Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Do Gooders and Bootleggers and Corrupt Politicians

Mayor Mederic in his ceremonial robes.

OK. Time to get to it. Because I just found the missing puzzle pieces to my story Milk and Water, about Montreal in 1927.

The Coderre Inquiry into Police Corruption in Montreal, fingered my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, at least as someone who could tell the police what to do.

During the Commission someone claims that Alderman Brodeur, the Chairman of the Executive Committee is "Spiritual Director of the Police Department."

It is likely he was only taking instructions from the Executive Committee at City Hall.

This Commission was called because in January 1923, a doctor from the Montreal General Hospital gave a speech before the Canadian Club and said Montreal was the SIN CAPITAL of North America and blamed Civic Management.

Within a short while a Committee of 16 was struck (representing different social groups) and they held a closed session in City Council, mid January.

One of the groups in this Committee, the Rotary Club. Kiwanis was another. There was a French Cathoic Priest, but most Committee members appear ANGLOPHONE.

Anyway, Juge Coderre (himself once an alderman tainted by accusations of corruption (TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE) held his inquiry.

His report came out condemning the Police and the Executive Committee. (Ald Trepanier, my grandfather's 'friend' gave some damning testimony). The Report  made the papers. It was republished in books by Temperance Types. And parts of it was repeated to the Senate Hearings on Prohibition by a W. E. Raney. And then it was forgotten. At least according to a history site of the University of Sherbrooke.

(City Hall's own site says that Mayor Charles Duquette affected some changes.)

I believe the scholarly site. Why? Because it makes more sense.  That site claims that the Executive Committee saw this Commission as a ruse to get them out of power.

Anyway, so perfect. Here I have T. G. Wells, a founder of Rotary in Montreal, selling his soft drinks to bars, often bribing the bartender. (My father in law says that.)

Rotary Members were supposed to have 'honest' companies, and what's more honest and pure than water. But they got into the soft drink business in the mid twenties, when, ironically, soft drinks were starting to be used as mixers, because bootlegged boozed didn't taste too good.

My grandfather will have fun with that.. and the fact Wells' wife, my husband's grandmother, smuggled booze into the US on train trips, hiding it under her children's pillows. "Don't disturb the kids."

That's the truth. I add some fiction, when I have him and my grandfather sit outside a dance club, after hours, waiting for the Prince of Wales to show, to make sure he has pure water to drink.

Public Baths and Private Baths And Turkish Baths

The entrance to Bain Genereux on Amherst, now an eco-musuem dedicated to the working class.

Well, as I write dialogue to the play, Milk and Water, about Montreal in 1927, questions keep coming up, so I have to research the answers, which inevitably leads to me finding more information than I need.

In 1926, a beautiful Art-Deco bathhouse was built on Amherst, the 15th or 16th public bathhouse in the City. (The term "art deco|" wasn't coined til the 60's I believe.)

Anyway, Mayor Mederic Martin inaugurated the place in 1927, so I have to mention it in the play, where I have my grandfather, Jules Crepeau (Director of City Services) discussing life, politics, business and ethics with my husband's grandfather, Thomas G Wells, the President of Laurentian Spring Water, a bottled water company.

Laurentian Water was founded in 1882 when a spring was found under Craig street containing uncommonly pure water. They created a bottled water company (as Montreal water was crappy then) and a private bathhouse and pool.

This bathhouse offered a wash and swim for 25 cents, with a towel, soap and trunks. If you wanted a Turkish bath, it cost 50 cents.

That bathhouse was a sporting place, where polo was played and swimming lessons given. A young grocery clerk died in the pool 1913, so it wasn't only for rich men. (Of course, you don't know the exact circumstances. He was young man.)

It closed in 1919.

I'm a bit confused. Public bathhouses were 'an issue' all over the big North American Cities from 1880 through to the Second World War.

In England and in Germany they'd had bathhouses to wash the industrial poor since the 1850's.

It became, as far as I cans see, a public health issue in the US around 1900. Only about a fourth of homes had bathtubs and there were hardly any in the slums.

American bathhouses were just that BATHHOUSES. Not pools.  Some were free, in NY they charged 5 cents for a towel and soap.

I'm not sure what they charged in the Montreal public baths. Either free or five cents, I imagine. Likely much cheaper than Laurentian offered, consequently, maybe that's why they went out of the pool business. (I will have Mr. Wells suggest that...He will accuse the City of Stealing his idea. MY grandfather will say, they stole if from England and Germany, or the Greeks, even.)

But the Montreal "public baths" I think, were pools and washing facilities. For cleanliness and physical health.

Here's a quote from the NYT, a public bath house advocate, that expresses a sentiment that was widely believed in, as in CLEANLINESS IS NEXT TO GODLINESS "Bodily cleanliness is the first essential. By comparison, religion, morals, education could be dispensed with and even crime tolerated for the present moment, if this reform could be obtained, because with it, crime would soon disappear, and religion, morals and education would reign supreme."

It is no wonder French Canadians and Catholic immigrant groups were suspicious of the 'hygienist" movement: it was a movement that equated Protestant values with cleanliness...and superiority. Eugenics was all tied into this too. Very scary, in a way.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Triple Irony - 1927 Montreal

Parc Jules-Crepeau in Ahunsic, off l'Acadie, near Henri Bourrassa.

It's a tiny little park, the one the City of Montreal named after Jules-Crepeau. The street too is named Jules-Crepeau.

City streets are known for what exists on them,  not for whom they are named.

It's ironic. Someone has posted a complaint on the Internet, saying that this area of town has fewer green spaces than the rest of Montreal.

But who uses parks anymore, except to walk dogs?

It's doubly ironic. My grandfather, Jules Crepeau, the subject of the play I am writing, Milk and Water, was often on Committees that wanted more parks and playgrounds in the City.

In 1927, the date of my play, I notice, he was elected campaign chairman for the year's Clean UP Week (coming up in May) when all citizens were asked to get up, get out and clean up. Mayor Mederic Martin accepted the position of Honorary Chairman.

This was an initiative of the City Improvement League.

Triple Irony. A certain doctor, Atherton, talked at the launch press conference about how this year it was especially important that the city's bylaws  be enforced, what with the Laurier Theatre Fire and the Typhoid Epidemic. (At that point they didn't know that the epidemic was caused by milk from a farm somewhere.) Atherton says that the  police should be instructed to carry out their duties with respect to the bylaws.

My grandfather was accused by the Coderre Commission in 1925 of hampering police in their duties, with respect to movie theatres. And he has just given testimony to the inquiry into the Laurier Fire.

Of course,Jules Crepeau was just the 'Go-Between' in the City. I could call my play just that, except L. P. Hartley got there first.

Dr. Boucher of the Health Department had something to say, deeply relevant to my play. "Measures of personal cleanliness should not be neglected. They are of daily necessity, especially the washing of hands. All young babies should be brought to clinics established for them. Mothers should seek there the teaching necessary for the good observance of health rules when it comes to nursing babies."

Milk and Water deals with the delivering of clean water to Montreal homes. Once the City had done this (and it wasn't a given throughout the century that homes had the right to clean water)then it was up to the individual to stay clean.

This typhoid epidemic was annoying, in that it put the blame back on the City.

One other initiative of the City Improvement League was school gardens. GEEESH. School gardens initiatives have been promoted since the beginning of the century,  starting with the Macdonald-Robertson movement. But they never get a foothold. Why?

I suspect that it's a touchy feely program, no one can object to, so it is brought up again and again, but it either isn't feasible, or it's in against the flow of industrialization.. or the Powers that Be really don't like the idea...

Today, actually, while looking up stuff on, I unearthed a 1910 booklet about the Macdonald-Robertson Movement called Children of the Land. It was aimed at Americans. The M-R movement was about training children for rural occupations, moving them back to the country from the city. (Against the flow, you see.)

A very misguided notion of course. But the movement did promote the agricultural sciences. So now we have mega-farms with few employees providing food for the people of the cities.

In 1927, a US Department of Health group examined the typhoid epidemic, and traced it to one milk company. 1,200 to 1,500 farms supplied milk to this company, their report published in JAMA said, so it was hard for the scientists to trace the exact source of typhoid.

This fact helps support the plot of Milk and Water. The Americans were so concerned with this epidemic, they sent up their own people.  This epidemic didn't help tourism, or exports. So my grandfather has a right to be mad at Thomas Wells, President of Laurentian Spring Water, who has spent 3 decades trashing the city tap water, so to speak, in his advertisements.

