Saturday, November 29, 2014

Love's Labours Lost in a Cornwall Fire 1910

The burial notice for one Charlie Gagnon of Levis, Quebec, Edith Nicholson's almost fiancé, apparently.
It says he died accidentally the twenty ninth of April, in a fire in Cornwall, Ontario, at the age of 27 and two months. He was the son of Agnes, a widow who worked as a modiste or courturier and Charles. Charles died when Charlie and his sister Marie Louise were very young and didn't get on the 1891 Canadian census.
In a May 2 letter to her Mom Edith writes "Had it only been an accident, it would be easier to understand." Hmmm. I play around with that in my book Diary of a Confirmed Spinster.
 The fire was at the Rossmore Hotel in Cornwall. Charlie had gone there to work as a clerk at the Bank of Montreal. He had been a teller in Danville (near Richmond) and in Levis, his home town. According to news reports there wasn't much of Charlie left to bury: he was identified by a tie pin in a stairwell. I play on that in my story. 
Yikes. Charlie was a Roman Catholic, at burial. In my book that tells his story from Edith's point of view, he has converted to Protestantism. I can't see how Edith could have even flirted with him unless this was the case.
In Diary of a Confirmed Spinster I have Edith stumble upon this painting in May 1913, a week after her boyfriend's death. It is by Mary Riter Hamilton and shows a young woman opening a gift from her fiancé. Below Edith and Charlie in 1909 from the Nicholson Family Picture Album.

 The Montreal Art Association building at Phillip's Square, where Edith goes the week after her beau dies. But all the talk is about the King. Edward has just died, too!

 Edith in 1910 or so. In her big hat and white dress.
 Edith standing with other teachers at Westmount Methodist in Westmount. That place is gone. But the houses with the pointy dormers are still there.
 Ste. Catherine in 1910. Edith has to pass along here to get from her school to the art gallery.
 Dear King Edward the man with the special chair for kinky sex.  They soon erected  a statue of him at Phillip's Square that is still there. He's the peacemaker, ironic considering that WWI soon happened. When I first visited the University Archives to look up the FIRE starting in May 1910  all I could find was news about the King's death. The news of the fire was on April 30...
 A Montreal Street Car of the Era
 A picture by F.S. Coburn, painter from Melbourne, Quebec across the river from Richmond, where the Nicholson's are from.

 Phillip's Square the Women's Square, with two churches, a department store, an art gallery and Birks Jewellers and a park with NO BENCHES.
 Maternity by Mary Riter Hamilton. Edith, below in her big hat, faints when she sees the picture. She has taken too much medicine, ie. opium. Read Diary of a Confirmed Spinster on

Diary of a CONFIRMED Spinster: Love and Loss in 1910 (School Marms and Suffragettes Book 2) 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Modern Life, Genealogy and Anglicans in WWI

War really does upset the apple cart. The Tuckers of Lorne Street and characters in Not Bonne Over Here, the Nicholson Family Letters from WWI were ANGLICAN. 

Yesterday, for about the fourth day in a row, the wind was howling outside around supper time.

 I was alone and very tired from moving boxes into the basement all day, boxes containing hard copies of  the Nicholson Family letters and all the related materials.

So I put a real-time YouTube video of a busy Paris Street in summer up on the big screen television and sat back in the easy chair (the one with the brown leatherette) with my laptop.

(Modern life! If that's what you can call it. Virtual life. Multi-tasking even when zoning out.)

I visited, because I have recently signed up for three months and want to get my money's worth.

(I signed up for one reason, to find the travel date of a certain Militant Suffragette who came to Montreal in 1912, for my book Furies Cross the Mersey but now I am hooked. After porn and recipes, genealogy is the biggest use of the Internet, apparently. ..That's a terrible sentence, I know....Ahh... Is what people use the Net most often for..I dunno.)

That place is a no-brainer for lazy wannabe genealogists because a lot of the work has been done for you already, by other people.

I looked up the Tuckers of Lorne Street in Montreal who figure in the Nicholson Family Letters from WWI. Not Bonne Over Here is my compilation and can be found on Kindle.

