Saturday, October 25, 2014
At a gathering of the girlfriends a week or so ago, one woman, a really, really well-read girl, was discussing a 19th century writer she'd recently discovered. I can't remember the name. She had been gobsmacked by the minor writer's prose.
Somehow this led to a discussion of Elizabeth Gaskell because, I think, the other writer was also an Elizabeth.. and to a discussion of North and South.
I said I though North and South was about the American Civil War. She said, "No, it is about North and South England."
Well, she was right...
There is another Civil War mini series called the North and the South, but this book is indeed about England.
I have just been writing a book about the Montreal Suffrage Movement, where Caroline Kenney, the sister of militant Annie Kenney, visits Montreal in 1913. The Kenney children all worked in the textile mills... so I was interested.
I found North and South on Netflix and it is good, a copy of Pride and Prejudice in style and form. The lead actor is very Darcy-Firth like.
Interestingly, I found that North and South had been dramatized by the BBC in 1975 and the male lead was a certain Patrick Stewart.
I found this version on YouTube and whipped through it, only to see this certain Patrick Stewart who was very good in it.
In fact, he was more realistic, more crude and rustic than the more recent actor. The male lead in the recent version, Richard Armitage, is so Darcy- like it is hard to believe him when he laments that his lady love will not want a man like him.
Anyway, it is too bad that this 1975 version of North and South was not so good.
And it is not because of the year it was produced; many BBC classics stand up very well to time. I just saw I Claudius again and it still is great.
I just saw Tenko and it is great. And I just saw Shoulder to Shoulder about the British Suffragettes and it is very very good.
It is too bad, because maybe this Patrick Stewart guy would have become famous if the 1975 North and South series had been a lot better.
Anyway, I have downloaded a free Kindle version of North and South.
Friday, October 24, 2014
She was the daughter of a stock market executive in Montreal, a few years married by 1913, but estranged from her husband who lived in New York City in a private club most of his life.
It's that time of year when the days get shorter and so does my patience. I'm antsy. I don't know what to do with myself.
I've found solace in some iffy literature, Georgette Heyer My brother gave me a couple of her novels.
I admit, I have more than a few Man Booker long-listers on my Kindle, all half read - and I know why. These books take work to read.
And I don't particularly like reading long books on a Kindle, obviously.
But this Georgette Heyer book is a fun, easy read, perfect for the digital medium.
(Reading on a Kindle often reminds me of a scene from Star Trek the Next Generation, where Picard is reading a book from a little screen. Way back when, I recall thinking "This is so cool."
Moreover, this Heyer novel reminds me of another book I have on my Kindle, downloaded off Archive.org... A Soul on Fire by one Frances Fenwick Williams, a Canadian.
The novel is from 1915, is set in Montreal, and has a suffrage theme. I downloaded it because Frances Fenwick Williams is a character in my own ebook about Montreal in the 1912 era, Furies Cross the Mersey.
I didn't finish A Soul on Fire, either. It isn't really readable by today's standards and the typography is simple haywire.
But Fenwick Williams' style is a lot like Georgette Heyer's.
What FFW doesn't do is keep the narrative moving along - and her characters aren't that interesting, although she very much wants them to be.
One of Fenwick Williams' male characters is based on Sir Andrew MacPhail, esteemed McGill Professor who liked to deconstruct the minds of the suffragettes for the edification of of high-brow male peers.
This fictional character has written a book called "Women Explained."
Very funny. (She apparently told him this to his face.)
A review of A Soul on Fire
I can say that Fenwick Williams, at her best, is funnier than Heyer, or wittier, in a nastyish way. And Heyer is certainly witty from what I've seen so far.
FFW might have become a more famous writer has she been allowed to spread her wings as a humourist. I'm guessing she knew Stephen Leacock, the famed Canadian humourist and McGill Prof, personally.
Fenwick Williams was active in the Montreal Suffrage Movement and she used her experiences to good advantage. A Soul on Fire contains a dinner table conversation about the British Suffragettes where someone accuses Emmeline Pankhurst of trying to kidnap Winston Churchill's kids but they don't get his name right.
Anyway, from my first taste of Georgette Heyer, this appears to be her strength, keeping you reading, although I'm no expert.