Macdonald of course was the tobacco tycoon so this HEALTH Movement was funded on 'iffy' money, on money derived from the promotion and sale of a product that causes great illness and death. (And let's not talk about the human rights violations involved in the picking of the plant.) So it goes.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sinful Ladies 1927 Montreal.

Blue Bonnets Race Track in the 20s

I bought myself a clean notebook (paper kind) and a smooth writing pen, and got to writing Milk and Water.

Because in the past, that is how I penned (literally) my first drafts. These drafts would be incomprehensible to anyone but me, and even I had to rewrite them within a few days or lose them forever.

My method, as it were.

Now, in Milk and Water, Jules Crepeau, French Canadian Director of City Services and Thomas Wells, Anglo President of Laurentian Spring Water are sharing their opinions about life, business and politics and ethics, as they await the possible arrival of David, the Prince of Wales outside a rather shady dance hall in early September 1927. (They are delivering fresh water as there has been a recent typhoid epidemic.) They thrust and parry, they attack and counter attack. They share intimacies, too.

As the speak, a representative sample of Montreal citizenry, elected officials, McGill students, riff-raff and ladies of the evening, pass in and out of the place, which is supposed to be closed as it is after 12 am.

But on one point they will agree: That the Presbyterians are annoying - although both men have to deal with them, my grandfather at the City Improvement League and my husband's grandfather at Westmount dinner parties.

Thomas will say that the Presbyterian ladies are always trying to snare his wife into good works. He'll then tell the story of how she hides bottles of booze under her children's pillows on train trips home to the US. And my grandfather will say how his wife loves to gamble at cards and at Blue Bonnets Raceway.

True stories.

Now, in 1910, 1911, the Presbyterians sent college students out into the streets of Montreal to collect data on the poor. (This is according to Mariana Valverde.) This was because they were afraid the STATE would take over what they perceived as their job, taking care of the poor.

I want to have my grandfather mention this: A certain scholar, Michele Dagenais has said that Montreal in this era was the model for the modern welfare state. And the delivery of fresh water (and removal of waste) figured largely in the evolution of this state for reasons a bit too complicated to explain right here right now (but I have to find a way to condense these key concepts and put them in Milk and Water, my play.)

Neither wife belongs to any Do Gooder Committees, although Jules' wife, Maria, the daughter of a master butcher, never turns down a tramp's request for food at the back door. And she ably nurses the sick, with her home remedies. And she visits old shut ins regularly, often dragging her children with her.

True Story.

Anyway, as this is the Prohibition Era in the US, it all fits in. Indeed, a certain W.E. Raney, a former Ontario Attorney General, has denounced Jules Crepeau personally at the 1926 Senate Hearings on Prohibition.  Jules, apparently has too much power over the police and Raney cannot figure out why.

Raney quotes a great deal for the 1925 Coderre Report on Police Corruption and Incompetence.

And in 1927, the summer, my grandfather and family spend their vacation in Atlantic City, instead of Old Orchard Beach. Hmmm.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Public Water Fountains? What are they?

Montreal City Hall, turn of the last century.

Last night I told my husband, "I wish someone would tell me, 'You have to finish your Milk and Water play by next week OR ELSE'. Then I would just focus and do it. I have all the information. I have the plot. It's all there."

I was a copywriter by profession, all my work done to deadline. And I did my best work to the tightest deadlines, with the gun barrel pressed to my temple.

I was an essayist (well, still am) And I did my best work overnight while I slept, getting up early in the morning to capture it on paper. 5 am was my best time to write. I couldn't think straight after Well, still can't.

So last night I went to bed during the second period of the hockey game (the Canadiens lost to Pittsburg in OT, I see) leaving my husband with two purring kitty-cats on his lap and two jealous farting dogs at his feet.

And I told myself: "Tomorrow, I'll write the outline of my play."

And I got up at 4: 30 am and yes, I had it figured out. Mostly. Not as clearly as I would have had 20 years ago, but I got it.

And I took my pad and pen and scribbled what I had figured out in my sleep. (That is once I'd found a pen that worked!)

(I think working on the computer tires my eyes and therefore tires me out.)

So I have half an outline and some pretty good ideas.

But I was having a problem with one scene for lack of information. I didn't know if Montreal City Hall had any water coolers in the offices in 1927. If they did, Mr. Wells, the President of Laurentian Spring Water in 1927 could catch my grandfather, the Director of City Services on that point. And if they didn't, what did the visitors to the place do for drinking water?

This is key to my story. So I went online but couldn't  find any information about City Hall water coolers in 1927. I did find many modern sites talking about a bottled water ban.

Many municipalities in Canada, Montreal NOT being one of them, want to ban bottled water. London is one of them and Nestle, a major bottled water company contested. I got his quote off ...Councillor Joni Baechler noted, "I don't think Nestle sells Evian water in its offices. We hear about running this city like a business. You don't run a business by inviting a competitor's product into your suite of products."

I found a Concordia website Sustainable Concordia where they wrote something that sums up at least one side of the argument in my play Milk and Water:  I quote "Bottled water is a growing industry that threatens water safety, equity, and ecosystem health. The United Nations has declared, "The human right to drinking water is fundamental to life and health.”. But when water becomes a commodity to be bought and sold, it means those who can afford it get it while those who can’t go thirsty."

One website I found claimed that 'public water fountains' are not being provided or kept up.' PUBLIC WATER FOUNTAINS. EUREKA!

I am 57 years old (in a few days) and I had FORGOTTEN about the existence of public water fountains.  The kind we had in school! Slurp. Slurp. Slurp.

Still, I will have Mr. Wells say to Mr. Crepeau, "Are you telling me that not one alderman, not even the Mayor, has bottled water in his office, for esteemed guests?...  I don't know yet what my grandfather will answer, exactly,  except it will echo what the Councillor at London Ontario is quoted as saying.

(I don't think they called it A Water Cooler back then. Did they have the technology to cool? I don't think so. The era ads don't suggest it.)

With that point figured out, I have worked out the ebb and flow (so to speak) of the conversation Thomas Wells, my husband's grandfather, has with Jules Crepeau, my grandfather, and vice versa  outside of a shady nightclub in the early morning hours in early September 1927, as they await the possible arrival of the Prince of Wales and his party-pal the Mayor, Mederic Martin, to provide them with bottled water in the year of a typhoid epidemic.

The conversation  will cover the Laurier Palace Fire, the Coderre Inquiry into Police Corruption and Incompetence, The Montreal Water and Power Purchase and brewing scandal (which eventually proved my grandfather's downfall.)

 But it will also be about two very similar upper middle class men of a certain age, both with lots of children to support, both with wives who are domineering and bossy (but who are as different as night and day in all other respects) and both with very good jobs with morally ambiguous aspects to them. One French Canadian. One English Canadian. Business or Politics? Which is more corrupt? Which benefits the people more? I guess that's the essence of it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Alcohol and Health and Morality

Ste Catherine and Bleury in the 1910's.. Downtown Montreal.

I noticed today, with interest, that Health Canada 'has embraced'  the new guidelines from the National Alcohol Strategy Advisory Committee  low risk guidelines for alcohol intake, (released Friday) two glasses a day for women, three for men.

I have a vested interest, I like to drink wine, and I've been studying the Prohibition Era (in Montreal) for a play I am writing, Milk and Water. (I tend to drink my wine out of large heirloom crystal glasses once intended only for water, because the wine glasses in that collection are SO TINY:) But hey.

(Coincidentally, another headline today says the Mayor of Vancouver has joined with 3 ex Mayors to promote the legalization of marijuana to end gang warfare.)

Lately some health bodies out there have suggested women should drink NO ALCOHOL AT ALL because it raises breast cancer risk significantly. So I am happy to see I am allowed two glasses here. whatever the size.

I  humbly suggest that to lessen breast cancer risk, just give up meat. At least beef and pork. I think the science is pretty clear on that. Indeed, most older women I know avoid those meats.)

Now a few weeks ago, I went for a mammogram and the technician asked me some questions as to risk. Any relations die of the disease, etc. She didn't ask about my alcohol intake so I volunteered the information and told her I like to drink wine. She asked. "So what? "It's increases cancer risk, "I replied. "Well, it's good for other things," she then said.

Smart lady. (Except now they are saying these mammograms are bad for your health. YIKES!)

Anyway, these guidelines seem pretty common sense. (And considering the cost of wine in Quebec, they contain good advice for the pocket book.)

