Friday, November 27, 2015

Colville, Bibin and Soho Sojourns

Last week at this time I was in Soho, New York, my last day and we wondered the art galleries and decadent high fashion boutiques.

I took a picture of this painting by Drago Bibin, 'cuz I liked it and it reminded me of this famous painting by Colville, stuck in a corner of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Well, need I explain why?

Here's a link to the other paintings by Bibin on the Arcadia Gallery website. Bibin likes to paint raunchy rooms.

Speaking of raunchy rooms, the first day we got to New York we went to the Tenement Museum. My friend got a kick out of the fact they made a museum out of a really, really run down building.

(I subsequently sent her links to two theses about the tenement museum.)

Being from Montreal, it's not like we hadn't seen these kind of buildings before, especially in the McGill Student Ghetto in the 70's... but these hovels, rented out to students, are all now super-gentrified.

Anyway, I snapped the Colville a couple of years ago and was surprised to see such an iconic painting placed beside the elevators, in the basement, like an afterthought.

But, then, at MOMA, where we spent the middle day of our three day trip, the iconic Wyeth with the crippled girl in the field and the house on the hill  is in a corridor.

Pictures of the inside of the Tenement Museum are forbidden, but I have this pic from a 1910 Technical World magazine of a typical NY City tenement. I found that article while researching Threshold Girl and my other books about Montreal in the 1910 era.

"Windowless Hall."

In Montreal, windowless apartments were banned, but families lived in them anyway. My ebook Furies Cross the Mersey, about the Suffragists of Montreal explains it all in a scene at Julia Parker Drummond's Sherbrooke Street Mansion.

The tour leader at the Tenement Museum explained that these poor immigrant families in NY tenements were proud, hardworking, and often obsessed with cleanliness.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Worry Upon the Opening of McGill's Royal Victoria Women's College

Ethel Hurlbatt, British-born Warden of McGil's RVC women's college in early part of the 20th century. From McGill Archives.

I've written a great deal about McGill's Royal Victoria College on this blog.

Much of the information I used comes from a trio of McGill theses and Margaret Gillett's book, We Walked Very Warily, about McGill's women pioneers.

Indeed, for my ebook Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British Invasion of Suffragettes to Montreal in 1911/12, I created two fictional characters who are RVC co-eds. And, I describe the workings of the college in some detail.

 Ethel Hurlbatt, Warden of the Royal Victoria College and a fan of  Emmeline Pankhurst, is a key character in my ebook, as well.

I lately happened upon an odd, little publication on Google.

It's the Metropolitain, a short lived, late-Victorian era tabloid aimed at Montreal's English elite, much like the even shorter-lived Saturday Mirror from 1913.

Right away, I stumbled upon an interesting editorial about the Dreyfus Affair, where the French are described as mercurial. But another editorial from 1897 really caught my eye.

This editorial, commenting on the brand new Royal Victoria Women's College at McGill, does not question the value of women's education or mock women's intellectual ability.

 All the writer wonders about is whether there will be jobs for these mostly middle class women graduates.

As it happened, there were  jobs for many of  the RVC graduates. Well, only ONE job, really: teaching.

Tennis team RVC. Tennis was the first club created by the Co-Eds,  a tool to meet men and to strengthen the body against over studying.

The immigration boom  of 1910-13 and post WWI immigration created a constant need for new teachers in the era, since married women weren't allowed to work.

You didn't need a college degree to be a teacher, just a diploma, but if you had a college degree you could become a Principal almost immediately.

My ebook Threshold Girl, based on real letters from the 1910 period, covers that issue. Threshold Girl is about 3 women teachers, my husband's ancestors, working in the poorer areas of Montreal.

(As it happens, a hell of a lot happened technologically between 1897 and 1913; the auto, motion pictures, Marconi's wireless, and mass immigration to Canada enabled by a new hardy strain of wheat, Marquis; that provoked a paradigm shift in the ways Canadians thought and felt about the world.)

The Metropolitain 
September 11,1897,

The Royal Victoria College for Women, the splendid gift of Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, rapidly approaches completion.

This institution will mark a new departure in the education of our girls.

Whether the results will be all that will be expected may be fairly open to doubt.

We can hardly be said to have a leisured class in Canada.

We are all working, in one form or another, for a living.