One of the Tuckers was named Haroldine and I assumed that was an uncommon name, even back then. (Something out of the Beverly Hillbillies.)

Another user had included that family in their genealogy but posted no pictures of Haroldine, teacher at William Lunn with Flora Nicholson, or Percy or Herbert or Gwendolyn, who Flora Nicholson called "Tuck."

Edith and Flora Nicholson were intimate with the family and that family's sad, sad year (1918) is described in detail in Not Bonne Over Here.

Both Percy and Haroldine died that year, the former in battle and the latter (probably) of the Spanish Flu.

"That family is not the same," writes Edith to her Mom upon a 1919 visit to see the Tucker's.

Herbert was Flora's 'beau' during WWI even though he was 6 years younger than Flo. Or at least he was her boyfriend for War purposes. He wrote her from the Front, and three of the letters remain.

The title of my book, Not Bonne Over Here, comes from one his letters.

So, while I dug deep on Ancestry to learn more about the Tuckers (and I already know a lot) the feed for YouTube kept dipping in and out.

The wind?

Modern Life!
Canadian Troops from WWI from YouTube video.

"Alternately depressed and elated during more than a month past, owing to confusing reports stating one time that his son, Lt. P.G. Tucker had been killed in action and at other times that he was only wounded. Mr. and Mrs. Henry Tucker, 36 Lorne Avenue, have finally been reconciled to having their son dead, because of three letters received from his battalion in France..Three telegrams were received by Mr. Tucker, the first saying that Lt. P G Tucker had been killed, the second that he was wounded and the third that he was dead. Since the receipt of the last wire, however, a personal letter from the Minister of Militia congratulated Mr. Tucker on the fact that the reports of his son's death were erroneous..until the letters came from France."

This is a blurb from a 1918 Montreal Gazette article.   I have a 1918 letter from Flo to Margaret telling about a visit made to the Tuckers, and how they heard the son was alive, then dead, and how confused they were.

More than that, I have letters from another son, Herbert, also on the front, sent to Flora Nicholson. Apparently, she was the girlfriend.

Here's the key bit from one letter.

Dear Flora,

I have received more letters from home since I came to this country than I received all the time I was in England. You say you would like to come over here as a nurse but take it from me and stay as far away from this country as you can. It's no bonne over here. If you want to drop me a letter again, which you can do as often as you like, send them to #349412.4th CDAC France.

Love Herb

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Moles and Mad Militants and Travel Bans

 A list of donors to the WSPU in Votes for Women Magazine, September 1912, right in the middle of my story Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British Invasion of Militant Suffragettes to Montreal in 1912/13.

Back in 1910 an Elizabeth Skelton wrote a piece in Maclean's Magazine claiming that Canada had no suffrage movement to speak of because 1) they had fewer spinsters than in the UK 2) there was no tradition of fighting for Liberty in Canada, where everyone was a homesteader 'on the make.'

No doubt, there were more Misses involved in the UK Suffrage Movement than in the Montreal Movement, although it is impossible to tell how old these Misses are.

Caroline Kenney and Barbara Wylie, the two British Suffragette Militants who came to Canada in 1912 were both around 30.

Pretty Barbara Wylie. She came to Montreal in late September 1912 and gave the press a  heads up, despite the fact Borden had banned militants from coming to Canada as 'undesirables.'  She had been one a handful of women who had accosted Canadian PM Borden in London in August demanding he give women the vote. He said it was up the the provinces to do it first.

Today I read a Guardian headline that claims the UK Government is banning extremists from speaking at UK Universities. Terror Bill Bans Extremists. 

There is no doubt that women in their twenties were NOT encouraged to join the Montreal Suffrage Association. In order to become a member, a person had to be approved by two officers on the Board. Not very democratic at all!

Middle class Montreal English women in their twenties were either married and busy with family or unmarried and working at some time-consuming job like teaching.

Marion Nicholson, of Threshold Girl, would have made a boffo suffragette, (she went on to lead the Montreal Teachers' Union) but in 1912 she had a classroom of 50 and she was in full courtship mode, being taken out of her awful rooming house by a certain Mr. Blair, who she would soon marry.

