatherers didn't have autos, or even carts.) Our mid brain doesn't do statistics. (Hey, most of my brain doesn't do statistics.)

So, what are our other primal fears, our genetic hot buttons being pushed by the 24 hour press today? It's not hard to figure out. These fundamental fears usually have to do with survival and security. Flight or fight.

(Ps. I went through some stories from the 1960's, when parent were calmer, and it was astounding, how many people died on the roads back then, before seat belts and such. And our parents saw those figures published in the papers and still let us roll around in the back seat, unsecured. I personally sat in the front seat, on the hump, squeezed between my parents, both of whom were smoking. I could barely breath.)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Milk of Human Kindness and Social Responsibility

Advertisement for anti wrinkle cream at the back of the Report of the National Council of Women 1913. Well, the brochure for the 1912 Child Welfare Exhibit had an ad for Nestles baby formula, even though the exhibit greatly recommended breast feeding.

I just discovered this 1913 report (on and was thrilled. In 1913, the National Council of Women had an 8 day meeting in Montreal and I know for a fact Edith Nicholson, of my Flo in the City book, attended, at least one night.

The night Mrs. Philip Snowden gave a speech. The exact speech is paraphrased in the report (I'll transcribe it next). Anyway, Edith writes about her speech in a May 1913 letter and says, "She is not militant, and for that I am very sad."

Edith is not working in 1913. She quit her job at Ecole Methodiste in Westmount and only got another teaching job the next year, in Richmond. In May 1913, Marion got engaged to Mr. Blair (my husband's grandfather) and that's where Flo in the City will end.

As I have written before on this blog, Edith Nicholson, the pious, fashion conscious and gossip loving Edith, was a militant suffragette sympathizer.

I suspect she also attended the November 1912 speech by Barbara Wylie, the unapologetic militant from England. (She cut out a clipping about her arrival in Montreal, which I have posted on my website. It seems when reporters went to greet Ms. (he he) Wylie at the station, they missed her. They were looking for a dowdy angry type to detrain but Mrs Wylie was tall and attractive and walked right by them all.

Anyway, The Montreal Council of Women (part of the National Council) supplied a report to this Report (as did many other Chapters from all over Canada.) I transcribe the first part of the Montreal Report here...

The Montreal Local Council closes its nineteenth year with a roll of forty-four affiliated societies, forty-five patrons, and one hundred and twenty four associate members of whom forty five are new members.

Miss Derick, Past President, has been made a Life Patron of the National Council as a recognition of her services and three new Annual Patrons of the National Council have been obtained.

Six regular and four special Executive meetings have been held.

The Annual Meeting of May 1912 was rendered especially noteworthy by the presence of HRH the Duchess of Connaught who was graciously pleased to attend and to receive flowers and an address in French. Short addresses were made by Principal Peterson of McGill University, Dean Moyse of the Faculty of Arts; Mr. Godfrey, City Commissioner and Mr. W. A. Coote of London, England.

A public meeting was called the following day, to hear Mr. Coote speak of his mission. At it were heard a number of earnest men, whose public work had brought them a knowledge of local conditions. Later, at a men’s meeting, a committee was chose to act with the Local Council in opposing the traffic in women.

Last year, Tag Day, undertaken jointly with the Federation Nationale, brought in $14, 936.00, o f which the Council got $7,468.00. Of this amount, 3,000 was given to the milk station, leaving 4,200 to be distributed among the affiliated charities. In September, a lecture was given under the auspices of the Council on the right to the teaching of sex hygiene to young people. The proceeds were used to child welfare work.

On November 4, Miss Barbara Wylie was given an opportunity of speaking on suffrage and later on Mrs. Forbes Robertson Hale was brought in to lecture on the same subject. During the summer, the United League of Women Workers of the United States made a visit to Montreal and was entertained at tea by members of the Council, on whose representation, the City Council gave the workers a ride around the city park.

The Milk Station has been carried on in its new location throughout the summer and winter, with an average attendance of 100 children. The modifying is now done at the station by an Argyle Nurse, the council having expended 493 dollars for the necessary equipment. The Victorian Order nurse takes full charge for the rest of the work,with excellent results. She has a record of an average of 280 visits a month which does not include the babies seen by her at the station in the afternoon. 291 gallons of milk a year have been given without charge.

