Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ste Anne de Bellevue, 1903

Main Street Ste Anne de Bellevue from a 1903 tourist book about Montreal and environs. The village is still quaint and the strip is filled with restaurants and it's a favourite place for us to visit in the summer to eat and drink by the water and watch the boats go by.

There are locks there, which must have been put in after 1903.

Flora Nicholson lived in Ste Anne for a school year in 1911-12. Her sisters visited her there. That's because in 1907, Macdonald Agricultural College was built and it reluctantly took on the Mcgill Normal School that became Macdonald Teacher's College. It stands today as John Abbott Cegep, a beautiful place, indeed.

Here's the blurb about Ste. Anne from the brochure.

This picturesque village lies at the very west end of Montreal island and is, without exception, the quaintest bit of the entire island and one of Montreal's most popular summer resorts and the shores of the island above the village are dotted with the magnificent homes and country cottages of the more properous Montreal businessmen.

But Ste. Anne has very much more than a reputation as a pleasant summer suburb. It's position, at the confluence of the Ottawa and Ste Lawrence River made it the scene of many stirring events in the early days of the French settlers.

Here, the Voyageurs, when leaving for the unknown interior said a long goodbye to civilization; here, the Indian war parties, travelling from North and West, by the two great rivers, united their forces before sweeping down on the White Settlers further east. Here, about 1700, trade was carried on with the friendly Indians, frequently interrupted by fighting with the hostile Iroquois.

This area was the sight of a recent spat between the First Nations People, the Mohawk of Kanesatake, and the authorities, what we called the Oka Crisis over a pine forest that is a sacred burial ground.

It made news across the continent and beyond.

Well, Saturday I am visiting my father-in-law in the Veteran's Hospital which looms large there. His floor, the 10th, has a splendid view of the entire area so I'll take some pictures. In my novel in progress, Flo in the City, I can have Flo read this bit from the book.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What Happens in Montmartre...

The Moulin Rouge from a 1900 tour guide to the French Exposition aimed at Americans. I'm confused.

I was taking a tour of and downloaded two documents about the French Exposition; one aimed at the French public, one at Americans. The pamphlet for Americans also listed other things to do while in Paris and le Moulin Rouge in Montmartre was there.

I always thought that, at the turn of the last century, the Moulin Rouge was still a brothel of sorts and Bohemian Haunt and not a touristy place. But it was a touristy place. The author made the observation that tourists who wouldn't be caught dead in similar places in their own countries, frequent the Moulin Rouge. Their slogan no doubt: What happens in Montmartre, stays in Montmartre. Or Ce qui ce passe a Montmartre, Reste a Montmartre

I guess that's why I found a MOULIN ROUGE REVIEW in 1897 in Montreal. I know that Picasso moved his studios to Montmartre in 1907, so I assumed that place was still cheap and tawdry. Must check out the dates of Toulouse Lautrec.

Well, anyway, the Guide to L'Exposition was quite complete (reminding me of similar newspaper features for Expo 67)and it showcased the art work there and it was all 'old fashioned' Turners and such. So no Toulouse Lautrecs.

I just read a bio of Cezanne and if I recall correctly, the 1900 Salon refused all impressionists except maybe Manet. Again, I can't recall the details.

Well, Wikipedia says Latrec moved to Montmartre in the 1880's and that he was commissioned to create posters for the new cabaret in 1889, when it opened. But the same article posts a quote from a patron in 1906 that says naked female body parts were flung all over him. So it was tawdry and boho. Well, well.

Le Magazin de mode exhibit French Expo 1900

Art nouveau Lalique fence in Exhibit. I'll take that! I read in a Canadian magazine of the era that Canada's pavilion featured a lot of wood and apples and maple syrup. Such a surprise. In my next life I will become an academic and study Exposition History.Or I'll becaome a Can Can Dancer.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Canadian Elections 2011 and before

The proclamation of results for Richmond Wolfe in 1904 Elections. Total eligible voters: 8447 (all men of course): Spoiled ballots 55; ballots rejected 39; ballots for E.W. Tobin 3789; ballots for McGrady 2516. Total votes cast 6305.

Now, one of the excuses I've read for not giving women the vote back then was that polling stations were unseemly. But here's were they voted in the district: at school houses (most often); office of Municipal council; town Hall, stores (where women often went); at private homes. So what was the problem? One commentator I read suggested polling should take place in churches, as voting is a sacred act. (Hmm.) Well, I will likely vote in a school, I usually do.

For this next 2011 Federal election. The Bloc has won for the last little while here, so I am basically disenfranchised anyway.

I am editing the Nicholson Family Letters from May 11 1911 to May 1913, with an eye toward having them published in an academic press.

I am also annotating them, using material I have gathered in my research. Today, I'm on the late 1912 letters. Edith Nicholson is home alone. She had quit her job. Her letters are long and disjointed and gossipy. She is writing to her Mom who is with her sisters in the city. There's not enough room for her, so she is making the best of it at home. Telling her mom she is keeping warm (always a worry) and always sleeping at someone else's house or having someone sleep in with her. I thought about seriously cutting these letters down, but then it hit me: they are as important as the others.

The Nicholson Letters are all about POLITICS. Yes, they discuss the 1911 Federal Election and the 1912 Provincial Election, but they also talk about life, which is politics. And gossip is undoubtedly a form of politics, a female form. So the Days at Home where the women "give the town a good raking" as Edith once put it, is as much a form of politics as the town meetings. It's a way to learn about things and 'control' things by putting your personal stamp, opinion, on them. Interesting thing I didn't notice. Edith attends a sermon with a guess minister from Quebec and the subject is the 1913 budget! So there, more politics.

The Nicholson women were very political. No surprise that Marion went on to become a union leader.

On that note: I found a letter from 1920 where Edith writes that Marion and her family were going to spend a holiday, Christmas or Easter with the Sutherlands. This is likely J.C. Sutherland, the Superintendent of Protestant Schools. So even when she was retired from teaching, as a wife and mother, she kept in touch with the politics of education in Quebec.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

General Elections 1911, 2011, Canada

Well, here in Canada, they've called a general election for May 2. 2011. The posters are already up in my area. I wonder if anyone will be paying attention to the campaigning, considering April 29,th is the Royal Wedding. I can see the CBC was planning to give that event broad coverage, they've been promoting it for months. I wonder if the ADHD media still plan to put resources in England and do they have to change their plans. Whatever.

At least, it appears, no Canadian team will be still in the hockey playoffs by that time. Not the Canadiens, anyway. Gee, one hundred years ago there was another General Election in Canada, a famous or infamous one, depending on your point of view, the Free Trade Election. This election figures prominently in the Nicholson Family Saga. I have all the letters posted on Ironically, the Nicholson's lived in Montreal and Richmond, Quebec, the town where Michael Ignatieff's people would end up after coming out of Russia. Here are two letters from the two main candidates in that election in Richmond-Wolfe.

Richmond August 21, 1911

Dear Sir, At a large and representative convention held in the town of Richmond on the 18th day of this month, I was, by unanimous vote, selected as the Conservative Candidate for the Parliamentary Division of Richmond Wolfe. The honor is a great one, and if elected, I will do my utmost to truly represent the views of my constituents.

On the two great questions of the day, Reciprocity and the Navy my views are these: I am opposed to the Taft Fielding Reciprocity Pact for reasons which I will explain from the platform. As to the question of the Navy I am in favor of having this matter decided by the direct vote of the people. During the campaign I shall endeavor to visit all the parts of the two counties. The time is short and some localities may be overlooked, but I hope to have an opportunity of laying my views before you in meetings, the dates of which will be shortly announced.

If after having listened to our side of the case, you will favor me with your support. I will be grateful. Sincerely yours John Hayes MD (Stamped)

April 18,1921

Mr. Norman Nicholson, Residency 4, Division D Via Cochrane, Ontario NTRY

Dear Sir, I am in receipt of yours of the 15th instant and replying to same beg to say that I am still fighting the good ole cause and have Dr. Hayes of Richmond for opponent. I will give your letter over to Mr. J A Begin and he will have to see about these matters as you are aware, I am pretty busy at the present time seeing my people. I hope that everything will be all right and will be glad to have you come and vote.

Yours truly, E W Tobin (hand signed)

This 1911 General Election was in September, a few months after the 1911 Census. The Census is also mentioned in the letters and I have written about it extensively on this Flo in the City blog.