The Membership of the Montreal Suffrage Association was made up of clergymen, McGill Profs and middle class matrons with older kids and money for maids That organization had been spun off from the Montreal Council of Women, taking in a couple of people from the Montreal Women's Club.

A couple of these matrons enrolled their teenage daughters in the Association, but these were the only younger members.

Young women were considered too wild and too unpredictable to be suffragists in Montreal even if they could afford it.

A letter from Carrie Derick, McGill Botany Prof and President of the Montreal Suffrage Association (1913-1919) to Marie Gerin Lajoie, pioneering French Canadian suffragist. This was Post WWI when the English and French suffragists joined forces to push suffrage through in Quebec. Gerin-Lajoie soon gave up the fight for faith, but others, like Therese Cassgrain, took up the torch.

One exception to the rule was Mrs. Francis Fenwick Williams, an author, who played a prominent role as a debater in the Montreal Suffrage Exhibit held in February 1913. It's all in Furies Cross the Mersey which you can read here on PDF for free or download for a pittance on Kindle for Amazon.

Fenwick Williams was only 30 years old in 1912, according to a travel document, but she was married in name only. She was estranged from her husband, who lived in New York. She lived in an apartment in the Golden Square Mile.

She worked as an author and journalist, but she clearly had family money. Her father was high up in the Montreal Stock Market. And she visited the UK in 1912 to work for the suffragettes. So she was a kind of Mole in the ultra-conservative Montreal Suffrage Association.

The headlines in the Montreal newspapers with regard to the UK suffragettes were often sensational.

Funny, the New York Times and the Montreal Gazette shared a news wire feed about the British suffragettes, but in 1913 there was a HUGE suffrage parade in New York, led by Inez Milholland on a horse carrying the colours of the WSPU. No such parade in Montreal, though.

Furies Cross the Mersey plays with this fact plotwise.

Headlines, I guess, can change how readers see the story.. (Imagine!)

Furies Cross the Mersey on Amazon.

Furies Cross the Mersey: A Story of 1912 (School Marms and Suffragettes Book 6)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Tighsolas: House of Light and Memories

Tighsolas over 100 years ago. The Nicholson's pose in front of their prized possession.

Tighsolas yesterday. My husband leaves holding a piece of moulding with Norman's name on it. He visited his great aunts often in the late 60's.

Yesterday my husband and I visited Tighsolas, the luxurious Queen Anne Revival home his great grandfather, Norman Nicholson, built, for 2,718 dollars in 1896, the year Wilfried Laurier came to power.

Tighsolas means House of Light in Gaelic and the house does have wonderful big windows.

The house has recently been purchased by a couple who learned about the story of their house from this blog.

(I've written ebooks about the Nicholsons from family letters, Threshold Girl, Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, and Furies Cross the Mersey as well as two compilations of letters, A Laurier Era Family and Not Bonne Over Here (from WWI).

You can read a pdf of Furies Cross the Mersey here.

If Tighsolas were an aging movie star, you would say of the house, 'She has aged very well, indeed, and had some excellent work done.'

I'm sure the elegant abode looks even better, today, than it did over 100 years ago when the Nicholson's lived there.

Norman's name on the moulding.

Beautiful doors separating what would have been the fancy reception room (for visitors) and the casual family room. 
The 'maid's stairs.' Tighsolas was patterned after the elegant homes of the Edwardian era. It is more spacious, open and brighter than a typical Victorian home. And, the views are simply spectacular. No wonder the family prized the home so much.

I should go back and add a line to Threshold Girl, stolen from Pride and Prejudice. "I don't think I have seen a home so happily situated.'

 The Nicholsons had no maids in the 1910 era. Most middle class people couldn't afford them anymore.

Moulding made by Norman (or at least supervised.) He inspected every bit of building material put into Tighsolas. He was a building inspector by trade in the 1910 era.  Norman even kept a diary while building the house.

My husband's grandmother Marion and Grandfather, Hugh, on the lawn at Tighsolas, 1913. They married October that year. 

During WWI the couple would live in Westmount, but Marion would come often to spend time at Tighsolas with her newborns and young children.  Indeed, the children had their happiest moments there.