We are working, industrious people concerned with the practical problems of life.

Most of our young girls, after receiving an ordinary education, are expected to provide for themselves in life.

I do not suppose that 3 percent of our population can afford to keep their daughters at home, leading the lives of ladies with nothing more serious to do than dress and engage in the social functions of local society.

We do not doubt that many parents will make a supreme effort to send their daughters to Royal Victoria college when it is opened.

The institution will give a course of instruction equal to that of Arts at McGill University

In the case of rich parents, there will be the pleasant feeling that their daughter has been rendered thoroughly fit for the station that she will inhabit as head of an establishment of her own in the course of time.

But the rich girls will be as scarce as can be imagined and what may be expected in the case of 99 out of 100 girls who, though educated with broadened notions of life, with fastidious tastes, with larger demands nurtured by genteel companionship, leave the college to take their place in life?

We are an agriculture and industrious people.

Our girls find ready employment at manual forms of labour.

We provide a little clerical work for them, but this is grudgingly given.

What field is there in Canada for the hundreds of bright young intellects being  turned out of the Royal Victoria College from time to time?

(And the article goes on in this vein for many more paragraphs: What work for these elevated ladies of the middle class?)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Zola, Picasso, Keira and Thoughts about Scary Times

When I arrived back in Montreal from my 4 day trip to New York City, the customs officer asked me what I had done on my short vacation.

I'm never sure what to say in these circumstances, so I said the obvious: " I went to a show, ate at a lot of different restaurants, and window shopped...ah...fantasy shopped." I added that  make sure he understood that I didn't buy anything. Rien. Nada. Zip.

"So you went up and down Fifth Avenue but didn't purchase anything?" he asked, slightly skeptical.

"Soho." I replied. "I shopped in Soho." And then I added, "Do you know the prices? A T-shirt (and I tugged at the collar of my Costco sweater for effect)"Can cost 500 dollars!"

"You didn't buy one," he asked again.


Maybe I should be flattered that a customs officer thinks I have the moolah to put down on 850 US dollars on a Burberry scarf (of dubious beauty) considering my home-made dye job and face that has never seen Botox and Value Village Bohemian attire, better suited, I know, to a 22 year old theatre-type..

But I guess he was just doing his job.

A New York trip to me, these days, is eating and walking, walking and eating some more. It's about soaking up atmosphere. Thank goodness, this past week, the unsettled weather complied.

 Hippy Me.

My old friend K. and I had planned the trip two months ago. She chose the dates as she works on Bay Street in Toronto and she could get those days off.

The Paris terrorist attacks happened on the Friday before. We expected increased security at the airport and in the city but all we noticed was severe-looking armed militia in front of the Christmas Tree being erected at Rockefeller Center.

K and I have  known each other since high school and we are so finely attuned that she understood immediately when I said that the new World Trade Center thingy, where we first emerged, looks like the Air Canada Pavilion at Expo67.

K. who walks 45 minutes to and back from her office every day stood up to the hours of walking  better than I.  Treadmilling for 15 minutes every second day doesn't cut it for New York. My body ached everywhere by night time.

But that's a small price to play for such pleasure.

 Picasso's scandalous Demoiselles D'Avignon caught the feeling of scary 1900 change. Today it's a great selfie prop.

 My vacation nails matched the dessert at the 2 Michelin Star Modern Restaurant at MOMA. Our one fancy meal in New York City, complemented by the fact a major celebrity of our generation was seated two tables down. Otherwise, it was an Italian bistro on Mulberry Street, a French bakery with communal tables in Soho serving updated health-food, sushi at Whole Foods at Union Square (I think)a large juice bar filled with young college student types, pastries at Ferraro's Italian Soda Fountain place and lots of breakfasts at the Landmark Diner across from our hotel in Soho.
Mulberry Street from our sidewalk table.

Cartoon inspiration

I've been to New York City on only three other occasions.

The first time was in 1982, when I went with another friend by overnight train to visit K who was going to fashion school in Manhattan.

She shared a small apartment in Queens with a med student and aspiring actress near that French Connection overhead railroad.

I remember being struck by the signs for bomb shelters everywhere in the shabby development, a left-over from the Cold War and something not seen in Canada.

