Thursday, July 13, 2017

WWI and the Canadian Suffragettes: A Murky Tale

You know that movie It's Complicated? Well, I think my WWI era ebook should be titled that instead of Service and Disservice.

Service and Disservice is about the  1917 Canadian Conscription Crisis and the 'iffy' involvement of  the Canadian suffragists,  a follow up to the e-book Furies Cross the Mersey, about the 1912/13 Bristish invasion of militant suffragettes to Canada.

And it's all so very complicated. I don't think even the few scholarly accounts of the event get it one hundred percent correct.  It's complicated because even back then in 1917 people didn't know what was going on.

Lots of people involved lied, too.

When I was writing up the first chapter of Service and Disservice, where Carrie Derick, President of the Montreal Suffrage Association, tells her side of the story, I realized I was missing some critical information, info from the summer of 1917 when Mrs. Constance Hamilton, President of the National Equal Franchise Union, held an emergency meeting of the NEFU in her home to ask Borden NOT to hold an election, because if he did, "slackers from out West and Quebec would get to vote."

In the Toronto press report the Montreal Suffrage Association (a member of the NEFU) sent a statement of support for Conscription, a somewhat hysterical one, quoting from John McRae's war poem.

"Is Canada going to fail? Never. If ye break faith with those who die, they shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders Fields. Canada's honor is at stake. She will not, cannot fail to carry on and keep her word to our brave fighting men and to our glorious dead."

Above, Emmeline Pankhurst, Carrie Derick; below,  Toronto "Canadian' suffragists march in Washington DC, 1913, Constance Hamilton among them as President of the Toronto Equal Suffage League. She would soon start her own 'national' organization.

This struck me as very uncharacteristic of the MSA. Miss Derick was always very careful about what she said to the Press.

For instance, the MSA executive supported Conscription, but called it 'Mandatory Overseas Service', a euphemism. (Later, Derick would say they never supported Conscription, per se.)

So I went over to the Montreal City Hall archives and took a look at the 1917 minutes to learn, as I had suspected, that Derick didn't have anything to do with the bizarre pro-conscription resolution.

 A Mr. Holt and Mrs.Scott received Hamilton's telegram back then and replied on their own, without holding an executive meeting.

Mr. Holt, a lawyer, was the man who had an angry confrontation with militant suffragette and WSPU memeber Barbara Wylie, when she spoke in Montreal in November, 1912.

 Miss Wylie made fun of him from the speaker's platform. A year later, in 1913,  Holt was on the executive board of the newly-minted Montreal Suffrage Association.

Quite a few men, many clergymen, were on the executive of the MSA. No young unmarried women, though. Too 'excitable'.

The importance of all this: well, that 'bogus' statement probably made Premier Borden think that Quebec suffragists would be on-board with a limited suffrage option for women voters if the PM was forced to hold a federal election to get his Conscription Bill through parliament.

Indeed, Mrs. Hamilton, in her press statement for that July meeting, made a point to say the Montreal Suffrage Association represented all the women of Quebec, which couldn't have been farther from the truth.

 In September, 1917,  Borden gave the vote to women only with male relations at the war front.

The Montreal Suffrage Association, led by Miss Derick,  passed a resolution in protest against limited suffrage and sent it to the PM.  Some members of the MSA Board dissented.

Premier Borden, clearly exasperated by this resolution, replied to the MSA explaining his position. "You don't realize the difficult position I am in. Would you want unpatriotic foreign women out West to vote just because they married a Canadian?"

Borden didn't mention Quebeckers in his reply to the MSA, as if they were irrelevant.

Toronto suffragists, who liked to think of themselves as the leaders in the Canadian Votes for Women movement, were clear about their contempt for 'unpatriotic' Quebeckers. It was written all over the National Council of Women Magazine, The New Century.

Derick, living and working in two solitudes Quebec, couldn't be so blunt.

The quote from John McCrae's In Flanders Fields is all very tell-tale.  It was Professor Andrew MacPhail of McGill who reportedly found the unsigned poem in  Europe in 1915, recognized it as McCrae's by the style, and then sent it  on his own to be published. (The story around this is all very sketchy, I think. File under Wartime Propaganda.)