And during the First World War when Marion was in town, her mother, Margaret, would send her emergency food packages with eggs and other farm products that were getting hard to find or too expensive in the City.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Call the Midwife, Expo67's Labyrinth and Prim and Hurtful Middle Class Values

Maternity, by Mary Riter Hamilton, a Canadian painter popular in 1910. This painting, according to reviews, shows a 'working class' mother displaying  maternal affection. The painting figures in by ebook Diary of a Confirmed Spinster.

I am awaiting a birth in the family, extended family, around Christmas and I am prepared!

I have spent the past few nights watching Call the Midwife. I am almost half way through the second season.

That means I have witnessed an awful lot of births. The scenes are so realistic, I sometimes wonder how they managed it. Movie magic!

Dolls, I guess and some real babies. Lots and lots of real babies.

It's a super show and for many reasons, not the least of which is that the stories are about the truth of family in the 1950's, not the picture-perfect picket fence image of the popular imagination, although some of the East End Mothers in the show are doing their best to live up to that image with their lovely floral sundresses and high heels and perfect make-up.

Most characters are not, and these realistic non-cliche characters, often disturbing in their ways, are what makes the show so good.

Call the Midwife is a dramatization of a memoir by Jennifer Worth and stars, among others, Bryony Hannah, Jenny Agutter and the voice of Vanessa Redgrave.

The story takes place in the 1950's, the era when I was born, in the Catherine Booth Maternity Hospital in Notre Dame de Grace Montreal. My mother had twins but that was unexpected, the doctor had only heard one heart beat. (So it really happened!)

We were pretty poor ,too, but not that poor. My father was Oxford educated and taking his C.A. then, but he was from England and now, I understand, even more clearly, why he came to Canada after the war.

He came because England was suffering through the austerity period and the working class was suffering. He was a child of the Raj, so who knows what class.

Anyway, watching all these babies being born in Call the Midwife brings to mind the first time I saw a real birth, on screen. At Expo67, at the Labyrinth.

Expo 67, the World's Fair held in Montreal, was famous for its films (a scholar I recently met has written a new book about them) but the BIRTH movie got A LOT of press.

Even in 1967, a decade after Call the Midwife takes place, watching a birth was a sketchy exercise.

At the Labyrinth, if I recall, you watched a movie from a balcony. The place was so popular there were long, long line ups, so I know I saw the movie only once or twice. I saw the other ground-breaking films, like  the one in the Canadian Pavilion, over and over and over, sometimes twice or three times a day.

(At that movie, you seat moved around the films. )

This blog is about my studies into Family Life in Canada in the 1910 era, using 300 family letters from Richmond, Quebec. I've written many ebooks, Threshold Girl, Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, and Furies Cross the Mersey - and compiled two books of letters, The Nichoson Family Letters and Not Bonne Over here (from WWI).

Babies are conceived and born in the era, but you wouldn't know about it, until way after the baby was born. No one talked about pregnancy and birth in those days and they certainly didn't write about it in letters. No way!

I know for a fact back then that babies were beloved, but only once they'd been born and become viable - were going to live. I suspect superstition played a part in this.

I also suspect there was an ulterior motive: pregnancies could be hidden. So if a daughter got pregnant the mother could give birth to it.

No one talked about their pregnancies back then, even mothers to daughters. Not in the middle class, anyway.

This prim and proper secrecy was the reason, I imagine, the filmmakers at Labyrinth saw it necessary to insert a birth scene into the experimental film. They wanted to break the silence; a silence that ended up damaging, physically and psychologically, so many women and children.

In the WWI letters, Not Bonne Over Here, Marion Nicholson is pregnant twice, in 1914 and 1917. Her younger sister, Flora, mentions in a letter how she feels so left out because she is single no one will talk about pregnancy to her.

There are only coy references to the pregnancies in the letters between Marion and her Mother. But once the babies are born, yikes, the floodgates open and there's nothing but talk of Baby. Every sneeze, every gurgle!

In the 1910 era, there was a huge Child Welfare Movement, all described in Furies Cross the Mersey- about the Montreal Suffrage Movement. You can read a free PDF copy here.

