Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mrs. Warren's Profession

Drawing from Flora Nicholson's Teaching School Portfolio. This is from her 'nature diary.' Nature study was deemed important in the new curriculum as too many city kids knew nothing about nature. Flora liked to draw and painted in her later life. I have two of her paintings.

Now, as I watched Pygmalion the other day on Turner Classic Movies, I couldn't resist listening to the play on BBC Radio 7 (produced a few years ago) Mrs. Warren's Profession.

Then, before I even finished, I paused the play to scope the web for information on this play. I mean, it's pretty conventional today, but gee and it has such relevance to Flo in the City, my novel in progress based on the letters of

Well, it was written in the 1890's and a London Premiere was closed down in 1902 (I think I read) and I managed to find articles on line about a 1905 premiere in Connecticut, closed first night (the article said everyone, theatre patrons, police, thought it indecent) and then I read the man who put it on went bankrupt, what with legal fees, then it was played again in New York in 1907 and 'had a successful tour.' I found a bit about the 1907 premiere that said there was no expectation that the show would be closed by police. But I found nothing about a tour. (In 1905, the production was deemed immoral, although the play was deemed a sociological tract and therefore not immoral. )

The Canadian premiere was in Ottawa in 1950. Margaret and Marion had died by then. It played in Britain only in 1950.

How can I stick this into my story then. It is very unlikely Mrs. Warren's Profession played in Boston in 1908 when Flo was there, but since the play was on tour, I might be able to stick something about it in that scene in Boston. Maybe I can fake it and have Flora see a protest in front of a theatre... Maybe the theatre can be one in a chain, and the people will be protesting that another theatre in the chain is mounting a production of the play. Say in Chicago. Chicago was a very progressive city from what I have read in 1910.

Anyway, got to go listen to the rest of the play. In my first year of university, before I transferred into Communications, I was in Drama and Theatre so I read most of Shaw's plays, and likely read this one. Certainly, no ideas in the play are foreign to me.

I know in the blog about Pygmalion, two blogs ago, I said the Nicholsons liked George Bernard Shaw. But they would not have liked this play. They were very prudish. I know for a fact that they never talked about pregnancy, to unmarried women, let alone about sex. I know, because when Marion is pregnant in 1914, Flora writes in a letter about being 'left out' of all the woman talk. They wouldn`t discuss this matter with her, even though she was 22. And my mother in law, Marion's second daughter, also Marion, always claimed that no one in those days mentioned pregnancy, until the woman was ready to burst. A delicate matter, it was. Now people post ultrasounds of their fetuses on social networks. Times have changed.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Montreal Mosaic Webmagazine Launches

Pygmalion and Tighsolas

Page of Pygmalion, Everybody's Magazine, 1914.. (I got it off Wikipedia, where it says it is in the public domain.)

Well, I downloaded the first 39 installments of my first draft of Flo in the City and it's 84 pages long in 11 font. Long. It's hard to edit your own work and if I spend too long on the computer my eyes get tired, so I know I have to stop using the computer for a few days before I get down to a real good edit of what I have.

So, eyes tired out, I watched Pygmalion last night on Turner Classic Movies, possibly for the first time. I don't generally like Leslie Howard as an actor, but he's terrific here and Wendy Hiller even better. (I know of Wendy Hiller, but likely have only seen her as an older actress.) This play is all about acting, isn't it, on one level?

How can I tie Pygmalion into a blog about Flo in the City, my novel in progress about a girl coming of age in the tumultuous 1910 era, based on the letters of Well, in many many ways.

First, it was first produced in 1913, although the movie looks thirties-ish. And it's all about social classes. "Middle class morality." The way that Henry Higgins treats Eliza's hat, says it all. (And hats meant more in 1913 than in the 30's, so the movie lost something by taking the time period forward a bit.)

I know the Nicholsons liked George Bernard Shaw. I have a playbill from 1931, for the Apple Cart. According to the Montreal Gazette, when the play came to Montreal on February 16, The Apple Cart was considered Shaw's most discussed play.