Francis Fenwick Williams, a writer on the Board of the Montreal Suffrage Association, and a woman who would soon speak in favour of Conscription at an August 1917 Win-the-War rally in Montreal, had been MacPhail's secretary for a while, working with him on a McGill Journal.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Jazz, eBooks and Cashmere Handbags

Yesterday afternoon, my husband and I went in to take it the atmosphere, and some music, at the Montreal Jazz Festival, downtown.

We saw these surreal gals on the street.  Where's the Friendly Giant?

After eating a couple of Lafleur hotdogs, we sat on the steps of Place Des Arts and listened to a small Dixieland band play all the standards, like Sweet Georgia Brown. Then a youth band played on the large Rio Tinto Stage. All very good.

It was hot, but not JULY hot yet. And there was a breeze. 

I people watched, looking out for interesting outfits.

I saw one wealthy-looking older woman, in beige Audrey Hepburn style culottes and a sleek black sweater, carrying a a turquoise cloth hand-bag I just loved.  Cloth? Probably cashmere. The purse had bone handles. It was very simple and very chic and very, very expensive, I bet.

Everyone comes out for the Jazz Festival.

We walked the 2 kilometers back to Papineau and Rene Levesque, where we had parked the car, looking at the hodgpodge of architecture: old buildings, new buildings, ugly buildings, pretty buildings, gentrified buildings, derelict buildings. 

This building at St. Laurent seemed interesting. I gauged it at around 1905. (I didn't see a date on the building, as is usual.)

I noticed La Patrie was embossed over the door. La Patrie, the tabloid that hated my Grandfather, Jules Crepeau. My grandfather lived two blocks up at Sherbrooke and St. Laurent.

My husband asked when the newspaper was founded. 

"I don't know, " I said. "I know it was around in 1927, a tabloid with more photos than print. The paper covered the 1924 Coderre Commission into Police Impropriety word-for-word and included sketches of the men and women testifying."

 They also had this pic of my grandfather from 1913. Grandpapa was involved in a scandal back then, his first, or maybe second, and certainly not his last. Read Milk and Water, my ebook about my grandfather, here.

"So they've been around at least since 1913, but this building looks around 1905." 

Anyway, today I checked online and the building is from 1905. I'm getting good at this. 15 years of research into Montreal's history has made me quite savvy.

So, I now know where La Patrie was, and the Herald, (down by Atwater).. and I've always known since childhood where the Gazette was... St James Street, right?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Lightsabers and Banana Splits and Virtual Reality Family Stories.

My living room, 1964. The marble bust of three kids on the right was the only 'art' in our plain duplex apartment,  if you don't count ashtrays.  My mom had inherited it from her parents, who had been wealthy -or at least wealthier. She later sold it to a friend. Our TV was a 20 inch black and white Westinghouse.

The other day I had my very first virtual reality experience at a place called ColonyVR in Ottawa. My son took me and my husband.

While my hubby played with lightsabers, I immersed myself in Night Cafe, a tribute to Van Gogh, an experience that was simply mesmerizing.

This week, I was inspired to create my own work, by placing a picture of the 10 year old me  in the living room of the upper duplex apartment where we lived  in 1965. (It's for sale). As you can see, I'm no Van Gogh.

The living-room window above looked out on a sunny maple-lined street in the Snowdon area of Montreal.

Our white polyester curtains were always greyish, though, from the lead-laced exhaust of the pink Thunderbirds and red Mustangs idling below.

In the afternoon, you could see a thick cloud of dust in the sun's buttery rays.

(Remember, air in the big cities was very polluted in the 1960's, although there was still plenty of fish in the oceans back then and you couldn't walk from Newfoundland to the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, balancing on plastic water bottles.)

Thanks to the late day sun, there was always an  African violet, purchased from the Woolworth's on Queen Mary Road, on the sill over the radiator.

It was a five room upper duplex, built in the 1930's, with super thick walls that couldn't take a nail, so no pretty pictures graced our messy over-crowded  family home.

(Well, maybe there was a Turner - also from Woolworth's - in the living room.) We had lots of ashtrays, though, of all shapes, colours and all sizes.

I wrote about it in my book Looking for Mrs. Peel.