While 3, 280 gallons have been paid for, though frequently at a price before cost. The death rate has been only 1 percent, including the babies which died within 24 hours of being brought to the station. The city official to whom this report was made, found this percentage so low, he refused to accept it until he could examine the records, then assured the nurse that if the Council were to open other stations, the City would be very ready to help. An interesting evidence of appreciation is shown by the Maternity hospital which has sent many of its discharged patients to the station for baby food. At Christmas time a Christmas tree with presents and Christmas cheer was provided to the mothers and babies and older children.

Straight from the Impressario's Mouth

The Ouimetoscope. 1000 people at the cinema. Full house so its probably Sunday. Oh my!

In my continuing quest to see if there exists any silent film footage of 1910 Montreal, I stumbled upon a gem of a resourse, an 1965 interview (on the Radio Canada archives) with Earnest Ouimet!

You see, on another site, Silent Film Quebec, it is mentioned that this Mr. Ouimet, who I 've blogged about before in my essays on early film in Montreal, not only owned the fanciest motion picture house in town, he also made films!!

He started shooting in 1908 and first filmed his own family, then his surroundings and then special events like the 1908 Quebec Tercentenary and the 1910 Eucharist Congress. (The only YouTube footage of early Montreal is a Gaumont Newsreel clip of the Congress parade.)Illness kept him from filming between 1912 and 1915, but then he continued. (That's just as more films were being made for the War effort.)

Was some of his footage around, I wondered.

Well, no. That interview of Radio Canada starts out by showing some footage from the thirties or forties of Ouimet's family and says that that's the earliest surviving footage.

Well, at least the interview is illuminating. As he sits in his chair, an 88 year old man, Ouimet talks about how he spent his first earnings: on a car, (but of course) and a new kitchen set (for the legs slid on the floor) and on making the large Vaudeville stage at the Ouimetiscope (the first smaller one) smaller. They didn't need a large one. He showed three films a night and had a singer between the films.

Prices. 35 cents for the loge. 25 for the orchestra and cheaper for the poulerie or something, cheap seats. (More expensive than the Nickel, which cost "a nickel.")
What kind of people came to your theatre? asks the reporter. Oh, nice ones. Convent girls very Thursday afternoon...With the nuns, asks the reporter. No, school was out, Ouimet replies.

How many seats in the new theatre, built 1906, on Ste. Catherine?
Always filled.
Well, certainly on Sunday. Standing room only. (OOO) (They discuss the Lord Day's Law a bit.)

Did you have couples kissing in the theatre, like today?

No... We had ushers patroling the place and no man arriving alone was allowed to sit near a woman.. (Editor: That doesn't answer the question, really, does it.)

Great interview....Now, I tracked down a book written in 1999 about the Quebec Tercentary (which I have blogged about) and the author claims he did track down a few newsreels of the events at that celebration. This book, The Art of Nation Building, which I will have to track down, describes how grand the celebration was and how it has been erased from the history books. My point exactly, in Flo in the City, my book about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1910 era based on the letters of

People who need people 1910

Impressionist Painting, sans couleurs? No, Dominion Park 1910. If I could figure out how to use Paint Shop Pro.

The Nicholsons of Richmond Quebec may have been cash poor, but they were connection rich.

And in 1910 Canada, connections were everything, especially for a gal who wanted a life, because women, even women in their twenties could not go out alone to many places. Edith Nicholson complains in letters about lonely nights cooped up in her room in the city, when she could be at a lecture.
(Eureka moment: It seems to be the the so-called social evil, the prostitution problem, was used against ALL women, as a method of control, for any woman out doing anything alone was a suspect. And any group of women wanting to live together was doubly suspect.)

Marion, Edith and Flora Nicholson had each other when working in Montreal, but more importantly, they had friends.

The Clevelands, (Dr. was a dentist) and the McCoys. When Marion was teaching in Sherbrooke in 1906-07, she stayed at Mrs. Wyatts.

The Nicholson women's options were extremely limited, despite their education, or perhaps because of it. Teaching was essentially the only respectable profession they could enter, although Edith went to secretarial school. But without these connections in town, it would have been next to impossible for Marion to attend McGill Normal School. As explained in Flo in the City, my book about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1910 era, based on the letters of,
Marion had a hard time finding a rooming house, when first in the city. And later on, when she was determined to find her own apartment (quite scandalous) because she hated the way the rooming house matrons "lorded it over her" well, the McCoys were of help. She landed an apartment near them, no doubt with their help. Landlords in those days would not rent to a group of women.