Now, the Queen Mother would not have agreed. She reportedly drank much much more than 2 glasses a day and lived to 102. (They again she did get breast cancer.) My own British grandmother also drank buckets of gin, but she only lived to 76. Of course, she was a prisoner of war in Singapore in 1942 and starved and tortured almost to death at that time.

My son's girlfriend's grandmother is 92. She still lives alone and drives a car and plays competitive bridge (and likes to clean her son in law's home once a week for something to do )and she also drinks wine. Occasionally, like at family parties, she drinks too much wine, like a bottle or so.

This lady, however, is not on one pharmaceutical drug. She was prescribed painkillers a while back because she hurt her leg golfing, but refused to take them as they made her feel funny.

The fact is, the drugs we routinely are prescribed and take are much worse for our liver than alcohol. I mean read the contraindications on those shiny folded up pieces of paper inside the box on even the most innocuous over-the-counter product. MIGHT CAUSE LIVER DAMAGE and just about every other condition. (Of course the print on these warnings is too small for us older folks to read.)

And there's evidence that taking pharmaceuticals and alcohol together further taxes the liver. Even just your common painkillers.

The new National Alcohol Advisory Strategy guidelines avoid this point....that we are a pill popping nation and that almost everyone over forty with medical insurance has been prescribed something.

Anyway, I have just read the Coderre Report from 1927 Montreal, where the police force is condemned for turning a blind eye to clubs that remain open after 12 - and, according to the report, it's after midnight  when all the nasty stuff takes place. ("Good" people go to bed by 12, I guess. They have jobs to do to next day. I imagine, that's the thinking.)

Now Montreal was not dry in 1927. And the drinking of liquor isn't condemned in the report as such. Judge Coderre is French Canadian and not a Presbyterian, after all.

 It's the stuff around the drinking of alcohol, the SEX mostly, and the gambling, that disturbs the judge. (Hmm. He's a bit like a Presbyterian.)

They didn't worry about health back then, too much. Or health costs as they didn't have medicare. It was all about MORALITY. And about protecting the children, the FEMALE children, especially.

In the US, as the recent PBS documentary revealed, Prohibition was largely about morality and race hatred. And gender bias, too.  It was men and the immigrants who liked to drink the most and immigrants were shady people with shady morals and shady family practices. (They all slept in one room, didn't they?) And men, well, they were whoring pigs.  (Little old white ladies with their tonics didn't figure, somehow, as an alcohol issue.)

In Montreal they didn't care about the Italian or Greek making his home made wine, but in the US they certainly did. Although they worried most about the Blacks.

It was about race and class back then, and it still is today. These guidelines seemed aimed at the Middle Class, don't they? Middle class women drinking to much, cause we're bored and lonely and stressed out from work. Just like our great (or great great) grandmothers who liked their opiate-laced tonics.

Yes, women of the middle class drink a lot these days, young and old,  and it's not condemned or discouraged (as long as it is in moderation.) On today's popular sitcoms the heavy-drinking girls who sleep around are the 'heroines' of the piece, a la Bridget Jones.

(Sadly, I've read that college girls, worried about their weight, are fasting so that they can drink at parties without gaining too much weight.)

But middle class women don't as a rule drink while pregnant. (Even on the sitcoms these party girls stop drinking as soon as they are knocked up. They get knocked up to forward the plot, not because they practiced careless sex.) And that's the real issue, I think, with women and drinking. Fetal Alcohol syndrome. Our prisons are full of men so afflicted. And that certainly is a class thing.

It's funny, Mediterranean food is full of  liver detoxifying elements. Pestos and Greek Salads, for instance, contain those oils and phytochemicals that cleanse the liver and kidneys. (I wonder if you can drink all you want of dandelion wine? :)

So that's what I do. Detox with delicious foods while drinking wine.  Curry. Curry. Curry. And I try to stay off the prescription and non prescription drugs. Except for coffee, which reportedly protects from cirohssis of the liver. (Where does  the "h" go in that word?)

And these new guidelines do indeed recommend eating while drinking. So I agree with them. Because it suits me to.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Coderre, 1920s, Montreal, Crime and 'Crooked' Cops

Jules Crepeau

Well, as I write my story, Milk and Water, about Montreal in 1927, I found a bit from a Senate Hearing on Prohibition in 1926, where my own grandpapa is accused of controlling the Chief of Police - and of penalizing constables who try to close down movie theatres and clubs that have broken the by-laws.

This bit, I just figured, out was from the report Coderre Inquiry into Police Corruption in 1925.

The focus was disorderly houses, not alcohol.

Under a chapter entitled TOO MANY MASTERS it is written:

There is still more. Not only must the superintendent of police submit to the constant and narrow direction of the executive, but he is also placed under the jurisdiction of another functionary whose positions and powers are ill-explained to me, so that I can find nothing regarding them in the charter.

I am referring to the Director of Services, placed there as an intermediary, I have been led to understand, between the different departments and between people outside and any one department.

The superintendent of police tells me that Mr. Crepeau is over him, and what proves it beyond doubt is the liberty the latter takes in ordering the suspension and even the withdrawal  of proceedings taken against theatres that were based on cases made and instituted by the superintendent of police.

What proves it betters still is the liberty, too great, that he took during the inquiry for suspending Constable Trudeau for reasons entirely foreign to the accomplishment of his duties and just at the point where Mr. Trudeau had revealed  in this testimony, the strange actions of Mr. Crepeau.

There's a lot more of course, that was repeated to the Americans in 1926, by W.E. Raney, a former attorney general of Ontario (described to the Senators as "attorney general of Canada".. and reprinted in a couple of Pro Temperance Volumes in the early thirties. Raney was anti drink and anti gambling. He told the Senators that crime bosses worked out of Montreal, controlling their American operations from there.


My grandfather had a vague job description. Oddly, in 1925, the City Clerk died, and it was reported that the job would be given to Jules, in addition to this position. That did not happen and I wonder if this report had anything to do with it. In 1924 and 25, Charles Duquette was Mayor of Montreal and not Mederic Martin, who was Mayor before and after that time.

Jules was forced to retire in 1930, supposedly over his part in the Montreal Water and Power Scandal, Michele Dagenais, an historian who studies the Montreal Administration, says that his successor, Honore Parent, had even more powers than he.


It sounds very much that Jules was acting on behalf of others on the Council. Certain Alderman were extremely upset when he was forced to retire, under Camillien Houde, and they were likely his friends.

But with respect to the theatre business, well, his brother, Isadore, was Vice President of a Motion Picture Company, United Amusements. He fell out of his office window in 1932. That company lobbied in the mid twenties to keep motion picture houses open on Sunday, despite the Lord's Day Act.


This happens after the time of my play, which is September 2, 1927. That's when David, the Prince of Wales, returns to Montreal after a month long trip to Canada, to decompress and recreate.

My this time the Laurier Theater fire would have happened, and it already has been recommended that theatres close to children under 16.

My grandfather will comment on this.

Also that year, the opening of a fancy art deco public bath, (that is now an eco-museum.) In early August someone suggests that the baths of Montreal stay open on Sunday, regardless of the law.

Public baths, yet another angle to my Milk and Water story. Laurentian had the first swimming pool (or bath) in Montreal, opened 1882. It was not seen as a public service for the welfare of poorer citizens. Just a business.

I have to figure out what Thomas Wells would have said to Mr. Crepeau on this subject. It's all very complicated.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Movie Houses, Silent Era, Fires and Such

Some motion picture houses in turn of last century Montreal.

With the movie The Artist coming out to rave reviews (it's a silent film,  a French romance directed by Michel Hazanvicius and starring Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo and some well known US actors) there's likely to be renewed interest in the Silent Film Era.

I've written a great deal about nickelodeons in Montreal on this blog, as I wrote Threshold Girl, but in the 1910 era, the Nicholson Women mostly went to the theatre. The Nickel was too lowbrow, although somewhat exciting and novel. It wasn't until 1917 and WWI that they regularly went to 'movies' and actually referred to them as such in letters.

But you know, in my story Milk and Water, about Montreal in 1927, motion pictures figure more strongly.

In 1927, there was a fire in a Ste Catherine E  cinema (the Laurier Palace) where 70 children died. My grandfather as Director of Services was somewhat implicated.

Because of that fire Montreal became the only jurisdiction in North America not to allow children in cinemas, until 1967.

Children had been going to motion pictures, attended and unattended by 'adults', since the beginning of the era. I assume parents felt these places safer than the streets, although the moral reformers did not.