The Census was once a hot issue here in Canada, and I'm talking just a few months ago, but everyone these days has a near non-existent attention span. The politicans are counting on that fact, I imagine.

We're a Twitter society and that name, TWITTER, says it all. We have bird brains and clicky fingers.

Maybe my Labrador, Darcy, should be the one to vote in my family, as, the other day, he spent at least 30 minutes sitting under the mantlepiece, staring up at the place where he knew was his bowling ball chew toy, and that's a record for any activity by any living breathing being in this house this week.

Even better, the chew toy was out of his line of vision, he merely smelled it. So that seals it, Darcy should definitely be the one to vote. A good sense of smell is invaluable during elections. You can't trust what you hear, that's for sure.

All I know is I am VERRYYY glad they had a Census in 1911 (when people routinely sat through boring sermons at church and ingested long, word-padded articles about pressing social issues in magazines like the Delineator and the Saturday Evening Post) because it has helped me get to the bottom of the story of the Nicholson Family Saga. I can better figure out who their friends and acquaintances were, where they lived and how old they were and how rich they were (and whether or not they had a live-in maid) and I can figure out about the lives of the immigrant children in Marion's classroom in Little Burgundy in the City, how poor they were and if their parents worked as domestics or if they had any work at all.

(The gap between rich and poor was HUGE back then in the Edwardian/Laurier/Tighsolas era. And guess what? The statistics reveal that it's pretty much the same today! We've come full-circle in one hundred years. Too bad our attention span is so short (Oh, what a LOVELY wedding gown!) and our math skills are so bad we can't properly process this inauspicious information. And the politicians are counting on that too.)

All very important to me: As it happens, Marion Nicholson, my husband's grandmother never got enumerated for the 1911 Census. She was boarding in Montreal so the census taker in Richmond left her off. WRONG! But her brother Herb did get enumerated. He was in a boarding house in Qu'Appelle Saskatchewan.

He was one of 6 or was it 8 boarders, one of whom was a young woman. And one other boarder was a bartender, oh my! Margaret would have packed up and taken the train to Qu'Appelle and dragged her 26 year old back home by the ear had she known.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Circle Game: 100 Years Ago

Kate Middleton. I got this picture from a fashion website. It is clear what her role is: fashion role model.

Just to prove my point: that "The Tighsolas Era" is an important one, the media is featuring quite a few important articles about 100 years ago, in 1911.

Sunday Morning promoted an HBO documentary (playing today in Canada) about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (Actually Triangle Waist Factory) and the New York Times had an editorial this morning about a topic I have covered extensively on this blog: the fear of immigrants.

The editorialist did what I did, he looked up old newspaper articles online to find that the US was so freaked out about this wave of immigrants, tidal wave, that it sent out researchers to analyze them, or deconstruct their personalities.

If you read articles from Macleans magazine from the era, they do the same thing, although usually in praise of whatever ethnicity they were writing about.
Anyway, to do my part here, I thought I'd report on an article in the 1911 Food and Cookery Magazine. The July 1911 edition.

The Coronation of George V was big news here, but Food and Cookery Magazine decided he was getting enough press and wrote about Queen Mary. The article was titled "The Woman in the Coronation."

We have read with great interest legends revived, have tried to picture to ourselves the banquet which required eight tons of gold plate in the serving, but to the woman, one of the two central figures in the scene, has hardly been accorded the recognition which is hers. ...Queen Alexandra departed from the tradition which robed a queen in purple and ermine, her robe was of red rose which matched exactly the robe of the King. To Westminster Queen Mary returned to the earlier custom.

The deep ivory satin for her robe was made at Baintree and the embroidery of both dress and robe was done by the Ladies' Work Society or Princess Louisa Needlework School. Deftly wrought into the pattern was the English rose, the Scottish Thistle, the star and lotus lily of India.

A border of English oak leaves and acorns worked into the finest gold thread framed this patriotic design.

True to her purposed, that everything pertaining to the coronation be made by her British subjects, she ordered the velvet made in Suffolk where the hand loom is still found.

For years Alexandra was enthroned in the hearts of the British People. Even as the wife of the Prince of Wales, by the rare charm of her lovely personality, by the fascination of her wonderful beauty, by the calm dignity, she won the heart of the nation.

It is not easy for Queen Mary to take her place. She has been essentially a home loving mother. It has been a pleasure to see her personally attend to some of the details of the education of her children; she has enjoyed teaching her children to sew and embroider, arts in which she is proficient. She has been as happy as the most democratic American mother in trundling her baby about the garden.

Coming to the postion on England's throne, she brings to her performance of her public duties the same high ideas that characterize her home life.

She may not dominate even indirectly by her inherent executive ability; she may not charm by the gift of great beauty, but she should make an appeal to every womanly woman of every nation, for she shares with these woman a common crown, the crown of wife hood and mother hood and glories in the wearing of that crown....

Hmmm. I can't help but think of that scene in the King's Speech where Queen Mary coldly recoils from her son when he cries at the thought of being king and tries to get a hug. She sure brought up messed up sons.
This article is a load of B.S. of course, but it was 'instruction' in the age of the New Woman and Suffragette.

Something to remember when they media coverage of William and Kate's Royal Wedding gets rolling. It's all BS designed to sell stuff. Of course, Kate will be the big draw, visually, not William. In the past 100 years, women have been driving the Consumer Society, so the spotlight is always on pretty young women, the woman who spend the most on their looks, and are nice to look at in pretty clothes. I wonder if Kate is having poor kids help from the projects or estates as they are called, add details to her wedding dress.
If she's really trendy, she'll be texting her friends as she walks down the aisle. Or Twittering. "God, my garter belt is cutting into my thigh."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Editing Letters: Editing Lives

From the 1897 promotional brochure of the Ladies' Home Journal. Six types of American woman: in the home, in religion, in business, in society, in summer, in the beauty motherhood. In summer???

Magazines have always loved to reduce people to stereotypes. The six types of, or five types of, or four types of is a cliche feature of journalism even today. Along with 10 tips to fix everything. When I was writing for magazines, I was always asked to write a sidebar with ten easy tips, for those readers who couldn't be bothered to read the article itself.

I had to write SHOW, not TELL and start with an anecdote of sorts, an illustration.

I doubt that I wrote anything of any use to anybody. But it sold the products between the pages.

The one time I wrote a really important article, about shiftwork, where I interviewed young parents and experts about the new 24/7 society, and revealed that it was the young families who suffered most from this new paradigm, the article was killed. And this was the only time an article was killed. No explanation, although I could guess. The major advertiser for the magazine had just gone over to 24/7 shifts at its factories.

(Sort of like writing about cancer and smoking for a magazine in the 60's, which was all cigarette advertising. A real no no.)

Anyway, I'm beyond all that now. I'm doing something really important. I'm editing the Nicholson letters for 1912, to show HOW IT REALLY WAS, to dispel myths and to reveal what has changed and what has stayed the same.

I've spent over five years researching the background to these letters, so you'd think it would be easy. But it isn't. Today, I have printed out the April 1912 letters, when the poop has hit the air circulation device, with deaths and fights over wills and Herbert's debts, and I understand exactly what's going on, but I have to put them in a readable form. An enticing form.

Most of the letters have a standard form.. a conventional form of writing these people all understand instinctively. They start out with a remark about receiving other letters and a thank you for these same letters.. then some news about who was home with respect to family members, then some local gossip and then, only then, the MEAT, of the issue. The big problems at hand.

Sometimes, the letters end the PS has all the meat, as if it couldn't come out before, but suddenly pours out.

And occasionally there's a jaw dropping line, or an insightful line, or a historically relevant line.

All very interesting.

In short, the letters are LONG, because it was understood that in the days before radio, and when only a few homes had a victrola or talking machine, letters were a form of entertainment.

It seems people liked to read them much more than they liked to write them.

It was a social time, too. Despite social media, we live very privatized lives today. At least I do, and I do not believe I am alone in this. Almost all socializing happens at work, and occasionally at a party on the weekend.

Yes, there is a lot going on, but it mostly costs money. FREE socializing hardly exists, except for young people.

Anyway, as I edit these letters, my main goal is for people to see What has changed and what has stayed the same.

