Saturday, October 29, 2011

Dismantling History - Montreal Style

The Centaur Theatre in Old Montreal.

The view behind the Willow Inn in Hudson Quebec was singular last evening, and it was because of the quality of light. The view from there is always stunning, but the sky was a fairy tale blue and the clouds had a dusty pink quality. Oka, across the water, had a smoky orange tinge from the fall foliage. It was a moment caught in time, an impressionist painting with only myself as witness. Call it 17 HEURES en Octobre.

I've seen that same view 100's of times over the past two (almost three) decades, but I can't remember it being as awesome. I stood there for a minute or two and when my son and his girlfriend arrived to join us, I said "Look!" pointing out over the Ottawa River. "Yes, it is beautiful here, " replied my son, who once worked as a busboy at this resto, during high school. He meant in general.

Anyway, we were eating supper at 5 pm because my husband and I had to be downtown for 7:30 and the traffic going into Montreal, at any hour these days, can be horrible. Well, it IS horrible.

We had to be at the Centaur Theatre at 7:30 to pick up tickets for True Nature, a one act play by Colleen Curran playing in the B room.

We left late, at 6:30 and got stuck in traffic on the Ville Marie. My husband took a left and went up Decarie and then (after fighting his way through a 10 minute entanglement at Girouard and Sherbrooke) took St. Jacques and then whipped around like an Indy 500 Driver over some scary, windy stretch of sketchy Ville Marie onramp, to get back on the Ville Marie and miss said bottleneck. He's a pro, my husband. He commutes daily and he's figured out clever detours to avoid the usual problem areas. Sometimes they actually work.

We got to the Centaur on St. Francis Xavier in plenty of time. (It's a pretty street: it really does make you feel as if you have gone back in time.)

As we settled down in our seats my husband said, "So this is the old Stock Exchange Building. I've been here before."

I said, "Sure you have. We saw that play Schwartz's a few months ago."

He said, "No, when I was a young man."

And then he told me an interesting story. (Oddly, enough.)

When he was 18, say in 1974, he was working contruction in Hudson and he and another guy were sent to Old Montreal to pick up some wood panelling from the Stock Exchange Building.

The wood was to be used to build a bar in St. Lazare.

My husband recalls lowering the wood down from a second story window.

He assumes the wood (which was fine dark stained oak, he thinks) was from a restaurant or salon or something. It had that high end quality associated, in the 20's with powerful men, fine Scotch and cigars.

Anyway, this morning I looked up the history of the Old Bourse. Built in 1904 (just before Marion Nicholson moved to Montreal to attend McGill Normal School) Renovated in 1928, when my grandfather was Director of City Services.

The floor of the Stock Exchange, or parquet of La Bourse, caught fire in 1950's and was replaced.

So I can't quite figure out where this wood came from.

But it's all a metaphor, isn't it?

Montreal was the center of commerce in Canada in the early part of the last century. And nothing symbolizes commerce more than a Stock Exchange Building.

By 1970, this was no longer the case. And some kids come and take away a piece of this history for use in a underground bar in the burbs. Happy to make their minimum age, unaware of how they are agents for dismantling the past.

And when I write Underground, I mean underground. The bar in question was built under the ground, off the highway 342. My husband patronized the place a fair bit in his youth.

I visited only once, on a New Year's in the 1990's. With him and another neighbour couple. I guess the Willow Inn's bash was sold out, (or maybe that was the time they were closed for renovations after the big fire they had.)

I don't recall being impressed. Being underground isn't my thing.

I like Rooms with a View. (Like the attic room Meryl Streep's Character lives in at the end of the French Lieutenant's Woman.)

My husband must have told me the same story back then, as we sat at one of the tables, face to face with the historic old panelling. But I didn't care: I was a bleary-eyed Mom, who wrote essays about family life for magazines, but I didn't much care for history, even family history. Well, especially family history.

The bar was called The Fox's Run then, It had been called Rumours and originally, something else, like the Underground or Hole in the Ground. Bottom Line, my husband tells me.

It burnt down again, a few years later, and was razed, if you can raze something that is underground. If something underground can be 'burned down.'

I wonder if the Bourse panelling was destroyed, or if it was moved yet somewhere else. Perhaps it is in a local family room, today, in St. Lazare or Hudson and the family living there has no idea how they are walking by or on history...

So it goes.

Ps. The play we saw had an history angle. It was a romantic comedy about the girl who inspired the tongue twister, She sells sea shells by the sea shore. (That's as hard to type as to say!)Mary Anning, a paleontologist written out of History. I was at Loyola years back with Colleen Curran. I remember her making us laugh with a joke about underpants (I think). That was in 1972. Yikes!

It is mentioned that French Lieutentant's Woman takes place in Lyme.

The end of True Nature resembles the end of French Lieutenant's Woman.  In my opinion..

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bilingualism Catch 22

Edith and Flo in maybe summer 1913.

Hmm. In the year 1912/1913 Flo was working at William Lunn School in Griffintown. She was living a 'new woman' experiment, living four girls to a flat on Hutchison.

Her boffo sister Marion, already a teacher at Royal Arthur in Little Burgundy, had engineered the experiment. She loathed living in rooming houses, as the matrons bossed her around like a little girl. (They had to make sure their charges were chaste as they could be accused of running a bawdy house.)

My story Threshold Girl at is about her year at Macdonald Teachers College, in 1911/1912.  It's based on her letters home.

Flora almost didn't get into the school. She failed French in her final year at St. Francis High School in Richmond. But the local minister pulled some strings and she got in anyway. You see, in those days, an aspiring college student had to get a clean bill of moral health (so to speak) from his/her minister to enter Macdonald and probably McGill. And being a 'good girl' trumped being not very good at languages.

From what I can see from my extensive research, many new teachers were graduating without good French, and then they became the teachers themselves, of French. Which is why anglos didn't learn French, properly.