Most of the duplexes along this stretch of  Coolbrook in the 1960's had brown doors and grey porches, because the same penny-pinching man owned them all and purchased the paint in big industrial batches.

Only a few homes had flowers, let alone gardens, in the front. Indeed, one home, up near Queen Mary had a beautiful, abundant garden that stood in startling contrast to the other homes on the street.

I admired it everytime I passed on the sidewalk, on my way to the Woolworth's, where I wished I had the 39 cents to buy a Banana Split.

The Italian family, a few doors down from us, also put out a few potted plants he likely planted and nurtured himself. No wonder he was furious when my brother knocked one over with a soccer ball.

There was no Costco to buy Frankenflowers back then in the 1960's.

Our one-way street, even back then in 1965, was multi-cultural. My school textbooks may have been all "Dick and Jane" and whitebread but my neighbours were originally from Jamaica, Venezuela, India, Greece, Poland, etc.

Today, these same duplex apartments on it go for half a million dollars - despite the fact they back onto the filthy, loud Decarie Expressway, built in 1965/66.

My old duplex apartment is going for a bit less. It hasn't been renovated like the others.

Despite the lack of beauty in my childhood, or perhaps because of it, I'm a huge fan of the Impressionists (and Post-Impressionists).

I visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam about one year ago, where they do not let you snap pictures of the works.  Still, it's a great museum, that tells Van Gogh's story with clarity and  panache.

Right now, I'm also listening to Zola's Oeuvre on  Oeuvre, or Masterpiece, is based on the author's relationship with the artist Cezanne.

Of course, Cezanne, the father of modern art and  a manic-depressive, struggled to get his artwork recognized. He even had problems getting his paintings into the "Salon of the Rejected."

This makes me wonder, "What's the equivalent, today?" What great art of the future is being downplayed by the Bourg..ious..oeus, (I can't EVER spell that word.)

The middle class.

Video games? My son, of course, loves his video games and I, of course, have always found them too violent - and silly and a waste of time.

Last year, though, I asked my boy to dig me out a few non-violent ones so that I could try them out on the PlayStation. I no longer wanted to be a smug Philistine. I also was in in search of some brain-sersize.

He lent me Rayman and Assassin's Creed and Christine and Dark Rain.

It is difficult developing this video game 'literacy' when you are much older. I was all fumble-fingered - so I gave up.

But, now, after this wonderful VR experience in Ottawa, one that made me realize that this medium is supposed to be pleasurable, I can see the future of video games and VR and I want to be prepared for it.

I pulled out my son's video games, which are still in my home, and tried again. And I was a little bit better at it.

No, I don't want to be like those short-sighted Paris critics, who said Cezanne's paintings looked as if a monkey had thrown poop at a canvas.

(Hey, aren't monkeys throwing poop BIG on YouTube? That's what my son tells me.)

 OK. I clearly deserve kudos for being so open-minded ;) I'm also a typical older person who is into genealogy. I belong to a genealogical writing group that meets once a month to write down our family stories.

We've compiled our best stories in a book, Beads in a Necklace: family stories from Genealogy Ensemble, to be published in autumn, 1917.

I was re-reading some of these stories today. If I say so myself, they are pretty amazing, a genuine chronicle of Canadian social history, with a focus on Montreal history.

These family stories are in essay form, combining fiction and non-fiction techniques - as well as photos.

This makes me  wonder whether future genealogists will be taking their family photos and films and videos and turning them into, yes, virtual reality presentations!

OK. Slow down, Dorothy.  One step at a time.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Montreal Area Workshop Fall 2017: Writing Your Family History

Wedding pic. Margaret McLeod and Norman Nicholson 1883, Richmond, Quebec.

Are you part of a Montreal-area community group?

Are some of your members researching their genealogy or otherwise interested in family history? 

Would some of them like to write their unique family stories for a blog, for a book, or for their grandchildren, but don’t know where to begin?

If so, a Genealogy Ensemble presentation about Writing Family History might be just the boost they need.

Genealogy Ensemble groups nine women who have been meeting monthly over the past several years to share stories about their families. The support and feedback they give each other has helped them improve and develop their passion for writing compelling family history. They take turns posting stories to They have just collected a selection of their favourite stories into a book that they can use to inspire others to explore genealogy.  