Well, I just found out that that the Clevelands, Wyatts and McCoys were three of the founding families of Richmond and area. I just found and read "A Sketch of the Early Settlement and History of Shipton" by Reverend Edward Cleveland. No date, but I suspect it was published around 1860. (I found it on, but it has no publication date.)

In this book, which has been referred to for many subsequent histories of Quebec, he talks about the first settlers, the industries, the tradesman and about the hardships.

There are no Scots here yet. The McLeods, Margaret's people, came in 1838 and 41 and the Nicholsons in 1951.

In his introduction, Rev Cleveland writes: The study of history is always interesting and important, inasmuch as curiosity is gratified by recital of facts and the experience of the past is spread out for our instruction in reference for the future. We learn thus to appreciate the present time and the advantages of which we must avail ourselves in the improvement of it. This is true, not merely on the great scale, but even when we descend to a humbler sphere and apply ourselves to the history of our own immediate vicinity. (You take also apply this to people. The great personages of history are interesting to learn about, the Lauriers and Royalty, but also 'the lesser' people, like the Nicholsons.)

Not that the Nicholsons were average. Just by virtue of having lived in Richmond, they had an advantage. The first Protestant School in Quebec was established in Richmond, as Cleveland's book points out. Education was very important to the people of the area. (So no surprise that Sutherland became Superintendant of Schools in 1911.)

Indeed, Cleveland writes this: "The Library Associations recently established in Richmond and Danville with their various means of promoting intelligence and the best interests of the community, should not be overlooked. Our newspapers, periodicals and postal arrangements also have an important bearing on the interests of education."

As I wrote in my last blog, libraries were never a priority in Quebec. It's odd, newspapers were considered educative in 1860 or whenever this book was published (I just looked it up, 1858. Good guess!) In the 1910 era some people lamented the fact that the ONLY thing people read these days is newspapers.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Montreal Sucks! 1913

The site of the former N D G Library for Boys and Girls where I took out King of The Wind by Marguerite Henry 1000 times in the 1960's. And The Black Stallion, and Wind in the Willows, Born Free, Ring of Bright Water and Silent Spring (for some reason)Oh, and the Last Days of Pompeii.

This blog is about a letter to the editor from the NYT of 1913, by one H A Griswald (good name!)who says Montreal is a Backward State! I can’t copy it but this man, who often visits Montreal, (he says) can’t comprehend that city’s crowded tramways, smelly sidewalks, old fashioned buildings, and Puritanical nightlife. (My how things have changed.) There are no Sunday papers as they are against the law. (I believe that particular Lord’s Day law was enacted in 1908, and the religious types and unions both supported it.)

He claims the autos in Montreal are all on one boulevard and limited to going 7 miles an hour. (Interesting. The horse lobby in London, in the 1880’s tried to enact a similar law.) He says since liquor laws prohibit drinking after 6 pm on Saturday, the people throw their bottles on the street and puncture the auto tires. (Sounds like a typical post hockey game night!)

He says there’s nothing to do at night but walk the streets as there are no public libraries. Well, you can go to the motion picture.

Well, it is an interesting view. I believe Dominion Park was open and there was a great deal of theatre and Vaudeville and I’m guessing, as a visitor, he didn’t know of the more -ahem, clandestine places to enjoy yourself on a Saturday Night.

Although, as a library lover, he might not have approved.

But he had a point about libraries. I believe the Mechanics Library on Atwater opened in 1910. But French Canadians have never had a culture of reading... unlike those Protestant and Scottish types... Read my next blog..

In my day, the only good library was the McLennan at McGill. I moved to Vancouver in 76 and was blown away by their great library system. And when I was raising kids in a well to do Montreal suburb, there was no public library to speak off. Just a volunteer one.

And now it's the Internet age. Do we even need libraries? Some people would say, yes, more than ever. (Too much information out there so we need 'experts' to demystify it.) Some might say no; the users are the new 'experts'. I have to admit, I didn't have to go into Montreal and visit the McLennan to find this article. (In my college days it MIGHT have been listed in the encyclopedic NYT guide to articles or whatever it was called.

And I buy my books off Amazon, usually, especially and now I can download on my Kindle. I can even download books from onto my kindle. (I have just read a book about the History of Shipton County from there. See my next blog.)

I am eagerly awaiting the publication of Nella Last in the 1950's, which I've pre-ordered. I was wondering last night if I would buy a Kindle edition if it existed. And then I thought, NO. I purchased Nella Last's War and Nella Last's Peace and loved them both, so much that I lent them to everyone I could think of, so they too could enjoy communing with Nella. You can't lend Kindle books. So it's a bit of a racket, isn't it. Maybe we still need libraries so people without MONEY can read good books.

