Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bubble Speak and Stuttering.

1910 aeroplanes and blimps

Today I was working on a Nicholson Family Saga letter from June 1911 where Flora Nicholson fails French in her last year of Academy, but still gets into Macdonald Teaching School. That's because, as I explain in the footnotes, they desperatedly needed teachers in Quebec in 1911.

That was a big relief for the Nicholsons, who were struggling financially.

Then I went out shopping with a friend of mine, Lise, who is French Canadian- but one of those French Canadians who is fluently bilingual and who has floated effortless all her life between Quebec's 'two solitudes'.

Lise was telling me about her mother, who is 92 and who has advanced dementia. Her mom, she says, can't remember much of anything, but she can still understand both languages and beat her daughter at cards, Hearts or Cribbage.

The brain is a funny thing.

Anyway, my friend was also telling me that she went to see the movie the King's Speech this week. I was surprised. I hadn't bothered to ask her to go with me, assuming she would not like it. (And I would like to see it again.)

She went with a group of French friends, two of whom had already seen the movie once. "You have a rival," she told me. "Rita can't get over how handsome Colin Firth is. Maybe you should go to her house and play her my favorite DVD."

Lise was being ironic. One Saturday evening a few years ago I brought my copy of Pride and Prejudice over and we watched it in lieu of the hockey game. Wet shirt or not, she wasn't impressed. She has called Colin Firth "That guy who doesn't smile," ever since.

Yet everytime she sees Paul Gross on TV she remarks, "Quel bel homme."

Lise enjoyed the King's Speech, despite the fact Colin doesn't smile here either. But she was really surprised how much her French Canadian friends liked the movie. One other friend was seeing it for the second time because "she cried all through it the first time."

Now, I didn't cry through the King's Speech. I thought it was a funny film, for the most part. (Lise remarked, "OK, they had it bad, but that's their job.")

And I think I know why I chose not to cry. Because when I got home from my shopping excursion my husband was watching the CBS magazine Sunday Morning on tape and, as it is topical, that show had a feature on stuttering that showcased kids.

And THAT feature made me very sad, in a big punch to the stomach kind of way, because I 'suddenly' remembered that my twin brother used to stutter and that my father sometimes used to make fun of him.

I had repressed that in my memory, I guess, while watching the movie the King's Speech and focused instead on the history and elegant period piece elements.

The brain is a funny thing.

My father, who was born in 1922, the year that Bertie and Elizabeth got married, had had a cruel Edwardian upbringing himself. His own father, a Malayan planter, used to lock him in a cupboard when he was bad.

That had once been a common Victorian practice, I have since learned.

Anyway, my father was sent away from Kuala Lumpur to Cumberland at 5 and hardly saw his mom and dad again. (He may never have seen his father again, although I'm not exactly sure.) That, of course, was a typical British practice among the upper classes and those in the middle classes who aspired to more.

He went to a public school, St. Bees in County Durham and lucky for him, he excelled at sports. He was Captain of all the teams. He told me that one day another student came up to him and said admiringly "It must be wonderful being you."

"Yea, right," he thought at the time.

Anyway, Sunday Morning also had a bit with fun visuals on the Wright Brothers that explained that Wilbur died in 1912 of typhoid fever.

Yesterday, I edited a letter from 1911 where Norman is worried for his wife Margaret, who is tending a relation with typhoid.

And then that same Sunday Morning show had a piece on Geoffrey Rush, who is going to be bringing Gogol's Diary of a Madman to New York. That's one of my favorite books, or stories, as it is very short. I love Gogol. He's my favorite Russian writer.

A few years ago, I recommended Diary of a Madman to my bookclub and another person in the club, the widest read of all of us, objected passionately to its theme. She had a schitzophrenic sister and said that she found nothing funny about mental illness.

I don't quite see this story that way, despite the fact that my twin brother, the one who stuttered as a child, also has severe mental health issues.

Anway, the final bit on Sunday Morning was the most interesting of all. It was a seemingly glib little animation describing how the brain works with respect to FEAR. In short, it showed that if a scary belief, however erroneous, gets into someone's brain, it is next to impossible to remove it.

The brain is a funny thing.

The animation used the recently debunked autism/vaccination connection as an example, but I know it was really addressing the entire culture of fear in the US.

I've written extensively on that topic. And in this Flo in the City blog I've discussed all the fears rampant in Western Society at the turn of the last century: the white peril (tainted milk); the yellow peril of malaria; the social evil (prostitution); the evils of the Nickelodeon!! Aeroplane deaths. The Housefly. Typhoid. Immigrants. It was a true age of anxiety.

Fear is the key emotion underscoring the Nicholson Family Saga and it is in all the letters, either written flat out or lurking between the lines: the fear of destitution, primarily. The middle class generally lives in fear and flux as it is positioned between the poor and the rich. In good times, the middle class feels it can have it all. In bad times (or times of severe flux) it fears falling into the abyss.

In 1910, The Nicholsons were a middle class family on the bubble.

Today, 100 years later, most middle class families are on the bubble, whether they feel it or not.

So we go to see movies about rich, privileged people who are miserable, because it makes us feel better.

Pen and Ink

Inkwell, pen and family letters. This pen is engraved with EHF, Elizabeth Hardy Fair, my husband's great aunt from his father's side. She was a contemporary of Edith's and General Douglas MacArthur's first cousin. She went to Europe in 1910 and I posted bits from her diary on this blog.

I'm not sure what pens the Nicholsons used to write their letters in 1910. There are no blotches in the letters, however hastily penned, but the pens still must have been fountain pens. Herb sometimes used a typewriter.

A few blogs ago I wrote about the CBS program Sunday Morning, and how they had a feature on Handwriting.

The report discussed handwriting through the 20th century, how it has declined in importance, but is still taught in elementary school.

I had written an essay in a similar vein in 1998. My son's final grade 3 report had a notation: Should try to improve his handwriting over the summer. I was wondering, back then, whether handwriting mattered anymore.

It just occurred to me: Handwriting played a big part in this 7 year (and counting) Nicholson Family Letter Project.

In 2003, when I found the huge stash of letters in the old trunk in my father in law's basement, (while I waited for the washer to complete its spin cycle) it was all Greek to me.

The first item I pulled from the trunk was a 1916 3-fold cardboard flyer for Crisco, addressed to a Mrs. M. Nicholson, and I had no idea who she was. (Hmm. Very modern of them: women were usually addressed as Mrs. N (as in Norman) Nicholson. But I have since learned it was a woman advertising pioneer who created this particular campaign for J. Walter Thompson.)

Then I glimpsed the letters, piles of them, in packs tied with string. (One pack had been opened.)

Being the creative type (and not an academic who would have understood the importance of keeping everything in perfect order)I decided to dip my hand in and randomly pull out letters to read.

The problem was: only Flora and Marion had legible handwriting, so I started with their letters. And after a short time I realized that there was a story here, the story of Flora's year at Macdonald Teachers College.

That, of course, impressed me. And the rest is history, social history, family history, Canadian history.

Now, had none of the Nicholson had nice handwriting, I might have given up right then and there. (I think I probably would have.)

It took me a couple of months to read and 'decipher' all the letters from the 1908-1913 era and just two back-breaking weeks to transcribe them. By 2005 I was ready to post them online.

(I contacted a literary agent, who told me 'letters are boring' although he was ready to work with me on another project. A small local publisher from Ste. Anne de Bellevue, however, was ready to receive the letters, "I love letters," said the publisher, but I soon discovered I wasn't ready to deal with them.

It has taken me 7 years to acquire enough background to wisely edit the letters down.

That's what I am doing now: starting in May 1911, that happens to be 100 years ago.

I posted 8 of these letters of this Flo in the City blog and have started a Nicholson Family Saga blog to post the rest.

And I am linking the first letter here so that the crawlers find it.

It says the Carbon Files, the previous name of the blog, but I have to figure out how to change that.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Letter 9: Stealing a Look

Edith and Herb. The elegant home in the background must be the Montgomery's, who were doing extensive renovations in 1911, while living in the house (both the letters and 1911 Census confirm). Dr. Skinner was a dentist. They also spent a lot of time in their new auto, with Edith. Margaret and Edith often wrote: "They are very kind to us."

Qu'appelle Sask.

July 10, 1911

Dear Father,

Sorry I have not been able to write you before.

I have tried ever day for the last three weeks but for 15 days I was managing the branch and was short a man all the time.

I had to work Saturday afternoon and Sunday as well as work on Coronation Day and Dominion Day.

The manager only got back from his holidays two or three days before the end of the month. It was the end of our half year and with so many balances and reports to send away, I only finished the last of them Thursday.

I had a visit from William Neilson about two weeks ago. He is taking a fine trip and said he is enjoying himself fine and was sorry you were not with him.

He had his whiskers cut off and when he spoke to me at first I did not know him.

Flynn who worked with you on the NTR called for a few minutes at the office to see me.

He is traveling for some wire fence company from the States.

Do not think you will have any trouble with the cement. It will surely be more pleasant where you are now than it was around la Tuque.

I do not like this place and hope they will not keep me here much longer.