Funny, today that play doesn't make the list of Shaw's most popular. Pygmalion, in large part thanks to My Fair Lady, is unquestionably his most popular play. Man and Superman, Saint Joan, Major Barbara are the Shaw plays people like and respect today.

Anyway, as I said, I'm going off the computer and picking up my hard copy of Flo in the City: rough draft 1, that is on this blog. When I fix it up, I will make the changes directly on the page, so First Draft One will disappear into the ether.

I have a pretty strong sense of where I am going now: 3 books that cover the 1908-1913 period, with Flo considering a different career path in each book, while the Nicholson's saga (real life, as it happened) unfolds.

In Canada, accents weren't the issue in 1910, or as much the issue. I have a tape of Edith and Flora and they sound like me. So if accents weren't such a giveaway, the way a woman dressed became more important, with respect to a first impression.

Well-defined class distinctions existed of course. That's what Flo in the City is all about. They do today, although we don't like to think about it.

Studies reveal that there is LESS mobility between the classes, today, in America and the U.K. than there was a few decades ago.

The Pendulum swings.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Therese Forget, 1914 from McCord Museum Collection,II-203044

McCord Home Page

I put this picture up because I have mentioned the Forgets as relations and no doubt she is a relative. I can see the family resemblance. When I die I have the right to be buried in the Forget family plot, but I'll chose Richmond, and be with the Tighsolas gals and my hubby. Oooooewww.

Well, last night I got a bit bored with The Egg and I Movie, which was facile and just a series of silly vignettes, unlike the book which was witty and informative and wise. As everyone knows, Marjorie Main, as Ma Kettle, stole the show, and she really had no material to work with.

She brought a powerful humanity to her rather slapstick role. I especially liked her hair. She has exactly the same hair-do that Margaret Nicholson of Tighsolas wore, just a bit dishevelled. And if you think about it, she is the anti-Margaret, or the antidote to all the pressure put on women of the era to be clean housewives. She has so many children she can't remember their names, and she has given up on housework, (Why bother?)yet she has a happy home, indeed her first born is a charming and brilliant boy. She feeds her brood what looks like great quantities of healthy food, clearing the kitchen table with one powerful sweep of her arm (as she scratches the underside of her rather feral bosom with her free hand). I must go back and see the other 9, yes, nine movies about Ma and Pa Kettle. There is more to this Ma and Pa Kettle Phenomenon than mere slapstick. (Yes, I must write a story comparing Margaret and Ma Kettle.)

So, as I said, I was getting bored, I surfed the McCord Museum website for more pictures of Montreal 1910 and they had plenty. (Years ago I had taken a look but the collection has grown.) Their site has many wonderful pictures of some of the era streets where Marion, Edith would have walked. I believe I can post some on this blog with proper credit or embedding, but I have to go back and re-read the conditions.

ON TOP OF THAT! I found evidence in the archived Gazettes that there was a typhoid epidemic in Montreal in 1909. How interesting for my novel in progress, Flo in the City, based on the letters of

Companies like Laurentian Spring Water, which was owned by my husband's side of the family, were advertising their clean water. This is all so interesting. I saw an ad in the Gazette where my husband's grandfather, Thomas G. Wells (a contemporary of my grandfather, Jules Crepeau)denies the rumours that Laurentian is running out of water to supply their clients. (Hmmm.) I had wanted to write a book set in the 20's called Water and Milk, contrasting the lives of Thomas G Wells of Westmount and my Grandfather, Jules Crepeau, the Director of City Services, with an intrigue about Montreal water, but now I see I can stick some of it in Tighsolas. (There was another typhoid epidemic in Montreal in 1927.)

I have no record in the letters, but Margaret, who was afraid of everything, must have been concerned for her children with respect to the water. Typhoid was a issue, even in their fine neigbourhood in Richmond. Norman had got it in 1896 and Margaret nurses her neice, Florence Peppler, in 1912 through a bout. Norman gets very worried.

Apparently, in 1909 Montreal, they first thought contaminated milk was causing the epidemic (5,000 cases according to one paper)but then traced it to the water, which came right out of the St. Lawrence River, where, I suspect, Montreal's sewing oops, I mean sewage, was being dumped.