I must ask my brother.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
In 1911, Edith Nicholson of Richmond Quebec took a 92 mile car trip to the city, taking about 6 hours with a two hours stop for lunch. I wrote about it in Threshold Girl.
When they get to Montreal, they drive around some more. Edith loves the smooth roads! She took a lot of car rides that summer with the Skinners, the dentist's family next door. The other next door neighbours, the Montgomery's, also owned an auto. Mr. Montgomery bought his first one 1n 1909 (against his wife's wishes) and got a brand new one in 1911, for which he built a garage. And so do the Hills, the prosperous relations living on ritzy College Street.
I have her sister Marion's diary from 1907, when she is a first year teacher in Sherbrooke, at home for the summer. Guess what? No car rides. Ice cream socials, croquet, reading in a hammock, going to the mail, ah, and church, sometimes twice a day.... all very boring. She says so herself "I hate this quiet." NO CAR RIDES.
A lot had changed in just four little years.
In 1910, Rube Borough wrote an article for Technical World Magazine titled Our Billion Dollar Toy.
Upon the industrial battlefield of America where the Captains of Big Business struggle for control of the means of commercial exploitation a new rival for honors has forced his way to eminence. Born but yesterday, he has nevertheless attained the proportions and powers of a giant and he strides among the dominant figures of the day with the confident hauteur of a world conqueror. Who is this newcomer in the ranks of the nation's capitalists? He is the maker and seller of a toy - of the most popular toy of the ages. With a hand of magic he devised that modern sensation and wonder, the automobile, and he proclaimed its merits so effectively that he has swept the nation into a frenzy of buying. So great has been the success attending his efforts that if he should be able during 1910 to meet the demand already made upon him for his product he can truthfully boast a volume business near to a quarter of a billion dollars. As it looks now, his probable production for the coming twelve months, according to conservative estimate, will reach a total value of around $160,000,000. And for his entire output, if he lives up to his reputation, he will get CASH…..
The automobile business for the past two years can be no more accurately described than as a scramble for cars on the part of the agents and the general public…The eagerness of middle class and upper class America to actually possess this newly invented plaything gave the manufacturers the whip hand and being in the position, they made the terms. Back of this quick-sweeping, nation-wide hysteria, there is a reason. Aside from the undeniable appeal that the self-propelled vehicle per se makes to the popular mind, we are confronted with the appeal of social prestige which its ownership from the beginning implied. For a number of years our comfortable classes have been deluged with magazine fiction whose main function has seemed to be the establishing of a wide-spread conviction of the intimate relation of spark plug and carburetors to the lives of our social patterns - the idle rich. Our most fetching romances have made excellent free propaganda for the automobile - the hero's trail of progress has been marked by the smell of gasoline.
Our periodicals, monthly and weekly, have not only been most liberal in the exploitation, gratis, of the social desirableness of the motor car, in their voluntary efforts to make this plaything stand before our provincial culture as a symbol, par excellence, of the leisure class, but, today, in pay of the millionaire manufacturer, they are spreading over the country a volume of straight-forward, hard-hitting advertising unprecedented in the industrial world. The biggest share goes to the muckrakers: It seems like an irony of Fate that this latest galaxy of stars in Millionairedom, the motor car manufacturers, should be compelled to seek for their most efficient agents of publicity a group of periodicals that have gained their tremendous influence by hostile criticism of the system that has created these millionaires…
This is a big country, a rich one, but let us remember that this wealth is unevenly distributed. At the beginning of last decade it was estimated that some 30,000 of our citizens, held title to over one half of our total resources. And in the last twenty years the process of wealth centralization has gone unchecked: the big fortunes have enormously increased in size while the smaller middle class holdings have decreased. What does all this mean? It means just this, that the consumptive capacity of our average citizen is far less than our spread eagle orators would have us believe. Coming back specifically to our subject, it means that our people cannot long continue to absorb 150,000 to 175,000 motor cars in a single year, as they will during 1910. If some tradesman in the Middle West whom I talked to are to be believed, "People are mortgaging their homes in order to buy motorcars. "The automobile, " said a piano salesman, " is our stiffest competitor we have in our dealings with farmers. Usually the woman of the house wants a piano for the benefit of the children, but the man too often holds out for a car."
