Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Ambivalent and Ambiguous: the Canadian Suffragists During WWI

Emmeline Pankhurst and Carrie Derick

Summer's over and back to work - even if it's 29 degrees out there.

Yesterday, I went into Montreal to visit the library at Concordia to look at the WWI "Woman's Century" magazines on microfiche. The Woman's Century was the publication of the National Council of Women.

I had to, I have started writing my ebook Service and Disservice, the follow up to Furies Cross the Mersey, about the Conscription Crisis in 1917 and, particularly, the involvement of the Canadian suffragists,and I realized I needed more info. Info available in the Woman's Century.

The trouble is, the Webster Library is undergoing renovations. The Microfilm cabinets are all pushed into a corner and the 2 manual machines available to screen them are broken down.

There were no librarians to be seen, just construction workers.

But, I persevered, found the spools I was looking for and got to work reading about the National Council of Women's behavior during WWI.

(It wasn't easy. The page wouldn't center unless I held down one lens and it wouldn't focus unless I raised another. And even then it was barely legible to me, say in 8 point.)

I scribbled notes as I read because I couldn't print anything and I have to transcribe them today or I'll forget what I wrote and lose all these pearls of crazy WWI propaganda.

Yes, I found what I was looking for and more. Lots of scary stuff, too: the temperance fervor, the anti-immigrant stance, the desire to wipe the feeble-minded off the face of the earth, whom they equated with criminality.

I have read and re-read  the minutes of the Montreal Suffrage Association and the Montreal Council of Women for the era, but in Quebec the women had to be more careful about what they came out and said.  (A map in the magazine from 1917 shows that all of Canada is under temperance except for the Yukon and 14 percent of Quebec.)

Carrie Derick was especially careful about everything she said in the era. During WWI she was an active Past President of the Montreal Council, President of the Montreal Suffrage Association and Vice President of the National Council. Feeble-mindedness was her baby.
Constance Hamilton

Here's an example: During the war Carrie Derick worked for the Montreal Khaki League, a soldier's aid society.

Nowhere have I read that she actively gave speeches to recruit 1915....but that's what she did according to the Woman's Century Magazine. She gave these speeches in Montreal and the Eastern Townships, including in her home town of Clarenceville.

In 1914, before WWI broke out, she gave out pamphlets promoting woman suffrage in Clarenceville, and THAT was written up in the Montreal Gazette. Not the other, as far as I can see.

*added a few hours later: I just checked my notes of the Minutes of the Montreal Council of Women and it says 'talks were given on Women, Suffrage and War and allied topics.' So you can see how the women of Montreal edited things, even for posterity.

In the 1915 Woman's Century Magazine it is explained how the Canadian Suffrage Organizations stopped doing suffrage propanganda (as they called it) and started doing patriotic work, as they called it.

Carrie Derick said in the Montreal Press: "We have been asking for our rights, now it is time to do our duty." (A weird statement, if you think about it.)

I found this Open Letter by Constance Hamilton, the President of the National Equal Franchise League, in a 1915 Woman's Century.

(Both the National Equal Franchise League and the Canadian Suffrage Association had regular columns in this publication during the WWI years - and there STILL was a great deal written about Woman Suffrage Movement in Canada and around the world in this period.)

"Will you kindly notify all the affiliated societies and others concerned that I have decided to postpone my trip out West until a more favorable occasion. The war has reached such a serious and critical stage that I feel I am in no way justified in using my own energies and means on behalf of the suffrage cause,when the war and all that that implies, needs us so urgently. Though political freedom for Canadian women is very near to my heart, yet at present there is  a far greater issue at stake, the freedom of the whole empire and I feel we should contribute everything in our power, including the sacrifice of our time, means and even our missionary propaganda and that no jot or title that can be given in effort should be withheld by us as patriotic women. I say to you what Mrs. Pankhurst said to Lloyd George lately, "Our fight for votes is a forgotten issue in this national crisis."

Well, interesting. Especially considering the 1917 election where Constance Hamilton and other suffrage leaders rallied around Premier Borden and his campaign for Conscription, and then got all tied up in their own promises and rhetoric and general B.S.