This one/ two-hour presentation could be given in the daytime or evening between November 2017 and May 2018. Such a seminar would attract about a dozen people.  

Genealogy Ensemble would provide a promotional poster to enhance the library’s efforts in publicizing the event. The presenter would bring a laptop or a USB key with a PowerPoint for use on a projector provided by the library. The presenter will also bring a few copies of Beads in a Necklace: Family Stories from Genealogy Ensemble (Montreal, self-published, 2017) to sell.

Some of the topics to be covered in this presentation:

·         Why write your family history? Stories are the best way to connect family members to their ancestors.
·         Using fiction techniques to tell non-fiction stories.
·         Separating myth and reality and the importance of citing sources.
·         The benefits of forming a writing group: meeting deadlines; limiting stories to 500 words; feedback from the group; polish and publish.

There will be handouts, including writing tips and suggested online resources.

The presenters include:  

Barb Angus, a career educator, is well known among teachers for her workshop presentations on innovative instructional practice. She has travelled extensively and has a passion for people, place, and story. Her natural curiosity ultimately led her to research her ancestors and write about significant events in their lives.

Tracey Arial profiles Montrealers in newspapers, magazines and books. Her work includes I Volunteered: Canadian Vietnam Veterans Remember, Behave Your Way to Project Success and an upcoming book about economic expansion and social wounds caused by World War II. Read her blog at

Janice Hamilton was a journalist and freelance writer for more than 40 years. She is author of numerous non-fiction books, including The St. Lawrence River: History, Highway and Habitat (Redlader, 2006). Her family history blog is

Dorothy Nixon has worked in radio, television news, and as a freelance writer for small and major market magazines and newspapers. Her specialty was education and women’s issues. Her passion, today, is exploring Canadian social history through family stories. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

ColonyVR, Van Gogh and Labyrinths.

Me last year outside Van Gogh Musuem.

My husband and I decided that we should try to do something new together at least once a week, something we haven't done before, or at least not in a long while.

Well, one of of us decided and the other went along.

"It doesn't have to be expensive," I said. "In fact, it should be on the cheap side. But, that means we have to be creative."

I bought a cheap badminton set the first week. The second week we went to the Aviation Museum in Ottawa.  Then, we visited Ile Bizard, a place we've never been to, even though we've passed it by thousands of time.

"In the summer, our new activity should be outdoors, if possible." I had recommended.

Except that I went and hurt my knee playing tennis - not a new activity.

So, what did we do this weekend?

We did some virtual reality, at a place called Colony VR in Ottawa.  My grown up son had done it for his birthday and really enjoyed it. He wants to eventually get his own device.

Needless to say, I'm not into video games. (I have tried to play some recommended by my son, but find it hard.)

But, virtual reality sounded like fun. I like to use our big screen TV to imagine I'm in, say, Big Sur, or Italy, in the dead of winter, so I'm half-way there.

"Yes, let's try that," I told my husband.

And we did. ColonyVR looks like a place parents bring kids for birthday parties.

I did the undersea experiences, very, very nice and something called NIGHT CAFE where you immerse yourself in a Van Gogh painting.

As it happens, last year at this time I was in Amsterdam and I did visit the Van Gogh Museum, an excellent museum, one of the best I've ever been in.

This Night Cafe Virtual Reality experience was simply beautiful.  The colours!  Here it is on Youtube, but the REAL experience is much brighter.

The Labyrinth film at Expo67, 50 years ago. I saw it only once or twice as there were such long line-ups, but I saw the other signature films many, many times.

Anyway, as soon as my knee heels, we're gonna go biking on the Lachine Canal.

Before that, maybe we'll visit the Museum on Ile Ste Helene, where there's an Expo67 exhibit.

That Expo67 feeling: I got a little dose today, fifty years on.  Expo had cutting edge films, or way beyond cuting edge.

I think this Ile Ste. Helene exhibit at the Stewart Museum -Expo67 A World of Dreams - has virtual reality exhibits of Expo, ir 'immersive exhibits'.  How circular is that?