This was kind of  a cause celebre in the English School System in Quebec in and around 1920. They were intent on rectifying it.

And still in the 60's, we were taught French by ill-equipped anglophones. This was because the good French teachers worked only in the Catholic system.

Edith, I assume, had decent French. Why? Because she taught at a French Private School in 1911/12. French Methodiste.

Marion married a French man, Mr. Blair from Three Rivers.

Here's the irony: I found a document online from about 1870, or so, from whatever body oversaw English Education in Quebec and it was written YOU CANNOT LEARN LANGUAGE IN A CLASSROOM.. and it was underlined.

One of my eldest son's French teachers (a Francophone) began  the school year saying about the same thing to his class: I can't teach you French the way they way they want me to teach."

Well, with the new technologies, there's no excuse not to practice a language. For instance, you can take your favorite movie, the one you know by heart, and put in French subtitles, dubbing or both.

You can download the complete works of Felix Leclerc off iTunes.

It's still very hard to find grammar exercises online, everyone wants to make money. But I found OLD exercise books on Renouf. The books Flora learned from.... I think the Renoufs were actually from Richmond, indeed, next door neighbours to the Nicholsons at the turn of the last century.

In my day, there was only Chez Helene, or watching B movies dubbed into French. The problem: they were unintelligible, everyone spoke too fast.... because French is a longer language than English and they just translated the dialogue verbatim no matter how stupid it looked lip sync wise.. Now they are more careful, paraphrasing to make the French words fit into the mouth flaps.. (So a dubber told me. That's the term, mouth flaps.)

The movies had other charms: they were often sword and sandals epics... lots of horses and muscular men in leather.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Signed, sealed and delivered, by email, 70 years later

My grandmother's signature on the affidavit she gave to the Double Tenth War Crimes Trial of Sumida Haruzo and other Kempeitai Operatives in WWII.

This is not the first time I've seen her signature. I found it online a few years ago on a Changi Autograph book.

Back then I was shocked at how similar our signatures were. I am also Dorothy Nixon. I kept my maiden name. Dorothy was born a Forster but married Robert Nixon, a Yorkshireman, who was also interned at Changi and worked on the Thai Burma Railway.

Robert was born in Helmsley North Yorkshire and worked as a footman before going to Malaya. Eventually, I guess, he went back home to find a respectable European wife. That's how it generally happened.In this case Robert still had his Asian mistress when Dorothy arrived.
My dad told me that he was sent over there because the daughter of the Earl who employed him fell in love with him and the Earl sent him far away.

I thought this probably was a lot of hoo ha, but you know, Footman were good looking, tall and such, and Robert, the son of a delver, a rock digger, hardly had the money to go to Malaya.

Only the sons of well off men were sent over there. It was considered a terrific chance to make money. (Not true, as it happens)

My play, Looking For Mrs. Peel, uses Dorothy's war crimes testimony as a narrative device.
The play also has a fair bit about rubber farming, as I conducted a lot of research.

This is not the first time I saw the affidavit, or, at least, the words it contains. The book The Trial of Sumida Haruzo has a copy or it, although it may be abridged.
I lent the book to a Canadian researcher, so can't say for sure.
But I don't recall the part where Dorothy says she witnessed a Japanese prisoner being brutally tortured.
I may add this to my play... because it is important.
A member of the Malayan Volunteers Group in the UK sent me this pic.
The original papers are in the National Archives.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Best of the Blogs

Flora in her bathing suit in Nantucket.'s the first and most popular page of this blog, Flo in the City. It sums up what I am trying to do in this blog.I've been writing this Flo in the City Blog now for almost two years, musing about life 100 years ago as compared to now as I deconstruct the Nicholson Family Letters and write Threshold Girl, think it's about time I took all the posts in hand and edited them, edited them myself, and sent them to a regular publisher for consideration. 800 posts. is a post about the Nickelodeons of the era

. is a popular post because it is about the famous Black educator, Booker T. Washington, whom Marion Nicholson hears speak in Montreal in 1905. She finds his jokes very funny. is a post about the Women's Political Suffrage Union and their Hunger Strikes, from their era magazine. The suffragettes were good communicators as this shows. I wonder how they would have exploited Facebook and Twitter. is a popular post, that has an excerpt from my original Flo in the City book, where Flo and Mae visit Sutherland's drug store and have a Cherry Phosphate.\ is an essay about the 1927 Montreal cinema fire in Outremont where many children died. My grandfather, the Director of Services, testified first at the inquiry. essay is about shirtwaists. I mentioned the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in Threshold Girl story about my childhood love of horses got a lot of reads this month.'s a bit on eugenics and IQ. People today, most educators even, hold the IQ test sacred, yet it is a remnant of the Eugenics movement.Anyway, this "Best of" exercise is an experiment, to see if it attracts more people to this Threshold Girl blog or my mirror Flo in the City blog on is that the point, anyway.Wordpress is always advising bloggers on how to get more readers. "How to attract visitors to your blog." Their advice: Link to Twitter Facebook or visit other blogs.Hmm. The easiest way to get readers is write about sex, use sexy tags. But that attracts the wrong readers...this is a thoughtful blog, meant to educate and from what I see, students come to it often.

On my social studies website I once put up a picture of my grandmother and wrote about her Humungous boobs. She was fat, which was in fashion in 1900.

Boy, I got a lot of visitors, but none of them interested in suffragettes or child labour in textiles, or the purity movement.But students are often looking for a quick fix, easy answers to exam questions and such.

We all have short attention spans these days. And we all are suffering from information overload. What can you do?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Visitor from a Creepy Place!

Yesterday, I noticed that someone in Afghanistan had downloaded by play Looking for Mrs. Peel, about my grandmother's trials at Changi, during WWII.Normally, it's Britons looking up relations, or Australian school children looking up CHANGI, or Changi Prison, Or Changi Prison Life = but this person (who used the search engine) was looking up Double Tenth Interrogations.