While maintaining dramatic tension (already in the letters).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Domestic Goddesses and Hormonal Hysterics

Cover, 26 page promotional brochure for Ladies' Home Journal.

In 1896 The Ladies' Home Journal and Practical Housekeeper became the Ladies' Home Journal.

Louisa Knapp Curtis, the editor understood that as the world became more and more complicated, some things had to be simplified.

Margaret Nicholson received this brochure, which is as crisp and clean as the day she got it, and wrote her name inside on the first page.

Now, the term Domestic Goddess is used jokingly today, but it is clear from the cover of this brochure, that it didn't come out of nowhere.

Housewives and mothers of the middle class were often portrayed as goddesses at the turn of the twentieth century, in advertising especially.

In inside page reads: The Ladies' Home Journal of 1897 will be, in every sense, a popular home magazine. (Positive thinking: already popular.)

It will interest and entertain, as do other periodicals, by the literary features. But it will go further than that. More particularly will it be helpful. (Then why remove "practical housekeeper?)

It will emphasize the practical side of life. It will appeal to the incomes of the many, not to the few."

The following 20 or so pages describe the articles in the 1897 version.

1) An historical section about major events of the past century.. Jenny Lind at Castle garden; Mr. Beecher selling the slave girl Sarah at Plymouth Pulpit; when the Prince of Wales was in America.. "when a number of young women lost their senses in a frenzy of romantic excitement"

Hmm. With the wedding of Prince William and Kate next month, the US media will be pontificating ad nauseum upon the American fascination with British Royalty, making it a stultifyingly self-fulfilling prophesy.

According to this brochure, the Ladies' Home Journal of 1897 will contain two more features on Royalty, a feature on how Queen Victoria spends Christmas (she would only have 3 or 4 more) and a feature on "the most popular man in the world" the Prince of Wales who would become Edward VII and lend his name to an era, the Tighsolas Era.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Stamping out History

Canadian (and one British) stamp from the Tighsolas Collection.

I have a lot of pictures of King George V in my house: that's because I have over 1000 letters belonging to the Nicholsons of Richmond Quebec and Montreal - and many of them are from the 10's and 20's and thirties.

They start at 1887, actually and end in 1938.

Most are from Canada; many are from the US. and a few, but not many, are from England.

These letters still have their envelopes so you'd think I'd have a chance at having a rare postage stamp or two.

But no.

Somewhere along the line someone cut out or steamed off most of the interesting stamps. I even know who: a little boy who lived with his family for a period in the fifties and sixties in the Nicholson's house on Dufferin in Richmond. I know because but a few years ago the wife of said little boy contacted me about returning something else belonging to the Nicholsons, Norman's Masonic Sword.

To find me, she had used the Internet and a clue from her husband's stamp collection book; a letter addressed to Mrs. Margaret Nicholson.

So, George the V, portrayed as a typical angry and cold Victorian father in the recent movie, the King's Speech enjoys a definite presence in our house.

His father, Edward VII, though is more important to us as he represents an entire era.

My website showcases the letters of Tighsolas between 1908-1913 era, which I call the Tighsolas era.

It's really the end of the Edwardian Era. (We call it the Laurier Era in Canada.)

Edward VII reigned for but 10 years, but he lent his name to an entire ERA. That says something! That speaks to the incredible changes that took place in that particular decade. That's why the 1908-1913 Nicholson letters are important, and not just frivolous family fun.

I have one postage stamp of Edward VIII. It's from England. His reign was so short Canada didn't get around to making him a stamp.

And I have a few pictures of the next guy, Queen Elizabeth's father, George VI, whose image just got a revamp due to a compelling performance from actor Colin Firth, who, as far as I know, has no royal blood, just bloody good genes.

The only stamp I have of Victoria, who reigned a long long time and therefore it's no surprise an entire era was named after her, is not really a stamp. It's on a postcard from the 1880's. Good enough.

I do however possess a likeness of her on a coin, one belonging to my husband. It's a 1 and a half cent copper coin from Upper Canada. Remember that place? It was just above Lower Canada.

I asked him where he got these coins and he replied, "I dunno. They were lying around the house. " More proof that little boys have a vague grasp of the concept of private property. These coins might have once belonged to Flo and Edie, who knows?

He also has a coin from 1779, a bit faded, with the image of another King on it. Don't know which one, although I guess I could Google.

I have decided to carry this 1979 coin around in my purse as good luck, as it is the oldest thing in my house, if I don't count the dust the dogs drag in.

Last Friday, before the ballet, my friend and I went to Chinatown and ate at a restaurant there. The waiter was an older Chinese man (by which I mean a man about 50) with a sunny disposition and very pleasant face. He caught me showing the coin to my friend across the table and he told us a story about a long time ago, in 1971,when he had reluctantly let go of a George VI twenty dollar bill he had in his possession in order to buy a record, perhaps Led Zeppelin, at A and M Records around the corner on St. Catherine Street. (So, some of these bills were still floating around in the 60's. I don't recall ever seeing one.)

That's how I know this man was fifty. A bit younger than me, maybe but definitely in the same ball park. When I got up to pay, I realized he was very very short, about 5 foot, no more. And as I am 5 foot 11, so he seemed to get embarrassed around me. (He wouldn't be the first.)

Such a nice man, I thought, but we're world's apart, even if we had met on the streets of Montreal's Chinatown (or in A and M, where I might have been accompanying my older brother) back in 1971.

...Anyway, I read somewhere, maybe in the NYT, that someone is taking old Civil War letters and tweeting them on Twitter. I had thought about doing this with the Tighsolas letters. I even mentioned it in an earlier post on this blog.

But now it won't be a novel thing. Alas.

I must think of a novel thing to do with these letters. And that precludes putting it in novel form.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Albert Einstein 1936, public and private views

Famous AP Photo of Albert Einstein at play.

Not so famous snapshot taken by Marion Blair, of Albert Einstein
and the AP photographer either setting up or closing down the shot.

This family snapshot was taken by Marion Blair (later Wells) my mother in law, the daughter of Marion Nicholson Blair and Hugh Blair, and Norman and Margaret's granddaughter.

 The Nicholson women, of Furies Cross the Mersey for all of their strength of character were, well, concerned with their appearance. My mother in law was no different.

 The story goes that my mother in law and a companion were strolling near this pier when they spotted these two men. "Oh, what messy hair," my mother in law exclaimed, seeing the famous scientist. "Who is that man?" "It is Professor Einstein," her companion stated with reverence in his voice.

Thanks to the Internet, I know EXACTLY what is going on in the picture, for there is a 'famous' AP picture of "Einstein at play" with the icon looking through the ropes of a sail boat, taken on this day. Hmm. This picture was set up.

My mother in law caught Einstein and the photographer either setting up for the shot or closing down. All she wrote on the back of the photo: Saranac Lake, 1936.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Shell Shock 1921

Pretty unknown girl found in among Nicholson pictures. Might be Sophia Nicholson, but more likely May Watters or perhaps a Peppler.

I'm watching Jules et Jim on Turner Classic Movies and I'm up the the war part. I have always considered this movie one of my favorites, but I saw it only in art cinemas in my twenties.

It seldom comes on TV. And here it is.

It's a bit ironic that I'm watching this movie that begins in the Tigholas era, 1912, and has the Jeanne Moreau in the fashions of the day.

I've just read a letter from 1923, from Sophie Nicholson Bell, Margaret's niece (well, Norman's niece as she is the daughter of his brother, Gilbert.)

In 1911, she is off to Edmonton to join her father and drops in to see Margaret and Margaret is miffed as she doesn't even 'take off her hat.' Margaret suggests she is a snob of sorts.

Anyway, in this letter, Sophie is answering for her father, who no longer writes letters. (Not a surprise, his earlier letters are almost illegible.)

Flora has written him. Norman died the year before.

"Dear Flora,

Your letter came to father at Christmas, and he was very pleased to get it as Uncle Norman always wrote at this time of year.

I am penning you a few lines tonight. I have just put the girls to bed and the baby doesn't get fed until 11.00 so I have a whole hour at last.

I have a maid, but she used to make ammunition in England and should be somewhere doing that now instead of posing as a domestic.

It has been almost a year since the unexpected wire: we would be glad to hear just what happened and what the operation was for.