Now, I just have to double check what Jules Crepeau is doing in 1909. Is he still with the Health Department or has he moved on to the Clerk's Department. (I have a stack of info in my bedroom.) Either way, it works. He worked under Dr. Louis Laberge. And he had a mind like a steel trap, so I can have him know anything about the situation. He once went to Holland to investigate something, I wonder if it had to do with water. He brought back a few vases that I have in my house.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Marion's Street... 1910

Bleury Street 1910. For all I know, Marion is in this picture :) This is from the McCord Museum collection, which is posted on Flickr and which is available for non commercial reproduction with accreditation.

As I begin the second chapter of my novel, Flo in the City, a novel about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1908-1913 era, based on the authentic letters of , Marion has moved to Bleury Street. So she walked up and down this street and perhaps took that streetcar.

There are some other cool photos of the area in 1910, of Sherbrooke and St. Denis that I will post on other blogs.

Actually, I have to get to editing the first chapter...but right now my husband and I are going to watch The Egg and I on Turner CLassic Movies. I heard the book serialized last year on BBC Four (It is a clever piece of writing, with comic and serious elements.) When I was little, I watched those Ma and Pa Kettle movies, a spin off of this movie.

My husband just figured out that Green Acres was based on this... I guess.

First Impressions of Musée Eden, Episode 1

Sainte-Catherine West in 1910. Valentine and Son's postcard.

I'm old enough to remember this Montreal Main street in the 60's, when it still had major echoes of what it had looked like in the 1910's.

So, I saw the first episode of Musee Eden ;

And as a connoisseur of period pieces and an expert, of sorts, in the 1910 era in Canada I thought I'd comment.

The first episode if Musée Eden is meticulously produced, although it suffers from a lack of exterior shots, that characterize British Period pieces. (Well, the British have all those wonderful locales, castles and such.)

So the tone is dark, which, in a big way, befits the crime thriller nature of its plot.

What exteriors there are seem to be shot in Old Montreal, which was around back then, but I don't think that area evokes the 1910 era. Still, the extras in the exteriors are all wearing great costumes, so I enjoyed them.

From what I saw, the costumes in Musee Eden are perfect, bang on middle class wear. They are the kind of suits and blouses shown in pictures on this website. Right down to the Merry Widow hat one of the leads was wearing.

In this first episode, two young women from Manitoba, played by Laurence Leboef and Mariloup Wolfe, arrive to take possession of their inheritance, a wax museum, where their uncle has been murdered. As they arrive, a man is being tried for his murder. Handsome men ensue.

Yes, as befits a Period Piece, the lead men, Vincent Guillaume Otis and Eric Bruneau are beautiful, indeed, Bruneau greatly resembles Colin Firth, especially around the brows. And he's got dark Mr. Darcy curls and the lead women , Wolfe and LeBoeuf, are fresh faced and engaging, so that women will identify with them. So Musee Eden, in my opinion, is well cast.

The acting by everyone is terrific and the pacing is excellent, so good editing and direction.

I will have to watch it again to better critique how authentically 1910 Montreal life is depicted. (Of course, any historical drama is more about the present than the past.)

As my website, reveals, women in 1910 had very little freedom. Edith Nicholson, 26, couldn't go out alone to 'lectures' which were respectable venues. Marion couldn't go to the 1909 horse show ( a big event) as she had no beau or elderly matron to take her. (Well, she was independent and didn't want to have to go somewhere chaperoned.)Two sisters living alone would have been fairly scandalous, (see the Nicholson women in 1913 when they get a place of their own) and if these young women had no maid....well, remember, it took Edith two days to iron her dresses.

I saw adverts in the 1910 Montreal Gazette for tea rooms for women only and skating rinks with matrons on hand. Still, lust and love existed pretty much as today and so the 'romance' parts of Musee Eden between the younger sister and adorable Paul McCartney style gent (Vincent Guillaume Otis)are not far off the mark. (I have to better think this out.)