I don't think in five years I've ever had a visitor from Afghanistan to my entire website.

Creepy all considered. Were they looking for more tips?I entered that searcj term into Google to see that the URL to my play at comes up first of a number of posts on the infamous (as they say) Double Tenth Incident, as it it usually called.My story uses my grandmother's first hand account as well as the book The Trial of Sumida Haruza, among other sourses.I start with the quote given by the prosecution:

" The keynote of this whole case can be epitomized in two words: Unspeakable horror. Horror, stark and naked permeates every corner and angle of this case from beginning to end....

"Hmm. Torture and war crimes with respect to the invasions occasioned by this decade's War on Terror have been in the news, in the US and especially the UK lately. It is clear the modern torturers have nothing to learn from the Kempei Tai, many of whom were put to death for their 'heinous, despicable, inhuman'actions at the Double Tenth, including the head of the operation, Sumida Haruza.

My grandmother was proud her testimony, given in Westminster in 1946, helped convict the guy. Funny, if you read the transcript of the trial, her testimony was used in a rather bizarre and extremely sexist manner.. but anything to get an conviction. She wasn't there at the trial, which was held in Singapore a few months after she testified before a Minister of Oaths in London.

She returned to England after the war, but only briefly.I say they have noting to learn, because they've already done their homework: electric shock, waterboarding, starvation, mental manipulation it was all done back then by the Japanese Gestapo, as some people referred to them. According to testimony in the Trial of Sumida Haruzo, waterboarding was the most evil of the torture techniques, if torture techniques can have a hierarchy.Ironically, my grandmother's diary reveals that the Japanese in general were very lax with civilians at Changi, against the long held belief. Even obliging.When things were going well for them, they allied the civillians to pretty much do what they want... until.....

My play is also available in pdf form at Days Inside Guantanamo was reviewed in The Guardian. Peter Bradshaw gives the documentary four stars. It is about Canadian Omar Khadr.

There's a disembodied and very sinister Canadian interrogator heard in the film, which is almost unbearable to watch, claims Bradshaw.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Coco Chanel and 1910

Chanel Jacket from 1937 issue of Marie Claire. Nice!
I just noticed that a whole bunch of people came to my website looking up "Chanel." I have a page called Chanel vs the Corset. This is a new thing... It seems my Tighsolas site comes up 10th, if  a person enters the simple term CHANEL. In Canada at least. Cool.
I mention Chanel in the intro to the Nicholson Family saga on the homepage. This is what I wrote, 6 years ago.

"Between 1908 and 1913 Coco Chanel launched her fashion career in Paris, just as the fight for women's suffrage reached its apex. She eventually redefined women's clothing, liberating female limbs and lungs with soft fabrics and shorter hemlines, but too late to soften the image of the militant suffragette."
Since then I learned that the British Suffragettes were very fashion conscious (they had to be) and that they had an alliance with the new Selfridges departement store.

But they couldn't be avant guarde in their fashion taste, they would have been criticized for this. Only the Beau Monde, or children of the rich could afford to be cutting edge. In Downtown Abbey, first series, the youngest daughter shocks by wearing a pair of harem pants (or a harem skirt as it was called because women didn't wear pants. ;)
Anyway, back in 2005 I had read a bio of Chanel. Since then I've seen the movie, Coco Before Chanel many times. I saw it in the theatre, and missed a lot as they spoke too fast French. (My French friends also missed alot.)Audrey Tautou plays Chanel.

Now, whenever it comes on TV, on one of the Movie chanels OOPs channels.I watch it again. Sometimes just in the background as I write.
I find it comforting: the story of a woman who wins against all odds.
In the bio I read, it is claimed Chanel chose stretchy material because it was what the jockeys wore. Her first boyfriend raised race horses. But in the movie it is claimed that she discovered the material on her English Boyfriend, Boy's, English polo shirt.

Otherwise, I the two sources jive. Chanel started her career fashioning hats for her boyfriend's rich firends, then set up a hat shop, then a dress shop. In Paris. She went to the Cote during the War. Lately, it has been suggested, she was something of a war criminal, or spy for the German's in WWII. Alas, no one is perfect.
I couldn't find a way to put Chanel in my story, Threshold Girl,
Threshold Girl tells the story of a college student in Montreal in 1911.
But I am going to have Edith meet up with Elizabeth Arden in 1909, maybe on a train.

Elizabeth Arden was the makeup mogul and one time Richest Woman in the World. Born in Ontario, as it happens. Went to New York in 1909 to live with her brother. She had nice skin, which rich women admired.. So it goes.
And in 1912, the McCoy's, friends of Marion's go to Europe and bring her back a Parisienne Blouse. I think I might have one mention a little dress shop they went into.. on rue de Cambon, I think it is.

If you want to see some Titanic Fashion, go to, for my free ebook featuring fashion from 1911/12.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Good Vibrations and S.A.D. Syndrome