Montreal had a sky high infant mortality problem.

Indeed, the reason women needed the vote, according to Montreal suffragists was 'that so every baby will be well-born.'

During WWI they called the movement the Infant Welfare Movement. After all, they were sending 'children' away to the Front to be killed.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Montreal Women's Club, Mrs. Fenwick Williams and Suffragette Activity in Montreal in 1912/13

1912 clipping from the Montreal Gazette.

Frances Fenwick Williams was a journalist and novelist who figures large in my book about the Montreal Suffragettes.

I am getting the impression she might have figured even larger.

She was a member of the Montreal Women's Club (not to be mixed up with the Montreal Coloured Women's Club est. 1902)  that was a member organization of the Montreal Council of Women and she later become Press Secretary of the Montreal Suffrage Association.

Read all about the book here on or find a free pdf copy here.. Furies Cross the Mersey.

Furies Cross the Mersey: A Story of 1912 (School Marms and Suffragettes Book 6)

In a 1917 article in the Montreal Gazette, Fenwick Williams strongly supports the Borden Unionist Government and therefore Conscription.

She was young and estranged from her husband and had no children.

In the article  she mentions that five years before she had spent time in England working with the suffragettes.

I think I found her travel document on She arrived back in Montreal on November 10, five days before militant suffragette Caroline Kenney arrived in Montreal to stir up trouble.

So it is very likely that Mrs. Fenwick Williams was part of the deputation that descended on Premier Borden in London England in August 1912, while he was there to discuss Naval issues with Asquith and Churchill.

(The report in Votes for Women doesn't include her name, though.)

I know for a fact, from that report, that  Miss Barbara Wylie was one of the suffragettes who tried to get Borden to promise to give Canadian women the vote.

What  a trouble-maker, this Fenwick Williams.

In my book I have her home in October, giving a talk at McGill's RVC and introducing Barbara Wylie to the students. (Creative license.)

Mrs. Weller, who gave a tea for Wylie in September was also part of the Montreal Women's Club, an organization now forgotten.

It is likely her colleague Mrs. Fenwick Williams helped make this happen. She participated in a debate on the last day of the exhibit, that is also in Furies Cross the Mersey.

I found a bit about the Montreal Women's Club upon their 21 anniversary. Their Civic's Committee was a Woman Suffrage Committee. This organization did not leave behind minutes like the Montreal Council of Women. Nor did their members include illustrious people like Julia Grace Parker Drummond, Carrie Derick or Octavia Grace Ritchie England.

But they were the driving force behind the February 1913 Montreal Suffrage Exhibit, although they fought for credit with the Montreal Council in the newspapers (once the exhibit was established as a great success).

I doubt Frances Fenwick Williams figures in the upcoming Meryl Streep Carrie Mulligan movie Suffragette, even if she was in England in 1912, messing around with suffragettes.. That was the summer a suffragette threw a hatchet at Prime Minister Asquith.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Putting on the Ritz in Montreal (for the first time ever) and eating Mousseline glace orange at Midnight.

Suffragists would not have approved: In 1912/13 there were burlesque houses in Montreal.

Lately, I have spent a great deal of time poring over the Montreal Gazettes of the November 1912-January 1913 era, in search for information about one Caroline Kenney, militant suffragette from England, who was in Montreal living with her sister, Nell, in Verdun, and stirring up trouble with her speeches and activism.

You can read all about it in Furies Cross the Mersey on Kindle for a couple of dollars, or you can see a pdf here for free.

As it happens, two Montreal institutions were born in that period, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

They were wondering, in the newspapers, whether the new hotel should have a liquor license. There was a powerful temperance movement at that time, promoted mostly by Protestant Presbyterians and 'maternal' suffragists.

The Ritz did get a liquor license, though.

I found one of their first menus. Yummy. People ate out at After the theatre, I guess.

The Ritz got a liquor license in 1912 at the opening, but that didn't stop Society Types from instantly embracing the place. The Social Notes section of the Montreal Gazette for early 1913 reveals that ladies' tea parties are already being given at the new hotel.