All we heard is the paper report which was mostly about the funeral. It was very real. I could see it all: going up over the hill to the old cemetery and I felt very badly as it recalled the others that rest there. (St. Andrew's in Melbourne.)

(Norman's death certificate says Pulmonary embolism and cardiac failure.)

Father is getting quite old in many ways. He does not try to do anything but a little work in the garden and take care of his hens. He is troubled with indigestion and stays indoors too much.

It's much nicer for Aunt Margaret to be with you all in Montreal. How is Marion and the children? Some one said she has four and a boy among them. Well, I guess I'll just put an ad in the paper for someone to leave one at my doorstep as it's no use depending on the stork.

Kileen? says she won't have a boy in the house, they screech and fight and you just can't train them.

John is not well. Sick most of the time since coming out of the army. He has a nervous trouble, also a poisoned system so he is in soldier's hospital.
The Drs. don't seem to be able to do much for him. But now a new treatment has come out of California and seems to be helping some of the cases....

Hmm. An interesting lady, this Sophia. The only Internet mention of her is on a Wikipedia page about the Edmonton 1927 civic elections where she is elected as a school trustee, so also a politician like Marion. She seems to have Marion's sense of humour, too.
Funny, the Nicholsons were so close to the Watters, the cousins related to one of Norman's sisters, but his brother Gilbert's kids were almost strangers to them. Gilbert inherited the family farm, which meant he was the one who didn't get any schooling. His letters suggested as much.

I have her wedding invitation somewhere. I know she married a Bell. Well, that's obvious, but is JOHN her husband? Is he the one with shell shock? Not likely as she is still getting pregnant. She mentions no husband, does she? Gordon is a brother. John may be another.

Shell shock! I recently wrote about Chester Coy's madness and I have read other letters from the 1920's discussing it. (One of these letters is from 1921 from a Reid in Carlisle England; the Reids are also relations of the Nicholsons and the Clevelands and Coys, but I don't quite understand the connection. (My mother in law used to mentioned a Helen Reid who was related in some way to the skier Ken Reid.) I feel odd reading this particular letter, as Carlisle was where my father was lodged as a child when he was sent away from Malaya to school in England. An aunt lived there. This was from 1927 to the thirties, so maybe they passed in the streets)

Perhaps Chester Coy left his sanity at the Front. I hadn't thought of that. And I just posted a bit about Herbert Tucker, Flora's boyfriend. She never married him, but seemed to go out with him for many years... so maybe he too was ruined by the war. His letters show that he feels terrible that he survived and his brother, Percy, didn't.

WWI destroyed many men, by death, by disfigurement and by insanity.

I just saw Colin Firth's A Month in the Country, posed on YouTube. It's about that very thing.

The Greatest Play of the Century??

Lillian Kemble Cooper and some unknown actress.

I have to get to work on the new website, but after spending about 20 minutes on Dreamweaver, I decided this wasn't the time. I have no idea what I am doing. Cascading Style Sheets and such.

So I spent the morning going through piles of Tighsolas material to use in the collages I am going to make for the photos at the top of each page. What are they called? And I used to work in advertising.

The house is a mess. I turned it upside down looking for that one photo of the house that is clear and perfect for the collage.

I went through all my boxes and found all kinds of stuff I had forgotten about... all good for the collages... and some letters that for some reason never got transcribed and put on the original website.

Here's one from May 11, 1912.

It's from Flora to her mother. She is still at Macdonald, about to graduate, and visiting her sisters. I have to type it out for the new website, so here goes. It's an interesting letter, as it happens.

Dear Mother,

Received yours and Edith's letters and think you are pretty sporty with your days at home and banquets.

Tucker is coming out with me. Will be on the 7:15 train. Tell Edith to invite some of the numerous young men as I want her to have a good time.

Hasn't this week been lovely. I suppose everyone has their cars out. Oh, for a ride!

Marion and Hugh went to Three Rivers Saturday, coming back today.

Tell Edith to send me a sample of her suit if she wants a decent petticoat and right off quick as I want time to look around.

Saturday afternoon Marion, Tuck and I, went to the Orpheum. They played Our Wives. It was very funny. Lillian Kemble and Chas. Mackay are as nice as ever.

This week, Tuck's brother is taking me to see Kindling. I think it will be good.

I hear you have a very swell hat and dress. How about Miss Edith. I bet she is going to swell out too.

Write soon,

Love to All,

So Father is coming home for the Masonic Affair. That will be fine.

Lovingly Flora

Let's see. Lillian Kemble was an actress who eventually went on to movies and had parts in Gone With the Wind and My Fair Lady, as Lillian Kemble Cooper

I found an ad in the May 11 Montreal Gazette that claims she and Mr. Mackay will be performing in another play at the Orpheum starting on the Friday. The Witching Hour by Augustus Thomas. That play is The Greatest Play of the Century, according to the advert. A little hyperbolic which is in turn a little oxymoronic. I've never heard of Augustus Thomas, so I went to Wikipedia where it is suggested he was a mediocre playwright who catered to the taste of the masses. And made money doing it, no doubt.

Well, whatever. The Witching Hour is supposedly his best play but he also wrote the Earl of Pawtucket, another play Flora sees in Montreal.

The Tucker Flora mentions is a girl (I recently uncovered her marriage invitation but forget her first name. ) Oh, I found it:Gwendolyn. Lovely.

Now, Tuck's brother is Herbert Tucker...and that is significant.

I have blogged about Herbert, posting his letters from the Front in 1918. He is injured in the fighting, but suffers only a hurt finger. His older brother Percy is killed. There is a huge mix up with his death. First he is declared dead, then alive, then dead. The Nicholson girls write home about it and the story also makes the pages of the Montreal Gazette.

So these two had a romance of sorts.. Hard to tell.

Oh, the same May 11th newspaper has an advert for Dominion Park. The big feature, a camp of 25 Sioux Indians. Terrific horseback riding lariat throwing.

Decoding Love Letters in 1910

A little Easter Card from Hugh to Marion. 1911 (before this letter below or 1912, I wonder.)

Many letters in the 1910 era were written in code or partial code, for you never knew who might get their hands on it.

Love letters were especially cryptic.

Now, in September 1911 Hugh Christian Blair, my husband's grandfather, blew off a previous girlfriend, Jean, in a long letter and signed it, Your sincere friend, Hugh.(I have a copy.)

Hugh steps gingerly here in this letter to Marion, who he will propose to in May 1913, never mentioning his feelings, but perhaps the sign off gives hime away. Believe me your sincere friend, HughIE.

This letter is at Christmastime. Marion is in Richmond, with her family and he has returned from visiting his family in Three Rivers (about 2 hours away from both Montreal and Richmond.)Clearly, Hugh did not get an invitation to visit the Nicholsons at Christmas... or did he?

Courtship is rocky, and always been, and Marion says of Hugh,in a letter to her Mom "Sometimes I like him, sometimes I hate him, but I don't know what I would do without him." Now that's a dead giveaway: She's in Love.

The fact that Edith and Flo, Marion's sisters have nicknamed Hugh "ROMEO" also says something.

Now, the fact that Marion has sent Hugh a present might also be a giveaway. In a 1900 item called "Advice to Girls" from an American Magazine it is written;" Well bred girls do not receive valuable presents from men, whether they like them or not. A young lady can receive a Christmas gift from a man she knows well but should not give a present to a man unless engaged or related to them under any circumstances."

Hugh coyly doesn't mention what the gift is and there seems to be some inside joke around a teddy bear he might have sent to Marion but she had not received.

Perhaps she presented him with a gift but he had none for her, believing that giving a gift would be too strong a statement. Or perhaps he had sent her a gift that wasn't a teddy bear but something nicer, like jewelry and it got stolen.

Remember, Hugh had only recently extricated himself from a situation where the woman believed that 'they had an understanding' and he did not.

Dear Marion,


December 27th, 1911

I succeeded in getting home in good time on Saturday evening after a very pleasant trip down amongst a lot of old acquaintances who just happened to be traveling on the same train as I was (or vice versa, if you prefer.)

I was very pleased to find all mine in Rivers (Three Rivers) enjoying good health and cheerfulness.

Upon my return to Montreal, which was last night, I was very much surprised to find a parcel waiting for me in my room, bearing my name and address, and opening same, was still more so of the contents.

Now Marion, I wish you to accept my heartiest thanks for your handsome gift, as I am sure you could not have selected anything that could give me pleasure than the present one.