My dining room.
The autumn is my favorite time of year, but only when the sun is out. At sundown, which comes all too soon,  I get depressed. This has been happening to me all of my life, I just only discovered the truth of it this past decade. It's call S.A.D. syndrome.
I think many people suffer from S.A.D. and many in my family. A cousin moved to LA in the 60's just for the sun, he said. Lucky cousin.
Anyway, I've also been suffering from writer's block. I have it all plotted out, but I haven't 'the spark' to get to Edith Nicholson's story: The Diary of a Confirmed Spinster.
It's a great story, I think, with a kind of O Henry ending, based on real events, but with a edgy twist I invented. And it all takes place the week of Edward VII's death in 1910. It's the follow up to Threshold Girl at
Well, to get myself going, I've been listening to new agey music.. to clear my head. They have these videos called Solfeggio and HZ Harmonics on YouTube and I have a number of mp3's I purchased off Sounds True, Theta drum beats, when in a similar mood in some past year.
Solfeggio supposedly uses wave lengths used in Gregorian Chants. Whatever. Some videos and soundtracks purport to increase creativity, others to heal your D.N.A and others to increase intuition.
It's worked for me on one level. I've certainly become more creative. I've had a crazy urge to re-decorate, to re-arrange the furniture. I've finally gotten around to moving that huge black laquered Chinese cabinet in the dining room to the kitchen, to lighten up the feel of the dining room.
Like a museum curator, I've delved through all the heirloom bric a brac tucked away in other drawers and cabinets and resurrected some for display and put other things away.
Well, as any New Ager will tell you, be careful what you wish for. The Universe works in Mysterious ways. So now my home is more comfortable. But my story remains in embryo.
As I was neating up the downstairs family room, which is now an exercise room as family has dispersed, I found some physics books belonging to Number 1 son. I picked up this book, Vibrations and Waves by A. P French from M.I.T. and brought it upstairs.
"Let's see if all this meditation has made me smarter," I said to myself (not expecting to suddenly understand calculus) and I sat down to reading.
"The vibrations or oscillations of mechanical systems constitutes one of the most important fields of study in all of physics. Virtually every system possesses the capability for vibration and most systems can vibrate freely in a large variety of ways."
Hmm. Just like the New Agers say.
Simple Harmonic motion is represented by a x -t graph such as in figure 1. Simple sinusoidal disturbance..blah..blah.. all over my head. I never took physics. Or calculous. And right now I'm not sure if I can do grade 4 long division anymore. (On a recent trip to the States I was trying to calculate our Malibu's gas consumption changing US gallons to Canadian liters, in my head, and it was a stretch. But I'm a right brain kind of girl, anyway.
My son is in graduate school studying astrophysics. He's a left brain kind of a guy. He would deny this, but I think he's chosen this field for spiritual reasons. He's not religious at all, and he thinks New Age stuff is as silly as all together, but why study the stars, then, I ask?
Why not use your advanced math skills to study business and make oodles of cash, like that infamous 1%, the sociopath CEO's and Wall Street and Bond Street Banksters.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Wine, Casinos and Breast Cancer

My heirloom baskets and ribbons crystal. I think it is baskets and ribbons, or bouquets and ribbons or something like that. Purchased in and around 1910-20.
That's a sherry glass, wine glass and water glass. The water glass, as you can see has a residue of red wine. I use these glasses to drink wine, because they are big. The so called wine glass has been in a cupboard for years and the teeny glass, well, what use is that? For cognac, maybe. I drink so much of that.
My grandparents had a huge set of these glasses, perhaps 16 each, which included some dessert plates and saucers, of which I have a few sets.
The entire crystal glass set was divided in half in the 30's and I ended up with a few pieces. I had four water glasses but since I make personaly use them, two got smashed and one other is slightly chipped. Oh, well, I could have put them away for when the Queen visits, but I chose to enjoy them while I can.
This all goes to show you something though. In the 30's, they drank 9 percent wine out of small glasses, 14 percent sherry our of tinier glasses and used the big glasses for water.

Today, wine is usualy 12 to 13.5 percent, and we drink big fat glasses of it.
We don't though, drink that much hard liquor, as they did in the 60's.

As a rule. In Maine, last weekend, I noticed that booze is very cheap. Indeed, some of my fellow vacationers seemed to have stocked up on hard liquor on their way to the motel.

Wine is very expensive in Quebec, compared to almost every other constituency in the world, but we still drink it. Alas. Out of big glasses, too.

Many wine-drinkers I know "make their own" to save.. with bottles ending up costing from 5 to 10 dollars.

I did that once, but drank too much too fast.

The government makes a lot from liquor taxes... which brings me to something only obliquely related that I heard on the radio.

In the car, we were listening to the Alouettes broadcast and an advert came on for the casino. As a former radio copywriter I can tell you it was terribly written, but aside from that it made a claim, "As an important part of the local economy, the Casino de Montreal is proud to sponser the Alouettes.

I turned to my husband and said, "There's PR at work." If they have to say it, it ain't true. From all the studies I've seen, Casinos are the worst businesses for putting money in to the economy.
I have nothing against Casinos, as my February Vegas trip proves, but when they were debating whether to have a Casino in Montreal the people who wanted it said it would only be used by visitors to Montreal and consequently not drain money out of the local economy. As it turns out, it is mostly used by natives.
Anyway, a month ago I went for a mammogram as I am high risk and the attendant asked me a few questions and then I offered that I ate my shitake mushrooms, green tea and vitamin D, but that I also drank two glasses a day of wine.

So what, she said? It seems she wasn't aware of the connection between alcohol and breast cancer.

She was French Canadian and she astutely answered, "But it's good for you in many other ways." So true. Except for the cost.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Morning and Prescription Drug Abuse

Water water everywhere...

Ad ad in the Gazette for Laurentian Spring Water circa 1911, the era of Threshold Girl a story about Flora Nicholson, who attended Macdonald Teaching School in 1911/12.

Yesterday, my husband and I visited my father in law at the Veteran's Hospital in Ste. Anne de Bellevue to find that the sink in his room was covered in a plastic and he was drinking from a bottle of water and not the usual hospital issue container.