We all went to the Met Museum on that trip and ate at three restaurants, suggestions from a book K had: The Cheapest Eats in New York City.

I recall only one of the places, a steak and ribs grill near Columbia University.

Oh, and we tried to go to Chippendale's.

A beautiful broad-shouldered young man in a tuxedo opened our taxi door, and I recall a look of embarrassment in his eyes. We were the same age, after all.

We didn't get into the show. It was an All-Girl's night and my companion was a man.

I visited NY for the second time in 1998, this time with my young family, my husband and two boys aged 10 and 13.

My husband's nephew from Philly drove us around the city and through Time's Square one autumn day. My kids weren't impressed with NY. They called it "garbage city." (I guess it was dirty.)

The nephew had worked as a courrier and knew the Big Apple back to front. He told us how he made deliveries to the World Trade Center and how entire floors were empty, just wires and concrete.

We spent only a few hours driving around. We parked near an entrance to Central Park. I wanted us all to go to the Natural History Museum. The all-male group outvoted me. They wanted to go to the top of the World Trade Center.

The very top, out in the open...with all the German tourists.

I had a paralyzing fit of vertigo up there. My youngest son laughed at me, "There's two fences to keep you from falling," he pointed out. But my older, more understanding son gently guided me back down the escalator to the safety of glassed-in windows on the floor below.

That's the very same vacation where we witnessed 'a naked Amishman' running through a field, so all was not wasted.

The second to last time I went to NY was just 5 years ago in 2010. 9/11 and all that.  I went with my younger son's girlfriend, just for a day.

I wanted to see the Roundabout Theatre's production of Mrs. Warren's Profession with Cherry Jones and Sally Hawkins. At the American Airline Theatre.

She picked the date, November 17, the same date as this year's trip.

This was a very girlie occasion. We took a Sex in the City Bus Tour, visiting the Magnolia Bakery and some Sex Shoppe, etc.

The next day before catching the plane we took a caleche through Central Park, the weather was crisp and sunny, and then we walked a bit and ate at the Boathouse.

Pictures of the trip are still plastered on her Facebook page.

At the Boathouse in Central Park, November 2010.

It was a short but sweet interlude, My now daughter-in-law loved Central Park and wants to go back some day with my son, her husband. They honeymooned in Paris.

Anyway, this time it was the Picasso Sculpture Exhibit at MOMA with my high school friend, the one who remembers Expo67 as clearly as I do.

Expo67, as I have written on this blog, was my introduction to worldiness and art.

At Expo, there was a sculpture garden in the back of the American Pavilion filled with "Cezanne-inspired" sculpture. No doubt there were a couple of Picasso sculptures there,too.

I loved that place. I loved the sculpture, the grass and the peace and quiet away from the crowds.

I have always thought this was because I had some kind of natural affinity for this style of modern art, but this past week, while walking through MOMA, I had an epiphany.

These Picasso Sculptures were the inspiration for many a television cartoonist in the middle of the 20th century.

I grew up watching these cartoons.

No wonder I could relate so much!

On this NY trip, we saw Keira Knightley in Thérèse Raquin, her Broadway debut at Studio 54. The play has received mediocre reviews, but I  enjoyed it a great deal.

I'm a Zola know-it-all and a huge Keira fan.

Some critics think the Zola play, about a frustrated borgeois French girl, is a bit irrelevant and out-moded, but I see the universal aspects in it.

And I'm not alone: Zola is one of the favorite downloads on

And the acting all-around is terrific.

If I want to see Keira Knightley looking fabulously dressed, I'll re-watch Anna Karenina or the Duchess.

My friend, K, enjoyed it too. As we walked down Broadway, she remarked, "You know, after 9-11 people thought NY would never be the same, But, look. It's even better than before. I hope the same happens for Paris."

K has been to Paris 4 times, a pleasure I have not had once.

Which brings me to 9/11.

On September 11, 2001 I was working in downtown Montreal,  for a company run by people from France.

When the first plane hit the Twin Towers the guy at the desk behind me saw it on his laptop. We wanted to go downstairs to the 'bar' and watch the news coverage.

The officer manager said "NO" at first. "So, what," she said. "Paris had worse during the War."

"But, this is going to change the world," I told her-  not realizing how true that was. I wanted to get out of that skyscaper downtown and go home to the 'burbs' and be with my two boys.