I have just been stealing a look through the Manager's correspondence and in reply to a letter from head office asking if he had found things in order upon his return after spending his holidays, he replied that he had found everything in perfect order.

Now I have not any more news so will have to close. I was at church with the Masons a week ago today.

Will remember what you said about staying where I am.

Do not want you to ever think that you should not advise me what to do. Any time that you want me to do anything or suggest anything just tell me without making any bones about it.

Now you may have some trouble getting any sense of this letter as this is a new typewriter for me and I have to go so slow that before I finish a sentence I have forgotten how I started it.

Hope this will find you well as it leaves me. I am writing Mother today and hope it will find them all very well.

Your son,

On the first stint on the railway, 1907-1910, Norman Nicholson was a timber inspector. He found it very rough at 'end of steel' in LaTuque. Here he is working as a concrete inspector. He keep notebooks with a record of the amount of cement that was poured to make such and such a culvert.

It's the Wheat Boom Era, with 'a town a day' being built out in the Canadian West, if you believe an article from a 1910 Technical World Magazine. If fact the Canadian Immigration people published a very flashy Western Canada Magazine to promote life in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta and to a lesser extent, British Columbia. Rural Britishers, Americans (but not Black Americans) and Northern Europeans were invited to apply, but not those swarthy southern European types.

For many years the Nicholsons had been contemplating a move out West, like so many of their friends and relatives. (In the trunk I found a brochure from 1906 promoting Saskatchewan.) This kind of thinking continued into the war years. But the West was no place for a failed businessman in middle age and Norman's friend and relations told him so bluntly.

No one offered to give him safe haven.

Letter 8: Heatwaves and Buggy Dreams

Bills bills bills. The Nicholsons left behind household accounts from 1883 to 1921 and well as a number of invoices from the turn of the last century and the First World War.

July 9 1911

Dear Norman,

Your letter dated July 2nd with cheque for $20.00 received. I will attend to the bills. Thanks for the same.

I just got a bag of flour (2.90) and I am owing my grocery bill at Mc Rae's.

I have been having Stanley Hill (teenage nephew)cutting the lawn. He does it very well. I pay him 50 cts a week. I notice the weeds in the gravel are showing up. The garden looks very good everything doing well.

Peas are ready to use, are having some for dinner today. I put the paris green on the potatoes twice.

Flora and I. Mrs. Montgomery came over to tell me that the bugs were eating up my potatoes.

I was waiting to get someone to do it for me, as that was one thing I never attempted and thought I could not do it.

But when she interfered thought we would try if. (Mrs. M was possible worried her potatoes would become infested.)

So one dark night, Flora got the lantern and we went out when the bugs were asleep and gave them their dose. We dressed ourselves in the shed. You ought to have seen us. When we got through left our clothes there. Went to bed and dreamed all night that the bugs were crawling over us.

Uncle Dan was up yesterday (brother?). He's only been up once before since you left. He has so much to do with his own garden he thought everything was looking well.

He rides around with Clayton in the auto. But for over a week the auto is being painted. They are getting it fixed up to go down to Lindonville to his Aunt's Golden wedding this month.

Grandma is up at Bella's (sister, wife of Clayton, mother of Stanley)for a few days.

We have had dreadful hot weather. Just fancy, one night we slept out on the veranda. Took our mattresses down. The Skinners were sleeping in theirs so that we were not afraid and we had Flossie (Dalmation)with us but yesterday afternoon it rained so last night was cool.

We all had a good sleep and today is fine. We feel like working. I hope you did not have this extreme heat. We had quite a cold wave about the 24th but no frost.

I hear the presentation to Sutherland is Saturday. Smoking concert in the town office. Mrs. Beiber is improving but not able to be dressed yet. Majory Sutherland keeps about the same.

Mr. Montgomery seems to be getting on well with the house, working at the wood part now. The barn is finished. Had one coat of paint. Will be light, as ours.

The wood (for cooking) seems to be holding out well. I have not heard about Flora's exams yet.

Aunt Christie Watters has gone down to Boston a week ago. They did not come to tell us when she was going and we have seen not May since she came home.

I mailed you papers Gilbert (Norman's brother in Alberta) sent you. I wonder why he sent them? Is it that you might see Borden's speech? (Head of Federal Conservatives.)

I have not heard from Herb since the one I mailed you. Hope he will write soon. I was in hopes he had written you. Will write you soon again. Trusting you will keep well. We are all very well.

Miss Villard stayed from Monday until Friday.

Yours with much love

I think you better save the little personal. They are apt to get into other people's hands. M

...The postscript to this letter says it all: Be careful what you write, you never know who will read the letter. This is something to remember as you read the Nicholson letters. They were edited as they poured out of the pen. At the same time, these letters are much like phone calls (they were substitutes for phone calls as Long Distance was far too costly to use, despite A T and T's efforts in their advertising to get era mothers to use the phone to keep in contact with wayward children.

$2.90 for a barrel of flour. Nicholson 'store accounts' reveal that figure to be a bargain. The usual cost of wheat flour was around $4.50 to 5.00 a barrel and stayed stable throughout the Wheat Boom Era. However, Margaret writes bag, so perhaps it was half a barrel.

There was a heatwave in Montreal in the summer of 1911. There was a heatwave in the UK as well, which precipitated a mass exodus (of rich and poor) out of London as well as a number of labour strikes. According to the Gazette, for those Montrealers who want to escape the heat, the Princess Theatre was hosting a travel show, "ideal location as the theatre is always cool" with 'scenes' of the South Pole with penguins and ice floes and polar bears(sic).

J.C Sutherland was the town druggest and also a former Secretary of St. Francis College at the turn of the century, when it had been affiliated with McGill University. In 1911 he was appointed Superintendant of Protestant Schools, a position second only to the Minister of Education.

The Nicholson's home town was a seat of Protestant education in Quebec; the first protestant school in Quebec was established in Richmond in the 1700's.

Clayton Hill, Margaret's brother in law, is in the tombstone business. He is,not surprisingly, very well off, as that business in 1912 didn't want for customers. There were many deaths in Richmond that year and it was remarked upon in the letters. Hill also votes Conservative, which irks the Nicholsons no end. So does brother Gilbert out in Alberta, evidently.

Nicholson Family Saga: Letter 6. Car Accident!

Sunday June 25
Dear Norman,

Your letter with enclosed photo of my old chum received was very glad to see you looking so well and comfortable. You seem very stylish with curtains on your windows. I suppose that is for the flies.

Your letters are not long on the way so makes it better for us all. I am glad you are having an easy time.

Marion is not here yet. She wrote that she would be with us Monday at 7 PM.

Miss McCoy's wedding is the 12 of July so I hope she won't think of going to it.

Mr. Beiber had quite a bad accident with the auto on the 22nd. Mrs. Beiber's brother was here about 11 o'clock in the morning. They started for Windsor. Mr. Bieber running the car. John Harkensen sitting in front with him, in the back Mrs. Bieber in the back with little Majory (6).

Mr Henry and the three children (were) coming home, He was running fast as usual, he struck the sand.

There was something wrong with the steering gear they say, however, the car turned over, some were thrown out, but Mrs. Bieber and Marjory (6) were pinned under.

Marjory crawled out when they lifted the car but Mrs. Bieber was unconscious for some time. They brought her back in an express wagon and had the doctor waiting at the house. She has no bones broken, only badly bruised about the chest side and back. She is in bed - I think for a good while. I was in to see her last night . She does not complain. Is so thankful that she or some of the others were not killed. All the others escaped without any injury.

Mr. Henry is still here. The car was sent to Danville by express the next morning, badly wrecked. Mrs. Bieber told me he would not listen to anyone about his fast running, but she think he has had a lesson. He makes light of the accident, says Mrs. Bieber will be out in a couple of days. I have my doubts.

Later 26th, Monday.

Edith went to Lake Avril (Vermont) Saturday afternoon with the Skinners. Took Miss Sparrow, too. They returned this morning at 10 o'clock.

Had the time of their lives. Stayed one night at Lake Avril, which is four miles from Morton Mills.

The Montgomerys took Flora and me for a little run around the town yesterday evening.

Dr. Villard's daughter came this morning to make Edith a visit. Will stay until Saturday. Dr. Skinner met her at the train with the auto. They certainly have been very kind to us.

Edith is with them all the time. I have not heard from Herb since the one I enclosed to you.

We had a call from Mrs Goff of Portland today, that is Jessie McNaughton. I took her over to see Grandma. Then down to McC’s. She is having tea with the Alex McLeary at Keenan's Hotel.

I mailed the Times and Record. Mrs. Moffatt was up. I have not seen the Dr. to speak to. People think he has lost all he invested with White.

I got notice of Flora's school fees.

I am keeping the other things straight, only have not paid McRae's bill (grocer) since you left. It is not much.

Marion has just arrived. With much love

Your wife Margaret.