I wish to say that I really cannot express in words how much I appreciate it and certainly am very much indebted to you for your kindness.

Regarding what you say of having not received what you supposed that I was calling a Teddy Bear and proved quite different, is really not what I meant when I mentioned it to you.

As I really did send you one, but to your Montreal address. I am led to believe that it has either gone astray in the mail or that someone has helped himself to it. If the latter they surely got a good sell.

As I do not wish to try your kind patience any longer, I will bring this to a close by wishing you to be kindly remembered to your sister along with my sincere good wishes to yourself for a Happy New Year.

Believe me your sincere friend,


Friday, March 18, 2011

Flu Anxiety

I have two letters from 1918 that discuss flu anxiety. They called it "La grippe" back then.

This was the era of the infamous flu epidemic (and the end of WWI). Flu anxiety wasn't new to these years: the Nicholson Family letters reveal that anxiety over health issues and the FLU was part and parcel of family existence back then.

They didn't have 24 hour media to make the most of these dangers, but they did have daily and weekly deaths to remind people that life was fragile.

Here's a letter from October 24, 1918, right before armistace, from a Mrs. Rothney, wife of an ET school inspector.

Dear Mrs. Nicholson,

I hope you are all keeping clear of this Spanish flu. Hasn't it been an awful time? Nothing going on here except people dying - and the church bells ringing for funerals - and hearses going down in processions.

I have most of the children's winter sewing done. I am making Isabel a brown plush winter coat...I got her some white furs so she is going to be swell this winter. I have done a lot of sewing and knitting lately. Our knitting club had a contest the month of September and we knit 312 pairs. I knit seven pairs. Some knit more. We'll have a fine lot of stockings for the Christmas packages. I guess we will not need to knit many more socks by the way the war is going now....

Then I have a second letter from November 29th, after Armistace. Margaret is writing to Edith..

Dear Edith,

I think you had better get another bottle of tonic. So here is the number. Just go to the pharma and order it at once. Noticed that you were better when you were taking it. And get the pills for Flora and self.....

The picture above is of the letter, with the prescription? attached. The number I guess. Too bad I can't see what it was she was prescribed. Clearly, she's been sick a while and Margaret is so worried she is bossing around her grown daughter.

It is interesting to note that the Pharmacy is in Westmount. It is likely Edith roomed around there. She loved Westmount and lived there all her life when not at Tighsolas. And yet she was a poorish spinster!

The Sunday hours of the pharmacy are interesting. I assume they still had the Lord's Day Act in 1918. (Established in 1906). I guess pharmacies were exempt for obvious reasons.... but those are long hours for a pharmacy. In my day, pharmacies weren't open at night. I recall in the 1980's, when one of my kids were sick, we had to go to TMR, I think, to find the one all night pharmacy in the West of Montreal. We lived in a burb 40 minutes out of Montreal.

I wonder if the pharmacy had a soda fountain and if this soda fountain was open for business on Sundays. Would seem a great thing to do on Sundays, congregate at the soda fountain and have a cherry phosphate or whatever.

Sunlife Building 1917

Edith, second from right, during WWI, I assume. She is young and this is the Sun Life Building. She was Red Cross Commandant for Quebec in WWII.

SUN LIFE Building. Today
I came upon this 1917 letter from Edith Nicholson to her Dad, on paper so crisp it could have been purchased last week.

It was letter head, although the company name was written in discreet fashion on the top left, in that font with absolutely no flourishes. Sun Life Insurance Company of Canada.

Montreal, Que

142 Notre Dame Street

October 14, 1917

Dear Father,

..Flora and I are both going out home for Thanksgiving. Flora is going out in the morning. I will be going out on the afternoon train as we have every Saturday afternoon off.

I started to work on the 17th of September down here. I like it very well for the time being, but I don't think I should care to stay here altogether.

There are over 200 on the staff. I am in the accountant department. My chief lives next door to Hugh. Mr. McLaughlin has been very nice. There are 14 in our office.

This is the head office. They are hoping to move into the new building on Dominion Square opposite the Windsor Hotel the 1st of March.

This building seems to be very old and we are very much crowded for room.

I am only glad to have this position until I get my shorthand and typing up.

Then I hope I shall get something better.


Hmm. Edith worked as a teacher at Westmount Methodiste Missionary school form 1909 to 1912. Then she went home and worked for two years as a teacher at St. Francis College in Richmond.Both jobs had a low salary of 200 or so a year, as she did not have a diploma.
Stenographers, I can see by the 1911 Census, made between 400 and 700, the salary of a teacher with diploma.
Stenographers, in those days, was a catch all phrase for female office worker. Perhaps there weren't any 'typist' jobs then. Perhaps you had to have both typing and shorthand.

Anyway, as you can see from Edith's note, people generally worked Saturday Morning in the first part of the 20th century.

Another interesting point: her boss lived next door to Hugh and Marion, her sister. Well, connections, connections. I am guessing this is how she got the position.

The first phase of the Sunlife Building was finished in 1917. The bottom part. It took many years to build the tall classical building that now exists.

The Windsor Hotel, as I have written on this blog, was THE swank PLACE in Montreal.

In 1905, when Marion Nicholson roomed at the YWCA while attending McGill Norman School, she wrote about a "scandal" in the newspaper. Someone said the YWCA, which housed 'itinerant women' was too shady a place to be situated beside the Windsor. One of the girls rooming with Marion apparently wrote a letter to the Editor of the Montreal Gazette, mocking this concern.

The Y was a respectable place: indeed, Marion hated it: TOO MANY RULES.

All this speaks to the issue of female freedom in the 1910 era. Any woman, not under the protection of her family, was considered suspect.

That includes office workers.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Putting 'a face' on Marion's Kids

Kids at Chapleau, boys playing cowboys and Indians. Some Black children who likely lived in the Royal Arthur Catchment area.

More children at Camp Chapleau, 1910 or 11, likely.

Marion did not write about the kids in her class, except to call them 'very bad children.' Very bad children who performed well, as Marion, their teacher, received a bonus at the end of the year in 1911. I assume these are English side children, as the Old Brewery Mission was an Anglo Institution. But I might be wrong.

I have used the 1911 Census to take 'a snapshot' of the children who likely attended Royal Arthur in 1910-1912, with respect to where their parents lived, what they did and what they earned. Not much... much less than the 1,500 a year supposedly needed to keep a family in dignity, unless dad was a bricklayer or some such other skilled labourer.

I recently found another Old Brewery Mission Fundraising Brochure, from around 1910, I guess. (I already posted images from the 1912 brochure on

This brochure has more pictures: "Camera-ing The Old Brewery Mission Fresh Air Camp.. Chapleau. 65 miles from Montreal. 1.400 feet higher than the City.

582 gallons of milk. 148 bushels potatoes. 429 pounds of butter. 2 tons bread. 1 ton beef.

700 women and children last year.

Open July 28 to September 5.

(Families stayed for two weeks each. Unlike the other brochure, this one does not stipulate NO BOYS OVER 8, but I see few older boys in the pictures.)

Going to get a 'beauty tan' says the brochure. But wait! Coco Chanel was supposed to have made the tan fashionable, but much later on. She was just starting her hat shop in Paris in 1910. So why did they write "beauty tan."

Lots of babies... and that was the problem.

Hat fashions of the poor.

"A typical family" says the brochure. Was there a dad at home, or was this camp for single families. I assume the first option. I put a frame around this picture. It is unlikely these people could afford cameras (5.00 for the cheapest and of course the cost of developing film)or photography studios.

The Nicholsons were not rich, but they sure took A LOT OF PHOTOS and formal ones, which I have posted here.

So says the brochure, with 3 pictures for this theme. This was the Age of Soap, Light and Water, the PURITY MOVEMENT. Washing these children was about more than hygiene, it was about washing away the sin of poverty.

Privileged Girls, Imperfect Lives

Tiny Envelope (3 inches by 1/ 1/2 inches) containing tinier envelope, with Easter Greetings from Hugh Blair to Miss Marion Nicholson, so definitely 1912, or 1913.
I found a 1935 letter from Edith to her mother, that speaks a great deal about the Nicholsons- and what makes them so special as a family. In 1935 Edith is Assistant Warden at McGill's Royal Victoria College. She keeps that job for a long time, as her great niece, born in 1944 recalls visiting her at graduation time and seeing all the graduating women in red robes lined with gold.