There was a boiled water advisory on the entire West Island, my husband informed me. Pointe-Claire, Baie D'Urfe, Ste. Anne de Bellevue, everywhere but Dollard, which gets its water from Montreal.
My father-in-law's room on the 10th floor overlooks Macdonald College and especially the farm, where cows are sometimes seen grazing.
Well, in Threshold Girl I add a bit about the water at Macdonald, for Flora did not mention it in her letters. It was her father Norman, who had contracted typhoid in 1896, who mentioned that he was afraid of the water on the railroad, so he walked around parched all time. As he didn't drink alcohol, I have to wonder how he managed, especially in the heat of summer. Perhaps he waited until he found a stream and filled up a canteen or something.
Anyway, as I've mentioned on this blog, clean water was an issue on the Island of Montreal in 1910.
Macdonald College, founded in 1907, first got its water from the river, but by 1911 that place was getting its water from a well! You see, there was a typhoid epidemic in 1909!
Laurentian Spring water capitalized this event with ad campaigns such as above. My husband's grandfather, the father of the man we were visiting in the Veteran's, was the President of Laurentian Spring water.
I am also writing a book about Montreal in 1927, that is all about water. Milk and Water, where I have my own grandfather, Jules Crepeau, the Director of Services, meet up with my husbands grandfather and argue over the ethics of selling water!

There was another typhoid epidemic in Montreal in 1927, traced to milk.

Now, I live in Vaudreuil, a section that has had problems with water in the past. I'm not scared about water, I don't particularly like drinking water out of plastic bottles, as I fear the plastic leeches out and might promote breast cancer.
But we are about to be hit with a big one time water bill. They are putting in a new water system. They say they have to: Regulations after Walkerton.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and the Suffragettes

The British Suffragettes and their new auto. The Suffragettes were PR savvy, perhaps way before their time in that respect. But it took more than that for women to win the vote. It was all such a complex business. So many odd alliances. It certainly wasn't 99 percent against 1 :)

Armine Nalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has an interesting article in the Globe and Mail blog in support of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

Like all populist movements that threaten the status quo, many in the press and in positions of power are disparaging the movement, ridiculing it, belittling it.

Although many women (and some men) from all walks of life supported suffrage, many many men and women simply loathed and despised the suffragettes, the more militant arm especially, for all kinds of reasons, many of which made no sense.

(Men had good reason to be afraid though. Some suffragettes were intent on taking away their right to frequent prostitutes. Votes for Women: Chastity for Men.)

Indeed, Winston Churchill used the same vitriolic rhetoric against the suffragettes when they stormed Parliament as he did for Hitler when he bombed London. He didn't want to lose his right to drink whisky or whatever.

In my novelette, Threshold Girl, Flora and Edith Nicholson go to see British Suffragette Barbara Wylie give a talk at the Montreal Council of Women, but miss her speech.

I have read accounts of her speech. She was one of the few militant suffragists invited to Montreal to speak. Indeed, most suffrage speakers from abroad prefaced their talks with "I am not militant" whether they were or not. They did not want to be thrown in jail or kicked out of the country.

Barbara Wylie, a minor figure in the British movement, from what I can see, had no such qualms.

Her speech stirred up such passion in the audience, the supporters of the two sides of the argument almost came to blows right there in the church hall.

She advised Canadian women to go to Prime Minister Borden, and try to persuade him using all constitutional and 'unladylike' methods first, but if that didn't work, 'the Canadian women should be able to show a consistent and high spirited devotion to the cause of liberty as the British women.'

As it happens, there wasn't much of a Canadian suffrage movement. In the US, it was the one issue temperance zealots who were in charge of the suffrage agenda, and in Britain, well, it was explained by an anti-suffrage Canadian of the time, there were a lot of, ah, spinsters - so women needed more rights for protection. (That's simplistic, of course, but people will say anything to win a point for their side.)

Still, the Nicholson women, devoted Presbyterians and tea-totalers (except when it came to their cold medicines) supported the militant cause because they wanted more opportunities for women. No question about it. Very modern of them, I think.

I don't think they cared that much about 'inner city issues' coming from the Eastern Townships as they did. Even if they did end up teaching the children of the very poor in Montreal.

They weren't temperance zealots: that's made pretty clear in their letters. (Their father seems to be the only one going on about the evils of drink and that is likely because he once was a drinker, himself.)

I know for a fact that Edith Nicholson, prim and proper lover of genteel fashion and a good sermon, supported the radical suffragettes: She hears Mrs. Snowden speak in 1913 and writes home to mother to complain "She is not militant. And for that I am sad."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

White Dresses and the Middle Class

Here's the 'iconic' pic from my website TIGHSOLAS, that contains the Nicholson family letters from the 1910 era. It is a detail of a 'tea party' on the grass in front of their comfortable brick-encased Queen Anne style home in Richmond, Quebec.

I like the picture because it is pretty, but it really does encapsulate the hopes and dreams of the middle class in Canada in 1910.

I watched the show Sunday Morning, yesterday, taped and the comedic editorialist (I don't know her name) talked about her upcoming marriage and the high cost of weddings and wedding gowns. She setttled on a off white number, floor model.

She mentioned that white wedding dresses didn't originally signify purity; that Queen Victoria got married in white to promote the lace industry in her country.

I suspect white came to signify purity around 1910, as we had the Purity Movement, which I have written about extensively on this blog.

The comedienne also mentioned that white was worn by some women because white cloth was more expensive, and hard to wear (stains) and hard to wash, hence wearing it was a sign of prosperity. Bingo!

That's what these white dresses meant to the Nicholson Women, who did their own clothes washing most of the time, despite aspring to a genteel lifestyle. In 1911, it takes Flora Nicholson, 19, TWO days to wash and iron her white dresses on a weekend she returns from Macdonald Teaching College.

So this all underscores the points I want to make with my ebook Threshold Girl, about Flora at School in 1911/12 and based on the Nicholson letters.

Threshold Girl is about a lot of things pertaining to Laurier Era History, but it's mostly about women and clothes and what these clothes mean to them and what their clothes lust means to other less fortunate working women in the textile trade. for the entire novellette.