It was an Age of Anxiety as well as an Age of Excitement. Here, in one letter we have a graphic account of a serious auto accident and also tales of delightful car trips, short and long.
Automobiles in those days of rugged roads had to function more like all terrain vehicles than modern autos. The speed limit in Montreal was 8 miles an hour; in the country it was 15 miles an hour. With the automobile being a brand new invention, a 'fad' in many people's minds, traffic Regulations were in embryo and a topic of much debate.
There's a subtext in these letters with respect to the auto.
All the Nicholson's friends had automobiles, but they, themselves, could not begin to afford one. Indeed, they had once owned a horse, and now only had a fine carriage stowed in the barn. They were trying to sell the carriage, but to no avail. However, the Local MNA, Peter Mackenzie, Quebec Finance Minister and graduate of St. Francis College borrowed the carriage in 1912 to do a little local electioneering. Clearly he knew better than to appear too uppity to the local farmers.

Dr. Moffat's loss may be the talk of the town, but it has negative repercussions on the Nicholsons, too. Moffatt is one of son Herb's many creditors, and although a close family friend, he soon presses the family to pay up.

Nicholson Family Saga: Letter 4, A wedding, a funeral, a graduation and a Coronation

June 15, 1911,

Dear Norman,

You’re letters of the 11th and 12th just received. I hope you have already received one from me with Herb’s enclosed.

You will be surprised to hear that Edith had a trip to the city by auto with the Skinners. (Whoops. She told him about this in last letter.) She had a delightful trip, no breaks or stops and arrived home at 7 o’clock safe and very hungry. We had everyone come in for a cup of tea and I had just baked bread so they thought that was fine.

Edith had Lulu Stevens sewing for a few days, so I got her to do same for me. I had my muslin dress also one from the print you bought me. And my white skirt. So we won’t be sewing all summer as we used to do.

Charlie Wilson came up and told me he could not do the lawn, so I will have to look for someone else tomorrow.

Old Mr. Hill died yesterday at, the 14th. Funeral Saturday, the 17th. Masonic. I went up for a while this evening.

Today Mrs. Campbell, Grace (Cross) and Bert (Cross, a woman) called. They were asking for you. I told them it was a great deal better than La Tuque. I trust it is.

Is the handcar safe? It will be easier than the walking. Happy to hear McKechnie is all right. If he is a Liberal and a Mason he will be better!

I am sorry you are having such a hard time with flies. Well, their season soon will be past.

Well, the Census man was around. I gave him your age as 60. Was I right. You know I always save a few years for myself. He did not take Herb’s or Marion’s. So that is over.

Flora will finish her exams tomorrow. She has kept well. The weather has been cool, so that made it pleasant.

Dr. Moffat’s loss is the talk of the town. Dr. Skinner said he has heard they will not be able to pay him for than 15 cents on the dollar.

Marion is not going to wait for the wedding (Isabel McCoy’s) as it would keep her too long in town.

As you can see by Herb’s letter he feels lonesome to think of you being so far away, but if we all keep well, we will all be together for the summer months.

We will manage everything here all right until then. Only it does seem ages since you left. We have not got used to staying alone.

Kenneth got your letters. Big Kenneth said he thought you were taking Laurier’s place while he was away at the Coronation.

He told me to tell you he said so.

Christina Watters went into Montreal to May’s (daughter's) graduation, which is today. Henry (Dr. Henry Watters of Newton, Center, Massachusetts and May's brother) is coming up if he can get away.

Right now, Edith is at the Skinner’s playing cards. Flora is looking over her lessons, so I thought I would write to my best fellow.

(Uncle Dan (Margaret's brother) says you are all right on the railroad. He was often out in the woods, he says. Still I think 63 miles a long distance. Is it all woods from Cochran? Will the work last long there?

I have mailed you your check book. We have not seen the Herald all week. Take good care of yourself. I will write again soon.

With much Love,

Marion Nicholson never did get enumerated for this 1911 Census. How do I know? Grace Cross lives in Montreal at 5 Tupper, with her mom. They are former Richmondites. A Mrs. Ellis owns the house next door and takes in boarders because that's where Marion lives during the school year. Only 2 boarders are listed at that address, a nurse-in-training and a stenographer.

Census Page for Nicholsons. The Skinners are Frank and Ruby, son Floyd.

May Watters, Norman and Margaret's niece, is graduating from Macdonald Teachers College.

According to the Census Records, her family lived in Kingsbury in 1911. (The Census has them as Waters!) May stayed with the Margaret and Flora 1908-1910, likely to attend St. Francis.

She is the same age as Flora but one year ahead at school. Henry is her older brother (born 1880) and, from all accounts an exemplary young man, indeed, everything Herbert Nicholson is not. Henry is hard-working, kind, generous and devoted to kin. In the summer of 1909, he takes his dad on a visit to the homeland. Norman remarked on it in a letter. "Dr. Henry and his father are sailing by this time. When they get back you will get a whole new set of stories when he calls. It's nice of Henry to take his father on that trip. Every boy is not so thoughtful. Some if they have the means would prefer to go alone or with friends "

May and Flora visit him in 1908 (and ride in his Stanley Steamer to the Wellesley Campus)and Edith and Marion visit him in 1912 and are taken to Norumbega Park. Henry is unmarried and lives with his sister Christina, who is a few years older than May. But his clapboard Colonial house on Commonwealth Avenue is equipped with all the latest gadgets, Flora says.

"Big Kenneth"... These Scots tended to rotate but a few names, Malcolm, Norman, Kenneth, John.. so they needed ways to distinguish one from the other.

Isabel McCoy is the daughter of family friends in Montreal. They live on Hutchison and in the 1911 Census Isabel is listed as 'professeur' earning 700. a year. Marion earns 650. in 1912. May, if she gets a job on the Montreal Board, can expect to earn 550. to start. Were she a male graduate, she would earn 800. to start.

The pencil has faded on the 1911 Census form, but Norman puts his salary at 1,200. That's 100 a month. Unfortunately, it gets halved in 1912.

Margaret is worried for Norman. She senses railroad work is dangerous, and it is. A highly publicized book has just come out to that effect. And then there's the mud and the blackflies and extreme heat and the extreme cold. But it's the loneliness and boredom that gets to Norman the most. At 60, he is too old to play on the Residency hockey team. As a Presbyterian who has signed a temperance pledge he does not drink or gamble.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Nicholson Family Saga: Letter 3: Visitors, Visitors

Magical Mystery Tours. Marion, seated in front in car. I'm pretty sure it is Clayton Hills as Isabella and Stanley are loitering outside the picture frame

Margaret to Norman

June 10, 1911

Dear Norman,

Your letter to Edith received Friday morning. As she was not here I opened it.

She had left an hour before with Dr. and Mrs. Skinner for an auto ride to Montreal left here 10 am arrived in Waterloo at 12.30 had dinner left at 2 o'clock arrived safely without any stop. In Montreal at six pm.
They said when leaving that they would be home Tuesday; she said they had a delightful ride. She was staying with Marion.

I had a letter from Herb Friday night. He is very well. Said the last letters went to Qu'appelle (Saskatchewan). They were diverted by some mistake and he was longer in getting them. (An excuse for not writing sooner?) He said the manager was going to have his holidays and that he was to be Manager for two weeks. Says he does not like the town one bit and if he does not get transferred will leave. I hope he will stay and get a transfer before long. I hope you will write him to stay until he is sure of something better. I am going to.

Just when Flora and I were preparing for the Ladies Aid meeting 16 women, Aunt Christie (Watters) and Malcolm arrived from Lingwick. Aunt C. was away two weeks. M. went up to meet her stayed one week. (That was his first trip to Lingwick. I don't think he was much taken with the place there are not many young people there. Of their friends.)

They did not send any word that they were coming. Uncle Alex (Watters)came down about 5 o'clock to meet Christie and take her home.

Mrs. Nielson (Norman's sister) went up to Bella's And Clayton and Bella took her out in the auto. She stayed with me for 3 days.

So Flora and I are having a quiet time. It will be a rest for her as her exams begin tomorrow morning; she is very well.

I was quite tired after all this but feel quite rested now as we were alone last night. We did not get up until quarter to nine and we both went to Sunday school.

Morse cut the lawn once, took him three evenings, clipped it one eve, he does it well. But said he would not promise to do it regularly.

We put our plants out and beans in. Taylor said he would put the tomatoes in Tuesday. Says his own were not in Friday when I spoke to him. He is so slow.

I will enclose you a clipping from the paper about Dr. Moffatt's loss. Mrs. Montgomery was telling me that they had offered him 50 cents on the dollar, that is a loss of 4,000, he was in Sherbrooke Friday. I supposed he made it on stocks so he need not feel it so much. Mrs. Moffatt was working at the sale but did not mention it to me. Only she was rather short in the temper. They have sold all their horses.

Uncle Alex had a great many questions to ask (about you.) He knows more about that part of the country than I could tell him. Had to come up to the office (home office!) to look at the map, of course. Cochrane was not on it. We found Lake Abbott, a mining town he said it was.

Is that place in the woods from Cochrane?

I was trying to tell him it was quite civilized around there.

I hope you will like the crew. Too bad you have to walk so much.

I will tell Alex all the good points, he always wants to know your business before you know it yourself. He is jealous if anyone is doing well.

Dan and Grandma are well. (Maragaret's brother and mother.)

I did not get the Herald last night, hope you got it. Let me know if you feel any of the indigestion.