Monday, October 20, 2014
This book and this plaque are related.
I've owned the book for a while, ever since my in-laws passed away.
I saw this plaque for the first time, yesterday, despite passing it in the car hundreds of times over the years, going to Finnegan's antique market or taking the kids to soccer at Thompson Park, or, more lately, taking the 'low-road' to Rigaud, where I play tennis and walk the dogs on Rigaud Mountain.
Why, only now, after all this time, did I bother to stop and take a snap with the smartphone?
Because, yesterday, while walking our dogs in another part of Hudson, Quebec, by the water, my husband and I passed a couple with a lovely-looking labrador-like dog, but white with large black patches.
I remarked on the unusual colouring and the woman owner said, "Yes, he's our Jersey dog."
"Jersey cows are brown, " I told my husband, afterwards. "Aren't they?" Those black and white cows you see everywhere are something else. (I had temporarily forgotten.)
"Yes, they were developed by a guy from here in Hudson. There's a plaque on Mount Victoria? Do you want to do see it?" my husband asked.
I said I didn't, but he took me anyway.
So, the black and white cows, I soon remembered, were Holstein. The breed was developed in Hudson, on a farm on Mount Victoria, by one T.B. Macaulay, one-time President of Sun Life Insurance.
The book above is a self-published item about this man's 1929 trip to Lewis, Scotland. It once belonged to my husband's great aunt, Edith Nicholson, who spent time in Hudson, herself, in the 1940's, visiting her niece, my mother-in-law.
Edith was Commandant of the Quebec Red Cross during WWII.
This commemorative volume has a picture inside of Mr. Macaulay..
And an inscription to Edith.
This man knew Edith Nicholson, my husband's great aunt and subject of my own self-published ebook, Diary of a Confirmed Spinster.
How well he knew Edith, I don't know. He was the President of Sun Life Insurance. She worked there as a stenographer from 1917 to 1920. The inscription is dated 1931. By this time Edith was Assistant Warden at McGill University's Royal Victoria Women's College.
These two didn't have much in common, except that they were both of Isle of Lewis, Scotland, origin.
I have many hundreds of Nicholson family letters from 1883-1940, chronicled in various ebooks.
The Nicholson's had many high fallutin' family friends, but nowhere is Macauley mentioned in the letters.
As far as I can figure, Edith got her job at Sun Life in 1917 because the Manager of Accounting lived on York Avenue next door to her sister, Marion.
Bonne Over Here: the WWI letters of the Nicholsons.
Macaulay is most famous for creating the Holstein branch of dairy cattle, or so says his Wikipedia page.
Hmm. I should put him in my Milk and Water play about Montreal in 1928, when there was a typhoid scare, blamed on water, caused by milk.
Macaulay's Secretary wrote the letter to Edith.
All this speaks to Edith's personality, her love of the 'higher' things in life, even if she was only a middle class girl, trained as a secretary, not even having a teaching diploma like her sisters Marion and Flora.
Here's a strange genealogy included with the book by Macaulay
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Chapter 2: I Survive
But, first, let’s go back to the beginning. But which beginning? The beginning beginning. The I AM BORN beginning? (To once again invoke David Copperfield, which despite appearances, is not my favourite novel. Middlemarch is.)
Easy enough. I am born in January 1884 in a green clapboard rental house in Melbourne, Quebec. 10 months after my parents’ marriage.
I know this because I have been told and also because the proof resides in shaky ink strokes in my father’s Store Book for 1884.
His household accounts that he kept from 1882, before his marriage to 1921, the year he passed away.
Fifty years of family accounts, kept in little black books.
It could be claimed that the entire story of our family is told in these pocket-size volumes, the practical side at least. The down-to-earth work-a-day side.
I was born in early January 1884 because the store book has an entry on the 7th, inserting baby’s birth 25 cents. I have survived my first challenge.