Flo in the City is my book in progress about a girl coming of age in 1910 in Canada. It's based on the Nicholson Family Letters of 1908-1913.

The Nicholsons were struggling financially in that era. Indeed, their entire life was a struggle.

Royal Victoria College

November 16, 1 am.

So glad to get your letter and to hear you had such a good trip. We all enjoyed having you for the weekend.

I intended writing you early in the evening, but have had visitors all the time. First the French Mlles (mademoiselles) and then one of the students, an English girl, in her second year.
Came to tell me her troubles.
She had a letter from her mother today to say that she was getting a divorce from Father.

This was not really a surprise, but she had hoped things would be settled between them, poor girl (only 21).
She was terribly upset. She told me the whole story and, of course, there were two sides to the case. And she sees that. She is fond of both parents.

This is a strange world. And when you live in an institution like this, you see and hear many strange and sad things.

I cannot help but think, that the greatest heritage one can have is a happy family life such as ours, one where love and affection were the mainspring.
But having had such a heritage, it makes you feel you have done little or nothing to deserve it. When you see such distress as I saw tonight.

So, you see, in 1935 Canadian couples got divorced. (In 1910, divorces were rare (only a few registered in Canada a year) although there was mention in the Nicholson letters of couples 'breaking up housekeeping'. You had to apply to Parliament for a divorce. The Nicholsons knew of one such person. Of course, some people, like my husband's grandmother on the other side of his family tree, just left one husband for another, without getting any divorce and pretended to be widowed..Imagine, bigamy! But she was a rich woman and the rich have always done what they want.)

BBC recently replayed a story about the new no fault divorce law introduced in late 1960's.. 69, I think, which caused divorces in the UK to quadruple over night, with mostly women applying.

The 'presenter' (as they call it) interviewed a group of women involved in women's advocacy in the 1960's (all divorced themselves) and she also replayed bits from a groundbreaking era documentary about divorce.
Divorce in the days before the new law, we're talking the 50's and 60's, was difficult to come by. Judges just could not grant a divorce unless one partner proved that the other partner was a very bad person. And these judges were also, it seems, very sanctimonious. (I guess they all had "perfect marriages" no mistresses and such ;))

Most mothers applying for divorce would automatically lose her children, so they just didn't apply, until the law changed.

Despite being married to a nice man, I'm not a great fan of the marriage institution, although all of these women activists interviewed for this BBC radio program said they thought marriage was a good thing and many thought divorce a bad thing and one bad-mouthed 'feminists' as per usual.
The presenter suggested that in a world with no birth control, pregnancies forced many into unsuitable marriages, right from the onset.1/4 of all brides were already pregnant in 1960. (I think it was pretty much the same in Edwardian Times and up to double that the century before in the UK at least! Men wanted to make sure their wife was fertile before marrying.)
Anyway, Edith, who never married, was a 'wise woman who lived a life out in the wider world, so she had the opportunity to learn about 'the real world'.

She knew that with divorce, as with any other conflict, there are two sides to the story. So, no one partner is evil and no one partner is a saint.
These college girls coming to Edith for solace would have been from the privileged classes.
And, yet, their lives were not perfect. Imagine that!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bits and Pieces... of Flo History

I dug out a plastic grocery bag filled with Nicholson miscellany, really remnants I didn't know what to do with five years ago.

I was hoping to find something important and relevant to Flo in the City, my work in progress about a girl coming of age in the 1910 era, now that I know so much more about the family.

And sure enough, I did.

Above is a receipt for piano lessons. Flora got lessons in 1910, although they are not mentioned in the letters. (I assumed she did.) and guess who gave it to her, Majory Sutherland, who died suddenly the next year.

I also found an invoice for 1910. the Bell Telephone Company of Canada.

6 months exchange service at 20.00 dollars a year. 10.00. As I have written about in this blog, the Nicholsons rarely used the phone long distance, but did phone for groceries and such.

I also found a pamphlet published in the 20's about the Church Union debate... It starts out "In 1911 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Canada asked for a vote of the people on the proposed union with Methodist and Congregationalist Churches. The result was 113000 in favor of union and 50, 753 opposed to union, out of a total membership of 297, 619. The Assembly in 1912 decided 'that in view of the extent of the minority opposed to union, it was unwise to proceed to consummate the union.'

How interesting. Not quite a democracy, I guess.

And I found a little blue letter in very poor handwriting, from Framingham, July 30, 1923... another document that sheds light on the 1908-1913 Tighsolas Flo in the City Era.

It is from Nathan Coy and he is writing Margaret, telling of his wife's Marion's (Mrs. Coy's) death.

Apparently Margaret had been visiting in Newton, and not been able to visit Mrs. Coy (her name Marion suggests she is one of the Lewis Scots).

Nathan Coy says he took her to Oxford and buried her with her little girl, so she had had a girl who had died.

And then he writes something interesting.."We all mourn for our departed friends but my case seems doubly hard. (He's been an invalid for years with serious asthma.)

Of course you lost your dear husband (Norman died in 1922) but you have four nice children to comfort you while I have only an insane son who is fast getting worse. I was out to see him last week, but could not make him realize his great loss.

Well, it seems, Chester didn't have a good end. In 1912 it seems that Mrs. Coy has hopes of him marrying one of the girls, and he does go visit them in Montreal in 1913, but alas... Marion sort of mocks this.. "Chester is the man, these days."

He lost his mind somewhere. Boy, Mrs. Coy had a sad sad sad life.

And I have a list of the officers of the St. Francis Lodge..C.J.Hill, Margaret's brother in law, D. M. Rowat, A S Rainbach (bank manager)W. J. Ewing..

W A Moffatt and F E Skinner are part of the finance committee.

And the Reverend Carmichael is on the charitable committee: a bit odd as the Prebyterians were against the Masons...

Monday, March 14, 2011

New Tighsolas Website

I finally have received the template for my new and improved website. I commissioned a young man with a doctorate in history to do it.

My old website is designed in 'spaghetti' fashion, all over the place. Yet it still gets a load of visitors and many teachers use it.

I created that website in 2005 right off the top of my head and then added and added and added pages.

My new website, which I will post on is orderly and self-contained and will have a search capacity. (It irks me when I see people come to my website looking for something that is RIGHT THERE, but they don't find it.)

Job one is to create collages for the top of the pages and that will take a surge of creativity on my part. I can do it, but I have to be in the right mood.

I like the idea of using lace and pictures and letters, like above,... at least for the homepage..

And I think I will edit the letters down to make them readable.. I've already started this process on the 1911 letters... I will also annotate when necessary. (In 2005, I didn't know enough to be able to annotate, but now I do.)

The young scholar I hired told me what other, more established historians have told me: that the Nicholson Family Letters are something rare and precious.

"Having 50 letters would be good for historians, " he told me. I have 300 from the 1908-1913 era alone, and about 1000 between 1887 and 1936.

I hope to make this new more kid friendly and to integrate the material in the letters with the background information about the era, the fashions, transportation, education, immigration, Westward Ho, etc. The new website's designer has provided a way for me to do this.

http://www.tighsolas/. ca contains the letters from 1908-1913, when the Nicholson family of Richmond, Quebec was separated by the need to find work.

That era was a pivotal one... in that so many changes happened at just that time.

When I first transcribed and posted the letters online, I used eBay to purchase era magazines for background and I posted some fun articles. They are all in the public domain. But in the following years, a great deal of Canadian material from 1910 came online and I've been writing about it on this Flo in the City Blog. (That's why I have to focus on the material in the letters for this new website. These days, it's the letters that are the unique aspect of Tighsolas. The background info is available elsewhere.)

So my new website will be very Canadian and will focus on an area of investigation given short shrift by historians, The Canadian suffrage movement..or lack of same. And not from the Famous Five point of view... from a new Montreal point of view.

I am also going to focus on the place where 'education and immigration' intersects. I've written an awful lot about this on this blog...

The Nicholson Girls got jobs in 1910 because so many new Canadians were coming to Montreal.

I want my website to be the best genealogy website ever...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Venus and Mars and a French Lieutenant's Woman

Meryl Streep in the French Lieutenant's Woman

I taped and watched the 1981 movie The French Lieutenant's Woman today and my husband came into the livingrooom and said, "I HATED that movie when I saw it."