With Much Love,

Your Loving Wife

Visitors, visitors. They could be welcome and unwelcome in 1911, but you still harboured them, because in turn they harboured you. Alas, with no maids, visitors were a lot of work.

Dr. Moffatt was the Nicholson's GP and he also was related to them by marriage. He was a victim of an Eastern Townships stock market swindle, the Nicholsons cut out a newspaper clipping.

He soon moved to BC and wrote many letters to Norman during the First World War (he felt young British men were signing up merely to get a free ride home) and even one during the 1918 flu epidemic where he described himself as "dead on his feet."

Linguick was nearby farm country, (the Malcolm in the letter above walked from Linguick to Richmond) and where the Isle of Lewis Scots of Quebec landed in the mid 1800's. Norman's people were from there (The Gore) although these Watters' now live in Kingsbury, where Margaret's people, the McLeod's landed in 1838, with nothing but the clothes on their back. These people were poor crofters (tenant farmers) cleared from the land to make way for sheep. Margaret's people, from what I have read, had to be thrown on the boats at Uig Carnish to come to Canada, they were so reluctant to leave their barren but beautiful homeland.
These were Gaelic speakers. Margaret's mother spoke only Gaelic and Margaret was bilingual, but clearly not 'trilingual'.
Both Flodden and Kingsbury are marked are on Google Maps despite the fact they hardly exist as destinations being just crossroads, houses and fields.

Nicholson Family Saga: Letter 7. So Bloomingly Poor

June 28, 1911
Richmond Quebec

Dear Father,

Your will see by the heading where I am. I only got here Monday evening for I went to Hudson with the Fields' and had a fine time. They have a cottage by the lakeside and they also have a motor boat where I spent most of my time.

Then one of the men there had a yacht and he took us for a sail from Hudson to Ste. Anne's and back and after all I find Richmond quite a nice place although it looks queer without a station.

Did I tell you that we really have got an increase of salary for next year so that I will be getting $650 next year and they have given me the next class on my way to the top so that my work I hope will be easier.

The next time you see me you will find me sporting a pair of glasses. I had Dr. Byers examine my eyes and he said that I should wear them all the time but I find that very hard to do and a great deal of the time they stay in their case.

Mother, Edith and Flora have gone to our opera house to hear the famous Lorne Elwyn and I am keeping house with Floss for protection from the tramps. Last night Dr. Skinner took us for a ride from Corris nearly to Trenholmville. It was great and the first time I have been cool for a week.

Since I have not been here very long I have not any Richmond news so will close for this time.



Hudson is a picturesque town on the Lake of Two Mountains, just off the island of Montreal. In 1910 it would have been a vacation site. Ste Anne is at the Western most part of island and where Macdonald College and Macdonald Teachers School were situated. The campus now houses John Abbott CEGEP (Junior and Technical College) but also McGill Faculty of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.

On May 1, 1911, while still at school in Montreal Marion sent this important letter to her Mother.

Tower Street,
May 1, 1911
Dear Mother,

This is just to let you know that I am still alive and as homely as ever. Got your letter with news of the dance in it and had it not been that I was so bloomingly poor, I might have called on you and perhaps stayed over night. Edith will soon be going home - in about two weeks I think.

There is not much doing now but the Horse Show which as I have not a beau I am not going. Mrs. Ellis (boarding house matron)had two tickets sent to her for tonight so she is taking Edith with her.

I was up at the Cleveland's Wednesday evening to play bridge and last Friday Mrs. Wylie phoned and asked me to tea to meet a nice man. Of course, I went on the jump. The man turned out to be a Mr. Blair from Three Rivers, a brother of Margaret McLeod's husband.

I have had my white coat cleaned and am getting a new skirt to go with it and last Saturday I got busy and washed and ironed my linen one. It is time for me to go out and eat so will say adieu for the present.

Lovingly, M A Nicholson ESQ (Men only wrote esquire after their name; this is a joke)

The Horse Show was a yearly event. In a special feature in the Montreal Star about the Horse Show the year before in 1910, it was written:"The automobile shall never replace the horse in man's affections." Whoops!

Young women in 1910 were still introduced to young men through connections, not through chance meetings, or on the Internet dating sites.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Nicholson Family Saga: Letter 5: Fire!

June 21, 1911
Richmond Quebec

Dear Father,

Just a few lines to give you a little of the news. The station was burned to the ground this afternoon ! It started about half past four. Flora went down to see it with Paul. And at six Dr. Skinner took Mrs. S, Mother,Flora and myself down in the car. All that is left are the tall chimneys so I guess we shall have a new station at last.
I have been up for breakfast and every morning since I came home. That is quite a record, don't you think. Monday we had a large washing, got up early and had it all finished and out at a quarter to eleven. And finished the ironing today. We are still busy with the sewing.

Marion's school (Royal Arthur in Little Burgundy) finishes today so she will be home soon. I saw by the paper last night that Isabel McCoy (teacher and family friend) was to be married July 12th.

I had a splendid trip home to Montreal with the Skinners. It was a beautiful day going out. I will name the places we passed through so you will know the country we passed through. Melbourne, Flodden, Racine, Sawyerville, Warden, Waterloo, Granby, Abbotsford, St Caesar, Rougemont, Marieville, Chambly, Longueil, St. Lambert, Pointe St Charles. In Montreal, we went shopping in the morning,to the theatre in the afternoon and to tea at Dr.Cleveland's. Then Dr. Skinner took us for a ride, from 8 to 10 at night.It is beautiful riding on paved streets.

Don't you think I was a very fortunate girl to have such a trip? Tomorrow the 22nd I am going to North Hatley with the Skinners. Will be back that evening. They are very kind to us.

Flora is feeling better since the exams are passed. (Results would be posted in the local paper later on.)

Yvonne Villard (daughter of Principal Paul Villard of Ecole Methodiste) is coming out next week for a few days. Miss Wilson's barn is not yet finished, Walker is still working. They have the foundation very well along at the Montgomery's.

Another Bryant preached last Sunday evening. He was through the General Assembly. I cannot think of any more news so will close. Hope you are well and that the fly season will soon pass.

We are all well. Write soon.

Flora got your letter With much love, Your affectionate Edith
....Richmond exists because of the Grant Trunk Railway, which in 1910 was still one of the two major employers in the town. Richmond was a railway hub, poised between Quebec City and Portland, Maine.
Norman Nicholson used the GTR to get his loads of hemlock bark to the tanning businesses in New England (mostly New Hampshire) and in Montreal, all by the Lachine Canal, near Marion's Royal Arthur School. He left his reciept books behind showing that a great deal of money was flowing, at least in the 1880's, through his bark business.
This is the year they get a big new station, which stills stands (vacant) today. Richmond was already in decline in 1910 (as the letters clearly reveal) but by the 1930's the railroad had little business.
According to the 1911 census, Mademoiselle Villard lives with her parents at 1095 Greene, in Westmount, the same address Edith stays at during the school year.
It is likely the site of Ecole Methodiste. Today, 1095 Greene is a site of a more modern post war school.
Edith says she enjoys every minute of a 6 and 3/4 hour drive over 94 miles. But if you crunch the numbers, it is clear that the Skinner's automobile went an average of 14 miles an hour to make that trip.(15 miles an hour was the speed limit in the country, 8 miles an hour in the city). If you consider that the E.T. is very hilly, the drive was probably more fun than the roller-coaster at Dominion Park, the amusement park opened in 1906, on Notre Dame on the eastern side of the island. Imagine how fast the car went down the hills!

Nicholson Family Saga: Letter 2. Mangling the Lawn and Baking Bread

Margaret and Flora Nicholson 1910
Dufferin Street,
June 6, 1911
Dear Norman,

Your letter with your address just recd this evening so I thought I must write at once.
Seems such a long time since you left.
I also recd a letter from North Bay and one also from Cochran. You certainly have done very well about writing, only I was longing for the address.

I came home the Sunday after you left, came out on the late train. Edith and Flora had retired but they were not long in coming to the door.

It had been a very hot day in Montreal but when I got here it had rained and was quite cool which was a pleasant change.
Came up in the bus.
I stayed with Marion all the time in Montreal (Boarding House on Tower) and only stayed at the Cleveland's the day you left. Dr. C. said he had not seen you for such a long time.

I am very glad that you are to be on the rails (and not 50 miles into the bush). Hope you will like the Scotchman better than the last (supervisor, an Englishman). You will because he is Canadian.

I have figured the distance.. over seven hundred miles.

Still, I see this letter recd tonight is stamped Cochran the 5th was not long in coming that distance, the delay was East of Cochran.

I have not heard from Herb since you left. I am looking for a letter in two days as he would likely write Sunday.

Although, he missed writing one Sunday.

I wrote him after you left, but you better write and send him your add. Anything I get will mail to you.

I have not heard from Marion since I came home. I think she will come to Richmond as soon as school closes.

I got the cheque for 10.95 from your man. Edith took it to the ET Bank and had it cashed so we will be all right for a while. I also got receipt for money sent for Westminster and Presbyterian. (Magazines, both Presbyterian.)

Sorry you forgot the mirror. The other things I will mail you at once.