Under that breast pump 75 cents. Breast shield 25 cents. Along with one quart of milk 5 cents, a loaf of bread 10 cents, a gallon of coal oil, 25 cents. Two cords of wood 8 dollars and 35 cents. 11 pounds of oatmeal 38 cents. One dozen herring 20 cents. 1 ½ pounds of steak 15 cents. And rent 25 dollars a month. The staples of bodily existence then and today: shelter, heat, light and daily bread.
On February 19th a baby cradle is purchased 3 dollars. And some flannel and some cotton for baby. And on April 28, baby’s picture 25 cents. I have officially arrived. I am sketched in silver bromide.
On June 27, 1 baby carriage 6.37.
A year later, baby’s first shoes, 1.20. I am now officially a financial burden on my parents. They would spend a great deal on shoes and boots - and the mending of same - for me and my three siblings in the following decades.
October 1884, one crib. 2.75. Some wool for baby 2.60.
In June 1886, a child’s broom is purchased. 15 cents and I begin to pay for my keep. In those days they began teaching girls the womanly arts very early.
Also purchased that month: baby’s first book. We are Scots after all, who value education above all else. “An education is something they cannot take away from you,” my mother always says.
Still, it’s something of a mixed message I am being sent, as a 2 and ½ year old. But I might as well get used to it. Being a female, I will be showered with mixed messages for most of my life.
Then, the narrative in numbers continues: 1890 to 1895 school fees 25 cents a month. The occasional slate 5 cents. Bottles and bottles of cough medicine 25 cents each. (Cough medicine had kick in those days.) Later on scribblers 5 -7 cents. Skating rink 10 cents. Soda at Sutherland’s drugstore 5 cents. (Soda had kick in those days, too.)
Later, pocket money for Edith 5 cents. I guess I was doing a lot more than sweeping by then. Oddly, my younger brother Herb received ‘wages’ for his household chores.
And then I grow up. St. Francis Academy 50 cents a month. Latin text 1.25. Euclid’s geometry 1.00. And I get stockings and gloves at Christmas, just like Mother.
We are living in our own house by 1896, built at a cost of 2,718 dollars, not including landscaping. My father is by now a well-to-do hemlock bark dealer. Hemlock is plentiful in the E.T. and used in the leather tanning process. Father sells his bark to tanneries in Montreal, New Hampshire and Maine.
The mortgage on our house is 30 dollars a month, similar to what we paid on the rental house, but “Tighsolas” or House of Light in Gaelic is ours. And it is a fine house, a brick encased Queen-Anne Revival in the good part of Richmond, not far from St. Francis Academy on College Street. (The kind of house seen often in Ontario but fairly rare in Quebec.) Building this house, my father inspected every plank, brick and tile, himself, tossing aside more than he used.
By now, as I said, I have three siblings, a young brother, Herb and two other younger sisters, Marion and Flora, born 1885, 1887, and 1892.
By 1901 I am ‘fully out’ : corset for Edith 2.35. I start wearing my hair tied up around then, but only at dances. Combs for Edith: 20 cents.
I graduate from St. Francis Academy II in 1903 and take a stenography course there. Stenography is an up and coming profession for women. 13.50 for the course. 1.28 for a shorthand book. 5 cents for a reporter’s notebook.
I pass the course with 100 words a minute in shorthand and 45 words a minute in typing, good enough to get a job, but my parents don’t want me going to the city to work. Life in the city for young working women is a dreary business, at least according to a cousin, Jessie Beacon, in a letter to Mother.
Jessie says she works until six at her insurance office, goes ‘home’ to her boarding house for a ‘lousy hash complete with garnish of housefly” and then dresses for a predictably boring evening.
My parents are intent to save me from such a denigrating existence and seek a job for me in Richmond, but in 1904 in Richmond jobs for young people are few and far between.
Still, money is plentiful at home, despite the fact my father has had to change lines of work. He now sells pulpwood instead of the bark. At Christmas there are watches, rings, and perfume given as gifts, over and above the usual stockings and gloves.
In 1905 my younger sister, Marion, leaves for McGill Normal School and adventures in the Big City. My determined little sister has managed to convince my wary parents that the City is safe, as long as she rooms at the YWCA on Dorchester.
And, as Herb works in Montreal, at the E.T. Bank, she is not alone, so my parents permit her to go despite the great cost: 16.50 a month.