Well, that's good symmetry, I guess. The first time I saw that movie, it truly blew me away. Perhaps more than any other movie and, certainly, in a weirder way. I totally identified with the Meryl Streep character.

Now, the movie had had a lot of publicity, even made the cover of Time Magazine. But I can't quite remember exactly when I saw it. I do know, like my husband, I saw it in a theatre. Unlike him, I had gone alone.. And I seldom went alone to movies.

And then it had that powerful effect on me. I was about 27 and I had been writing down my dreams for a couple of years. I had hundreds and hundreds of dreams chronicled.

I think I had reached some deep place in my psyche that this movie touched upon.

(Then again, it has a Harold Pinter screenplay and I always identify with Pinter movies....)

Since then, I've only seen the movie a few times. Once, in the 1990's I rented it on video and I found it rather dated and, how do I put it, stiff.

I was surprised, actually.

Today, as I watched it once again, but on the big screen HD, I realized why I did not like the movie that much the second time around. The French Lieutenant's woman is a movie within a movie: two modern actors are having an affair as they play two characters in a Victorian melodrama.

The Victorian story is the emotion heart of the movie, but they exaggerate the melodrama for effect, and that gets grating after a while.

Anyway, this movie, also featuring Jeremy Irons in one of his first movie roles (I think I read somewhere that he was also filming Brideshead Revisited then, a mini series that is not dated, in my opinion, indeed, it's one of my favorites, if not my very favorite.

Upon viewing The French Lieutenant's Woman with my husband on the couch, my husband made it clear he STILL has no idea what the movie is about.

It's about women's sexuality though the centuries, I said. Suddenly getting it. (I have never read the book.)

I wonder what Flo or Edith would have thought about this movie. I wonder if they read the book. They died in 1977 so they just missed it. But my husband says Gunsmoke was their favorite TV Show, so I 'm not sure they would have liked it.

Anyway, this isn't the first movie we've not agreed up. I recall watching The Constant Gardener with my husband at a theatre. When it finished, I arose from my seat enraptured. I thought to myself, "What a great movie. Too bad there weren't more love scenes. My husband got up saying, "What the hell was that about? It would have been better had they left out the loves scenes."

Weaving a Theory

Some Nicholson Handwork I have hanging on the bedroom wall.

I posted this picture last time in the blog with a story from 1910 called Marvellous Skill of Hand. Back then someone was lamenting the fact that people were being deskilled with industrialization.

I can't sew or knit. My mother could knit, but the only thing she ever knitted was a giant ski sweater for my father, using a heavy duty wool and she wound it so tight it was too heavy for him to wear, and he was a big man.

My mother was a tense woman and it came out in her knitting.

I am listening to a series of talks by Jungian storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estes and she says that such handwork was an important part of women's contemplative lives... It's repetetive work, you see, and frees the mind for deeper things. Hence the significance of the spider as an archetype. The act of crocheting or weaving or knitting also monitors your mood, as your stitches come out differently when you are relaxed or tense.

In The Dangerous Old Woman Estes tells the story of three ugly old ladies, weavers, that all the young of society have contempt for until they recognize their usefulness as wise women.

It had occured to me back when I wrote that other blog that these doilies were mandala-like. Dream catcher like. Spider web like.

They work on two levels. They reflect a frivolous female activity (if a woman in the old days could embroider and such it meant she was a lady of leisure and wealth and not a restless intelligent type (according to Amanda Vickery on the BBC's History of Private life) and hence a perfect wife for men of a certain class.

Or a witchy, spiritual activity.

Air head or wise woman... it depended on how you looked at it.

We don't routinely do any contemplative acts today: we keep our fingers busy, with the ipods and blackberrys and Ipads, but that's not the kind of action that frees the deeper parts of the brain. It's all upfront. lower chakra stuff about power and belonging and tribalism.


My husband and I have ESP. We've been married 25 years and of this I am sure. It's no fluke. We often read each other's minds, but always in the same two situations: when in the car or watching TV.

That's because while doing these things our brains are both occupied and also on hold. Like when a skilled person knits or crochets.

Maybe that's what they meant in the old books, when the described a couple as 'of one mind.'

Anyway, I was thrilled recently to learn that Edith Nicholson learned her handwork at her Grandmother's knee...and since her Grandmother only spoke Gaelic, she picked up a little of that language with her crocheting. The doilies above are likely Edith's work, or maybe the grannies. She likely was illiterate too. So there you go.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Silly Little Rhymes?

This was taken in and around 1988. I had a three year old and a newborn. Of course, now I look at it and think I look "young" but when I looked at this picture, say in the 90's, I thought I looked tired. I was both young and tired in this picture.

Anyway, I'm listing to the Ultimate Anti-Career guide audio lectures by Rick Jarow purchased off Sounds True. Although he says the same old same old (for there is only one wisdom) he puts it clearly and succinctly.
He gives you clear strategies for clearing you mind of all the chatter and red herrings and threshold guardian fear mongering so that you can focus on your priorities and your heart's desire.

In the third or fourth lecture he said something quite interesting and a bit different: he claimed that the subconscious likes simple rhymes to serve as instruction.

That's funny, because when I'm feeling 'lost' I often go back to the childhood rhymes I liked for comfort. Walter de la Mare etc. I've just been reading some poems from Open Windows, the textbook for fifth graders used in the 60's. Do you feel the force of the wind..etc... I don't go back to my favorite adult poets, Yeats, T.S. Eliot or W.H. Auden. Well, sometimes e.e.cummings.

The stories in these textbooks are stultifying politically correct and boring, only the poems have life. So, I remember only the poems.

Anyway, Jarrow says that the advertising wizards know that simple rhymes are the path into the subconscious, that's why they invented Jingles. the Jingles that have become part of who we all are really, if we are baby boomers from the West.

And I thought, Yea. So true. Ads have defined who we are as individuals. We've embraced them, too. They make us feel all gooey about our childhood. And yet, their only goal was to sell us stuff, mostly crap we didn't really need.

I've worked in advertising. And with this Flo in the City blog I've been deconstructing advertising techniques through the century, because the 1910 era was really the beginning of 'the new advertising.'

It is when they stopped filling advertisements with written information and started creating lifestyle ads, ads that promised an emotional, sometimes spiritual payoff with the purchase.

This technique started with J. Walter Thompsom I believe, who advertised extensively in the Ladies Home Journal.

Well, Margaret and Edith and Flo read the Ladies Home Journal. I wonder if they believed that Ivory Soap would make their lives more serene.

It was only later, with the advent of radios, that these women had jingles put into their head. And Edith and Flo were alive in the 60's and 70's, so they witnessed what the next generations grew up with, Ho HO Ho Green Giant and You'll wonder where the yellow went, and a little dab will do you, etc. etc... (My Looking for Mrs. Peel play, speaks to this in the opening scenes that take place in 1967.. I use the Wonderbra advert among others:free and alive, whereever you go ... And I have myself quoting an ad tag line :Yardley opens your eyes. Yardley had the most cagey advertising in the 60's, pretending to give YOUNG women OLD women wisdom, through ritual decoration. One tag line for some product says: Only the Young can get away with it.

When Margaret, Edith and Flora were young, the Bible and hymns were the only mantras plunked into their brains... and ministers' sermons I'm sure used the technique of repetition. Otherwise they lived in peace. No noise pollution. They were bored, that's why they went to church so much.

From what I've read about Presybterian sermons of the era, they could be pretty hard-core and pretty, might I say, intolerant of 'the other.'

And pretty anti-woman too, unless you believe there was only three kinds of women, virgins, whores and good and bad mothers.

But, anyway, it's certainly something to think about in this age of 24/7 multi-media and crackberrys and facebook addictions.

What's in our heads? And does it need to be there? Who is controlling our thoughts.

Some other Elite Richmondites

Mr. Bieber.

In a 1911 letter, Mr. Bieber has a car accident and his wife is seriously injured. It's an interesting letter (Look up CAR ACCIDENT on this blog ) in that cars were a new phenomenon, but speeding and wreckless driving was already invented...As I wrote in that post, 14 miles an hour was the speed limit in 1910 in Quebec, in the Country. But the roads were not terrific and the ET was very hilly to boot, so driving a car was both thrilling and dangerous.