The picture above is deceptive. It is of Marion Nicholson, my husband's grandmother, who went on to lead the Teachers' Union in Montreal. She was no slacker: she had tonnes of energy and directed it in many useful ways. I will write about her later, in another book, which will deal with the Jewish question in Montreal schools.. Edith Nicholson, the subject of my next novellette was more of a dreamer, although she could could be a woman of action, if necessary. I'm turning her into an opium addict for in my next book, The Diary of a Confirmed Spinster.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What is a sand dollar?

A rock bought at Perkin's Cove and a sand dollar found at Old Orchard.

When I was  a little girl, at Old Orchard Beach  I used to love finding sand dollars, so I was happy to find one yesterday on the beach at Old Orchard.

In fact, it looks just like the pewtor sand dollar I bought at New Brunswick or Nova Scotia many years ago on a trip with the kids.

What is a sand dollar? Some kind of sea creature, I guess. Anyway, I consider them good luck. Not good luck for the mollusk, I take it.

It's hot in Southern Maine on Columbus Day/Canadian Thanksgiving. 80 degrees.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Boardwalk Empire- Montreal Connection?

My mother and parents at Atlantic City in 1927? I am writing a book Milk and Water about Montreal in 1927, based on my grandfather's life and work at City Hall.

 Hmm. After watching the third part of PBS's Prohibition, I have to wonder if  this was a 'work' vacation for my grandfather, the Director of Services for Montreal and the Mayor's Right Hand Man. My mother, the little girl in the picture, who was born in 1921,  always had a prudish (see: judgemental) attitude toward alcohol, despite being Roman Catholic. She drank only a little wine in her old age.

I wonder if some ideas about prohibition imprinted on her in the 20's. Very likely.

I now wonder what he's carrying: a sack of money?

I have in my possession a little silver flask engraved with the initials EHF. These stand for Elizabeth Hardy Fair, my husband's great aunt, born in Norfolk Virgina, a first cousin to General Douglas MacArthur, who married a Montreal banker and moved to the luxurious Linton Apartments on Sherbrooke. She was no Bonnie Parker, just a shallow southern belle socialite, but, like so many other ordinary law-abiding citizens she liked to imbibe.

Flasks were used to conceal alcohol, but you weren't covering your tracks much when you put your initials on a flask. Such was the attitude toward the Prohibition laws among the young and well to do.

According to the series Prohibition, Harvard undergraduates brazenly made and distributed bathtub gin (and the privateYale Club had enough hard liquor stored in the basement to last 14 years) while poor black men with stills making 2 percent beer were going to jail, even though their customers might include the local chief of police.

All sounds very here in Canada where tougher drug laws are about to be enacted.

It sounds similar to the late Prohibition era when US lawmakers, realizing everything was out of control, with the likes of Capone and most of  the cops and public officials on the take, decided to toughen the Prohibition laws, rather than loosen them, so that a lovely young flapper with a silver flask tucked into her lace garter was in danger of going to jail for years and years.

Of course, BIG CRIME was all for Prohibition. That's how they made their dough, huge sacks of it, enough to buy off anybody, even politicians, well, especially politicians.

And apparently, these gangsters came up to Montreal, where beer and wine wasn't illegal, in order to control the flow of liquor into the States.

And here's my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, Director of City Services for Montreal, and jack of all civic trades, strolling down the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, so care-free, in 1927?... yea, right.

(I haven't seen Boardwalk Empire. I'm not big on Gangster stories. I haven't yet seen the entire Godfather, believe it ornot,  and only a few Sopranos episodes, despite the fact my husband was once obsessed with that program. Maybe I should. I'm more a Downton Abbey kind of girl.)

Monday, October 3, 2011

PBS and de Bullion

Jules Crepeau, former Director of City Services Montreal, 1920-30.

I watched the first installment of Prohibition on PBS.

It's everything a documentary should be: informative on many different levels but leaving the insights and analogies to the viewer.

I recognized some of the footage from YouTube.

I have spent many years researching the background to the Nicholson Family Letters, and have learned a lot about the temperance movement and its connection to the suffrage movement.

I touch upon it in Threshold Girl, my ebook,

But I am also writing a book about Montreal in the 20's.  American Prohibition had a huge effect on our fair city. The American Mafia moved in to control the illegal liquor trade.

According to the Fraser Nixon novel, The Man Who Killed, recently published, you could purchase only wine or beer legally in Montreal.

I'm not writing about prohibition, but about Two Solitudes and Typhoid, using my grandfather and my husband's grandfather as main characters and using the visit of Edward VIII as catalyst.

I had to laugh reading The Man Who Killed. He mentions Bullion street as in Red Light District. My grandmother used to tell her daughter, my mother, "You look (or talk) like  a girl from de Bullion Street" and my mother would say the same to me. I never quite understood until a friend, just lately, told me de Bullion was the Red Light District.

In my first draft of Flo in the City (now Threshold Girl) I had Herbert Nicholson visit a brothel on de Bullion. Fraser Nixon has his character visit a brothel on Mountain and he writes that maybe some aldermen are in the next room.

Maybe my grandfather ;) I doubt it. Too busy working. Although my aunt told me he used to have roaring fights with his wife, where dishes flew, and that he used to come home with 'lipstick on his collar."

I have a funny family story: My mother says My grandfather asked my grandmother to wrap two presents for the mayor. One expensive one for his mistress, a cheaper one for his wife. She switched them!

This speaks to how broad my grandfather's job description was.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Arcade Fire and Old Lace

Dreamcatchers, created either by Edith Nicholson, born 1884 or her granny Sarah Mclean, born 1827. They didn't call them dreamcatchers, indeed, as Amanda Vickery explains on the BBC in the History of Private Life, any woman doing this handwork was highly respectable and likely  rich ladies of leisure, having the time to learn and practice this homely art. And she was likely docile too. But I think these women were secret witches.
I've been listening to a lot of new age meditation music on Youtube and it's often accompanied by streaming mandalas, although that defeats the purpose, I think.