Everything in life is timing.
And I am left alone at home with my little sister, born 9 years after me, a financial burden on my parents, who shower me with ‘gifts’ at Eastertime as they feel guilty about Marion: 5.00 for a plaid dress, as plaid voile is all the rage, I read it in the Delineator; 2.35 for a ticket to see the Madame Albani
Concert in Sherbrooke. Opera singer Emma Lajeunesse, now in her middle age, is a ‘local’ girl from Chambly made good. She is world-famous, a long-time favourite at London’s Covent Garden. So, (you may have already guessed) this is a huge event. All of the. E. T. seems to want to attend.
At 22, I feel like a debutante about to make her grand appearance under the patronage of a local legend. But nothing comes of it. No eligible young men come out to the home-coming concert.
But late 1906 the pulp contracts dry up. To add fuel to this fire, we are disinherited by a wealthy Maiden Aunt on her deathbed.
My brother takes this especially hard.
“Well, now that my house is being given to someone else, I will have to give up all hope of being rich and look at it as a fortune lost,” he writes in a letter home.
“My house? MY house?” exclaims Marion at Christmas. She is now working at Sherbrooke High School and boarding at a Mrs. Wyatt’s who has a daughter, Ruth, Marion’s age. “What has Father been telling him?”
I don’t tell my sister that Herb believes we were disinherited because Old Aunt Maggie did not approve of ‘working women.’
In June 1907 my father is desperate for work, with a meager 33 dollars left in his bank account. He applies to our local Member of Parliament, E.W. Tobin, to work as inspector on the crew building the Canadian Transcontinental Railway.
He receives a polite letter from their offices in Ottawa. They say they have their full complement of inspectors. They acknowledge that Tobin has been in to see them on his behalf.
Then in August a great bridge half built collapses, the Quebec Bridge. It was to be the world’s longest suspension bridge. 78 men die, mostly Mohawks from Cawgnawaga near Montreal.
The bridge was a component of the CTR. Magically, there is a need for inspectors at end of steel and father gets the call to La Tuque, to be Timber Inspector at 100 dollars a month. .”
My parents take out a 1,000 dollar insurance policy on my father’s life. It is well known that jobs on the railway are dangerous.
My mother exchanges one worry for another.
“What is a timber inspector? Is it safe? It doesn’t sound safe.”
And I am still at home, no income, no prospects.
Then arrives a letter from Reverend J. R. McLeod in Three Rivers.
Three Rivers, Sept. 1907
My dear Friend,
I have but a few minutes to write as prayer meeting is starting. I was asked yesterday by the Manager of Works in a village 15 miles from here if I could find a suitable girl to teach a small school, about 10 children. My thoughts went to you. They will take you without a diploma. They offer $20.00 a month. I know you are fit for the position.
Regards, Reverend J. R. Macleod
“Should I accept now, I mean that Father is away?” I ask my mother.
“It is your decision to make,” my mother replies. She does not seem surprised at all by the letter from her cousin.
Mother hands me another letter, just arrived in the mail, from a young friend of the family’s, Mary Carlyle. The correspondent omits the obligatory opening pleasantries and gets straight to the irksome point:
I am writing you with such good news. I am to be married! He is a George White and he is from Kingsey. He is a sweet, kind man, with a good position and very good looking, in my opinion. It is such a relief. I was worried I was destined to be a burden on Father.
“Kingsey. So, that’s where all the perfect men are,” I say to Mother in a tired voice but my mind is suddenly made up. I climb the stairs to my room to scratch off a note to J.R. McLeod saying I will take the job as offered.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
What did people eat 100 years ago? Middle class people in Quebec of Scotch origin, anyway. Well, here's a partial list.
1 peck of apples
castor oil (Yechhh)
Nothing I wouldn't buy today, crammed in with my basmati rice and shitake mushrooms and ready-made pizza crust. (If you count CO as Vitamin D supplements.)
This list comes from this invoice from January 1914. MacRae Bros, Choice of Family Groceries, Provisions, hardware and paints. (We've come full-circle, haven't we.) It's a Christmasy list.
No meat. That was purchased at Pope's Butchers.