                  Stamps on an Expo passport. The bright one at left was the Ethiopian Pavilion.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Who Owned the Plaines of Abraham? My Ancestor

Today, for some reason, I got the urge to clean out an Edwardian-era secretary I have in the living room. It was full of crap. I found this pic of my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, at about 24 years old.

I had forgotten about it.

He's very French-looking, no?

The son of a house painter, at the time this photograph was taken Jules had already been at City Hall for 15 years!

He was married in 1901, or is it 1900, to Maria Roy. Maria, the daughter of a Master Butcher, brought a 40,000 dollar dowry to the marriage which allowed him to build a new house on Amherst.

I have two crystal urns that was one of their wedding presents. I have them in the bathroom, as decorations.

Maria's mother, Melina Gagnon Roy, lived with them on Amherst in 1902.


I have just decided to write a book, Montreal 1928, about Jules. In 1928, he was Director of City Services, a big and powerful position.

Jules was involved in numerous scandals that year, too: the  controversy around the 14 million dollars Montreal Water and Power Purchase; the fall-out from the fatal Laurier Palace movie house fire in 1927; and yet another typhoid epidemic.

A couple of years before, Jules'  name had been brought up during the Coderre Commission into Police Malfeasance and Impropriety. Apparently, he was BOSS over the police, telling them what to do.

At that inquiry, a certain Constable Trudeau would testify that my grandfather forced police to look the other way when movie houses made infractions against the by-laws.

Trudeau did  not like children attending movies. "One day, there's going to be a catastrophe," he said. "One day there's going to be a fire and people won't be able to get out."

I suspect this was a threat against my grandfather, on behalf of organized crime. Trudeau was a crooked cop who 'lent' the Chief of Police money on numerous occasions.

Two years later, new populist Mayor Camillien Houde would force my grandfather to resign, and he told a rowdy session at City Hall that it was because 'the people' wanted revenge for all the above issues, none of which had much to do with my grandfather, but hey.

My grandfather would negotiate a huge life pension of 7,500 a year. He had leverage of some kind: that pension would leave him the second highest paid person at City Hall, without having to work!

During the Depression, in 1937, the city would suspend Jules' pension as part of an emergency measure.

Two weeks later, my grandfather would be hit by a car in NDG, not far from his home, driven by an out of work policeman. His leg would be broken.

(I wonder whom he threatened.)

He would die a year later from complications from X-Rays, bone cancer.

 Grandpapa on a City Hall legend. Middle bottom.

 with family
In a tall hat with city alderman on a hunting trip, I think.

Anyway, I've been doing my family tree, and I managed to trace Jules' paternal line back to Maurice Crespeau from Poitou Charentes, France.

His mother, Vitaline Forget's side,  I traced back to Abraham Martin of  the Plaines of Abraham fame, the well-known pioneer or "L'Ecossais" who owned the place where the iconic battle took place.

It's easy to trace the trees of French Canadians thanks to Catholic Church records. I'm having trouble with the Roy line, though. It stalls (or hits a brick wall)at a few generations back.

 I've turned to DNA. I found Maria Roy's birth certificate and see that her Godfather was a Philias Roy. That's a rarer name than her father, Louis Roy.  I went on GEDMATCH and found some people with a Philias Roy in their trees, and, yes, I get substantial DNA matches. The problem is, these trees don't indicate  know what part of Quebec he is from.  I think this Maria Roy line goes back to Le Roy from Britanny, tho.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Why did Camillien Houde Hate My Grandfather?

Well, how cool.

In celebration of Montreal's 375th, Le Nouveau Theatre ExpĂ©rimentale  is putting on a play about Camillien Houde, People's Mayor of Montreal from 1928 to 1950 something.  The play will run August 22, 2017 to September 2.

The play is called Camillien Houde: Le p'tit gars de Ste Marie, the same title as a 1961 bio by Hertel LaRoque.

Camillien Houde is the famously 'colourful' Mayor of Montreal who forced my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, to resign his big post back in 1930.  Grandpapa, a 42 year veteran of City Hall, was Director of City Services.

At a fiery 1930 debate at Montreal City Hall between Houdists and the Leon Trepanier faction, Houde said, "The people want revenge for the Montreal Water and Power Deal, the typhoid and the Laurier Palace Fire."