 Anyway, I attended a dinner the other day and the daughter of the hostess was talking about seeing Arcade Fire at their free concert in Montreal. Another person at the table, a more than middle aged man, said "I don't get them. Their music sounds like noise."

The mother of the girl replied, rather wisely, "OH. OH. You know you are getting old when modern music sounds like noise."

 So true. Which is why I find myself listening to New Age Music these days. Or Galaxy on the satellite. Sometimes the Latino channel when I want to dance. Other times the Baroque channel for relaxation. I like Swinging Standards, too, but it's most covers of Night and Day - over and over. Some Rosemary Clooney, which is nice, sometimes singing Night and Day, but never singing Teddy Bears Picnic which she sang on an album I had as a kid, making the Teddy Bears seem a bit sinister. "If you go out in the woods today.."

I sometimes listen to Juke Box Oldies, but that channel is mostly Chuck Berry doing his deadpan Long Distance Information. By older brother was a big Berry fan in the 60's (I was more Herman's Hermits) but I just figured out the man in the song wants to talk to his daughter.

 Even if you are an old fart, you can learn something new.
However, that realization would have made me sad in the 60's, so, I guess, I simply chose not to hear the lyrics. You see, I would have related it to me and my Dad.

I learned some other new things, the other day, when I taped Bye Bye Birdie, the 1963 movie based on the stage musical.

 1) It's a spoof of Elvis and his pelvis and hormone induced teenage hysteria.
 2) Ann-Margret is very talented

 3) Paul Lynde was very talented.
Dick Van Dyke and Janet Leigh are also in it. They play a handsome '30ish couple who work alone in the same office and who have waited six years to consummate their attraction. See what I mean by  spoof?

In one scene Janet Leigh's sexy old maid character tells Ann-Margret's sexy ingenue character that "She is a good girl."

"So am I, " replies Ann-Margret's character.

This is my first viewing of Bye Bye Birdie, I think.. I wonder what I would have made of it, had I seen it in 1963? Would I have taken it at face value?

I was 9 in 1963, not old enough to attend movies in Montreal. Kids under 10 (or was it 14) were banned from theatres due to an infamous movie house fire, in 1927, where many children and babies were killed. My grandfather, Jules Crepeau, as Director of City Services, was the first to testify at the inquest. He passed the buck to the Chief of Police who  passed it to the District Officer, who passed it to the cop on the beat. You see, the unlucky theatre's permit had run out and not been renewed, but it stayed open, nonetheless. After all, they gave free tickets to the officers' families...
I bet my older brother did see Bye Bye Birdie in the theatre, (maybe the art deco Snowden across the street.) He was very taken with Ann-Margret, I recall.  From my present wise-woman vantage point, it's easy to see why. She was perfectly packaged to fuel teenage boys' appetites.

I'm wonder what would have happened to Julie Christie's career had she starred in teen flicks early on?

Money Talks!

This advertisement for Crisco was taken from Marion Nicholson's copy of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, which I have given to my son, her great grandson, as he is a chef.

Bills, bills, bills, I am looking through a pile of invoices this day, all once belonging to the Nicholson Family of Richmond, Quebec.

When I first found the stash of Nicholson letters (published on the first thing I pulled from the trunk containing the letters was a direct mail advertisement from 1916 for Crisco. 

It had a Normal Rockwell style pic on the front side, in warm browns and yellows, with a wide eyed child peeking over a table ledge at some freshy baked buns. (I have it put away somewhere. Must scan it!)

On the back was a typewritten letter, ostensibly from McRae's the local grocer, addressed to Mrs. M as in Margaret. Nicholson (a BIG deal as women in the first part of  the century were normally addressed as Mrs. N(Norman in this case) Nicholson, but a woman actually designed this campaign, I've figured out. Helen Bayless Lansdowne Resor.

MacRae Brothers
Pure Food Products (PURE was certainly the buzzword back then, for a good reason. That will be one episode of my series.)
Table Luxuries and Groceries
Richmond, Quebec, Canada

Dear Mrs. Nicholson,
Do you feel that breakfast seems incomplete without a hot bread of some sort? (I'll answer for her: "NO, we're Scots. We eat oatmeal. My grandmother lived to 99 on a diet of oatmeal..." Actually, Margaret was a great baker, as were all the Canadian Scots, I have read.)

Just break open a hot biscuit made with Crisco....Crisco costs half of what ordinary butter costs (war years!)...There's no waste with Crisco, because it doesn't turn rancid like lard....Hundreds of thousands of experienced bakers have adopted Crisco."

Well, Margaret never did adopt Crisco, I have her 1917 butter bill.

I have a bunch of family invoices, mostly from the 1900 and 1916-17 era. I was disappointed in this at the beginning, because I would have preferred invoices from the 1910 era to go with the letters.

I was wrong. I now realize that these 1900 and WWI invoices tell their own stories, as interesting as the stories in the letters.

Yes, I have Margaret Mcleod Nicholson's 1917 butter bill. She paid 80 cents for two pounds of butter, purchased every two weeks. Even during the war she was a big baker, but I guess her daughter Marion was often there with the new grandchild (children as my mother in law was born in August 1917.)

And I have her 1897 butter bill.  1 tub of 25 pounds at 17 cents a pound. War time inflation as prices change little between 1900 and 1910. (I have other records.)

In my free ebook Thresold Girl, that tells the story of Flora Nicholson in 1911/12 at Macdonald Teachers College (and is based on the letters) I have Flora passing McRae's where Crisco is being advertised. I'm only stretching the truth a little as Crisco was introduced in 1911. It made the Fanny Farmer Cookbook in 1912 but only made it to Richmond, Quebec in 1916, in time for wartime inflation.