From what I have read, in the Prohibition Era, children under 20 made up the largest proportion of movie patrons. And although there was a law against under 17's watching unattended, plenty did. Mostly boys as is it happens, and it is mostly boys who died in the Laurier Palace Fire in January 1927.

In Quebec, drive-ins were also banned, so I had to wait for our summer vacation in Maine to see a drive in movie.

Oddly, I also thought it was children under ten who couldn't attend movies in Quebec.. and I was sort of right. There were special viewings for children over 10, family viewings. I vividly recall watching the MUSIC MAN in a church basement, ST. Malachy's church on Clanranald.

(Pretty ironic as that movie is about prudery in the nickelodeon era.  I wonder if the adults attending that show with me saw the irony in it. My father would have, but I went with neighbours who were Catholic.)

I remember, because it was a HUGE EVENT, I guess.  I recall sitting crosslegged on the cold concrete floor watching.

Anyway, there were killer fires in theatres in the US too (These places were firetraps in general) but no such laws were enacted.

This must have truly hurt the revenues of the theatre owners in Quebec.

My grandfather's brother, as it happens, was the VP of American Theatre Amusements...(Can't recall exact name of company.) That company often fought in court with the Provincial Government over the Lord's Day Act, even before 1927. Monsieur Ouimet of Ouimetoscope fame did too.

Conventional Theatres that showed plays with live actors had to close on Sunday, movie houses were exempt.

Anyway, my grandfather is accused by someone testifying in the US at Senate Prohibition Era hearings, of pulling the strings of the police Chief, and of allowing theatres to stay open, even ones that let in children unattended. This is a few months before the fire.

Cops were given free tickets for their children to convince them to turn a blind eye to transgressions. I read that one Constable lost three children in the Laurier Palace Theatre fire and that underscores the point.

Who went to movie houses? The kids of the working class. The inquiry into the fire acknowledged this. It's the only entertainment they could afford. The Catholic Church joined with the Presbyterian types to get this unique law passed, jumping on this tragic event opportunistically. Both churches had lost a lot of their "customers" to the motion picture show since 1908 or so. Monsieur Ouimet said Sunday was his best day.

I will have Jules Crepeau and Thomas Wells discuss this in my play Milk and Water... Thomas Wells will say his older sons seldom went to movie houses as they were too busy with their school teams. They attended wealthy Lower Canada College.

And his younger children have been a few times, but always with their nanny.

Jules will say his older son, now 26, attended. Or he supposes. As the boy is an amateur actor. (That's my Uncle Louis.)

I heard a Brit reminisce about early movie houses on BBC Radio Four. It seems that in many cases, kids were the only ones who could read, so their parents and grandparents wanted them there with them.

As is well know, 1927 saw the first Talkie, the Jazz Singer.

Today, Quebec has very lax laws. I don't know if kids go alone..well, they do but in groups at the Cineplex.

I saw the movie Paul last year and I was astounded, because it was full of swearing, and a bunch of children sat in front of me and my husband.

Anyway, the Artist may have a trajectory similar to the King's Speech. It starts out sort of Art House and builds to great popularity. Yesterday, as it happens, I watched this 1988 movie THE WOMAN HE LOVED, with Jane Seymour and Anthony Andrews about David, Edward VIII. On YouTube.

It was a very sympathetic view of the couple, no S and M, no Nazis. No George VI  at all. How could it not be a kind portrayal with those particular actors. Anthony Andrews played Baldwin in the King's Speech.

Well, the King's Speech made David look like a Sadist, or  a mean older brother.

I learned that he only met Wallis Simpson after 1928. So great. David, Edward VIII figures large in my story Milk and Water. It is because of him that my grandfather and my husband's grandfather meet to discuss life, business, politics and ethics. He's visiting Montreal, at the end of a long official visit. He is on his own time and I read he liked to party with Mayor Mederic Martin.

Irony. My mother in law, born 1917, tells me that she and her sisters and friends got into movies underage by dressing up like grown women, makeup and all. And by behaving properly, too. I don't think that's what the Moral Reformers had in mind....(Law of Unintended Consequences.)I found a picture of her dated 1929, and she did look very grown up. I was startled. They had no 'teenagers' in those days.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mayor Houde Picks up the Glove..and loses his bite

Jules Crepeau's resignation letter to Council in 1930, demanding a 7,500 a year pension for life. He'd be run over by a City Constable in 1937, dying from complications the next year.


Here's the first part of the debate that took place on September 29, 1930, at Montreal City Hall, over my grandfather's resignation. The opposition filibustered, I guess you can call it. This 'session' has it all: drama, humour, anger, innuendo, indignation, thinly veiled threats... and under it all, a big cover up. Everyone must have known the REAL reason my grandfather was pushed out. Did it have to do with the Laurier Fire, I have to wonder? Houde brings that tragic event up during the debate, totally out of context, but that you can read  in the next post. This was a long session. Or was it just that my grandfather knew too much and was part of the wrong clique. Houde is quoted as saying he wants to clear City Hall of cliques in a French tabloid of the era.

This is from the Montreal Gazette. Bravo to the reporter, who seems to be having fun.  Very amusing and very interesting to me, as I write my play Milk and Water about Montreal in 1927. I have my grandfather Jules Crepeau and my husband's grandfather Thomas Wells, debate life and business while they wait to deliver water to a dance club where the Prince of Wales may be showing up.

My grandfather is Director of City Services. My husband's grandfather is President of Laurentian Spring Water. (Irony: I found a card of condolence sent by Mayor Houde to my husband's grandmother upon the death of Thomas Wells in the early 1950's. For the purposes of my story, I will have him unliked by the Mederic Martin administration, because he always criticizes Montreal tap water, which is bad for the city's reputation and tourism.)

Also, I can't help but notice that even these small time municipal politicians (whom my grandfather taught everything they knew, according to an era article in the Gazette) were more eloquent, clever and quick-witted than our top politicians these days, who are all bland and stage-managed to the nth degree.

Here it goes:

It was a hot session. A dozen usually placid aldermen lost their tempers and their ruddy complexions paled in anger. The major lost the main span of this false teeth in the middle of a sentence, caught them on the fly and pocketed them nonchalantly. But nobody lost his voice. His Worship and Ald. Schubert of St. Louis ward put on the main bout, and the alderman asked Ald. Bruno Charbonneau, the pro-mayor in the chair, to have the mayor expelled from the Council Chamber for bad behavior.

 And the pro-mayor threatened to clear the chamber to stop clapping in the galleries where, for the first time since the present administration has been in power, manifestations hostile to the major and his men were apparent.
It was late in the afternoon when the question of Mr. Crepeau’s resignation was reached. From the huge audience, which had sat or stood through a lot of business, it found uninteresting, came a rustle of excitement.

Etienne Gauthier, the city clerk, read Mr. Crepeau’s  letter to the Mayor.
At once, Alderman Savignac proposed the motion to accept the resignation.
It was seconded by Alderman LaMarro.

“Explain” roared several of the opposition aldermen.

“No explanation,” said Alderman Bray to Alderman Desbroches.

Hubbub commenced. Alderman Monette was on his feet. “I would ask the chairman of the Executive to bring Mr. Crepeau before us and have him say whether this resignation was voluntary or forced. He is in the wary of somebody –sure. Here he is with 42 years of service, and to get rid of a man with that length of experience and in good health, the city will give 5,000 dollars for doing nothing and then 7,500 a year for all the while Mr. Crepeau lives –

“That’s cheap,” chirped a backbencher.

“I want Mr. Crepeau to reconsider his resignation.” Ald. Monette went on. “If I can get a seconder I would make an amendment to that effect.”

“After that speech, “ said Ald. Bigar ironically, “is he for or against the resignation?”

“I want him to reconsider that resignation,” replied Alderman Monette. “Oh, I know we will be beaten, but quality counts.”

Ald. Schubert thought a man with 42 years of service was entitled to a pension. “But this is a bargain, “ he commented, reading the conditions put in Mr. Crepeau’s letter. He wanted to know the reasons behind the whole affair, and he thought there was a provocation at the bottom of it. “I want an explanation, “ he repeated. “It is all very well for the chairman of the Executive to say there is no explanation, but I do not believe that the chairman of the Executive was elected by the people to come here and do as he wishes with the people’s money. If there is just reason for this resignation, I want to know that reason, and if there is none, then you will have to stand the consequences. Clapping broke out in one of the galleries. Constables squelched it.