Added a few hours after publication:(The Montreal Council of Women minutes are useful here, because they state outright that at the informal August 4 meeting in Toronto between Suffrage leaders and Premier Borden, he asked them their opinion on limited suffrage. Then he asked them to poll their Canada-wide membership to see whether his Union Government would win the election if ALL women got the vote. 

The newspaper reports of the event seem to leave this important point out, saying only that the Women declared their opposition to an election at this meeting and then Borden explained why he had to hold one. (If he couldn't get unanimous support for this Conscription legislation he would have to go to England to get it and that would be soooooo embarrassing. )The minutes also state that 14 Canadian women's locals were for Conscription, 11 against.)

 It's easy to see why by reading these 1915-17 Women's Century Magazines. There was so much ambivalance and ambiguity and two-facedness in everything they said and wrote. Ah, wartime makes hypocrites of us all, because people who stick to their principles get pilloried.

Like Octavia Grace Ritchie England, President of the Montreal Council of Women, who suffered an impeachment hearing in 1918 over her support of Sir Wilfrid Laurier's party.

I'll discuss this some more in later posts.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Women, Tennis and Art

 Camille Pissarro. One of the few tennis paintings not about wealth and leisure. 

As I settle down to watch the US Open, I've got all the English channels on record, but I often listen to the French Canadian RDS coverage. It's very very good.

Le passing? L'amorti?  Tennis is a French game anyway. I think the name comes from "tenez".. as in 'here' or 'hold.'

Serena can speak French apparently. Genie,too, for obvious reasons.

Anyway, I've written here about my suffragette play Furies Cross the Mersey and how I created a character, Penelope, who is an avid tennis player.

In one of the scenes in my book, she hears British Suffragette Barbara Wylie speak in 1912 (true story). Wylie says, "Women have made themselves conspicuous in tennis, why not in politics?" (True quote.)

When McGill opened its doors to women in 1886, the first extra-curricular group formed was the lawn tennis society.

They had luncheons where they played the guys, you see! Very cagey of them.

Well, my work lately consists of writing about ART, so I went online to see if there were any paintings of tennis.

But, of course!  And the paintings, mostly from the Edwardian Era, are mostly of women, women of the leisured classes.

Except for the paintings about the French Revolution and the Tennis Court oath.

Indeed, someone has published a book about Tennis and Art.

Here are some of my favorites, all from the Wikigallery.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

War and Suffrage and Politics (as usual or unusual).

Mrs. Denison's Threat..March 1914 So, if WWI hadn't happened, we might have had a real suffragette movement in Canada! Big if, though.

Furies Cross the Mersey is  the story of how the British Suffragettes invaded Montreal in 1912/13.

It is also the story of  the 1912-1913 trials of Carrie Derick, Canada's first female full professor at McGill and first an only President of the Montreal Suffrage Association.

In the 1912/13 era, Carrie Derick was also an active Past-President of the Montreal Council of Women, a group that was highly ambivalent about their support for Mrs. Pankhurst and her militant suffragettes in England.

To keep controversy at bay, they had to spin off the Montreal Suffrage Association, totally against their own by-laws. The Montreal Council was, after all,  an umbrella group of social organizations that had sprung up spontaneously from the grass-roots.

Furies Cross the Mersey takes place in 1912/13 when the Pankhurst suffragettes of the UK were ramping up their militancy, setting fires and such,  and making sensational headlines in the Montreal newspapers for it.

The ebook includes two other story-lines, one fictional, one real. The real story centers on the  Nicholson women of Richmond, Quebec, and Montreal, my husband's ancestors, who left behind 300 letters from the era.

The fictional one involves two students at McGill's Royal Victoria Women's college.
From Votes for Women

I am now embarking on the follow-up to Furies Cross the Mersey, a murky story that will be about the Conscription Crisis of 1917 and explain how Canada's suffragists were involved up to their elbows in the deception. It's tentatively called Service and Disservice.

A trip to Toronto is in the air. Flora Macdonald Denison's papers are at the University of Toronto and contain many scrapbooks and hopefully some delicious dishing about the movement. Denison and another Torontonian, Constance Hamilton, figured prominently in WWI events.

The Nicholson's wartime story will figure in Service and Disservice, too: the family left behind many wartime letters. These are compiled in Not Bonne Over Here, also on Kindle.

In the 1912/13 Edith Nicholson was a young, unmarried women and all for Mrs. Pankhurst's window-bashing suffragettes.