The weather has been cool here just as you have it there.

Evenings we are glad to sit in the kitchen. The days are fine to wash so we have got our washing and ironing done.

We could not get a man to cut the lawn last week so Edith, Flora and myself thought we would try it on a nice cool day. We mangled the front but could not attempt the back.

Charlie Moore did the back lawn Saturday and is to do the front tomorrow night. He has promised to do it once a week in the evening as he works in the Boston and Last Factory. (With Grand Trunk Railway the major employer in Richmond.)

We really were too tired, we will not try it again. I don't think.

Tonight Flora and I went up to Bella's (Sister, Isabella Hill, around the corner on prestigious College Street). Edith walked down to the mail. Clayton (Isabella's husband) took us down to the mail in his auto, then brought us home. It is running fine now.

He was out in Kingsbury Sunday. William left Monday on his trip out West. He has a ticket on the CPR. He came down to bid us goodbye, did not know you had gone till he came to the house. Seemed disappointed he really seemed so lonesome going. Too bad he was going alone. I told I wish you were going with him. I gave him Herb's add (ress).

Montgomery (next door neighbour) is working at his house (renovations). Says he has all the men he wants now. Skinners (other next door neighbours) are having the same pleasure in their auto. Going all the time. Earnest and wife left Monday for Montreal. We had them in for tea. Saturday eve then we went over and played cards until near Sunday morning.

They took Edith to South Durham one day last week, stayed for tea there. They all seemed to enjoy our tea as they are all fond of my home made fresh bread.

Now I am glad that you are particular about your diet and that you are feeling well. I trust you will take good care of yourself around and about the trains.
Tell me how you like this work.
Flora is keeping very well. She comes home every afternoon at 3 o'clock studies for a change and stays out on the veranda. The vines have filled in so we can sit there the whole afternoon.

Our Church sale is Wednesday and Thursday so they will be by about that this week. Edith is feeling well and is getting with the housework all right...Later….

Miss Denton called me to go down to the hall at 9 am. I thought Edith would finish this letter and send it on. Sorry it was delayed. The great crowd that was expected did not turn out. We are going back this afternoon will tell you how much we make.

Had a letter from Marion said she got your letter.

Hoping to hear from you again very soon,

With much love Margaret.

Town life for women in Richmond, Quebec, in the 1910 era, consists of walks to the mail, afternoon teas, both given and received, and a long list of daily household chores, if you weren't lucky enough to have a servant. (Margaret was a gifted homemaker who won prizes for her baking and crafts at the local fairs. Indeed, the family genealogy has this fact written after her name.)
There are also card parties and church socials. And church, of course. A person could go twice a day if she wished.

Daughter Edith, 27, is back at home from her teaching job in the city. She has been employed for two years at French Methodist Institute in toney Westmount. Edith has no diploma and works for a small wage of $250 a year. Flora, the youngest daughter at 19, is in the crunch year at St. Francis College, a distinguished local institution, which, until 1900, had been affiliated with McGill University. Flora must pass her exams if she is to be accepted at Macdonald Teachers College and earn a diploma and a decent living as a teacher. The problem, she freezes from nerves at exam time.

The Nicholsons live in a posh area of town, which explains why both neighbours - as well as the brother in law - have brand new automobiles. Motorcars in 1911 could cost as much as a house ($2,000 range) and you couldn't get them on credit. But they were definitely, the "in" thing, especially in towns like Richmond, especially with middle class men. And everyone seemed to enjoy car rides, men and women alike. The Nicholsons are in no position to buy an automobile. Their financial situation is extremely precarious. Well, they are broke, basically, and 'house poor' as they owe a large mortgage on Tighsolas, their charming brick Queen Anne style home, built in 1896, the year Wilfrid Laurier and the Liberals came to power, by Norman for 2,718.00.

In 1909, when Margaret first learns that her neighbour is looking to buy a 'motor' as they called them, she writes to her husband "Mr Montgomery is going to buy an auto. Nothing but will satisfy him now. He is going to sell his horse. Mrs. Montgomery doesn't want to buy one. Too bad he is so foolish." In 1911, brother-in-law Clayton Hill's new auto is breaking down a lot, which amuses Margaret greatly.

The Clevelands are family friends who live on Lorne, east of McGill University. Mr. is a dentist so referred to as Dr. C.. The Clevelands are are the descendants of a handful of pioneering families in Richmond County of the Eastern Townships.
These Clevelands are wealthy enough to have a live in maid, a young English woman, newly arrived from the UK. The 1911 census reveals that most people on Lorne had maids. Still, there was a serious servant problem in 1910 in Canada, which was worrying the upper crust and forcing the middle class to increasingly make-do.
The 1911 Census reveals that only two families living in the Nicholson's Richmond neighbourhood have a live-in maid. (Not the Hills or Montgomerys or Skinners. And certainly not the Nicholsons.) But in 1901, according to that Census, virtually everyone on the street had a live-in domestic, including the Nicholsons. (Maggie Mclean, age 58)
Something changed between 1901 and 1911 - and it is affecting the Nicholsons.

Don't Let it Snow

Montreal Snowbanks, circa 1910.

In Flo in the City, by book in progress about the 1910 era, based on the letters of I have Marion Nicholson, my husband's grandmother, fall into a snowbank on her way to work. She had to take 3 streetcars, not easy in summer, but in winter, wearing a sensible shirtwaist suit and those tightly-laced 'granny boots.' Well. They plowed the snow those days with special streetcars, and cleared the sidewalks with plain old fashioned shovel power. And they rolled the snow on the streets for the horse-drawn sleighs, which were fast and deadly, that's why they had to be equipped with bells to warn pedestrians of their approach. In the city, the sound of sleighbells was ominous, not joyful.

I'm just reading a piece by Josh Freed in the Montreal Gazette. It was written on the 15th of January and he writes about how everyone else in the world is getting snow, but not us, in Montreal, the snowfall (and snowplough) capital of the world.

And sure enough, today, the 27th, we missed yet another one. We had little flurries yesterday but DC and Philly and New York and Boston had a big storm.

We wouldn't know, except that my husband, right now, is watching WCVB and they are describing a roof collapse in Lynn (where some of the Watters lived in 1910). Two people were injured.

Well, I must admit, I'm thrilled not to get a lot of snow again this year. Two and three years ago we had immense, near record snowfalls and my husband had to clear off the roof a few times and so I was walled into my living room by giant icebanks on the sun deprived side of my house until April. Very disheartening.

Last winter next to nothing fell in the way of snow. And this year, the same weather pattern (touch wood) seems to have settled in. The storms track East of the Appalacians and then fall on the US North East and our Maritime Provinces.

I must admit, I am happy when Philadelphia gets snow, but I'm not being smug or callous. It's just that a nephew of ours lives down there. He's a building contractor, and with the deep deep DEEP recession he is having trouble getting jobs, but as a good former Canadian he decided, this year, to invest in snow clearing machinery.

We have so little snow, here in the burbs of Montreal, that the gates on the driveway can remain in place, saving me chasing my dogs down the street.Normally, that lamp post at the road is barely visible.

I wonder if the City of Brotherly Love has got more snow than us, the City of Stanley Cup Riots, this year. It might be so. Oh, and I also wonder if DC has gotten more snow that Ottawa? Wouldn't that be amusing.

But as I wrote, touch wood. In Montreal, we tend to get our biggest snowfalls in March. (Most Montreal Boomers have family photos of that infamous record 1971 snowfall. At least my husband and I both do. I am standing on the porch, 16, tall and VERRRY skinny, in small shorts, (the next day was warmish) holding my sausage dog, Oscar Mayer under my arm, probably watching my poor old Dad shovel us out.

My husband is also standing on his porch in another Montreal burb beside a friend surrounded by big banks of snow. (He tells me his neighbour helicoptered home the night before.) It's a real Mutt and Jeff snapshot, this one, as my future husband is 14, and about 5 foot nothing tall and his friend is about 6 foot. I am still a lot taller than my husband, but had I stood beside him in 1971, it would have looked more odd, as I was at my full 5 foot 10 height.

No I am not gloating. And besides, as a snow city, many of our businesses count on good winter snowfall. And so does our ecology. They call winters like last year 'a snow drought.'

And, you know, we had that horrible week-long ice storm in 1998. So we know how bizarre weather patterns can wreak havoc and make you suffer.

The Nicholson Family Saga: Letter 1: A Toothpick and a Silver Bowl

Margaret Nicholson, Edith and Flora and Neighbour. Home alone.

North Bay, May 27, 1911

Dear Margaret,

You will see by heading of this letter where I am today.

This is a town of about 8 thousand situated at the end of Lake Tamiskaming. Flora can look it up for you on the map in the secretary.

I left Ottawa at 12 50 PM. Arrived here this morning at 9 am.

When leaving Ottawa last night they gave me a ticket over the CPR for here, also a berth ticket which I enjoyed very much. The porter made me a nice bed in one of the lower berths.

I got up this morning at 7 o'clock. Went into the diner and had breakfast which comprised 3 eggs, one baked potato, 3 rolls, and a glass of milk. And a toothpick served on a silver tray for my entree where I washed my fingers in a silver bowl.