There are lots more stories in these invoices. One of the most interesting is an anomaly, invoices from 1930-36, the Great Depression Years, the only ones I have. Mortgage receipts for Tighsolas. In 1933 the mortage on Tighsolas was 80 dollars and by 1935 it was 89 dollars. Inflation Again.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Horsey Love 1960


I decided, today, to listen to some meditative music and accompany it with images from Flickr.

At first I picked "Lotus" but that was boring and too many cars. So then I entered "Beautiful Horse."


There was a time I was addicted to pictures of beautiful horses. When I was a young girl. Trouble was, these pictures were hard to come by. I had to take out King of the Wind by horsey author Marguerite Henry, over and over from the library to see those gorgeous glossy plates of the magnificent battling stallions, one chestnut and one grey,who were fighting over who was to be Daddy of all Arabian horses.

The pharmacist on Decarie (Greene's?) owned some Standardbreds he raced at Blue Bonnets and he once gave me a magazine filled with black and white snapshots of said horses all standing in harness. Not the prettiest of pony pictures, but I appreciated the mag more than any opium-laced concoction he could have passed to me under the counter.

Why, was I so obsessed with horses, I now wonder.

Because I was starved for beauty for one. The Snowdon district of Montreal in the 60's was entirely lacking in charm, with row upon row of tawdry duplexes, with their bleak grey porches and dark brown front doors and no floral adornment at all, with only a few sparrows and maple trees and the occasional pheasant finding its way down from the mountain, to remind us city-dwellers we were part of nature. My elementary school was brick encased and built in the institutional architectural style used in prisons, madhouses and hospitals.

My own flat had no decorations. My mother had grown up rich in a bourgeois 4 story greystone, a virtual museum (not literal virtual musuem :) filled with baroque bric a brac, marble urns, bleeding heart icons, carved golden Chinese mirrors, and one or two fine art nouveau vases, which I keep on my mantelpiece today.

She resented  being middle class. She did no beauty at all in our home. All of my mother's creative energy went into cooking and dressing herself. No money left for decorating anyway.

Yes, horses are beautiful. My Flickr experiment is reminding me once again. And not all the pictures on the site are of Black Stallions pounding the earth with their hooves, mane flashing. Cavalia style. Like on the cover of a horsey romance. Although there are some of those. There are all sorts of  lovely breeds, many of which I used to know the name of, with sundry colour coats, many of which I used to know the name of.

Digression: Cavalia is Montreal based. Oh, my God. I would have died and gone to Heaven to see that show back then. And in the 1910's they had an annual horse show at the Westmount Arena. ("The automobile will never usurp the horse in the affections of Man," claimed a 1910 Montreal Star article about the show. Not quite true. ) As it was, I saw some pony extravanganza at Expo67 and in 1968 I spent two weeks on St. Helen's Island watching a horse show with Jim Day and Jim Elder (our soon to be Olympic Champions) and I even sneaked 'back stage' to stand near Canadiana, the big red horse.  I remember taking a picture of said horse, now long lost.

There are even some artsy shots of old horses, with clouded eyes, hanging their scrawny heads to the ground. Lots of pinto ponies. Not my favorite. People must like pintos. Yes, Lots of different kinds of horses. All beautiful.

Yes, I certainly was hungry for a glimpse of the exquisite equine figure, growing up as a girl. (I did collect 'porcelain' figurines from Woolworth in the primary grades, but my cat knocked them all down to the floor  one day.)

Oh, and there's the sex thing too. Horses are so masculine, all muscled and powerful and smelling of musk and dung. And you get to ride them. But still, as I see it now, meditating on it, just like the snake, the horse is more a symbol of female sexuality, even if appearances suggest otherwise.

The horse is clearly born a force of nature and then 'broken' and then harnessed by Man, sometimes combed and curried as a beloved slave other times exploited outright for its power and goodwill - but always under some sort of control. Like a female.

Sometimes a horse is kept in a small stall, (I know a horse lover who believes this is cruel as they are herd animals) other times allowed to run unsaddled within a fenced in area, but never allowed to go totally free.

I rode horses too back then in the 60'.s. On trail rides in St. Laurent, an area now totally built up with massive apartment buildings and shopping malls. As my father joked, the sad horses in question were 'one step away from the glue factory.'

But as it happens one day in say 1964 I had an existential horsey experience, somewhere North of Montreal, at de Verendrye Provincial Park, I think. I had accompanied a friend's family on a picnic excursion. They were recently arrived from England and they had no idea of the distances involved in travelling in Canada. They targetted said landmark, which, no doubt, on the map appeared but a few miles away, only to realize it was HOURS away.

We eventually got to some wild place at the entrance to said Provincial park, which was a park only in name, no amenities, and seeing this, the Dad and Mom set the picnic blanket and hamper in the middle of a field. While we were chomping away on our egg salad sandwiches, a huge beautiful black horse started galloping rings around us! Its luxuriant mane flashing, its hooves pounding the earth. Right before my famished eyes.

Splendid! And scary too. Soon an equally beautiful young woman appeared out of the ether. She was 20ish, (a most admirable age to a 10 year old)  and she strode up to our ridiculous picnic on her own long legs,  with her own luxuriant mane of jet black hair wafting in the breeze. She was wearing a riding habit, clean tan jodpurs and dark green 'redingote' or riding coat.

She  told us the magnificent beast was her horse. There was a stable, but she preferred to let her own animal run free. So she said with a kind of arrogance in her voice. Or was it just the fact that she was European? The horse was spoiled and so was she, from what I could see. Oh, to be spoiled like that!

Of course, I wasn't the only girl in my class obsessed with horses. Another girl, Katherine was her name, was lucky enough to be able to draw them. Talk about self-gratification.I was envious. It never occurred to me that I could learn to draw horses, too, by just practicing. I could have solved my horsey dilemma. Alas.