 She clipped reports of the WSPU's Miss Barbara Wylie's visit in 1913 to Montreal, a pretty, 30  year old suffragette who didn't mince words when it came to her support of Mrs. Pankhurst's militant tactics.

Edith N. was also about 30. Like many of the era's  'new women,'  was fighting to have more fun in her life in a day and age when young unmarried women were considered in need of protection from the evil elements in society and, especially, from their own shallow and erratic  impulses.

Of course, it was understood that women grew out of this erratic phase, whether they married or not.  And with Edith it was no different, although WWI likely matured her beyond her years.

Edith volunteered with the Y's Red Triangle and other organizations like the Navy League.

By 1919, the end of the war, her letters reveal, Edith was a conservative spinster, with much war volunteer experience, discussing the evils of VD and the good of temperance in her letters and ready to go and work at McGill University,  supervising the 'excitable' younger set.

My Furies ebook ends in May, 1913, with Mrs. Pankhurst's troops acting up and provoking a slew of bizarre and biased stories in the press.

 (The Suffragette movie with Streep and Mulligan soon to be released on October, 23rd, is all about this time in herstory.)

WWI broke out in August, 1914, and the 12 months prior to this is a telling time for the Montreal and Canadian suffrage movement.

The suffrage movement in Eastern Canada didn't quite know how to behave, or how to 'brand' itself.

You can see that if WWI hadn't happened, there might, indeed,  have been a more in-your-face suffrage movement in Canada.

Maybe Edith Nicholson, dear old Aunt Dee Dee, who also figures in Furies Cross the Mersey, would have joined in the fun and gone to prison for it ;)

I found a newspaper report of a speech given by Torontonian Flora Macdonald Denison (my favorite Canadian suffragist) in May 1914, when Ms. McD was fighting for her political life as leader of the Canadian Suffrage Association, an equal rights organization founded earlier by Emily Howard Stowe.

In the speech, the journalist and working class suffragist, defends herself for sending well-wishes to Mrs. Pankhurst who was in jail.

She also says the Canadian suffragists shouldn't use force like the militants in the UK, UNLESS.....Dum de dum dum.. (See clip above.)

Constance Hamilton, who would become Toronto's first female alderman, gives speeches in her capacity as President of the rival Equal Franchise League, part of  a turf war between the two organizations that would continue through the WWI years, long after Denison was ousted from her own Presidential post in 1914 for either 1) supporting Mrs. Pankhurst 2) being too working class herself.

 In 1914, as recorded in the newspapers, Constance Hamilton defends her National Equal Franchise League organization as the 'real' national group, saying the proof lies in the recent membership of  "Society Lady' Lady Julia Grace Drummond, of Montreal.

She says the fact that Lady Drummond has  joined her new national organization gives it 'some class.'

"We're not working class like Denison's organization, Hamilton seems to be saying, although at other times she speaks in the press of wanting to start a 'working women's suffrage group.' (Ah, politics.)

Constance Hamilton had visited Montreal to talk directly to the Executive of the Montreal Suffrage Association in March 1914. It's written in their minutes.

The MSA under Derick joined Hamilton's National/Toronto Equal Franchise League shortly thereafter. They merely considered joining the Canadian Suffrage Association, their minutes reveal.

As it happens, the Montreal Suffrage Association (1913-1919)  is one of the few Canadian suffrage organizations to leave behind their minutes, because President Carrie Derick passed them on to Thérèse Casgrain in 1933 at a luncheon in support of Provincial Woman Suffrage and they have ended up in the archives at Montreal City Hall.

Edith Nicholson, by then a distinguished McGill matron, was at that same luncheon, as it happens.

(It is possible that Denison's Canadian Suffrage Association kept no minutes. One criticism of her was that she didn't understand governance and did not exercise due diligence but ran the show all by herself.)
 Page from minutes of Montreal Suffrage Association with bit about Hamilton's visit.

Carrie Derick, no doubt, cleaned up these MSA minutes and other documents with an eye towards her place in history. (Bthe way, Carrie Derick also ran the show all by herself, she just made sure it didn't seem that way. Cagey lady, she. )

Compared to, say, Gerin-Lajoie's fonds at the Bibliotheque Nationale, these Montreal Suffrage Association fonds don't contain very much. (Gerin-Lajoie was head of the Fédération St Jean Baptiste.)