It was Alderman Trepanier’s turn. The mystery of the whole business intrigued him. “The mover of the motion has no explanation to offer,” he said. With a smile he added. “It may be that I speak somewhat in the desert, so far as the Council is concerned. But I do not think that will be the case when this comes before the public of Montreal. The Mayor of Montreal has said lately in the  papers that he controlled the majority of this Council. I understand he does. He has just at present, I should say in all justice to the situation, the majority of the Council by the throat –
Cries of “oh, Oh,” came up and there were protests from all parts of the chamber. Some of the Houde Aldermen were on their feet. “Withdraw!” they shouted.

Alderman Bruno Charbonneau was in the chair, Mayor Houde having taken his place in one of the rear seats among thealdermen. He ruled that Alderman must withoudraw.

“I will withdraw the words ‘by the throat’ said Ald. Trepanier, calmly. “And I will pay a tribute of esteem to the extreme loyalty to the Mayor of the majority of the Council, which his worship can force to pirouette on any question he likes.”

Another roar. More cries of “Withdraw.”

The Mayor was up, arm in the air. “We well know who are those where who pirouette” he yelled.
Ald Trepanier said he would withdraw “pirouette.” He contested the right of the Mayor to come to Council and ‘to impose” the resignation of an old employee like Mr. Crepeau. “What is the reason?” the alderman asked, again and again. “I am not of the select who take of the weekly free lunch at the Place Viger. But we have the right to know who are the aldermen who signed the petition to the Mayor demanding that Mr. Crepeau resign or be put out.”

The Savignac motion, he continued, paid homage to a man who was being forced to resign. A man who had behind him all the papers of Montreal, papers which said that in acting in this manner the administration was treading on dangerous ground. “It is the first time such a thing has happened in the history of the city.” Alderman Trepanier went on.”With a silent and almost mysterious majority in Council, and following a letter which was not written voluntarily – I say it and I know that to be true- and following conversations and intimidations and threats..”

“Oh Oh, “ shouted protesting aldermen. But he alderman stood his ground and continued with a denunciation of the administration’s practice, noting that the majority of those in council were under the control of the mayor “who can play with the council as he wishes.”

Alderman Bray jumped to his feet. “Withdraw that word immediately, “ he warned Trepanier.
“I withdraw it  and will say that he is a man who seems to be able to play with the council  as he wishes, “was the retort.

More handclapping broke out among the public. Again it was silenced.

“If he wants to withdraw, let him withdraw frankly, “ rumbled Ald. Bray.

“Point of order, “shouted Alderman Legault. “One alderman cannot give instructions to another. He can make a request, but he has no right to give instructions.”

Once more the clapping sounded.

This time the pro-mayor in the chair and Ald. Des Roches were on their feet together. “Order!” shouted the Pro-Mayor, “or I will have the chamber cleared.” That was what Alderman DesRoches had been going to say.

The chair accepted the amended declaration of Ald. Trepanier, adding “It may seem to him, but not to others.”
“Now, “Alderman Trepanier proceed,”Two years ago, on the 40th anniversary of the entry of Mr. Crpeau into the city service, the Council had unanimously adopted a motion congratulating him, admiring his devotion and integrity, and wishing him a long service in the same position. Among the aldermen who voted that motion were Ald. Mathieu, Ald. Bray and Ald Biggar, he said.

And today here were the same aldermen, and more with them, forcing the resignation of the same official. He forsaw it would cause fear among all the permanent employees of the city. In this particular case, too , the legislators had deliberately given to the employee holding the post of Mr. Crepeau and standing such as to make him the defender of the  people in the sittings of the Executive Committee.

“We may be ridiculed and crushed,” the alderman conclude, “but the day may not be distant, when the feeling of reprobation among the people may be voiced, and we shall see once more in the saddle an administration which may not have always been perfect, but which was free from taint of autocracy and kaiserism we see here today.”

And Ald Trepanier sat down. Alderman Lamarre rose and asked sarcastically, “May I ask whether that speech was made in preparation for elections?”

“Maybe,” replied Ald Trepanier.

“Or is it a speech specially reserved for Le Canada?” Ald LaMarre pursued. He was ignored.
“Ald Trepanier may be intimate with those who conspire to take away the powers of the aldermen,” was Ald Dupuis’ view.” He may be intimate with those who amended schedule B, which gave us the right, the rare prerogative of having a word to say in the hiring and firing of a major city employee”
“Point of order,” snapped ald Trepanier. “I want the names of those I am supposed to be intimate.”
“The Quebec Government” shouted Ald Dupuis, warming up. “That Government has always tried to take away the powers of the aldermen in Montreal.” He thought the council was exercising a right given tot it and as for Trepanier’s speech: “I wonder whether that is not merely a farce, or for the benefit of the gallery.”

“How could the mayor refuse the demand of the majority of the aldermen in council?” asked Ald. Seigier. That majority had asked him to get rid of Mr. Crepeau and the mayor acted. He thought the best thing was to talk no more, but vote.

Ald. Legault was struck with the utter inability to give any explanation of this affair, but Ald Deguire undertook to fill the bill by saying : “Mr Crepeau has not our confidence; there is no explanation to that.” And the willingness of the city to give him leave and a pension, showed that “we have absolutely nothing against him.”

Ald Gabias gibed at the ‘interior sentiment’ which seemed to be ruling all the Houde men in the moment. “One thing they seem to forget,” he noted “is that we are here to represent the people of Montreal, and not to give way to our personal feelings and to get rid of a man because we do not like the way he wears his hat, or something else.”

“Are you aware that in 1928, the administration of that time conducted a campaign to try to get rid of Mr. Crepeau?” chimed in Ald Dupuis.

“Never did such a thing happen” protested Alderman DesRoches, stoutly.

The former chairman of the Executive said he was not surprised at the motion, but at the mover of it.
“Ald Savignan lacks experience in city affairs, “ he began.

“Well, I don’t’ want to acquire it from you, “ interrupted Ald. Savignac. “You got plenty of experience in the affair of Montreal Water and Power.”

“Yes, I did” admitted Ald DesRoches. “And I have also something you will never possess.”
Clapping in the galleries sounded again. The pro-mayor frowned. Constables got busy and silence was restored.

Ald Des Roches thought that Ald Savignac should have profited from the experience of Mr. Crepau, rather than lend himself to putting the director of Services of out his position.

“I address myself to you, members of the Council,” he went on, swinging round to face the alderman. “You have a right. You are exercising it. But you have to take the responsibility.”

“Sure,” yelled one alderman.

Other dismissals had been made by the Executive, and they would take the responsibility, but this was the Council’s. And there had been dismissals aplenty. Foremen were thrown out and newcomers to the city took their places – all this without the alderman for the ward being consulted. But what was being done now was exceedingly dangerous. The administration was being high-handed. There was the case of where a man earning 1,680 had been replaced by another a 2,000, ‘the brother of Ald Savignac,” said the alderman.

“Let him keep to the motion,” protested Alderman Mathieu.

“I cannot therefore speak of the placing of the sons of Ald Mathieu” replied Ald DeRoches deprecatingly.

He gave way to Ald. Dubreuil, who emphasized that “this is not a dismissal. It is a resignation, asked for.”
“oh. Oh” jeered the opposition.

The north end alderman took up the question of the Crepeau pension and leave pay and thought that was nothing compared with the 15,000,000 dollars which the city had to pay for Montreal Water and Power Company.”

“Point of Order,” shouted Ald Legault. “That purchase has nothing to do with this, and anyway Ald. Dubreuil voted for that purchase.”

“I voted for the princinple.” Growled Ald Dubreuil.

The mayor at last entered the debate.

“There is one thing that struck me,” the mayor said, very gently.

“That is that the alderman for Hochelago should have objected to the employment of the brother of Ald. Savignac, a man who has seven children and is infirm, having had both legs crushed by a tramway.”

There was a pause.

The mayor’s false teeth shot out, he caught them deftly, but them in a pocket, as Alderman Legault interrupted.

“Point of order.”

“There is not point of order, “ yelled the Mayor, swinging around to face the alderman.

“You are not the master of all this Council,” returned Ald.Legault hotly.

“You neither,” retorted the Mayor.

“The Mayor will respect me,” Ald Legault insisted, to the Chair.

“When you deserve it,”corrected his Worship.

Ald. Legault finally got a chance to explain his point. It was that Mr. Crepeau, not the brother of Ald Savignac, was en causes. He was partially upheld.