This document was not in the Gazette. I found it on It's the marriage certificate for Sarah Helen (Nell) Kenney, Caroline's older sister, and one Frank Randall Clarke, a 'journalist.' They were Brits who married in Montreal in 1909. Caroline and Nell were sisters of famous suffragette Annie Kenney. They were Lancashire Mill workers, from a large, large family. I put a scene with Nell, Frank and Caroline in Furies Cross the Mersey.

In the 1920's era, the Ritz became the favorite Montreal Hotel of David, the partying Prince of Wales. Up until then, the Windsor Hotel was where the British Royals stayed when touring in Montreal.

After David (Edward VIII) abdicated, his brother, Berty (George VI) sent back to the Windsor.

Here's a typical reception notice in the Gazette for the era. This lady, Mrs. Weller, was a staunch supporter of the Militant Suffragettes. This party was held the day Caroline Kenney arrived in Montreal, November 15, 1912. 

 Weller had given a party a few weeks before for another militant suffragette, Barbara Wylie. The press was invited and it was reported that the women attending Mrs. Weller's tea were not at all impressed by Miss Wylie and her militancy. 

Wylie claimed otherwise in a letter home to the WSPU. She said she sold out her copies of Votes for Women magazine!

  The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts opened with much social fanfare as well, in 1913. In 1917 the main salon would be used to house a recruitment fair showcasing, instead of fine art, shiny saddles and guns and ammunition- all to impress the local teenage warrior-wannabe.

Overdrive, McGill, the Toronto Public Library and Free E-books..

Royal Victoria College, McGill's Women's College, brand new in 1900. Two RVC students figure in my story Furies Cross the Mersey. Read it here on the cloud or download the ebook on Learn everything before the Paramount Movie Suffragette with Meryl Streep and Carrie Mulligan is released in September. 

Furies Cross the Mersey: A Story of 1912 (School Marms and Suffragettes Book 6)

The other day I offered my e-book about the Canadian Suffragettes to the Toronto Public Library and they politely turned it down.

They acquire all of their digital books from a place called

So, I contacted OVERDRIVE and asked them how I get my book listed.

I have to be a publisher, if only a small one with three authors in its stable.

They will consider self-published books on a one-on-one basis, but if your book isn't popular with lots of good reviews, forget it.

It all seemed very reasonable. Quality control, you know.

It appears the McGill libraries also subscribe to this Overdrive.

Furies Cross the Mersey is about McGill, as McGill was suffrage and eugenics central in the 1910 era.

Furies tells the story of Carrie Derick, Canada's first full female professor, who was actually turned down for a plum post in 1912 - and I suspect it was because she was a militant suffragette sympathizer.

Three British Suffragettes figure in my story:Emmeline Pankhurst, Barbara Wylie and Caroline Kenney, sister of Annie Kenny, the working class WSPU leader.

You can read a FREE copy of Furies Cross the Mersey here: it's on the cloud now. And if you want to stick it in your Kindle, you can buy it for a song on Amazon.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Militant Suffragettes in Montreal 1912/13, Pankhurst and Streep

Two headlines in the Montreal Gazette, two weeks apart, 101 years ago.

Here's a free read-only copy of Furies Cross the Mersey,

 The first article was on August 29, the second on September 14, 1912.

101 years ago, today, Miss Caroline Kenney, sister of famed militant suffragette Annie Kenney, was spending her first day in the city, probably in Verdun, where her sister, Nell, lived with her husband, Frank Randal Clarke, city editor of the Montreal Witness newspaper and their two babies.

I wonder if it was snowing. I could easily find out.....

I'm the first person to figure this out, I think. The Kenney fonds  in the UK have no record of Caroline's visit to Canada. has the record of her passage though, arriving November 15, in Montreal from Liverpool.

She said she was a teacher emigrating to Canada and hoping to find a job. She didn't find a job as a teacher, as far as I can tell, but she did get active in the local suffrage movement. (Later:Yes she did. She worked on the Montreal Board until 1915.)

Being working class, she was not welcomed by the Montreal Council of Women who were in the process of starting a new suffrage organization, the Montreal Suffrage Association.