One could say Derick's fonds are very Protestant and Gerin-Lajoie's are very Catholic.

At the very 1933 luncheon where the MSA fonds were turned over, Thérèse Casgrain claimed that Derick would always be remembered as a famous Canadian.

Of course, that didn't happen. It is understood by public historians that the Canadian Suffrage  Movement was racist, among other uncomfortable things. And Carrie Derick, a Botanist who knew all about pea-pods, was a prominent and influential supporter of 'eugenics' theory.

Toronto delegation in Washington,DC march. Inez Milholland. Pics from Toronto Sun.

In this speech from March, 1914, clipped above, Denison claims that the suffrage movement in Canada started in Ontario.

Carrie Derick didn't agree.

Derick claimed it started in Montreal, with the Donaldas, the first female McGill students and that it was the Montreal Council of Women that persuaded the National/Toronto Council of Women to support woman suffrage in 1912 and this 'against determined opposition."

She said this in a speech in May 5, 1913 at a Suffrage Evening during the week long AGM of the Canadian Council of Women. 

My Furies Cross the Mersey story ends at this very AGM, with the guest speaker, Mrs. Ethel Snowden, beautiful and charming moderate suffragist from the UK, giving a brilliant speech and calling Mrs. Pankhurst's troops 'cavemen.'

Flora Denison attended this 1913 Montreal AGM as President of the Canadian  Suffrage Association and also as a member of the executive of the National Council of Women.

Edith Nicholson also likely attended. She wrote in a May 2, 1913 letter she was "going to hear Mrs. Snowden speak, although she is not militant and for this I am very sad."

In October 1913,  Flora McD Denison would go to Europe with her son to represent Canadian suffragists an international conference,dropping by London on her way home, where she would hang with the militants and write vivid accounts of their tumultuous working class meetings for the Toronto Sun.

Soon after her return, she'd be booted as leader of her Canadian Suffrage Association.

Always one to stick to her principles, at this earlier May 1913 AGM, Flora McD Denison made a protest speech against the National Council because that organization had come out in favour of the flogging of men who force women into prostitution.

It is written in the AGM's 1913 Annual Report that  Denison attended the March suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. as part of the Canadian delegation, with Stowe Gullen and many other Torontonians.

That is the march where Inez Milholland, draped in white robes, led the parade of 10,000 marchers on a beautiful white horse, hoisting a flag with the colours of the WSPU militants.

There's pictorial proof of this, too. See above.  From the Toronto Sun. These are probably the ONLY photos of Canadian Suffragists marching that we will ever see.

No Montrealers marched in that Washington parade, apparently.

While this suffrage parade was taking place in March, 1913, the Montreal Suffrage Association  was being launched after a two year delay, promising in the Press to be sweet and reasonable and to go about a 'quiet education of the people.'

One of their Executive Members, a Reverend Dickie from  McConnell's church, said that 'it would be better if the British suffragettes starved to death in jail.'

No marches were allowed Montreal. (Read Furies, it's all about a would-be suffrage march down Sherbrooke to the Mount Royal Club!)

It is likely some of the same TO women attended the other huge May 3rd suffrage parade
in New York City.

 The New York Times reported that there was a Canadian contingent present at the massive Fifth Avenue parade, an event that figures big time in my Furies Cross the Mersey.

Of course, Gullen and Denison couldn't have attended the New York March, they were at the Montreal AGM.

Carrie Derick center. Pankhurst top.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dream Catchers and Old Lace

A lace handkerchief once belonging to the Nicholsons of  Threshold Girl. The dark pin is Margaret's mothers, as it contains a picture of John McLeod. The other two pins, I have been told, are pins for kilts. The framed picture is Young Margaret, and the silver item at right is an ink well and pen.Yikes! I saw an advert in the 1909 Gazette for Christmas Handkerchiefs, costing from 2.00 to 25.00 for Irish lace. Nothing to sneeze at! Hmm. Maybe this one is worth a fortune. Antiques Roadshow, here I come.

Yesterday I went through a pile of 'old lace' and table linens once belonging to the Nicholsons, and put many on display in my home. My mother-in-law, who likely inherited them at Edith and Flora's death (or perhaps her own mother's death) kept them rolled up and hidden away for decades.