“I will try to discuss this question to the satisfaction of all those whose virtue is recognized by everybody,” the Mayor continued in honeyed tones. There was laughter. “I will do it before the public, and right here I ask Ald. Savignac to accept my apologies for what has happened. But what I find funny is that the Alderman for Hochelaga should forget that only a few days ago he was in my office pleading for a job for his brother in law.” The Mayor folded his hands.”Where oh where will virtue find a niche for repose?” he asked.

“Point of order. Always on the same,” came from Ald. Legault.

“Yes,” agreed the Mayor acidly. “We know that.”

“And now we have another  virtuous individual, the defender of the working classes, Mr. Schubert. That alderman, he said, had voted for the purchase of Montreal Water and Power Company, and the spending of 5,000,000 above the original price, with which the city could do much these days.

Ald. Trepanier had asked for the names of the aldermen who demanded the head of Mr. Crepeau. “That was done privately, outside of City Hall,” the mayor went on. “And I would no more deliver the names than would Ald Trepanier deliver the names of those who subscribed to his LaSalle Automobile.”

There was more uproar, with the opposition protesting.

 “I am merely picking up the glove.” Commented His Worship who proceeded: ”The gesture we make today is rational and consequent. What attitude did we take before the public at the elections last April? We condemned the transaction of the Montreal Water and Power Company, and to be consistent by sending home all those responsible in the highest degree for the situation that led so regretfully to the purchase of the company under the conditions which held. We had Mr. Crepeau and Mr. Terreault condemned by the population of Montreal. We received a charge from the people. We have the mandate. We have the prerogative of Council. Recently, twenty two aldermen said they had no confidence in Mr. Crepeau who despite his forty-two years of service, allowed the perpetration of that deal, and Mr. Terreault who employed himself in passing that odious transaction condemned by the population.

“Now, you want the names of the aldermen who signed the petition to me about Mr. Crepeau. Call the vote and you will see who they are.”

To be post

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

When the Mayor Spat out his Dentures..

George Allison, Montreal businessman who benefitted from the Montreal Water and Power Sale in 1927. He was the brother of Hudson Allison who went down with the Titanic, with wife and daughter.

September 30, 1930. (Front Page Headline)
Civic Heads Out
Mayor Invoking Old Water Deal
People condemned Crepeau and Terreault he insists
Hot Council Session
Opposition charges Kaiserism, autocracy, petty politics
Downfall of Houde Administration Predicted
Schubert demands expulsion of His Worship for Bad Manners
Galleries Applaud Anti Houde Attacks
Threat to clear Chamber by Pro-Mayor

By large majorities the City Council yesterday afternoon accepted the resignations of the Jules Crepeau, Director of municipal services and H.A. Terrault, director of public works, naming as their successors  Honore Parent, KC, for eight years expropriation specialist in the city law department and J.E. Blanchard, for years superintendent of the roads department.

In a two hour debate, bristling with attack and counter-attack, the Houde-Bray administration and  and DeRoches-Gabias-Trepanier opposition  rocked in violent combat.

Mr. Crepeau’s forty-two years of service at city hall ended by a vote of 21-8 ; while Mr. Terrault disappeared from the city’s service by a vote of 22 to 7.

Both successors were named unanimously.

Mr. Crepeau laid down as conditions of his leave of absence, six month’s leave of absence and a pension which will be set at 7,500 for life.

Mr. Parent takes up his work, retaining without renumeration his title of city attorney and commencing at the 10.000 salary which Mr. Crepeau enjoyed in his last year of office.

Reasons for the resignations, or ‘dismissals’ as the opposition branded them with the allegation that they had been forced, furnished the fighting ground.

“There is no explanation, “ said Ald. J. Allan Bray, chairman of the Executive Committee, when the Crepeau question rose.

That led Alderman Trepanier to denounce the ‘silent and almost mysterious’ majority of aldermen controlled by the Mayor,which ruled through “free lunch” caucuses at the Place Viger Hotel “ and had brought “autocracy and “Kaiserism” to the city hall.

He and others condemned introducing the ‘spoils system’  into the city service, but predicted  that the people would rise and protest by turning out such an administration and ‘reinstating one free of petty politics’ and motivated by care for the best interests of the city as a whole.

No explanation was forthcoming until Mayor Camillien Houde took a hand. The Part played by both Mr. Crepeau and Mr. Terreault  in the purchase of the Montreal Water and Power Company,  he invoked as a reason for the development.

“We had both Mr. Crepeau and Mr. Terreault condemned by the people of Montreal” His Worship held, stating that he and his adherents had condemned the deal,  and getting rid of those responsible for the deal through was merely being rationale and consequent.”

Mr. Terreault was accused in positive manner of having aided in the passing of the deal, while Mr. Crepeau was found guilty in negative manner of having allowed the transaction to go through.
Hmm. The article gives a blow by blow account of the debate, which got dirty and where Mayor Houde spat out his dentures, deftly catching them in his left hand, during a speech. If my play Milk and Water is half as funny as this debate, I’ll be sitting pretty. (I will transcribe it for the next post…My aunt kept all the Jules Crepeau newsclippings in a scrapbook which I still have, miraculously enough.)

The Purchase of Montreal Water and Power by the Municipal Government in 1927 was a very good thing and it started making money for the city immediately.

Montreal Water and Power was a private company that provided water for the ‘suburbs’. Every time the city  absorbed one suburb or another, it had to work with this company. Some parts of Montreal were getting water cheaper than others.  So best to buy it, and legislation had been passed back in 1914 to pave the way. But it took years, and then, just as the deal was going to go through, the company was sold to a Trust. The price of the company rose for 10,000,000 to 14,000,000. Someone made 4,000,000 on ‘insider trading’ in a few months.  Everyone knew who owned the Trust: Lorne Webster, Honorable J.L Parent, Mr. Allison. Mayor Mederic Martin’s Administration was accused of taking bribes or something.

The Montreal Star’s Lord Althostan (Hugh Graham) led the charge against the Martin Administration, leading to its defeat in the 1928 elections.  My grandfather would have had this on his mind in late August, the time of my play, because Althostan had already launched his attacks.

Good Grief. La Plus Ca Change. This all sounds soooo familiar. Doesn't it?

Anyway, Allison was a Westmount man who had a wife from the American South. Hmm. So was T.G. Wells, of my story, Milk and Water. His wife was from the south too. It’s all very complicated, ‘this water business.’ A scholar suggests that the idea of providing water to homes was indicative of a paradigm shift in thinking in the evolution of cities and of mankind itself. Gee.

And I have to know it well, because Jules Crepeau and Thomas Wells knew it well, but they came at it from different angles.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Same, but Different. My story about Montreal in 1927.

Milk and Water, the title of my play about Montreal in 1927. Usually 'working titles' are just that, but frankly, as I start to write dialogue for my play,  between French Canadian Municipal Civil Servant, Jules Crepeau and businessman Thomas G. Wells, the President of Laurentian Spring Water, I like the title more and more.

I chose this title because in 1927 there was yet another typhoid 'epidemic' in Montreal and in such instances, the water people blamed the milk people and vice versa. This epidemic was traced to milk.

But Milk and Water is also a metaphor for the two men. In fact, I've opened with a description of them: two men, similar ages, similar builds, similar educations, similar salaries, both with grown children and young children, both living in upper middle class comfort in Montreal... both with wives who don't mind the fact that they are seldom around. Both 'self-made' men of humble beginnings - but with just the right amount of 'connections' to get a head start over all rivals within their particular pond in the Darwinian struggle for survival and dominance.

One is bald, one still has a healthy head of thick curly hair.  And one wears glasses, one doesn't. And one is Catholic and one Anglican or Church of England. (I will have them both tear into the Presybterians...Thomas Wells sold the companies soft drinks to bars, often bribing the bartender. His wife, May, was a huge drinker.)

But there's a more essential difference.

One man is an English-Quebecker and one a French Quebecker.

The pic above is of Jules young. I may have one other somewhere. This is a photocopy from his file at City Hall. It's a bio from a 1922 book. Born the son of an 'entrepreneur peintre' and Vitaline Forget. Humble yes, but this Forget is, indeed, a relation of Sir Rodolphe Forget.

Thomas G. Wells was from Ontario. His dad was a lawyer. He had cousins The Whites. When a Mr. White of Montreal needed someone to help with his business, as his own son was a n'ere-do-well, he sent for Thomas in Ontario.