Funny, funny. In the first episode of Musee Eden, Otis's character recites a list of French Canadian millionaires. Well, the Nicholsons cut out a list of Montreal millionaires which I posted on this blog, earlier on. Otis leads off by naming Forget, who is my relation, and one of the reasons my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, rose to be Director of Services for Montreal in 1921. Dandurand is also named. He is named on my Tighsolas website as the first man to own a car in Montreal. My grandfather knew him, too.

PS. As I wrote this blog I put the link for SRC in and most of my blog disappeared, so I had to rewrite it. Hmm. Never hurts to rewrite anything.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

MUSEE EDEN - Radio-Canada

The cover of a promotional brochure for the Ladies' Home Journal. From the Nicholson Collection, which means I have it somewhere in a box somewhere.

Gee, I'm frazzled. Just as I finished the first rough draft of my novel Flo in the City, about a girl coming of age in the tumultuous 1910 era, based on the authentic information in the letters of I see that someone comes to my website looking up "The Montreal Ripper 1910."

Now I know an awful lot about Montreal in 1910, as this blog shows, and I know of no Montreal Ripper. Well, tracing the link back, I find that the French CBC, or Radio-Canada, is currently airing a new 9 part mini-series about Montreal in 1910, that appears to be half Period Piece, half Forensic Thriller.

So someone has got there before me and juiced it up a bit more than I intend to. Good for them!

The blurb I find online says that Musée Eden, the name of the mini series, is an in-depth look at the life of women in 1910 as well as a crime thriller. (Damn! That's what Tighsolas is all about.) And it takes place in the red light district. Well, I only recently added a scene about the Red Light District in my story Flo in the City, because, even I know sex sells and because the 'social evil' as it was called back then was an issue and even involved the middle class, their men of course. (I also did this as an inside joke. Whenever I swore as a girl, my French Canadian mom would say, "You talk like a girl from de Bullion Street." There was even a variation, "You dress like a girl from de Bullion Street." I had no real idea what that meant. I thought it meant I talked like a poor girl. I only lately realized my dear mother was likening me to a prostitute. My mother likely said it, because her mother said it to her. Today, I just wish I had a place on de Bullion. It would mean I was rich.

But, frankly, Flo in the City is an authentic look into middle class anglo life in Montreal in 1910 and has to stay that way, even if I 'fill in the blanks' a bit. I guess if I put vampires into the story, it would be more marketable to teens, but,hey, they've already done that with Pride and Predator :)

Anyway, what an interesting event, this mini-series! I missed the premiere. Just a few days ago I decided to go on tour, giving talks about Women's Life in 1910 to various groups. (I used to go around giving talks on various women's issues in the 80's and I gave workshops on literacy and such in the 90's.) So, now, I have a hook. It's always important to have a hook.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Mary Pickford in the New York Hat. D W Griffith. 1912

Well, the next chapter of my novel Flo in the City, based on the letters of will begin with the famous hat incident. Not only that, Edith will have another meeting with her beau Charlie G. And Margaret will tell a couple of interesting stories: one about a man having an affair and one about a story the Minister told in a sermon, which she liked very much.

Here's the letter with info about the hat incident.

Dear Marion, wrote Margaret to her second daughter in Montreal. I hope you got over your cold.

Her eldest daughter, Edith, had just left after a short visit. She had had a message from her on again off again beau Charlie G. saying he would like to see her again. The next week, in Montreal,
So Edith came home to Tighsolas to wash her silk dress and have her mother work up a spring coat.

She left on the morning train, excited and worn out.

After seeing E off, Margaret wrote I went to Miss Hudon's to cancel the order I had for a hat. She had already trimmed it, she did not wait for some trimming I was bringing. I think the hat too large. It would look well on you. Still, Mrs. Montgomery thinks it is becoming to me so I shall have to wear it. I met Edith McCourt at the church door with an immense black one on so I told her to come and sit with me. Mine would not look so large. So she did. So I guess it was all right. I don't know whether Healy could see the Minister or not.