All at the expense of the Transcontinental Ry.

On arriving here I went and saw the transport engineer and he sends me to Cochrane where the Tamiskamming and the Northern Ontario intersects--with the orders for my destination about 50 miles east of Cochran on Division D.

But I will be on the rails and I will be pleased not to have to walk. I leave here tomorrow at 5:20 am. Will stop at Cobalt for three hours then proceed to Cochrane. I am supposed to get to Cochrane at eight tomorrow morning.

I will try and write you from there, Now the distance from Ottawa here is 123 miles and from her to Cochran is 252 miles from Montreal to Ottawa is about 120 miles with 76 from Montreal will give you some idea of how far I am from home.

But I can cover the distance quicker then when I was in La Tuque, only it will be more expensive to go home when I do.

When I arrive at destination I will try and give you a better idea of where I am.

But so far they have treated me fine. I only saw Parent for a few minutes, he had arrived from Chicago and was busy in his office. He said he thought I would be suited with my change.

Will tell later. Hope you had a pleasant time in Montreal with Marion. I will send you address to write to as soon as I arrive. And will try and write you tomorrow from Cochrane.

I am taking things cool and intend to do so, do not worry about me.

I am feeling fine and the Commission is paying the bill as I go so I am not worrying about it in the least. I cannot think of any news so I will close for this time.

You will have quite a time to read this letter as I am writing in a hurry along with being a poor writer. Love to Edith and Flora also to yourself.

Your affectionate husband, Norman.

...In May 1911, Norman Nicholson, 60, former dealer in hemlock bark and leading citizen of Richmond, Quebec, leaves for a second stretch as Inspector on the Canadian Transcontinental Railway, a Laurier Government initiative.

He had been fired in May, 1910, from his first assignment working near La Tuque, Quebec, for going absent without leave.

At that time, Norman, a devoted family man, had been overcome with worry, mostly generated by his only son, Herbert, 26, who had just been caught 'borrowing' sixty dollars from of the Eastern Townships Bank where he was employed as a teller.

Norman had been working away in the Quebec bush, inspecting railway ties for 2 1/2 years. He was hired shortly after the the collapse of the Quebec Bridge, and that was likely no coincidence.

In early 1907, with his bank book balance at $33.00, Norman applied for work with the CTR.

In July 1907, despite having area Liberal M.P. E.W. Tobin as a patron, he was informed by a letter from the CTR's head office that they had their full complement of inspectors.

Then, on August 19th, came the infamous bridge disaster that made headlines around the world. The bridge was "one of great engineering undertakings of the century" ..."a topic of universal discussion" according to Technical World Magazine. Close to 100 men perished, most of them employees of the US contractor and Mohawk labourers from Caugnawaga, south of Montreal. (Kanewake).

The bridge was also a component of the Canadian Transcontinental Railway.

Suddenly, there was a need for inspectors at 'end of steel.'

Dear Margaret: Don't let the Preacher Bore You

The Nicholsons were at the peak of their problems in 1912, the year the Titanic Sank. Here are some quotes from Norman's Letters to Margaret:

"I note what you said about the terrible boat accident. It is one of the worst I ever heard. With such a lot of important men to go down with it; Now that the country cannot afford to loose in a way but, I suppose, their places will be filled and in a short time and they will not be missed. I read of one pathetic case. Of man and wife from Montreal. She would not leave her husband: would rather perish with him than leave him on the boat. "

"Edith thinks its fine out there said the grounds and walks were nice and dry she was giving the news of the service held in the American Presbyterian Church eulogizing Hays loss to the Church and City. I have seen so much about the accident n the papers that I got sick reading it - there are so many conflicting statements that it's hard to believe any of them."

"The Nickelodeon's were reaching critical mass in popularity in 1912, but Norman was 'old school' and got his entertainment from the pulpit. Woe betide a preacher who was boring. The Nicholsons were also feuding with a Dr. Kelloch, Richmond's former preacher, over what I am not sure. But they 'stung' him by criticizing his boring sermons."

"Did you hear the Kingsbury Minister? If so, is he as good a preacher as Mr. Sutherland. I received the papers you sent and in one of them I see that Rd has given a call to a Mr. McWilliam and in another place he is called McMillan. Have you heard him?. Is he a star preacher and is he an old man? So you have Dr. Kellock to fill in at present. I am glad I am not there to hear him, as really I would have to stay away from church if he preached "

Amazing, the mail in those days, considering.

"I have forgotten whether I answered your question about how far the Steel is laid West of Cochran. It is laid 200 miles West and 150 east at present. They expect to make the connection with the steel by Christmas west at Superior Junction. But I am doubtful if they can. I haven't heard from any of the children since writing you last. The trains that carry the mail from here go through to Cochran in the night. Now, so they won't interfere with the work trains through the day. So you may get my letters quicker then before. Your letter took four days to reach me "

They were feuding with their relations:

"These MacDonalds are a peculiar sort, self conceited lot of Highlanders.. Hard to make much of them. You seem to be the one they all have so much to say about, but I wouldn't mind it. Just let them whistle it. Will come that they will all have to come to you in the end. I am with you so you don't need to care. Do not let these things bother you if you can, they are second considerations "

Norman had had typhoid in 1896, the year he built Tighsolas.

"Now I wish you would be careful not to be around Florance's too much. If it's typhoid fever she has you know what a dreadful thing it is and catching. I think as catching as any disease altho some of the Drs. claim it is not. See you get sleep and rest enough and that you take plenty of nourishment to keep well, Keep out as much as you can in the fresh air. Do not try to do too much work running between the both places. You know what it would mean to us all should anything like that take you "

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Movies are All Right

Beautiful Helena Bonham Carter from a King's Speech Promo.

I was watching this week's Sunday Morning and they had a feature of handwriting. Was it an antiquated activity? they asked.

I asked the same thing, but back in 1998. I wrote an essay "The Handwriting on the Wall" for a magazine. My son was in the third grade and getting poor marks for his handwriting. I wondered if that mattered, anymore.

Technology has advanced some since 1998, well advanced SOME, and an expert said the jury is in: kids learn to compose English faster on keyboards. There's still a place for handwriting, he said, the old technology of pencil on paper.

Weird. Oh, during the show they played a long promo for the King's Speech, showcasing the 'acting royalty' in the British movie, Derek Jacobi and Claire Bloom,etc.

(I must say, I, Claudius and Brideshead Revisited are two of my very top television experiences.)

I also saw a live (or close to live) interview with Colin Firth on NBC. He seemed very happy about the Academy Award nominations for his film and he never seems happy in interviews.

I hope all the hoopla doesn't make him too big for his wet clingy britches. (I had to get that in.)

(Now he's been in other highly-praised Best Pictures of the Year, Shakespeare in Love and The English Patient, but he had been one of the players and here he's the title character.)

Meredith Vieira was fawing all over him. I don't know how these celebrities do it. I once spent two days being treated like a queen at a conference where I was a prominent speaker and it went to my head. I didn't like it, actually. Seemed unnatural. (Reminds me of the 30 Rock episode where Liz Lemon has the handsome boyfriend, the guy from Madmen, John Hamm is it?)

When I worked in TV I met many celebrities, minor and major, on a professional level, and frankly, they all seemed, how can I say, a little fragile. Scared.

Or I could sense they were scared, behind whatever facade they were presenting.

Colin Firth was described as 'delicate' (I think) by the Director of the English Patient, Anthony Minghella.

And once I met a world famous celebrity, an icon, in odd circumstances. He had walked into a telethon and no one had been there to greet him. (Everything was so disorganized.)

So I tried to smooth out things. But the famous man was very calm about it: he didn't mind being treated like a nobody, for half an hour anyway. His manager was a little frazzled, but even he was nice, considering how unready everyone was for him. He told me. "It's always like this in TV."

Anyway, I had mentioned to my husband that I thought the Social Network was 'sexist' and he had replied "What are you talking about?" But I now see that I am not the only one who thought this: it's a major criticism of the film. Aaron Sorkin has had to spend time defending his script to the media.

Film is a male medium. That's not news. And deconstructing 'sexism' in one film (as opposed to the entire industry) is a complex business. I personally didn't buy Sorkin's excuse, that he was portraying an angry and sexist environment and really had no choice. Where was the omnicient eye? Harvard women, all high-achieving women, deserved better.

Even the female characters in the King's Speech are kind of cliche, good wife and whore. If you think about it. But then this Good Wife wore the pants in the relationship, as Helena Bonham Carter said in a BBC interview. ( If you deconstruct the story-line of the abdication, it's about two women, really. The men are sort of pawns. But the King's Speech movie is really about 'an ordinary man' overcoming a fear. I think actors like playing aristocrats because aristocrats are 'actors' - ordinary people playing extraordinary ones.)

But then there is the Kids are All Right. And the Black Swan. Films about women. Oh well, oh well. And I haven't seen True Grit, but the critic in said it is a 'chick flick.'

So now I must see it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hot and Cold Running Ancestors

Isle of Lewis from a YouTube Video. There's a great one on YouTube, very professionally done.