The Merchants of Richmond 1910

What Mr. Wales was selling in 1910. Hmm. Motoring suiting... Interesting. Also motor veils. I wondered what they were then I remember Natalie Wood's character in the Great Race.

As I write Threshold Girl, my story about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1910 era, based on the letters of  Tighsolas a 'main character' looms over my girlish tale, the TOWN of Richmond, itself. And that town is made up of tradesman and more importantly shop keepers. My tale is a tale of the new consumerism ushered in by the industrial age, as reflected in the social standing of the local merchants in this smallish town.

Seems to me, if you were a merchant in Richmond in the 1900-1910 era you were doing very well.
You were a community leader. (Since the Nicholsons left behind a number of invoices from 1900-1914 era, and talked a lot about the stores in their letters, I had a pretty good idea of who they were before I saw this Richmond Times Guaridan from 1910.

                        Edith and Flora Nicholson, In front of Tighsolas in Richmond, Quebec, 1910

Mr. Wales, whose store sold the above material, to thrifty, nimble-fingered women like Margaret Nicholson, was the town tycoon. He had the first auto and sometimes came around to take Margaret for a spin. His chauffeur drove. I guess she didn't buy from the Eaton's catalogue: no need to.

Another merchant, J.C. Sutherland, the owner of the pharmacy and a leader of St. Francis College posted a notice in the same paper where I found this ad for Wales, saying that H. Bedard was taking over his business. (Herbert Nicholson refers to 'the Bedard gang' so I think Bedard was Mayor.)

You see, in 1911, Sutherland was appointed Superintendant of Protestant Schools, a very lofty post, second only to the Minister of Education.

Young men of Richmond, Quebec, 1910 era.

Herb Nicholson remarks upon this appointment in a letter to his dad. He says it is a patronage appointment, in thanks for talking up the Liberal Party in his store. Maybe so, but Sutherland went on to have an illustrious career, and I suspect he helped Marion Nicholson along in her Union Career.

Shopkeepers had power. They had the power to Introduce new products to women customers. Crisco Shortening in 1915, was introduced by McCrae grocers. They had the power to chat up politics too, to the men.... And then the women, after the women got the vote in 1918.

Remember, there was no radio or television! "The local news" as Edith wryly refers to it, was passed around by mouth.

Anyway, this is just another link (an oblique one) between women's fashion and power. The men who sold material to women made money and had political clout.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Kids these days!

Main Street Richmond, Quebec. Google Earth.

View to the Village of Richmond, from the house that once was called Tighsolas.
Hmm. As I mentioned, the 1910 issue of the Richmond Times Guardian featured few articles, but two were extremely interesting to me, as I write Flo in the City, about a girl coming of age in the 1910 era based on the letters of

One was about the young men, who were making 'goo goo eyes' at the girls all over town- and even at church. Well, of course, church was a good enough place as any to go 'a courtin' and I mention that in my first chapter of Flo in the City.

Indeed, with the advent of the motion picture, the church lost that appeal.

Goo goo eyes must have been the local expression
for Norman Nicholson uses the phrase in a letter.

Well, if the men of Richmond were throwing themselves shamelessly at the girls of Richmond, this was lost on the girls. Another tongue in cheek article in the same paper claims that men are extraordinarly picky when it comes to women.

In a story entitled What A Man Wants: He wants a woman 'with a head stored with all the intellectual wisdom of the ages, but she must never get the idea that hubby hasn't the superior intellect and doesn't know everything.

She must dress in the latest fashion but must never spend any money in so doing.
She must be interesting, elusive, gay, of a deep religious nature, lively, modest, retiring, self sacrificing, brilliant, fascinating, a lover of home and fireside, prefering the society of her husband to anything..."

Gee, there's a contradiction here.
Still, this is a repeating theme in my novel, how women's love of fashion is held against them. See the recent blog about Professor MacPhail of McGill, who had contempt for women's perceived vanity it seems. He wanted a wife just like dear old mom, I guess.
Funny, I just saw a March of Time (Turner Classic Movies) from the immediate post WWII era that applauded women's obsesssion with beauty big time. Spending millions and millions on wanting to look good (for Dad returning from war) was a good and patriotic thing. This was one weird March of Time.
Ahh. Consumerism....