We had a grand sermon, so I forgot about the size of my hat. I heard an old story that suited me about an old Scotch man who had two sons Jamie and Willie. Jamie went away from home to earn his living. The old man was praying that Jamie might be kept from all danger, sickness and evil temptations. But he said, "Don't bother your head about Willie. I'll keep him straight." I was telling them, that was like me, always worrying about the absent ones. Edith went away being tired. Just as you did, she ironed for two days. Have you heard from Herb?

There's an awful lot to this letter: hats, sermons and children and love and ironing.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Are Suffragettes Diseased?

A suffragette being whisked to safety, London 1913. A still off a Youtube video, the Trafalgar Square Riot, one of a number of videos owned by the British Film Institute. They possess the best films of the era, now digitally restored and viewable on YouTube and also available for sale on their site. I bought the DVD. In the 60's, any footage of the era was jerky, (due to technical difficulties), so that era looked silly to us. Suffragettes, angry women in funny chicken-style clothes, looked sillier. That is all changed now with these videos and the era takes on a Seurat feel, elegant and slow in the country, and very busy and bustling in the cities.

Now, I have a number of Pro-Suffrage articles from the 1910 era, yellowed clippings left behind by Margaret Nicholson or possibly Edith.

They are likely from the Montreal Witness, a long defunct 'evangelical' publication. And they are posted at

The Montreal Gazette, which is still around, was not for woman's suffrage. That publication has recently been archived online, so I searched for a few suffrage articles from the era.

I found some. I can't reprint them, as they are likely proprietary, but I'll discuss a couple of them. Aspects of these anti-suffrage letters to the editor and articles are very funny (did you know there was a law against women's hat pins of a certain length, in Australia anyway?) and others are disturbing.

I'm not surprised that the anti-suffragists characterized suffragists and suffragettes as man-haters, in this case idle and lazy manhaters. And I'm not surprised that anti-suffrage articles liked to look at communities where women had the vote, Finland and Colorado, for instance to show women were just as corrupt as men when it came to the vote. And I am not surprised that militant suffragists were seen as the worse kind of citizen and a real menace, deserving of imprisonment and degradation. (Remember, pious, demure, in and out love Edith Nicholson was all for the militant suffragettes.)

I was a little surprised - and quite disturbed at the lengths some commentators went to disparage the suffrage movement.

One article I read, from 1913, asks doctors if militancy is a disease. Not surprisingly, the doctors they dug up all agreed that militancy is a nerve disorder, a kind of female hysteria.

One doctor says that once a suffragette is full fledged, she is incurable. One has to get them young, at 16 or 17, to save them. He claims that at this age, women are very susceptible to the suffrage message, especially if their nerves are on edge, from, say, over-studying. Another doctor, however, says he can cure any suffragette, with a kind of 'intervention' (my word) by putting her in a nursing home and not letting her discuss any aspect of suffragism and feeding her properly. In this case, suffragism is seen as a cult.

Another doctor says that militancy is caused by the stress of modern life. Men are not susceptible, because they have important work to do to keep them occupied. (Hmm, sounds like he contradicts himself, a bit.)

All this goes to prove that suffragists scared some people silly. One has to ask why? I guess the average man feared that women would abandon the home or abandon them, by meeting other men, if they got interested in the outside world.

All this will be useful when I get down to writing the next part of Flo in the City, my novel in progress based on the letters of because the suffragists in this story, the Nicholson women, were ordinary middle class women, hardly different from the young women of today.

By Jove, I think I've got it!

Flo on a car trip in the 1920's.

Last night, I re-read my installments of Flo in the City, my novel in progress based on the letters of, because I have decided that the 39th installment will end the first part of the Flo in the City series.

I have figured out what I want to do with this project. Well, my ideas are coalelescing, is that the right word, I mean coming together.

Were I to pitch this story to a publishing house (which I hope not to need to do as that would be redundant) I would say Flo in the City is a series of books aimed at middle-schoolers or high schoolers, about a girl coming of age in the tumultuous 1910 era. The story is based on the real life experiences of the Nicholson family, of Richmond, Quebec, and shows, in authentic fashion, what it was like to live in the era of Model T's and suffragettes.