I found a Who's Who for E.T. (post war or during the war) which included a blurb on Mr. Bieber, who lived near the Nicholsons in the fancy part of Richmond, Quebec.

Mr. Bieber, (I wonder if he is an ancestor of Justin Bieber, who is also Canadian)was born in England and came to Canada and was educated at Bishop's College, Lennoxville and then worked for the Edison General Electric Company in Sherbrooke (how interesting) then went over the the Molson's Bank (travelled around to Brockville, Victoriaville, etc) and then came to Richmond as the Manager of the Molson's Bank there. He married and Edith Henry and named one of his sons Earnest Tobin, which makes you think he was good friends with E.W. Tobin...

Marcus George Crombie also has a listing. The Nicholson's owed their mortgage to him and I believe he moved into the Skinner's house when they moved out West- and he did a vast renovation.

Crombie was a lumber and mill owner, born in Melbourne. Apparently he took part in the Fenian Raids. He had been Mayor of Melbourne and Brompton Gore and Kingsbury (and I believe he ran for the Conservatives at one point but then went back to Liberals... if a letter I have from 1920 is correct.

He's Richmond Liberal Association VP in war time Who's Who.

John McMorine is also in the book. Listed as a merchant and owner of one of the largest retail firms of the area. He was also Mayor or Richmond for four terms in and around 1900 and a big player in the Masons, where he was a member of "ancient Scottish rite."

And other "player" in Tighsolas listed is George Alexander. In 1912, he sells an insurance policy to Herbert which causes all kinds of financial woes. Herbert takes no responsiblity claiming he was tricked into buying it, but it is likely just an excuse. That was Herbert.

George Alexander lived on College Street (with the fanciest houses) and his was one of only two area homes that had a live in maid in 1911, according to the 1911 Census.

He too is of Scotch heritage and opened his insurance business in 1897, which spread country wide, according to the blurb. Alexander is civic minded and very interested in "the good roads movement" and immigration.

Just to say, the Nicholsons thought themselves part of the elite of Richmond, at least on the Anglo Side.

On one hand, that was good, as it gave them connections but on the other hand it must have been hard, as they had NO MONEY.

When Norman died in 1922, his obit in the Richmond Times Guardian called him "one of the most respected persons of this place."

I wonder who wrote that line.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dream Work and Witches

My sixth grade report card. The year of my play Looking for Mrs Peel (

My family moved a lot and then my parents got divorced, and I went to school and changed apartments every 6 months for about 7 years, so I don't have many mementos of my childhood and youth.

Some people do. Like my husband whose parents lived in the same house since 1952. When his mom died and his dad sold the house, we found it filled to the rafters with memorabilia, from my husband's generation and generations before that..

That's why this Flo in the City blog exists. The 1000 or so Nicholson letters were stashed in an old trunk in the basement of that house.

Anyway, when I was cleaning out my own father's home in 2000, when he got too sick with Alzheimer's and had to be institutionalized, I did find one document about my past: my 6th grade report card.

The school year was 1966/67, the beginning of the best year ever, Centennial Year, Expo Year.

My teacher was a Brit, Mrs. Bryant, who told us students that we should go to Expo as much as possible, as we'd learn more there than at school. So I took her at her word!

Not that I went to school much outside of the Expo months. This report shows 36 days absent (and none in May and June when Expo was on). You'd think I was sickly, but I wasn't. I was bored by school. So I stayed home and got my education watching the American game shows.

Anyway, when I first saw this old report card I was a bit shocked about how little is revealed. It was almost a blank slate. I was one of the 'good girls' who didn't make waves, so there was no need to write anything about me.

Perhaps, had I gone to some private school, a concerned career teacher might have remarked on how my potential wasn't being realized, not by half.

But not in 1966 at the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal.

Anyway, I am doing some spiritual work right now, using certain New Agey techniques and I decided to scan this report card and print out many copies and fill in some of the parts my teacher left blank, and to add new subjects, like dreamwork and the Power of Intention and Gratitude.

I am pretending that school wasn't a soul-deadening experience, sort of rewriting the past. (And Mrs. Bryant was an exceptional teacher. Our classroom was often a riot, but she was constrained by the system.)

I'm also keeping a dream diary - again. In and around 1980 (when I lost my direction after graduating from McGill) I kept a dream diary for 2 years. I filled up books and books and you know, I stopped when the dreams became, ah, clairvoyant. And there was no question about it, the truth was written right there on the page.

But then I got a job in radio, that was both exciting and poisonous and then I met my husband and got pregnant and had children and raised said children and tried to keep up a writing career. No time for dreams.

But I'm ready now to continue the dream work. It's an excellent exercise to stimulate creativity, if nothing else (and it can be much more,if you can handle it). Maybe I can this time.

Here's a weird thing. Margaret Nicholson of Flo in the City was a devout Presbyterian, but some of the 'old ways' had stuck with her. In her letters she often remarks about 'having a dream' and you can tell she puts great store by what the dream says to her. I imagine her Mother, Sarah, born on the Island of Coll in 1825 who was illiterate, was a bit of a witch. Or maybe the Whole Thing.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Hey There, 1966

They aired Georgy Girl on Turner Classic Movies and I watched it, twice.

It is one of my favourite movies, but I've only seen it a few times. It doesn't often play on TV - and I recall a few years ago I couldn't get it on DVD. (I'm sure that's changed.) While searching for it, I stumbled upon Lynn Redgrave's website and left a note telling her how much I loved the film Gods and Monsters.

I was too young to see Georgy Girl when it came out in 1966, although I believe in 1967 I went to see Blow UP with my older brother, which features Lynn Redgrave's older sister.

I recall the Redgrave sisters were on the cover of Time Magazine in 1966 for my family subscribed to Time. Well a drawing of them in profile.

Anyway, a few years ago I rented the video tape of Georgy Girl from the local video store guy (who is now long gone) and I recall thinking "This is a very mature movie."

It could be called a quirky movie, too, but I think it is a movie that toys with the genres. Georgy Girl was popular when it came out, despite its 'frank' themes, (as the publicity for the movie described it at the time) because it pretends to be a Disney film, in tone and editing style, and slighty over the top characters, but it is really a European art film, a bittersweet tragi/comedy in subject matter and the unconventional almost flippant way it deals with said subject matter.

I wonder if Edie or Flo went to see this movie. I wonder if they would have been shocked by the matter of fact mention of abortion and the unapologetic promiscuity.

Lynn Redgrave plays Georgina, the daughter of a butler and maid, who, because she is tall and ungainly and not 'birdlike' as is the ideal, rejects modern standards of female behavior. She has a roomate, played by Charlotte Rampling, Meredith,who is a classic Swinging London party girl. One of her many boyfriends is a failed floutist, Jos, played by Alan Bates.

Georgy is homely, in the literal sense although not in the genuine sense. Georgina, despite her lack of effort, just misses being beautiful, as it is said in the movie. She likes to cook and she likes children. She is also witty and wild in her own way and her father's boss, played by James Mason, James has a major crush on her. Indeed, he wants her to be his mistress.

Meredith gets pregnant with Jos' child (for the third time) but decides on a whim to keep it, to get Jos to marry her, despite the fact that neither of these people is homely or responsible.

And the ending is a weird one. When Meredith rejects the child and when Jos, who does fall in love with Georgina, also proves not ready for parenthood, Georgina marries James.

A great movie, really, well cast although only James Mason was well known at the time. No soundtrack, except for certain vignettes, so you are left to decide for yourself what emotions you feel as you watch the characters do their thing.

Of course, the movie starts with the famous signature song, Georgy Girl, that has lyrics that describe Georgy's life. My husband, who was only 10 in 1966 and who wasn't at all in touch with the mass media Zeitgeist, knows that song even if hadn't heard of the movie. It was unavoidable in 1966.

I always identified with the line "always window shopping but never stopping to buy" because I never had any money for clothes. I suspect, had I seen the movie in 1966, I would have been frustrated that Georgy just didn't get James to pay for some nice clothes.

Georgy Girl is based on the book by Margaret Forster. And I see it was directed by a Montreal born man, Sylvio Narizzano, who was educated at Bishops in Lennoxville in the E.T... so it suits this website.

I have a news letter to edit in French and English, but we are finally snowed in here, in Montreal, after a slow start, which is annoying, as it is March.