Thomas had some other Montreal Cousins, the Townsends. They got into the liquor mail order business during Prohibition, selling booze to other parts of Canada. In just one year, they made enough to retire on. So the story goes. (They had a bustling operation with tonnes of orders coming in each day.) Thomas will mention this in the long 4 hour talk he has with Jules, as they wait outside a dance club for the Prince of Wales to arrive.

I have been reading about Prohibition in Canada. I've always been told this was a legit business, or a loophole business, but I'm not sure. It's important I get it right for the story.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dance Fever 1927 Montreal

My grandparents in the 20's.

Well, I'm plotting out my story Milk and Water (a Kindle ebook) a play. There's virtually only one setting. Outside a dance hall. A dance hall which some people suspect is a lot more than that.

I found this article from 1925, the Gazette, where Jules Crepeau is discussing Dance Halls and the Lord's Day act.

"Instructions have been given to the Chief of Police to close all dance halls a midnight, according to Jules Crepeau. The Lord's Day Act will be invoked.  That's because the City had just lost a case against a proprietor of a dance hall over the same issue, invoking a less toothy by-law. (Apparently.)

Charity balls, like the St. Andrew's Ball, are exempt. Hmm. (It's those Presbyterians who brought in this law in 1908, joining forces with Big Labour. Theatres had to close on Sunday, but not movie houses, due to the fact that the law only specified 'theatres.'

So this article appeared in 1925 and plenty of places stayed open... enough for someone called W.E. Raney to complain to the American Senate hearings on Prohibition that Montreal was a Sin Pit and that my grandfather, a civil servant, told the Chief of Police what to do. (See my earlier Boardwalk Empire posts.)

So in my play Milk and Water, set at the end of August, 1927, I have my grandfather and my husband's grandfather, a French Canadian and an English Canadian spending four hours in front of one of the more infamous 'dance halls' in town, on the instructions of the Mayor, lest the Prince of Wales and his brother show up.

They are there delivering pure water, as there's a typhoid epidemic. My grandfather, the dutiful soldier, isn't complaining, although he has plenty of things on his mind... the Water and Power Scandal and the Laurier Palace  Fire Scandal...My husband's grandfather isn't complaining, as he has his new soft drinks on hand, and hopes he can get a thumbs up from the Princes. The Radnor people are the official suppliers of Water to the Crown in Canada, and this irks him.

A police constable will be posted with them, to make sure any other constable doesn't interfere.

Interesting people will come and go....And they'll go at each other...and this is where I have to be clever: my grandfather who had a fabulous memory will attack Thomas Wells for the fear tactics in his advertising 'that are ruining the reputation of Montreal and keeping American tourists away."

Thomas Wells will attack him for City Hall patronage, etc.

Friday, November 18, 2011

And Old Wooden Crate for the Birthday Gift?

Laurentian Spring Water company crate and bottle: very old

I woke up this morning to a mystery: someone (well, my husband) had put an old crate containing a large Laurentian Spring Water bottle by the fireplace, right in front of where I sit to write in the morning on my computer.

The lettering on the crate is faded ( I needed to take a picture in natural light) but it says Laurentian on top and Spring on the bottom. (Green lettering! How before it's time.) It's beautifully crafted, as crates go: the wood is solid and smooth. The patina still intact.. Had I found a bunch of these crates years ago at say, Finnegan's Flea Market, I might have painted them bright red and used them for flower boxes.

I'm lucky. Whoever owned this one left the thing as it was. I wonder if it is from the 20's, or even the 10's.

Now, I am writing a book called Milk and Water, about Montreal in 1927, where I have my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, the Director of Services meets up with my husband's grandfather, Thomas Wells, the President of Laurentian Spring Water, to discuss the ethics of selling water. During Prohibition, as it were.

Laurentian was one of the first, if not the first bottled water concern in North America. This had something to do with the fact that Montreal's water supply at the turn of the last century wasn't the best.

It was also a fluke... When my husband's ancestor, a Mr. White was drilling on Craig street for water for his shoe making factory, he struck a vein or is the term aqueduct.. No it's aquifer.. Around the 1880's. They opened a bath, women allowed in Wednesdays. (I saw that in an early newspaper ad.) (Before its time too, as public baths were built in the 10's and 20's in Montreal to accommodate immigrants without plumbing.) Craig Street used to be under the Jacques Cartier Bridge. It was nowhere near the Laurentians, which are miles up north.

My book features a fictional chance meeting between our granddads..  The Prince of Wales is in town to blow off steam from a one month official visit, and the Mayor, Mederic Martin has ordered my grandfather to follow him around with fresh water, as there's a typhoid epidemic. The Prince liked to party with  Mederic, I have read. This epidemic was due to milk, but no one knew at the time. (I just saw that Prince Albert, Victoria's husband died of typhoid. Good! I'll stick that in my story.

Anyway, my husband works evenings and I was asleep when he got in. He won't get up for two hours - so I have two hours to speculate where he got it.

The company is out of family hands and has been since the 80's.

Even though my birthday is coming up, my husband is not the kind of guy to scope eBay to buy me something special.... or I'd have a lot more Art Deco jewellry.

Hmm. Did someone at his work give it to him?

Or did he get it from his aunt, who is moving this month.

Well, two hours will tell.

As it happens, we own another Laurentian Spring Water Bottle - sans crate -from the early seventies when my husband worked there in the summer. Same shape, but thicker. A little different.

My husband has used it all these decades for collecting his spare change. When I met him, in the early eighties, it was full of quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. Even some loonies. (A sign to me that he'd make a good husband...;)

When we raised our kids, there were few loonies or quarters ever in the jar, we pinched them as needed.

One year in the 1990's  we decided to give the then penny and nickel filled jar to my husband's young nephews as a 'cheap' Christmas present.. They could count the pennies, roll them, and keep them - and return us the jar.. The total turned out to be over 200 dollars. "Best Christmas Ever," as they exclaimed back then.

We still have it. It's in our bedroom, although it's such a fixture, I don't even know it's there. With the price of things, these days, no spare change gets put in it.

Yesterday I read a news story on a report by The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy that says fresh water consumption has skyrocketed in Canada, but it's not individuals. 90% of the water is used for industry, like the oil sands.  Some people suggest these industries should pay for the water they use.

The same report said a water shortage is not imminent. A book, The Ripple Effect,  came out this year that says quite the opposite. That fresh water is running out in ALL countries and that this drastic  state of affairs is being covered up.

Of course, both might be right. Fresh water doesn't necessarily mean drinkable water. Uncontaminated water.

Well, my husband just awoke. A guy at work gave it to him! His family (Italian) used it to make wine. (Now, that's my idea of a wine bottle!) There's a sticker on the bottle. It's green, too. "Crystal Pure" is the slogan with a snowflake. Established 1882.  (My husband says their company color was green.. Before its time. But a lot of their sales techniques were oddly very modern.)

The style  of the logo looks 30s or 40's....

The bottle is secured at the four corners by stablers that are cushioned with four springs.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Love Story, A Mystery, A Murder?

Edith and Charlie (most likely, far left) in this photo. Their story is told and embellished in Diary of a Confirmed Spinster

Hmm. I still have to go to the Concordia Library and look up the picture in the Montreal Star of Charlie Gagne to confirm. But he's in some many pictures of that summer, always standing beside Edith.

"Your letter just received. I am hoping HJB will call. If not I am going to ask him to come to Richmond when I come home. There's a good many things he can tell me likely. It is just as you say, sometimes the best you can do is just bear it. I am glad you told Grandmaman. She thought he was so good looking. She was asking about him at Easter. It seems as if it had been any kind of any accident, but that it would not have been so terrible. Keep the Herald if you can. I have the Star. The picture was not a very good one, but better than the usual. Write so I get it Saturday Morning. Love to Flora and self"

Maybe I'm not stretching the truth about Charlie being murdered in the Rossmore Fire. I've never understood the bit above, where Edith says that stuff about it not being an accident. Aren't fires, those started by carelessly tossed cigarettes, accidental?

Anyway, I just found another bit from the Ottawa Citizen, saying that only a few bones were found of Charlies, comprising a portion of his body. And that he was identified by a stick pin near by, that belonged to him.

Well, I had better get to the story...It starts on the day the King dies, or the next day when News hits Canada.