Between 1908 and 1913, the Nicholson family, a very respectable middle class family, made up of Margaret and Norman, the parents, and their children, Edith, Herbert, Marion and Flora, is struggling financially and dealing with life in an era of exponential change.

Father Norman is away working on the railroad. Flora, the youngest, is the only child permanently residing at home. She herself is struggling to complete her studies at a prestigious academy and contemplating her future prospects, career and marriage.

It was widely reported in the literature of the age that any and all careers were open to young women of the era, that no job was out of bounds. Flo in the City will debunk this collective 'myth' as Flo explores her work opportunities.

In the first Flo in the City, which covers 1908 and 9, as she struggles with her latin and algebra at school, she will wonder about going into the glamourous and high paying millinery or hat-making profession, for she is artistically inclined.

In the second book of the series, as she attends normal school (teaching school) she will acquire a social conscience and wonder whether to become a social worker to the poor or a suffragette; in the third book, as she graduates and begins her teaching jobs in one of the poorest communities in the entire Western World, she will wonder if she made the 'right choice' or whether she should chuck it all and become a race-car driver or aeroplane pilot, or motion picture actress.

And she will do all this while her family is fighting for its survival and wondering whether they should move out West, like so many of their friends and relatives.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lessons from the Past

Stoves from the Eaton's catalogue 1909. Ranges. An essential for the home, as important as the roof over your head.

The first thing I notice, looking at the cooking stoves above, which provided sustainance and heat, is the price. This household essential cost less than a woman's fur jacket by a third or a half, and, in one case, just a little over double the cost of the woman's hat Edith bought at Ogilvys.

And these suckers were made to last, as were the ranges we purchased for a huge chunk of salary, in the 60's.

Today, ordinary ranges (like everything else) are much cheaper in relation to average middle class salary but they are made to fall apart, with obsolescence built in.

Now, I am about to copy and print out all my installments of Flo in the City, my novel in progress on this blog, based on the letters of and edit the first part. I have done this before, the printing part, at least, at the end of 1908, but this is a more natural place to end my chapter, I think.

As I do this, I ponder my previous blog, where I found evidence that women with poor homemaking skills were being blamed for the huge social problems of the day. Due to this, women's suffrage became an issue for more than just an elite group of agitators. For every woman.

Is anything like this happening today? Well, yes, with global warming. This week yet another poll came out (polls, the scourge of our age) that reveals that the average Canadian feels he or she is not doing enough personally to stop climate change.

It's very similiar to 1910, in that average Canadians are no more responsible for climate change through their day to day actions than average wives were responsible for the social problems of 1910. (If we stopped buying crap, like appliances designed to crap out in a year, and cheap throw away clothes, that might be something different)

And the actions every day people take in the home in the West will not be able to save the planet, which contains billions of people who crave the cheap crap they can't have, anymore than a hardworking housewife in 1910 could scrub out 'the social evil' in the cities with abrasive powder and a scouring pad. (Old Dutch had an ad campaign in the 1910 era, "Old Dutch believes in women's rights: the right to a clean home.)

This line of thinking (the three R's, and that idiotic bag business in grocery stores)in my opinion is all designed to make us feel were are being useful and have some control, but we don't, that is unless we take more tangible social action, through the avenues democracy still provides in much the same way the suffragists did. Unless we get political.

Of course, in 1908 era, some suffragists became militant, supposedly because they were being thrown in jail anyway, even for peaceful, lawful protest. (They threw rocks and such) and they were reviled by almost everyone, except the Nicholson women, who were all for militant action. Imagine, those well bred Nicholsons, throwing rocks.

The militant suffragists (or suffragettes) were thrown in jail in the UK and the US and when they went on hunger strikes, some were force-fed, through their mouths and their vaginas.

Imagine if suffragettes were around today, how they might be branded and how they might be treated.

Yes, there is a lesson to be learned here, I'm just not exactly sure what. I say this as I look out onto my suburban garden, which is virtually free of snow in mid March. Canada has had a very warm winter, and Montreal a drought. There was more snow this winter in Philadelphia than in Montreal. Fluke or pattern?