I love my husband. That's why I am going to Vegas in February for a few days. He likes that place, in the winter, when it isn't too hot.

But there's one place I probably won't be going to soon, and that's the Isle of Lewis.

I just took my husband on a tour of his ancestral home via YouTube. Just a few minutes ago. Because he's the grandson of Marion Nicholson of Threshold Girl.

He seemed entranced.

He's also one of many great grandchildren of John McLeod of Uig Carnish. Just the other day I watched my husband shave and realized he has the same eyes and mouth as John. Indeed, except for his nose he is all McLeod. (His nose is a "Hardy" nose, that would be the same nose as his cousin General Douglas MacArthur.)

A tourist locale in Isle of Lewis, exact replicas of native homes.

It's 25 below zero Celcius (a kind of record) outside and my husband still went out for a walk with the dog. (I haven't ventured out in two days, despite having a mean craving for some Indian samosas.)

He likes the cold.

He likes damp cold the most, the kind that gets in your bones and makes you want to cry, the kind of weather found on Lewis. It's in the genes, you know.

Me, well, my Dad was from Northern England (Yorkshire) and my mother was French Canadian, but I'm a mediterranean type.

The 100 degree temperatures in Greece last August suited me fine. My husband didn't go on that trip. He would have hated it, anyway.

Above is a pic of stone circles in Uig Carnish (I think). "Look!" I said to my husband. "Here's where you ancestors danced around naked." Well, maybe not naked, in sheep skins and kilts. Playing the bagpipes.

Edith Nicholson visited Uig Carnish in 1932 or so. She brought back postcards and information about the Nicholson Institute, a school. I think she assumed her people established the place. But from what I know, the Nicholsons came to the Isle of Lewis by way of Skye, whereas the McLeods were long time residents.

The Nicholsons were coal-oil merchants or something. Nothing fancy at all.Well, upon their arrival in Quebec in 1951 they were described as the poorest people ever to arrive in the country, with nothing but the shirts on their backs. One man was wearing a woman's nightgown.
Sarah McLean of Coll, from a tintype. 1870's I guess.

Some kilt pins (I am told) and some lace from the Macleods of Uig Carnish. The little pin at top has a picture of John McLeod.. "John Horse" in Flodden Quebec because he owned one of them.

Testing my Memory - using Kate Middleton

Edith in a regal pose. I don't think Queen Alexandra or Mary were fashion icons to the young back in the early part of the 20th century. But maybe some of the Princesses Royal were.

australian open, apple, assange, aaron carter, air canada;bloorview, bret hopkins, blujays, beirut,bernard hopkins; cutler, christopher stairs, crop circle slemans, calgary flames, canucks;demodevado, detroit police shootings; dead birds,demi levado, dave talyor;enmax, elizabeth edwards, elizabeth ennan, edmonton oilers,

egypt;federer, facebook, facebook sign up, future shop, firefox;goldprice, georges st-pierre, google, gsp,gossip girl;hells angels, howard stern, highway 402, haiti, hawaii 5 0;iran, ireland, india, israel, ipad;jay cutler, jack lalane, justin beiber, jack cutler injury;kevin smith, katrina laif, komisarek,korea, kate middleton.

You know, there is a test for Alzheimer's, supposedly, where you are given 7 words and asked to repeat them and your ability to do this predicts whether you will or will not get Alzheimer's. Well, I tested myself, checking out the most frequently typed in terms in Google News for this day for each letter and, hmm. I don't want to talk about it. My father died of Alzheimer's.

And this particular exercise is easier as the words aren't random. But these 'terms' in the Canadian Google News are mostly the names of Russian Hockey players, or other Hockey Players, so that's a thing in my favour. I only recently learned who Crosby was. Sydney! (I just forgot his name, too.)

Nabokov was the most looked up term for the letter N. "Gee," I thought, "Maybe Canadians are getting erudite?" Or maybe the CRTC banned Lolita? (Or did Hang 'em High Harper nail and jail someone for reading that iconic but somewhat pervy book on the Go Train?) But no, it's a hockey player. Surprise!

Of course, it's early morning and I haven't had my coffee yet. So maybe that's why I'm slow on the uptake.

I feel very fuzzy-brained. I'll try this again in the afternoon after having exercise, and eaten a sprig of sage and some peppermint tea and taken my Omega-3.

At least I know who Kate Middleton is. I've been writing a lot about the Royal Family in the Flo in the City Blog.

How I've finally got my sovereigns for the 20th century straightened away: Edward VII, George V; (David) Edward VIII, (Albert) George VI, Elizabeth II.

All because I watched the movie the King's Speech.

Actually, at Christmas I was discussing that movie with my son's girlfriend and actually asked out loud, "Now, who was the King before George V?" and she replied..."Ah,Edward? It was the Edwardian Age, after all." Well, duh.

A short age, but an important one. An era of incredible change - and that is what my website http://www.tighsolas,ca/ and this Flo in the City blog is about. (I'm writing a book about the era based on family letters.) This line of inquiry, unfortunately, will not appeal to anyone looking up hockey players, so finding the most popular news items of the day and typing them into this blog won't attract the right readers to this blog.

But it will test my aging mental faculties. Alas.

Kate Middleton, a commoner, is going to be Queen Catherine. They'll probably end up calling her Kate the Great. I hope the Press leaves her alone and doesn't pick her looks apart, until she stops eating entirely. Slim hope of that, I guess. Maybe that's the price you pay to be a princess, or to be a famous woman in any field.

No matter what a woman does or achieves, she is always judged on her looks. A friend once asked me "Why is Oprah so fat?"

Queen Elizabeth has earned an exemption, but she was very pretty young woman so the press corps could write 'beautiful princess' without holding their hands over their mouths and snickering.

I recently read a blog about the suffragettes in England and their close ties with the department store Selfridges, which was brand new. Apparently, the suffragettes were very fashion conscious. (Well, they sure knew how to use the 'new media' which was VISUAL, film and photographs. 60's protesters copied a lot from their books.)

(I've written on this blog about how the local Press treated visiting British suffragettes: The fawned over them if they were 'attractive' women. And remember when the garment workers went on strike in 1912 and marched through the streets of Montreal, how the press report said that the girls were generally well-dressed, and "some even pretty." So it goes.)

Anyway, the news media is already promoting The Royal Nuptials, The Big Event, which, I suspect, is mostly about bringing much needed foreign cash into Great Britain. It's pretty dire over there compared to here, and it's not great here. I was actually thinking of visiting in the Spring, but now I think I will pass. Can you imagine the prices?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Davids and Edwards and Georges, Oh My

End of an era, quite literally. Edward VII laid to rest.

Today, I enter 1910 into YouTube, because I'm always on the lookout for new footage from the era and especially for anything filmed in Montreal.

As I wrote earlier, Ernest Ouimet, the Canadian cinema entrepreneur who opened the 2,500 seat Ouimetoscope on Ste. Catherine, did take some film footage of various and sundry events in the city, but it was lost. He said as much in a 1960 interview I saw on the CBC archive website.

(Earlier this week, on a BBC Radio Four programme, Going to the Flicks about early cinema in Britain, they quote one of the famous movie mogusl (forget which one) who claimed that modern cinema was born in 1913, when the first fancy movie palaces were erected.)

The Ouimetoscope was opened in 1906, remember. How odd!

Of course, some era commentators claimed that the film medium took off in North America with the visuals of the new King, George V's, Coronation in 1911. (I've written a bit about this on this blog.)

Anyway, scoping YouTube, I once again fell on a piece (or pieces) showing Edward VII's funeral. He died in May 1910. (I recall poring over newspaper microfiches at McGill from that era looking for the obituary of Edith's great love, only to find pages and pages on this monarch's death.

Well, that footage on YouTube led to all kinds of footage of early Royals, (I think more and more of this footage is being put on YouTube because of the Wedding of William and Kate coming up.)

And then I stumbled on something else, a TV movie called Bertie and Elizabeth, from 2002, in 11 10 minute parts. The copy was perfect, so I watched the whole thing.

The movie covers much the same territory as this year's favourite flick, the King's Speech and in much the same way, except it has more lavish production values. It's kind of a costume drama, making the Queen Mum seem a little more stylish and thin than she was, I think, although she was thin when young. Wallis Simpson, the Mother of all emaciates, made fun of her fashion sense, apparently. I guess that is the one thing she had over her.

Bertie and Elizabeth was apparently commissioned for the Diamond Jubilee and played only a few months after the Queen Mother's Death.

I imagine it was commissioned before she died (it must take time to mount such a production) so this story circulating about the King's Speech, that The Queen Mother didn't want the story of her husband and Logue told until she died seems a bit, ah, bogus. But this is the movie biz, after all.

Logue figures in this Bertie and Elizabeth movie, but only incidentally, but they do allude to the psychoanalytic and unorthodox side of his therapy, and to the fact that he got in tight with the Prince of Wales.

This flick really disses David, or Edward VIII and Simpson. They come off like Nazi Sympathizers. (Remember, in the US, their story has been portrayed as romantic and even heroic.) And the movie also contains a scene where the Duke of Windsor is very mean to his brother, but that occurs AFTER the war, when Bertie is King, which makes it all the more cruel and ironic.