A few months ago, I took a long lace collar and draped it over an antique mirror in my bedroom. A few weeks later, I watched the movie Young Victoria for the first time and there's a scene in her boudoir where you can see a piece of lace is draped over her dressing table mirror. "How clever of me," I thought, to have done the same.

Yesterday, I took some lace doilies, in many different patterns and safety-pinned them together and pinned them up on a wall over the bed in the spare bedrooom which is turning into my 'office' as it is the only room in my house that has direct sunlight.

I write on my laptop, lying on my bed, listening to BBC Radio Four on the other computer my husband set up for me.

My mother- in-law kept this particular handkerchief in a separate box from the other antique linens, in her dressing table drawer, (also a Nicholson 'memento' and also in my office, here) so I suspect it is a special piece.

Now, on this blog  I often talk about the Nicholson girls of Threshold Girl as being deskilled, and compared to their mother, born in 1854, they certainly were.

But they could still do embroidery and lacework. I believe I read that Edith, the intellectual, was the best at this homely art. So these doilies, pictured at bottom, were likely stitched (what is the term for lace, pieced?) by the Nicholson girls.

BCC Radio Four featured a mini series of a few years ago the History of Private Life which I found fascinating. The narrator/author of the series, Amanda Vickery, said that women learned embroidery as a mate-catching tool....Now we all know that few men appreciate the beauty of lace (my husband has been very quiet about my recent home-decorating splurge) And embroidery isn't a practical skill.

So why did lace-making maidens attract the men? Well, any woman with the time to make lace or embroidery was obviously well-to-do. And any rich woman with the inclination to waste her hours in this manner (my words) was going to be a passive easy-to-please mate.

Tomorrow, I think, I am going to take the old Nicholson hot iron I am using as doorstop and heat it on the BBQ (if my husband will fire it up for me, as I don't do that kind of thing) and try to press one of the linen table mats (a not very good one)as an experiment.

And then I'll cook something from Marion's 1912 copy of the Fannie Farmer Cook Book. Scones, I think. Maybe on the BBQ too.

Since I cannot sew at all, I'll never be able to make a shirtwaist, although patterns exist on the web. But I can do something very 1910's. I can WALK to the mailbox 1/2 kilometer away. (No, not THAT! Anything but that. I'll even learn to sew.)

The lace on the wall. It's dark and rainy outside, so this lace doesn't show up well, But these are very very delicate pieces, of little practical use. I probably should mount them on a bright background. You know, the native people have 'dream-catchers' that are very similar. 

So these are dream-catchers of another kind, embroidered by women hoping for husbands... They are also mandala-like. Hmm. Maybe there's more to this 'frivolous' female activity than meets the eye.
Must ask Clarissa Pinkolas Estes. (I wonder what Edith would have thought of Women who Run with the Wolves.)

Trudeau, Coderre and Montreal City Hall...well,

My aunts in bathing suits. The lady on  the left was adopted, as in plucked from the streets and taken in by my bourgeois grandparents. Perhaps she was saved from a life of prostitution, as her family was dirt poor and she was very pretty. Perhaps not.

The  day, two years ago, I went to Montreal City Hall to look over the 1925 Coderre Report on Municipal Malfeasance and Police Corruption in their archives, I also went to the premiere, at night, of the Great Gatsby, a film I still really like.


Because at City Hall I read a bit of the transcript of the Coderre Inquiry into Police Corruption and Vice from 1925.

My grandfather, Jules Crepeau, Director of City Services from 1921-1930, had been implicated in Juge Coderre's Final Report, which made all the newspapers, even the New York Times. ( I wrote a play about it, Milk and Water.) It's available on Amazon. He was accused of having the Police under his thumb.

But this particulary transcript, provided to J.J.J. Brodeur, the head of the Executive Committe back then, didn't include another bit of  incriminating testimony, the testimony of a certain Constable Trudeau of the Montreal Force.

Trudeau said my grandfather forced police to look the other way when movie theatres allowed in under age kids. He told The Court, "There's going to be a catastrophe one day."

Trudeau was immediately fired by my grandfather, apparently for bribing his boss to get his brother in law a liquor licence. LOL.

(Trudeau sued to get his money back :)

Hmm....Then there was the Laurier Palace Theatre Fire. I find this a little bit suspicious, don't you?