Thank Heaven for HD screens!

Colette in 1913. I took this from a feature in a 1937 Marie-Claire, about Hats and Royalty, showing that royalty was always behind the times when it came to fashion. Queen Alexandra is shown wearing a big hat. Colette wrote a beauty column for the early Marie-Claire, or was supposed to, but she never made her deadlines so Marcelle Auclaire, the co-founder and main writer took it over.

Well, I watched Gigi (Turner Classic Movies) on the big HD last night. What eye-candy! This is the first time I have seen that movie in big, brilliant colour, the way it was meant to be seen on the big screen, and you know, now I understand why it won Best Picture over Cat on a Hot Tin Roof...for the sheer beauty of it. (I'm a huge fan of Cat.)

The social satire was dumbed down from Colette's book (which I am a achin' to re-read) but the art direction is simply superb on the that film, and those songs... (I have taped it and will re-watch.)

You know, I just took another look at the blurry Edison films of the 1900 Exposition to see 'how authentic' the costume design was.
I guess it's like all costume design, a little license is taken to appeal to the audience of the time. The hats were simply HUGE in the film and I thought the hats only got huge in 1912. But then I did a little quick research on the web - and hat fashions were pretty wild in 19o0 in Paris, still not the HUGE Confections from the movie, they are exaggerating for effect, I guess.

I checked and saw that Leslie Caron was 27, when this film was made. Lucky. Had she been 16, it would have been a bit creepy, by today's standards. (We pretend it this society that we don't sexualize teenage girls, but of course we do BIG TIME.)

Audrey Hepburn played the part in the Anita Loos Play.
Anyway, the movie begins with Louis Jourdan saying that it is 1900 in Paris. Well, gee, the Exposition would have been going strong. From what I see on YouTube, the streets were much busier than what they show in the movie.

And there were far fewer women walking about. As I've mentioned before, the messy streets were no place for a corsetted woman. Edison's film of his moving sidewalk at the Expo reveals that it is mostly men jumping on and off. Well, that invention never took off, for so many reasons. That one goes in the column with the electric car. Win some, lose some.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Local News 1910

Edison advertises his talking machine in the Richmond Times Guardian of 1910. The ad is not nearly as elaborate as the one found in the Ladies Home Journal, etc. But it's similar in tone: it's the Mom who figures here. Edison thought Mothers were the ones who would bring the machines (or not) into the home. Talking machines retailed for about 40.00, a big chunk of change.

The Richmond-Times Guardian was the local paper and the Nicholsons read it and took clippings from it. From what I can see, it was an insubstantial little paper, aimed at women folk, where the local storekeepers advertised their specials of the week and where THE TOWN posted notices.

Any articles inside were 'filler' between ads. Now most the other ads were for patent medicines, the subject of two of my recent blogs.

If the Nicholsons were always fretting over colds (and Edith takes a 'nerve tonic' in 1910, for she is sick and sick at heart after losing a beau) it may have been a community quirk, judging by the iffy tonics advertised in the Richmond-Times Guardian (many from Brockville, Ontario companies). Dr Williams Pink Pills, revivifying tonic, eat well, sleep well, 50 cents a box by mail;Baby's Own tablets, this medicine cures all problems of babyhood, bowel, teething, etc.;Parmeli's Vegetable Pills, a mild purgative. (Reminds me I need to take my super anti-oxident greens today!)and Father Morrisey's Lung Tonic, Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable tonic (which I have written about extensively) on and on and on and on.
The Baby's Own pills do not claim to 'contain no opiates' as similar pills in the US did - because of their pure food law.

Other ads, well Daimler Auto took out one huge ad. But there was a notice in the social notes that Mr. Crombie had recently purchased an automobile and would be taking possession of it soon. Crombie was a wealthy Richmond merchant. The Nicholsons owed their mortgage on Tighsolas to him. In 1910 Richmond, as in other towns across North American, the wealthier men were all buying cars.

This is a story line in my book Flo in the City, about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1910 era, based on the letters of

And of special interest to me, for my book, well, it seems that Mr. Wales (the first 'tycoon' to own a car in Richmond, was the one who sold material in the town. (So I have to change that in my book.) And there was another milliner in town Miss V. Goyette.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Misogyny and Medicine 1906 Montreal

I hardly know where to begin with this one: in 1906 a prominent Montreal and professor of the History of Medicine at McGill, published a rant against the American Woman in the Spectator, which was, I have discovered, 'an insurance weekly'. This rant, however, was picked up by both the New York Times and The Montreal Gazette.