The Council did fete Miss Barbara Wylie, another British Suffragette, sent by Emmeline Pankhurst's WSPU.

Wylie gave a speech sponsored by them at the YMCA on November 6, 1912. . It's in Furies Cross the Mersey.

She almost started  a riot....between MEN not WOMEN.

This cartoon mocked the new law barring suffragettes from Canada. How could they stop ALL suffragettes, the accompanying article asked?

Well, they didn't stop Caroline, who said she was coming to live in Canada... and Barbara Wylie came as a tourist.

I have no idea if the two Britishers met in Montreal. Likely, I'd think. An entry in the Social Notes for mid January says that Miss Wylie is leaving for the Coast (Vancouver.) So their visits overlapped two months.

And it's taken me time, going through all the newspapers,  but I've figured out that the Equal Suffrage League had a meeting in January at the Baron de Hirsch Institute...and then that Caroline Kenney gave a talk on "the Evolution of Militancy" to the Hochelaga WCTU on March 6, and that in late March she gave a talk at the Baron de Hirsch Institute where it was recorded in the Canadian Jewish News that Kenney did not speak on militantism... because with that earlier speech she had got into trouble.

So that organization aligned itself with the Jewish Community in Montreal. Pretty interesting.

The WCTU speech notice is in the social notes but she is listed as Catherine Kenney from England.

In Furies Cross the Mersey, I have Caroline meet up with my two main characters in March...and she does discuss militantism and she even suggests something, that the girls, RVC students, organize a march on the Mount Royal Club.

Was it a class issue? Militant Barbara Wylie is embraced by the Montreal Council of Women but Caroline Kenney is not.

Wylie was an official WSPU visitor, though. Caroline seems to have arrived on her own, but who knows.

Emmeline Pankhurst, who is played by Meryl Streep in an upcoming movie Suffragette, spoke in Montreal in Jan 1911.

Her speech figures large in Furies Cross the Mersey

The wedding of Sarah Nell Kenney and Frank Randall Clarke took place in Montreal in 1909!  The couple had four children. This document is on

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Family Myths and 60's Memories and the Same Ole Same Ole about Women and Surnames

Place Ville Marie Plaza. Just being built in 1963. It became the center of the City. In the 1960's the place was crawling with smartly-dressed secretaries at lunch. The underground city at PVM was featured on the American TV show The 20 Century as well as in National Geographic.

Some news stories never die. One of them is the question of whether women should give up their name at marriage.

You'd think that one would have been put away for good but no, with Mrs. George Clooney, a prominent human rights lawyer, taking her celebrity husband's name lately, the story once again popped up on websites like and elsewhere.

I write Mrs. George Clooney for a devious reason.

It is seldom acknowledged in these stories that North American women, in the past, didn't only give up their last names at marriage, but also their first names.

This fact came to my attention (once again) yesterday as I surfed THAT GENEALOGY WEBSITE for records about my father, who was born in Malaya to Colonial Brits (I write about it in Looking for Mrs. Peel.)

I instantly found his name on a passenger list Master Peter Nixon, with his sister Denise Ulrica Nixon, traveling from Singapore to Britain.

I haven't paid for a worldwide subscription yet, so I only saw a 'teaser' with no date, but I didn't have to look. The brother and sister pair travelled alone together in 1927. He was 5 years old, his sister 4. They were leaving (forever) to go to school in England, leaving their parents So sad. It's all in  Looking for Mrs. Peel.

Then, a few minutes later, I found my father's name on a voting registry for 1963. But, wait, it was my mother's name I found. Mrs. Peter Nixon!

 In those days women were registered to vote under their husband's name! (That's pretty funny if you knew my mother, no shrinking violet of a housewife. That's even funnier if you think about how HARD women fought just to get the right to vote. See my book Furies Cross the Mersey on Read it here on the cloud.

My utter bemusement soon turned to feelings of nostalgia as I perused the other names on the voting list for my 1963 street in Montreal.

All the people I used to know!