When I first checked out the Star to see the article years ago, I found a huge special insert about the King. I started in May, so I didn't see the first article about the fire. I needed to consult the earlier reel. Maybe it wasn't there. Much era microfiche has been lost at McGill. The Titanic Era is all gone.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Irony of the Rossmore Hotel Fire, Cornwall 1910

We went to Cornwall Ontario yesterday to do research for my story about Edith Nicholson, the follow up to Threshold Girl

Threshold Girl is about Flora Nicholson and her year at Macdonald Teacher's College. 1911/1912

Edith's Story (The Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, Militant Suffragette Sympathizer and Inadvertent Opium Addict, is about Edith Nicholson's year at French Methodist Institute in Westmount, 1909-1910, the year her fiance, Charles Gagne, dies in the infamous Rossmore Hotel Fire.

It was the spur of the moment trip and I didn't check out where the Rossmore had been, so we drove around not knowing where to find the exact locale.

We ate at the Mall on Pitt Street and then drove around the water, where I assumed the OLD TOWN was, and saw the Old Cotton Mill, all renovated and looking quite beautiful (it's been renovated much more nicely than the Dominion Textile Plant in Little Burgundy)  and then we walked the dogs at the Park on the Water under the Bridge that goes to Messina New York.

There were plenty of Canada Geese there, well, two little flocks, and the grass was totally covered in goose poop. Oddly, the dogs didn't bother with the poop, which is odd. As dogs like poop. Of any kind, or so I thought.

These turds, about the size of miniature poodle poop, didn't do it for them.

Anyway, it's a nice park, despite the poop and frankly you don't expect it to be 15 degrees in mid-November and it was a weekday. Only a few other strollers were taking advantage of the gorgeous day.

Anyway, we headed home soon after and I was disappointed that I didn't get a pic of the Rossmore Locale.

But this morning, looking up info on the fire, I discovered the Rossmore Block had been on Pitt Street, where the Bank of Montreal Building is.

We had passed right by it and turned onto Second Street and passed right by the Presbyterian Church were Charles Gagne, Edith's fiance, told her he always hung out... before his death in the fire. It's just around the corner from the place where the hotel was.

So it all works out.

HOW IRONIC. Charles Gagne died because he was a clerk for the Bank of Montreal in Levis and Danville and had been transferred to Cornwall. (In my story, I will take license and say he asked to be transferred... because I am going to play with history and have him murdered. You know, they never did figure out for sure what started the fire and from what I have read, only PART of his body was found in the the ashes. How can that be? And he had just come back from some mysterious trip to Mexico...)

And then they go build a new building sometime in the 30's over the site of his death.

By the way, Ryan Gosling is from Cornwall. I have just seen two of his movies, the Ides of March and that other one Dirty, Crazy Love is it and frankly, he's quite impressive. Especially in the Ides of March, which is a terrific movie.

Also, upon our arrival home, we rented from the satellite that Beginners movie with Christopher Plummer and Ewen McGregor... Odd non-commercial movie, (as in Indie style) a downer in some ways, but a downer with one of the most positive 'messages' as in "it's never too late to decide to be happy."

Ewen McGregor plays a 38 year old who can't commit because he is still working out his mother's issues... she married a gay man to try to convert him and it didn't work out great, although it didn't work out terribly either. And Plummer plays a man determined not to be bitter about the past...he's the dad and at 78 he comes out as gay and becomes a social activist and bon vivant too.

A real good message. I should pay heed.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

French Canadians Vs. the Presbyterians

My Aunts Flo and Cecile, circa 1925. Sexy? Not Really.

As I research Milk and Water, my story about Montreal in 1927, about my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, the Director of City Services and my husband’s grandfather, Thomas Wells, the President of Laurentian Spring Water, I think I have found the ‘nightclub’ where I will have them meet, the Bagdad Nights Restaurant. (They are meeting to provide fresh water for the Prince of Wales and brother, should they turn up as the Mayor has suggested they might.)

That’s because this venue is mentioned in W.E.Raney’s statement to the American Senate (or is it Congress) as particularly seedy. Their hearings on Prohibition.

What a useful document for my book. (Too bad it exists only in Google Books. Abebooks has Part 1 of the testimony, for a song, but Raney’s 40 page statement is in the Second Part.

Still, I have puzzled together a whole lot. Raney was the former Attorney General of Ontario and a Presybyterian, one of those kind who hates any and all the vices.

He especially hates Montreal City Hall, which he explains, in great detail to the Senators, is Corrupt. Much of this testimony against Montreal’s Administration is unrelated to alcohol.

He discusses how contracts for Roads and Construction work and such are given to companies that ‘don’t even own a wheelbarrow’ which then sublet them to others.

He even mentions my Grandfather, Jules Crepeau, by name. Jules can veto the orders of the Chief of Police. He sees this as ridiculous and believes Jules is acting on behalf of the Executive Committee.
He says the council runs in such a manner “as to favor the private interests of their relatives and friends, to whom contracts and positions were distributed, to the detriment of the general interest of the City and it’s taxpayers.”

He discussed the Coderre Commission, on corruption in the Police. Corruption is like an octopus that has his tentacles in every corner of the Administration, he says, quoting from Coderre’s Report.
He also quotes a lot from the Montreal Witness, an evangelical newpaper founded to promote Temperance… So really, what does that prove?

And here I am with a special interest. My whole adolescence was coloured by this, or should I say, dulled down, even blackened.

“You talk like a girl from de Bullion Street.” That’s what my Mom used to say when I swore. I had no idea de Bullion was the Red Light District until lately actually. No doubt this is what her mother, a daughter of a Master Butcher, told her. She said the same thing when I wore my skirts too short..”You look like a girl from de Bullion Street.”

My aunts may have been dressing sexy, in 1920′s, but any dirty thoughts at home were quickly expunged by their Mom, my grandmother, by the liberal use of Holy Water, I think.

Actually, Flo, the aunt on the left, was a naturally sexy woman, adopted at age 6 or so. The aunt at right, Cecile, was a prude, who married a geezer late in life, for companionship and economy, but never consummated said marriage, because she thought her heart, which had been damaged from rheumatic fever, couldn’t take it. (So she told my mom.) Hey, don’t worry, I would have told her. Sex ain’t that amazing. (Aunt Cecile was an excellent artist, Gold Medal Winner at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Montreal. She had painted a peacock in full display on a giant screen and put it behind the double beds in her bedroom. Even as a child, I could sense the irony here. Her teachers at school said she had great potential, "but she should 'go out an live a little." All she generally painted were still lives of religious icons, statues and such. Lugubrious. She did a nice painting of someone putting a flower in Flo's hair, but it didn't pass down to our family. Too bad.

Anyway, Aunt Flo, who married at 45 or so, also to a much older man, was a big flirt. She was a recruiter in WWII, one of those sirens, sent around Quebec Province, attracting boys to their doom.
She once told me that her sister, Cecile wanted to crawl up the stairs of St. Joseph’s Oratory, as some kind of religious thing. She said she’d only do it if a handsome many crawled behind her, looking up her dress.

Anyway, all to say. According to this testimony from a Presbyterian from Ontario, Montreal was Sin City in the 1920′s and my grandfather was a pivotal person in all this. A go-between.
Yet, his own family was so prim and proper, so repressed. The Presybyterian Nicholsons, of my story Threshold Girl, had a lot more leeway when it came to dating. Yes, they were repressed by today’s standards, but they also dated a lot. And not always under the eye of some matron. I have plenty of photos of them fooling in the grass with guys.

You see, towns were not considered dangerous to live in for young girls. Everyone knew everyone else. And if anyone stepped out of line, well, look out! In the Tighsolas letters at the Nicholsons are all up in arms, because a certain married man who is boarding at the brother in law’s, is making goo goo eyes at another unmarried female relation.

Anyway, accusing City Hall as being rife with patronage back in 1927 was kind of hypocritical. The Presbyterians had their own kind of patronage, just as powerful. Why do you think my husband’s great grandfather, despite being broke, paid his huge dues to the Masons? If you were not a Mason, you were ‘out of the Club.’ A pariah.

As my story Threshold Girl shows, Flora Nicholson got into Macdonald College despite failing French because of her family’s connections in the education field. Indeed, you couldn’t get into Macdonald (or McGill) without the stamp of approval of your local Minister.

Ps. I had always heard that my grandfather rose up in City Hall on his own steam, starting with sweeping the floors at 8 years old. It’s a myth. Yes, he started as a message boy in the health department at 14 or so, but he was also related to the Forgets, the most powerful French Canadian industrialist, who owned the companies that provided electricity and transport to the City and who headed the Montreal Stock Exchange.