We did go downstairs to watch the news and we all left the office early.  We didn't care what our boss thought.

I'm wondering what she is feeling today, this French woman from Paris. Well, I can imagine.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Canada's History Webinar and a tale of dueling Cabinet Photos

I took this from Maclean's website that had some great articles on the new Trudeau cabinet. "Because it's 2015."

Must say, Justin Trudeau's new cabinet is inspiring. I don't want to get too inspired, lest I set myself up for disappointment, but when you consider that Margaret Thatcher had no women at all in her cabinets (she wanted to remain the only women in an group photo) this official picture, alone, is a great thing, an important moment in history.

Men and women, young and old.

Thatcher Cabinet 1989

I was also impressed by the lyrical notes of red in a sea of blue and gray in the official photo.

Yesterday evening I participated in a short but sweet webinar given by Canada's History Magazine, with the guest 'speaker' being Rose Fine-Meyer.

Rose Fine-Meyer, a distinguished OISE educator, gave a presentation on how to use community resources to dig out info about women's history. Right up my alley. The webinar was aimed at teachers and researchers.

Rose Fine-Meyer’s presentation, How Community Influences the Teaching of Women's History in the Classroom.

Fine-Meyer acknowledged that anyone 'tuning in' to her talk had probably torn themselves away from the TV and the coverage of the day's events in Ottawa, Justin Trudeau's swearing in.

After the presentation there was time for a few questions and I asked my Valverde one. Should teachers look at the dark side of women's history, like Mariana Valverde does with her book on the Purity Movement?

Fine-Meyer replied that teachers like to highlight the positive because they wanted to inspire their students, although there was a place for the other. (I am paraphrasing.)

I'm writing Service and Disservice, about the Canadian suffragists and their iffy involvement in the 1917 Conscription Crisis.

It's a follow up to Furies Cross the Mersey, about the invasion of UK suffragettes to Canada in 1912/13.

Her remark brought to mind the 1909 article I had read and republished on my old website, called Moral Enthusiasm from Education Foundations Magazine.

The author, Arthur C. Call  writes about 'what it is to be a hero' and how heroes inspire. He uses the examples of Columbus and the Norsemen,and Buddha, Ralph Waldo Emerson, DaVinci and Charlemagne. Half of these example, all men, can be described as blood-thirsty criminals. Columbus committed genocide on the gentle people of Hispanola; The Norsemen (winners in the great Darwinian contest) slew the monks of Ireland; Charlemagne in the name of Christ hacked off the heads of all the pagan leadership, 7,000 I think the number is. Nice people!

If these are heroes, they are heroes with a river of blood on their hands.

My problem with promoting the positive in history, or only telling the ugly stories from the victims' point of view (ie. Residential Schools) is that we never learn that it's not only bad people who do bad things; good people do bad things too, and sometimes merely by being passive.  See McCarthyism, etc.etc.

That's such an important lesson to learn in a democracy.

But, even in my genealogy writing group, where great Canadian history is dug up every month by exploring family history, the stories got much better when the group leader suggested it's  fun when people explore the dark side of their ancestors.

If you want the good side, all you have to do is go to the obituary :) For the other, you have to do some detailed detective work.

PS: in her presentation Fine-Meyer touched upon the suffrage movement in Canada, with a pic of Emily Howard Stowe and that 'iconic' image of Christable Pankhurst and Annie Kenney holding a huge sign VOTES FOR WOMEN.

That's the second time I saw that same image used in the Canadian context, for lack of a better one from Canada. (The first time was for a feature on Women's Soccer this summer.)

I've often published an image from the Toronto World on this blog, explaining that it is the ONLY picture of Canadian suffragists marching that you will ever see. (It is from the 1913, the giant march in Washington and shows the Canadian delegation, made up of August Stowe-Gullen, Emily's daughter, and other Ontario suffragists, all older women.)

An article in the Ottawa paper about Rosalie Jones and her suffrage tramp. She inspired some young Montrealers to propose a similar tramp to Ottawa. That inspired the Montreal elite to start a suffrage organization on the jump...they didn't want this kind of thing happening in Canada. No march happened from Montreal to Ottawa, so no pictures exist of real Canadian suffagettes marching. 