The transcript, though, did contain all kinds of  other interesting stuff.

And in honour of The Great Gatsby's release :) I am transcribing an exchange between Juge Coderre and a certain George O'Hadale (can't read my notes here) a Private Investigator from Chicago who was brought in by Dr. Haywood of the Committee of Sixteen to investigate bars, disorderly houses and gambling joints in Montreal.

He spent 15 days in March doing his research.

It seems cabbies, bellhops and just about everyone in the tourist industry tipped him off as to where to go.

A Bennet Cab driver asked him if he wanted to see some girls. The biggest place, never raided because they paid protection...

He said yes of course (Just doing research)

George O'H testimony says: At the door the 'housekeeper' said, "Come in the back, boys, the girls are at the rear."

We went back to a small dance hall. There were no girls, just a man sitting at a piano.

Juge Coderre "What kind of piano?"

George O'H: "Ordinary piano"

The dance hall was square. (O'H motions with his hands to show the size as compared to the courtroom.)

The Housekeeper asks "Do you want to see the girls?"

He says "Yes"

The Housekeeper pushes a button and about 30 girls come out in the space of a minute. They are dressed in shimmies.. little dresses "no bigger than a handkerchief" O'H motions "two strips here  and the dress up to here."

Coderre: The knees?

O'H: 6 inches above the knees.

"Some had socks, slippers, others had stockings slippers. The girls circled us. Some of them were sitting down, some kneeling, and some who were standing up began to shake their bodies, exposing their bodies to us. Encouraging us to go to bed with them.

At the same time, about six of them put their arms around us and said.

"Well, now, come on. It's 2 dollars. Three dollars. No fooling here. Let us go to bed, buy a drink , or get out."

So the Madame asked,

"Are you boys going to stay?"

"I said NO."

She said, "You will have to get out. This is a business house."


This place appeared to be one of the more 'genteel' places. O'H describes the prostitutes in one house as "disgusting."

In another, girls are smoking 'dope cigarettes' and snorting powder and there are male prostitutes too.


Apparently, the city had spent 2 years in a campaign trying to clean up the Red Light District but not one house was closed. Also apparently, raids are conducted, the Madames and the girls are brought to court, fined and back at work that night.


A certain prostitute claimed she made 150 to 200 a week. At the going rate, that would be 20 clients a night, the man testifying figures.


There are dance halls too where girls as young as 15 go to 'have fun' and 'meet interesting men" and make a few extra dollars.


The prostitutes all appear to be called "Pearl" or "Rose"...


At the Bagdad Cafe, across from the very respectable Mount Royal Hotel, liquor is served up until 7 am.
 Whiskey, high-balls, wines, beers, champagne.

(After this report, the official closing time for Montreal dancehalls was put back an hour from 1 am to 12 am.

All this is to prove, Movie Cliches come from somewhere.

My story in e-book form, Milk and Water, about Montreal in 1927, has my grandfather and my husband's grandfather waiting for the Prince of Wales, who has planned to escape from his handlers and visit an "after hours" Jazz club. ..

Not too far-fetched.

Montreal's Corrupt City Hall Circa 1913

A reporter I knew who covered a city beat for a smallish newspaper once told me civic corruption, even in littler cities, is all about land... and money, because land is money.

He would have been interested in the story I am writing, tentatively called Service and Disservice, about the 1914-1917 period in Montreal.

The Montreal Municipal elections of 1914  focused on two issues, an impending Tramways Deal (and wherever the trams went, land prices increased) and a "Pure" Water Issue.  For some righteous people, it was all about providing quality services to the tax-paying citizen - and 'purifying' City Hall along with the water supply.

 For others, businessmen both English and French,  it was all about making a bundle in the process.

The tramways deal, a 40 year contract, was said to be worth a billion dollars to certain people, who knows who, likely Hugh Graham of the Montreal Star, or so his rivals claimed.

Graham  is accused of having bought off all kinds of politicians, in Quebec and in Montreal. He also is accused of monopolizing the Montreal media by buying more and more newspapers.

My story Service and Disservice will peak at the 1917  Conscription Crisis, but the characters will be social reforming suffragists as well as  City Hall officials. Well, my grandfather will make an appearance, for sure.