The passageway of a typical duplex apartment on my street. This one (for sale today) is pretty well exactly as mine was. Says built in my home was pretty new in 1963. Ugly and drab, I thought. The owner painted all the doors of his buildings dark brown and all the porches grey, to save money. 

Well, I only recognized the 'families' where I had friends I played with.

The rest of the names on the list said nothing to me, neither the English names nor the French names, nor the Polish names,etc.

 I can't put a face to any non-nuclear family friend surname, except for our downstairs French Canadian landlady, a woman in her 80's who is listed as 'homemaker.'

Funny, she managed the rentals for the entire block of duplexes on our street, all owned by her brother, but she was still 'homemaker.'

I can see that my father is listed as C.A. (chartered accountant) as is the father of a friend and classmate. (But I knew that back then.) Another friend's father is School Inspector. Another a foreman. (He worked the night shift at a newspaper plant. He slept all day in the converted dining room, while we sometimes played in the living room adjacent. We could hear him snoring as we played Gin Rummy on a rainy day... otherwise we kids played foursquare or skipping outside on the street all day outside of school hours or we walked to the local park.)

Some wives and mothers were listed as housewife, but most just had a dash after their name, which wasn't their name, but their husband's name (as I have said).

With one exception. A friend's mom is listed as Irena. Irena W (a long Polish name.) I only knew my classmate by her shorter anglicized name.

Irena's husband, Piotr, was an engineer. He must have worked the morning shift, because many a day after school I played with her daughter in the book-filled second story sun porch facing the street, and she'd be making supper for him. At 4 o'clock in the afternoon.

 It seemed so strange to me to smell the aroma of beef frying in a pan at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Fathers came home at 5.30 or mostly.That was the way it was supposed to be.

I wonder if this Mom, who I remember only as standing in front of the stove, had had a profession before she married. I suspect so.

Oddly, my neighbour/friend's working mother, also Polish, who it was rumoured back in the day 'made more than her husband' (oh my!) was still listed under her husband's name.

 I can see that she did indeed have a big job at a multi-national corporation (Montreal was the headquarters for many huge companies in the 60's.) I bet they paid her less than they would have a man.

I can see that another friend's father was listed as a 'secretary.'

 He must have been one of those 'assistants' to a powerful man.

 I can still see him in my mind's eye (he was a tall, handsome man, worthy of the job) loping home on long legs at 6 pm on the dot each night with his leather briefcase in hand. He had a Slavic surname, I now can see, but I didn't back then, it was just another surname to me.

As I well remember, my street was a multi-cultural one, or as multicultural as it got in Montreal in 1963, very west of St. Laurent.

The street was also diverse in another respect.

There were sisters living together, working girls like nurses and stenographers living together, all kinds of people living in financially beneficial arrangements.

A close-by female neighbour was a radio announcer, apparently. Another was a copywriter. (I later worked in radio as a copywriter.)

There was a young woman working as a beautician. Another as a waitress. Many secretaries and nurses on the street. There was a milliner on the street as well as a hat-maker, (talk about Edwardian) both men, though.

There were two male teachers and a policeman and even one 'self-employed' man.

Some widowed people, some retired people.

My downstairs landlady (a widow) had a lady boarder or companion living there, whom I do not at all remember.

And yikes, there were even some other married women who worked (apart from my neighbour) living on my pre-Beatle's era street!

And, surprise, there were all kinds of people living ACROSS the street :) too.

I can't for the life of me remember any of these people.  (I might have rung their buzzers at Hallowe'en, but if I did they were the ones who creaked open the door, shook their heads, said 'Wait a moment' and then returned a few minutes later with a mushy McIntosh apple to give us kids.

So, my mother was "Mrs. Peter Nixon back then. No profession. Except she did work as a stenographer/secretary off and on.

I know for a fact she worked at least part-time in 1963. Because in November, when I got my first report card, I phoned her at work from a telephone booth up on the commercial avenue besides the Woolworth's 5 and dime. It was November 22nd to be exact.

"Hi, Mom," I said. "I got a great report card."

She didn't sound impressed. She just sighed.

"President Kennedy was shot," she said.

"Oh," I replied, untouched. "I got an Excellent in arithmetic, and a VG in handwriting."