A 1917 list I have for that store has lard, suet, chicken ($1.60!) pork, herring, bf, fish, steak. Lots of meat in the diet back then, as now. And salmon as popular as ever. No doubt they fished salmon in the spring or fall out of the local river, the Salmon River, but that was free, wasn't it?
Margaret and Norman Nicholson of Richmond, Quebec were empty nesters when this invoice was penciled, in their 60's. But during the war they sent in many a food package into Montreal.
Margaret still grew vegetables in a large garden in back of the pretty Queen Anne Revival Style house on classy Dufferin Street. She didn't have to buy peas, or tomatoes or cabbage in the summer. Or potatoes, either, which she kept in a cold cellar for winter use. The Nicholson's had some fruit apple trees out back, too.
In 1916, Marion started a Victory Garden in her backyard, just like everyone else on her street. She laughed at how inept city slickers were at cultivating food.
Actually, I have a list of the trees planted at Tighsolas, the Gaelic name they gave their abode, in 1897. Yes, they had apples trees of the Bismarck and MacIntosh varieties.
Here's a 1917ish pic from the garden.
Well, in 1914, eldest daughter, Edith was back at home after a long stint in Montreal teaching. Second daughter, Marion, was newly married and living in NDG and youngest daughter, Flora, was at her first year of teaching in Griffintown, living at a boarding house on Tower.
With the war she would move in with Marion, as good help was impossible to find.
It's all chronicled in these two ebooks: The Nicholson Family Letters from 1908-1913 (an ebook on Amazon)and Not Bonne Over Here, the letters from the WWI era.
One thing I don't have, recipes for the meals Mother Margaret cooked (on her wood stove) with these food goods. She liked to keep them all in her head and when she shared a recipe or two, she left out an ingredient. So the family story goes.
Haddie, smoked herring in milk, was a traditional family meal from the Isle of Lewis, Hebrides, one that did not at all please her grandchildren, who spent a great deal of their childhood in Richmond in the 20' and 30's, especially when sick and suffering from one of the childhood diseases.
Otherwise, they loved grandma's cooking. Their own mother, a teacher, was some-what deskilled.
Margaret (Right top) and Norman and Edith and Marion and unknown woman.
Tighsolas in the buggy era.
The back of Tighsolas
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
My Youtube Video: How Canadian Women Won the Vote.
My nephew gave me his old treadmill a few months ago and I've been using it while watching repeats of Murdoch Mysteries.
I tried to do it watching the likes of Roger and Gilles play tennis, but walking straight ahead and watching tennis balls fly back and forth made me dizzy ;)
I tried other shows, too, but I need that perfect blend of 'interesting, fun and light" but not involving, like, say, Homeland - or I get all tied up and fall on my face.
Anyway, a friend of mine just sent me this link to the CBC promo page for the upcoming season of Murdoch, which features a suffrage sub-plot. She has an old friend in Toronto who got to be an extra for the show.
Gee, I wonder how they are going to deal with the topic.
The subject of Canadian Woman Suffrage has pretty well been censored until now: they can go any direction that what they want to. And since Murdoch is popular all over the world, this is how the world will come to understand our suffrage movement. So it goes.
Toronto actually had a real suffragette movement. What I mean is, their movement was broader and wasn't all about Protestants and Purity.
Flora Macdonald Denison was a genuinely interesting woman and activist, a journalist and former textile worker, a pacifist who didn't suddenly change her mind during WWI.
She attended the May, 1913 Annual General Meeting of the National Council of Women in Montreal...The one that figures in my story Furies Cross the Mersey.
So, I can't wait.
Here's the link to the CBC promo page.
I pinched this pic from that page... I hope it's OK ;)
Nice costumes. They called outfits 'costumes' in those days, too.
Now, this 8th season is supposedly taking place in 1902... early for the Canadian movement.
According to Carrie Derick, President of the Montreal Suffrage Association (1913-1919) it was the Montreal Delegation in 1912 that convinced the National Council of Women (that was basically the Toronto Council, I think, as it was headquartered there) to come out in favor of woman suffrage.
Derick said there was determined opposition... But I think it was Denison who brought Emmeline Pankhurst into Canada to speak in 1909 and 1911.