Anyway, the King's Speech won the Producer's Guild top award which means it may indeed win Best Picture at the Oscars, just in time for the Royal Wedding, and I think that's one reason it may, indeed, win.

Bertie and Elizabeth earns a 7.0 rating on IMDB.

At least two of the actors in the production have been in productions with Colin Firth: the actor who played Mr. Fitzherbert (Titspervert) in Bridget Joneses' Diary (Paul Brooke)and the actress who played his mom in What a Girl Wants, (Eileen Atkins) which is basically the same part she plays here, aristocratic mom. Oh, and also Barbara Leigh-Hunt who played Lady Catherine de Burgh in P and P and the Mom in Tumbledown.

Funny, these are the Firth movies which play over and over again on the satellite. These two and Love, Actually. So that must be what people watch.

Never Fever Pitch which is a highly entertaining movie, I think. Or Firth's other early ones, like Tumbledown. But you can watch those on YouTube, too.

They have a scene where Edwards stamp is being discussed. It made me think, do I have these stamps on Nicholson letters from the 30's? Must check.

You know, in the Protestant system in Montreal in the 60's and 70's we all took 2 years of Canadian history (Canada Then and Now) and two years of British History and one year of World History (10th grade matrics).

But I could never get my Kings and Queens straight. All I recall is the War of the Roses Chapter from the British History. Pretty title, you see. I got a good final mark in my matrics in History because the question was on the Industrial Revolution and its impact and I could get my brain around that as it was social history, ideas not dates and names.

That's what Flo in the City is, Social History.

My Mom, educated in the old fashioned way could ramble off the names and numbers of all the Kings and Queens of England, despite being French Canadian. All they did was memorize in those days and she had a great memory.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Women Weaving (Montreal)

I forgot I had this posted on my website. I purchased this picture, a Keystone stereoscope card of Montreal Women Weaving, a few years ago. That's why it is double.

It does not look Sweat Shopish, does it?

No doubt, the photo was factory sanctioned.

They also provided a description of the work.

Linen is a cloth made from the fiber of flax. When flax is used for its fiber, it is cut before it is ripe. The flax is pulled and the seeds are pulled off. The bundles are laid on piles and rotted until the woody portion has decayed. The freed fibers are then shipped to spinning or weaving mills like in the picture.

The first step is to heckle the fiber, combing the long fibers from the short. Then the fibres are sorted and coiled into bundles known as slivers. After the fibers are drawn to proper length they are placed in the roving machine here. You see the hanks of roves hanging on the right. The woman on the left is placing one of the hanks in the mill on a spindle. From the spindle the thread is wound on the bobbins. You see thousands of bobbins on top of the machine. The white ones are full of thread, the black are empty.

Deja Vu, encore, encore

Family portrait from ah...1990..

Well, it's deju vu all over again for me, myself and I. has just posted an article about a woman and her teenage family and their experiment with giving up social media,When my Kids Unplugged by Susan Maushart. She has written a book with a great title, The Winter of our Disconnect.

I had to laugh. Back in the 1997 I wrote an essay for a brand new website on AOL called Mom's Online.

The Washington State based initiative ran a contest and I made a few dollars (50 if I recall) for sending in The Appalling Truth, an essay I had had trouble selling elsewhere.

Well, that ezine had trouble making money (didn't they all) and went out of business eventually. I think after it was absorbed by Oprah Winfrey's Oxygen network.

Before that happened, I wrote more essays for them and contributed TV and Movie Reviews.

Anyway, The Appalling Truth ended up being printed in a number of ESL textbooks, too. I had to revise the story a few times because it mentioned specific TV programs.

My editor, who was also a friend, told me that teachers really liked it, even more than some of the other essays in the text, by famous authors. I didn't care if she was fibbing to make me feel good.

Then one day my friend said she had to drop the Appalling Truth. No one watches TV on a TV set anymore. They all use their computers and such.

I couldn't argue. It was clear the world had come a million miles in a decade or so with respect to media habits.

Here's the original article.

The Appalling Truth

Originally on Moms Online; revised updated and reprinted in many ESL editions. All rights reserved by the author.

Technology changes us. With the invention of the clock we lost the ability to live in the present. The telephone made us Pavlovian slaves to the sound of a ringing bell. And with the advent of television, we removed ourselves indoors, for the most part leaving the streets to marauding canines and fancily-attired exercise addicts.

As a mother and very serious media watcher, I am as troubled as anyone about the violent and sexist content on television. But were television wall-to-wall programming of the PBS caliber, and commercial-free, I would be just as concerned.

I just don't like what TV is doing to my family. It has become some kind of oracle -- never mind McCluhan's "electronic fireplace" -- that commands all of our attention. We don't listen to each other, husband to wife, mother to kids, kids to parents. It was with this in mind that I suggested to my husband that we ban the tube from the house, on an experimental basis, for, say, about a year.

"No way!" he said.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because, it would be hypocritical," he deftly answered. "We both work in TV."

"You work in TV. I don't."

"Well, you like to criticize TV. How can you criticize something you don't watch!" Good point.

"I just don't like what the thing is doing to our family," I continued. "It's noisy. It jangles the nerves. It's like a drug. It's addictive. We watch anything, anything, even programming aimed at adolescents. I mean, I used to read Dostoyevsky. Now I watch Steve Erkle."

"So you traded one idiot for another," my husband quips, but I am not amused.

"Well, you know what I mean. Besides, the stupid contraption keeps us from doing what human beings are really supposed to be doing."

"And what's that? Foraging for nuts and berries?"

My husband, the TV junkie, sees nothing wrong with the boob tube. "I grew up on it, " he answers, "and I'm no psycho."

If my husband had his way, there would be a TV in every room. And they'd all be tuned into Star Trek. And I must admit, there are times I felt the only interest we ever had in common was Star Trek, oh and the X-files, and way back when, Cheers. In the early months of my first pregnancy we'd cuddle together on the couch like two spoons and I'd fall asleep, my head cradled in his lap, before Sam Malone's first conquest. Togetherness.

But now we're like two channel-zapping zombies. "You know, they say that spending time together in front of the television does nothing to enhance a relationship," I tell my now bleary-eyed husband, trying to make him feel guilty. It's a war of attrition and it is working, sort of.

"Okay. Two weeks," my husband relents. "We'll try no TV for two weeks. That's all. But you tell the kids."

We have two boys, Andrew and Mark, 7 and 4. They kick up a huge fuss when I tell them that our tiny bungalow has been unilaterally declared a TV-free zone. Now it's their turn to try to make me feel guilty. They hang their pathetic little heads in genuine mourning as they watch their dad, the TV freak, reluctantly disconnect the enormous tangle of wires enabling the miracle of modern home theatre in our suburban castle. And am I feeling guilty? No way!

I stand tall and victorious in our living room, easy to do when you are five foot ten, a champion of my somewhat left-of-center family values, the protector of my children.

That evening, we read our children books, sing them songs and tuck them in for the night. I go to bed with that Margaret Drabble I've been using as a giant paper-weight for the past year and my husband snuggles up with Stephen King.

Two days pass. The kids have finally stopped complaining about The Terrible Loss. In fact, they don't appear to care at all any more. They have found other, more interesting, things to do. Myself, on the other hand, I'm suffering from a mean case of withdrawal. "It's Thursday Night. Must-See-TV. Do you think maybe you can bring the TV up for just one show?" I ask my husband, who happens to be down in his workroom drilling a hole into a six-foot piece of plywood for no apparent reason. "We'll keep the sound really low," I add, because kids can hear hypocrisy even in their sleep.

"Why don't your read, Ms. Literature Freak? You haven't exactly been burning up the library shelves," my husband sneers rather condescendingly as he stops to wipe some sawdust from his nose hairs.

"Well, that's because I only read the best, and my brain's too fried at the end of the day to read the best," I answer, convincing even myself. (That has been my pat excuse for my intellectual lethargy since becoming a mother.)

My husband rolls his eyes back into his head and puts down the drill. No further argument from him. He happily carries the TV upstairs and reconnects its myriad wires in no time. (A real pro, my husband.) We sit back and laugh at George and Kramer, Elaine and Jerry. "This show is just like real life!" I announce.

The problem is, we do the same for Murphy Brown a few days later. And for X-files, each night my husband clambering up the basement stairs with a twenty-inch Sony stuck to his face, and then stumbling down again thirty-something minutes later, trailing his wires behind him. Then the true test. Indeed, a real dilemma for us. A rerun of Star Trek: TNG is airing; but at 7:00, before the kids' bedtime. What to do? Clearly, no sleazy hypocritical way around this. "I can always get a tape and watch it at work," my husband, the news editor, smiles, taunting me once again. "You, on the other hand, will have to do without."

A real dilemma, and I am not alone, I know. I recall a friend, fortyish, married with two kids, unapologetically telling me that watching Star Trek reruns was the highlight of his day. "It's the only philosophical show on TV," he claimed.

And, certainly, here is Captain Picard, perhaps the wisest man in the universe, forcing me to face a very ugly personal truth: It isn't my kids; it isn't even my husband. I am the real TV addict in my household