This is the same man author Frances Fenwick WIlliams made fun of in her 1910 era novel, A Soul on Fire. She has her character write a book called "Women Explained" and participate in a lively dinner time discussion of Suffrage and Suffragettes. Fenwick Williams had worked as a secretary for MacPhail and apparently told him bluntly that she was making fun of him in her novel.

I downloaded this article while looking for Canadian views of the US in the period and vice versa, but upon reading the article about the MacPhail article, it becomes obvious that MacPhail isn't criticizing the American Woman. He is criticizing the New Woman of the Era. The new woman is too idle, he says. And too vain. Technology has taken away her work in the home so now she wants to do what men do.

Oddly, he looks to nature to support his claim that women are vain and unnaturally so. In the animal world, he writes, it is the male who struts his stuff.

He blames American fiction for creating a world where women aspire to a life of leisure and indulgence. "For reasons largely beyond her control, the primitive function (sic) of women such as preparing food and clothing, have become less incumbent upon her.(Tell that to Margaret of Flo in the City.) With one exception, that of maternity, they have been usurped by the male or replaced by hirelings. Every advance in industrial development, continually makes for the destruction of the family."

Now, for all MacPhail's erudition, there are many holes in this argument, an argument which still was used in the 1960's (in my history class when I debated 'women's lib' with the guys without ever having learned about the suffrage movement or the era of the 'new woman' so I was seriously handicapped) and, even today, by some tea party types (who are sometimes photogenic women). For instance, why is this man writing rants instead of out hunting for boar? And are the rich class the ONLY class? I mean, artistocratic women had always been relatively idle and they had one purpose, to procreate. One of the most silly things this man says, is that poor women have 'the refuge' of the factory to save them from a life of idleness. Some refuge, eh? ah, he's being tongue in cheek as he is a J W Robertson style back to the land (and back in time) advocate.

And yet there are truths to what he writes. Indeed, Miss Carrie Derick used this same argument, that the home has evolved from a center of production into a center of consumption, in a 1900 speech, to support feminist goals. And modern feminist scholar, Nan Enstad claims that working women in NY were inspired to act 'above their station' by the dime store novels they read that, I guess, supplied lower-brow Pride and Prejudice style fantasies to them.

Now, Derick, who was also a scientist, a botanist, and the first female full professor at McGill (1912) might have laughed at the idea that it is males who should dress up to attract females. She was homely in the extreme and I'm sure she had learned early that it is the pretty flower that attracts the men.And she probably knew from reading news reports on suffrage in the papers that it is the pretty suffragette who gets all the respect. My God, is Mrs. Wylie GOOD LOOKING!

Anyway, I have to digest this article, which is important for one reason. Dr. MacPhail was a prominent citizen, a man people listened to, a man of science who also had a way with words.

According to his obit in the Gazette, in 1938 at age 72, Andrew MacPhail was a prominent Montreal physician, professor of medicine, author and critic who achieved fame 'within and without' his profession, at home and across the sea. At one time he had been principal of a grammar school and on the editorial staff of the Gazette. He was a fellow of McGill and of the Royal Society of Canada and first Editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal. He even wrote a bio of John McCrae, the doctor and poet who wrote In Flander's Field. He was 'a familiar figure on the Streets of Montreal and a staunch Britisher'. (He was knighted, eventually.)

Maybe he was sorry, eventually, for this essay. Maybe his ideas evolved. Or maybe he was just typical of his age and class of man, or maybe he was worse, being (I assume) a Puritan. (Norman Nicholson, my husband's great grandfather, and husband of Margaret and father of Marion, Edith and Flo, was not such a man. ) So just as you can't paint all women with one brush, you can't paint all men.

And if this man had been principal of a grammar school (and the principals were usually men, but not of the intellectual quality of this man) then no wonder Marion had such a hard time with her principals. They assumed she was inferior.

Is it also no wonder some people of the era wanted hospitals built that hired only women doctors and treated only women. Really, they did.

PS. There's no mention of a wife in his obit, so maybe all he needed was a good woman to set him straight. Actually, I just checked, this man is celebrated in PEI. It seems he had a family and that he came from the same Hebrides origins (SKYE) as the Nicholsons. Scotch, Protestant. And, yet, his ideas about women were quite the opposite of the Nicholson's. Edith may have known him. She worked in the Registrar's office at McGill.

Here's the article