My first ebook about the era, Furies Cross the Mersey, is about the British Invasion of Militant suffragists to Montreal in 1912/13.

A main character in it is Miss Carrie Derick, VP of the National Council of Women, Past-President of the Montreal Council of Women, President of the newly formed Montreal Suffrage Association.

Derick figures big in the 1914 civic elections. She gives multiple talks, One talk is showcased in all the papers: "A Woman Speaks about the Elections."

Carrie Derick, stumping for Stephens, promised that ALL women will vote for him. (Not quite getting the concept, I guess.) The Montreal Suffrage Association executive voted to support candidates who were for women suffrage, whatever else their platforms.)

In these articles, Derick's many affiliations are not mentioned just the fact that she is a prof at McGill. Hmm. The Montreal Council of Women's social hygiene program turned off the French and La Fédération St. Jean Baptiste (the French equivalent) was not active in this 1914 election, as they had been since 1904.

My grandfather, Jules Crepeau, Second Assistant City Clerk, is also in all the Montreal newspapers at the EXACT same time. In very late March, 2014, he is caught in a bribery sting by one Edward Beck, intrepid reporter, who employed Burns Detectives from New York with 'detectaphones.'

In his article, Beck called my grandfather a grafter, go-between in Quebec City, and a manipulator who played both sides of civic government, the aldermen and the Executive Committee.

An article from the 1937 Montreal Gazette claims that my grandfather's real job was 'to teach aldermen their jobs" and he went gray doing it.

My grandfather was related to the Forget's through his mom. (Well, so am I.) From La Patrie.

Lookie here: from Toronto World

The timing of this bribe is most suspicious.The 1914 election was held a few days later. In the 1910 and 1912 elections, where 'reformers' won, a 'graft-free' City Hall was the slogan of the day.

Beck accused my grandfather of exacting tribute from lowly day-workers for the city.

I guess they were going with this winning 'beat the grafters' formula in 1914 as well.

Whatever, my grandfather managed to get off, suing Beck for 25,000 dollars, but being awarded only 100 dollars by The Court.

 Alderman Mederic Martin, a clownish candidate with no real organization behind him and no newspaper support, won a surprising victory over the 'pure-government-minded'  Citizen-Committee approved Col. George Stephens, who loudly proclaimed in his speeches that he was not in anyone's pocket.

A French newspaper, Le Pays, claimed that it was the English newspapers that made Mederic, by putting him down so much, ridiculing him so much, making the average man identify with him.

One newspaper suggested Martin was an ape aspiring to higher things. His campaign consisted of throwing his calling card with Vote Mederic Martin onto a table at City Hall in front of reporters.

Read this Coolopolis bit.

(Martin had claimed, after going AWOL on a visit to the Quebec Premiere, that he had been drugged by the opposition.)

Mederic Martin went on to be Mayor Montreal for a long time,  although after 1921 the position was mostly ceremonial.

 My grandfather rose to be Director of City Services, a post created in 1921 to ensure an equitable distribution of city funds across the districts.

He had a memory like a steel trap. Everything happening at City Hall passed by his desk. Put two and two together.

Mederic Martin would lose the 1928 civic election to Camillien Houde, another Man of the People. Houde would, then, in 1930, kick out my grandfather, but not before my Grandpapa negotiated a huge life pension of 8,000 dollars a year.

That's all in Milk and Water, about "Prohibition Era" Montreal, where there was no prohibition.

 Above, Mederic Martin and Aldermen, fishing trip.  My family photo. My grandfather in white hat with black band beside Mayor Martin in cap, center. Below. Mederic Martin toasting David the Prince of Wales in 1927, at reception on Mount Royal. The Prince enjoyed partying with Mayor Martin, apparently.

 George Stephens, head of Harbour Commission and Edward Beck, reporter, formerly of the Herald. When Hugh Graham purchased the Herald in 1913, Beck was kicked out as Editor (or left on his own volition.) He started his own tabloid, Beck's Weekly, devoted to cleaning up Montreal City Hall. 

That paper lasted only one? issue, the March 28, 1914 issue  where he smeared my grandfather. 

Graham apparently made it impossible for Beck to get newsprint for his new tabloid.  The Daily Mail printed Beck's sexy stories as did the Toronto World, and quite gleefully too. 