It's all so very strange.  My grandfather had never been accused in public of having anything to do with the horrible fire.

I'm plunging into my next project, a novel about Montreal in 1928, from two points of view, city politics and feminism. It's a project I have actually spent 15 years researching.

I learned a lot writing FURIES CROSS THE MERSEY, about the British invasion of Suffragettes to Montreal in 1912.  In 1914, a certain Edward Beck, journalist, tried to bring my grandfather's career to a halt. He enlisted the Montreal Suffragists to help.

My grandfather will figure large in my new book, with my husband's great aunt Edith, who was Tutor-in-Residence at the Hostel, a woman's residence at McGill.  She had a little job in a little place, but she was connected to the English elite. She stepped out with Miss Carrie Derick, McGill Prof, former President of the Montreal Suffrage Association and board member of the newer La Ligue des droits de la femme, with Therese Casgrain. (Edith was also a member of La Ligue.)

English and French, you see. Trough politics and feminism. Jazz Age fun and Prohibition-Era vice.

But, right now, I need to find this Houde bio. It's available on Abebooks but not in my local library.

Why? This morning, scanning the 1928 Montreal Gazettes I found this  very suspicious article:

Houde was a member of the National Assembly in February, 1927.  The next year, Houde would run for Mayor of Montreal and win, ousting my grandfather's people.

This article suggests that Houde was very invested in the idea of a broad inquiry into the Laurier Palace Fire.


As I have written about on this blog, my grandfather was the first to speak at an initial inquest into the fire, one that, according to the Gazette, aroused little interest. He talked about licenses.

Jules was otherwise involved in the fatal fire, that's for sure, but only in an oblique way, and THAT was never brought up. Read all about that here.

Very soon, there would be a call for a full-blown  Royal Commission into the deaths at the Laurier Palace.

 My grandfather would be called on to testify, once again, along with policemen, parents, church leaders, school principals, movie house owners, etc.

All this testimony would only serve to muddy the waters. The widely-publicized Royal Commission would uncover little of use. No one was found culpable for the fire or for the deaths of the 78 children. (All but one died from asphyxiation, at a crush by the door.)

Still, when all was said and done, Quebec children under 16 were barred from going to the cinema, even in the company of an adult, for 40 years. Yes, 40 years! (Well, the kids found way around it, of course.)

 I must find out: Was Camillien Houde the instigator of this lengthy Royal Commission?

As the testimony reveals (its available online) there was a great deal that was suspicious about the fire. Read the short-version here on my blog.

Most suspicious of all was an incendiary quote  by crooked cop Conrad Trudeau, much earlier in 1925, that WASN'T brought up in 1927, even though the testimony made all the newspapers and was extremely relevant to the 1927 fire. The quote came during testimony at the Coderre Inquiry into Police Malfeasance.

 "One day there's going to be a catastrophe, One day there's going to be a fire (in a movie theatre) and no one will be able to get out."

On the stand, that day in 1925, and without being asked, Trudeau brought up the fact that my grandfather forced the police to look the other way when movie theatres broke the rules. (He had been asked only about coal and scale tipping.) Then Trudeau uttered that prescient quote reported on in the Gazette, left out of other newspapers.

 This 'catastophe' line, I figure, could have been a threat by organized crime  -or someone else-  aimed directly at my Grandfather, Jules, whose brother was Isadore Crepeau, VP of United Theatre Amusements.

Conrad Trudeau, apparently, had lent a lot of money to the Chief of Police, BĂ©langer, but only as a friend. (sic). This suggests he had ties to organized crime.

My grandfather fired Trudeau on the spot, but for another unrelated bribery incident. Juge Coderre laced into my grandfather in his final report also printed up in all the newspapers. Who is this Jules Crepeau who controls the police? he asked.

During the 1927 Royal Commission, Le Devoir newspaper tried to get people to wake up to this two year-old Trudeau testimony,  with a sly hint in the back pages of the broadsheet, pointing to the exact line -date, page, and number  - in the Royal Commission Transcript, but nothing came of it.

What a media literary lesson this has turned out to be

Jules and family in Atlantic City circa 1928..