The reason why the Pankhust/Kenney picture is iconic is because they are young women. Canada did not allow young women to participate in our suffrage movement.

Too 'exciteable.'

This Canada's History webinar was the forth in a series of seven on the subject of women in Canadian history.

The Enlargement of Moral Enthusiasms

You were led by these subtle spiritual forces to a finer heroic selfhood.

For example, you got in touch with the Norseman and he was idealized before you. You saw yourself adventurous, fearless, wild. You heart would pour out sagas to the undying ages. You looked upon the mound builders, you became a toiler. But when Columbus came on the scene your courage arose, your perseverance and industry increased. You became willing to risk for the faith you held.

Perhaps you read of Buddha and the genuine peace he offers to one third of humanity. You learned, as others have done certain stock things about Socrates. But upon closer relation with this greatest of Sophists, you began to catch the scholar's enthusiasm.

You learned of Charlemagne, and let the soldier rise in you, the thirst for power.
You may have sat at the feet of Francis, the sweet saint of Assisi and felt you soul warmed at the heart.

You may have contemplated Da Vinci, and become lost in wonder before this greatest mind of all minds.

You learned about Darwin. You learned that Darwin has rarely been highly thought of by the ministers. But the more you learned of the man the more you were able to rise above suffering, the more you sat in his study and learned the value of little things.

Perhaps finally you came to Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American Plato, and beheld how he supplemented Buddha's asceticism in you..
Arthur C. Call form Educational Foundations Magazine 1909

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Suffragettes: Theatre and Politics..

Caroline Kenney, sister of Pankhurst militant, Annie Kenney, came to Montreal and tried to start up a militant suffrage organization.

In October, 1913, Flora Macdonald Denison, President of the Canadian Suffrage Association, arrived back from a 6 month tour of Europe and gave a rousing speech in praise of Emmeline Pankhurst.

Denison had gone to Europe specifically to attend a meeting of the International Women's Suffrage Alliance in Bucharest in June and she reported on it in her Toronto World column.

On her way back home, she stopped in Paris and London.

In Paris she wrote about the fashions, bien sur.

In London, Denison wrote about the militant suffragettes. She was hosted there by Miss Barbara Wylie. a British militant who had just returned from Canada.

Wylie had tried to stir up 'suffragette' passions in that country, with very limited success.

Ontario suffragists in Washington, March, 1913, Denison and Dr. Gordon, and Yorkshire born Constance Hamilton who would lead a coup against Canadian born Denison the next year and end up helping Premier Bordon fix the 1917 Conscription Election with his infamous Wartime Elections Act which gave the vote only to women with men at the Front.

Wylie took Denison to see two rallies in one day; one with Annie Kenney at the London Pavilion (where Emmeline showed up and was descended on by police) and one in the East End, where a weakened Sylvia Pankhurst spoke, but escaped the police.

Now, in October, 1913 Toronto appearance, Denison probably should have stuck to a business-only speech about the Bucharest Conference, where they danced around the issue of militancy. Many women in her organization had been out to get her for a while. Instead, she talked about Mrs. Pankhurst, obviously infused with the warrior spirit.

She said that a great play was unfolding in England, with Pankhurst as the heroine and the British government as both the villain and the clown.

Mrs. Pankhurst arriving in Montreal in December, 1911, being met by Dr. Grace Ritchie England, the President of the Montreal Council of Women. She would speak in Toronto a few days later, hosted by Flora Macdonald Denison.

I personally love that statement. In Furies Cross the Mersey, by book about the invasion of militant suffragettes to Canada in 1912/13, I explore the issue of Pankhurst and her brand of suffrage 'theatre.' Or, more precisely, I have a character explore it.

Kathleen Weller, a Manchester-born Montrealer on the Executive of the Montreal Suffrage Association, was in London visiting the suffragettes at the same time as Denison, and she also was moved to give a rousing speech supporting Pankhurst upon her return to the city.

This was against the policy of the MSA, that claimed to be 'sane' and 'reasonable' and was going about 'a peaceful education of the people'.

The movie Suffragette, directed by Sarah Gavron, starring Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst and Carrie Mulligan as a working class suffragette, is interesting and beautifully acted and it recreates some famous suffragette incidents, but the movie fails to explore this 'theatre' angle.