The Toronto World reprinted some parts of it verbatim. Beck called City Hall 'a sink hole of corruption.' He was a talented over-the-top writer who should  have penned Crime Novels, I think.

Here's an interesting summary of affairs in Montreal, written in a newswire story from Toronto and printed in a Pittsburg paper. This is in January of 1914, when Edward Beck of the Montreal Herald caught three alderman in a similar bribery scandal.

I think Beck wrote this too. He's the one who caught the aldermen in the bribe, but his newspaper, the Herald wouldn't print it, (having been bought by Hugh Graham) so he quit and brought the story to the Mail.

Soap and Values

May Fair Wells, who figures in my ebook Milk and Water. She was a Southerne Belle who expected her servants to do all the housework, except sewing. She liked that. She lived in Westmount, a rich suburb that sent its sewage downstream to the poorer areas.

Yesterday, I audited a Johns Hopkins course about the History of  Public Health and the professor explained that the Urban Hygienist movement of the Victorian Era issued out of Jeremy Bentham and the idea of Utilitarianism.

Ironically, it was in Paris where medicine men first figured out the epidemiology of urban diseases like typhoid.

But, apparently, they didn't feel that the governments should get involved with 'cleaning things up' as this would interfere with the individuals rights.

It was in Great Britain, in Manchester and such cities, were the urban hygienist movement  got rolling, because it was understood that healthy workers made good workers (and good soldiers).

Individual rights came second to the general good with these English.


Kind of ironic, really, if you think about it.

In Montreal, the issues around tainted water supply and sanitation ushered in the modern welfare state, at least according to some scholars.


Using primary sources allows students to learn history from the inside out.

So does genealogical research.

A few years ago, I purchased and read the book, The Age of Light, Soap, Water and by Mariane Valverde, but there was little in this book that  I didn't already know.

I had been researching the background to the Nicholson Family Letters for my books Threshold Girl and Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, books that take place in the 1910 era.

In 1904 and 1909 there were typhoid epidemic in Montreal.

 Norman Nicholson, the family patriarch, who had contracted typhoid in 1896, wrote in one letter that he was afraid to drink the water anywhere, including up in the Bush in La Tuque where he was working.

Once bitten, twice shy.

Macdonald College, way out at the tip of the island in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, where Flora Nicholson studied to be a teacher in 1911/12, had put in a well in 1909/1910.

Before that, for three years, they had been using river water.

Ste. Anne was far away from where Montreal dumped its sewage but there were fears (real or imagined) about the quality of the water out there.

Herbert Ames, the Privy Man, who wrote The City Below the Hill, revealing how many Urban Montrealers still used outdoor toilets in 1897.

But with Protestants, like the Nicholsons, in that era, the concept of cleanliness got mixed up with the concept of godliness.

That's why I opened Threshold Girl with this quote from a 1911 issue of Food and Cookery Magazine.

"Give us a healthy home, where the homely virtues prevail, where the family basks in purity and peace."

The Nicholsons were a wonderful and  devoted family  who loved their fine home, Tighsolas, but their closets held skeletons too. Plenty of them.

When I wrote Milk and Water, about by French Canadian ancestors in 1927 Montreal, I discovered even more about the place where ideas about hygiene and values intersect. (It's a very complicated place.)

1927 was the year of another typhoid epidemic in the City, caused by tainted milk this time.

It was also a year of many scandals, one of which was the Montreal Water and Power Purchase, where a rich industrialist, Lorne Webster, flipped said company in a few days for a $4,000,000 profit.

The City of Montreal bought the private company in 1927 to control the water supply to their newly annexed suburbs.

My grandfather, Jules Crepeau, Director of City Services, was made a scapegoat  for this fiasco and he was forced to retire in 1930.

Jules was a 42 year old veteran of City Hall, who had started out as a messenger boy in the Sanitation Department in the 1880's.

The Art Deco Facade of the Public Bath on Amherst opened in 1927. Montreal had 16 such baths in the era.

Milk and Water explores the different values of French Canadians and English Canadians in 1927, the era of American Prohibition.

One key  area where values diverged was with this Hygienist movement. French Canadians were wary of the movement for reasons centered around class, ethnicity and religion.

My grandfather was on the City Clean Up Committee and he is quoted in the newspaper as saying "You can't force people to be clean."