Ps. Just an aside, the other day, I decided not to ask the question when shopping "What does this cost?" but to ask "What does this cost the Earth?"

If you asked that question in the modern grocery store, you might well end up taking your reusable canvas grocery bag home empty.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Vanity and Women's Hats

This is an article from the 1910 Technical World Magazine, condemning the fashion industry for using the feathers of grebe birds for women's hats and by extension condemning women for killing birds for their vanity.

The illustration as the baby grebes asking "Where's my Mommy?" and the infant replying "On my Mommy's hat."

Ironically, 1909 was the year President Teddy Roosevelt travelled to Africa for a safari and 'collected' 512 beasts including 17 lion, 11 elephant and 20 rhinoceros.

In this particular folio 1910 of Technical World Magazine, someone had written "how awful" over the page. There's an article in the same folio about poor people in cities who live in windowless rooms, as well as articles on the other social problems of the day. No comments there.

In my next chapter of Flo in the City, my novel in progress about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1908-1913 era in history, based on the letters of Flora will finally get an interview with the local milliner, Miss Eugenie Hudon, and the local milliner will trick mother Margaret into buying a big hat she doesn't want, which really happened.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Deja Vu All Over Again - Who to Blame for Social Problems

Pots and Pans: The tools of social salvation, along with soap, the purer the better.

I found a letter to the editor in the Gazette of 1909, which provides me with a key, of sorts, as I write Flo in the City, my novel in progress based on the letters of

The Nicholsons are middle class, and the middle class isn't interesting except in relation to the poor or the rich; in fact, the class doesn't exist except in relation to the poor and the rich.

The middle class also lives isolated and insulated from the rich and the poor, and the Nicholsons are no exception. There are few lower class characters in the letters, and no rich characters except E.W. Tobin, a self made man. Indeed, the Nicholsons don't even have maids.

I have done my homework and I understand the Nicholson's 1910 social context. I have studied the issues that led the Federal government to launch the Royal Commission on Industrial Training and Technical Education (a part of history that has been 'censored' because it is embarrassing.)

But now with this letter to the editor, I have a key. And in my next chapter, Flora will gain a social conscience (picked up from her sister, Edith) and Herb will lose his.

This letter is from a man who represents a Christian Aid Society in the Parish where de Bullion Street and Marion's room are situated.

He outlines the five main reasons for poverty and social problems: Oddly, they are pretty much the same ones we use today, with tweaks. We are going through a similar time of incredible change and we are reacting in the same way. Society changes, but human nature doesn't.

1)irregular or uncertain employment

2) intemperance (Well, today we say 'drugs' are the problem, as alcohol is a huge and respectable industry. In those days, little old ladies guzzled opiates in their tonics, and soft drinks contained cocaine and pot was legal.)

3) Domestic Ignorance and Incapacity on the part of wives. Oooh. This is a good one! I could write ten books on this line alone. Today, we blame the working mom, but back then all the social problems caused by rampant industrialization could be cured if women and mothers knew how to better keep house. So they created 'the profession of housekeeping' to train middle class women to be better wives and lower class women to be better domestics for the rich. (See, embarrassing. This proved a boon for companies like Procter and Gamble, that, thoroughout the century, exploited this belief that a woman's worth is reflected in the cleanliness of her home...hence those soap operas. The fact that women in the middle of the century had time to watch soap operas said something else, that housework wasn't as essential to survival as it once had been.)

4) To indirectly give rise to illness, most especially consumption. Bad housing, bad sanitation. (So bad housekeeping was being blamed for the plagues around at the time, not backward medical practices and poor city services.) Of course, this idea actually propelled the suffrage unintended consequence of blaming women for social problems: Women said, "OK then, give us the vote so we can have the power to fix these problems you've laid at our feet."

In the first part of Flo in the City, if you go back and read my 38 installments, you will see that people got sick and died quickly back then (the flu scares of today are nothing compared to the reality of life in 1910, when you could get a cold one week and die the next. )

5) The unhappy prevalenced of what has been called 'the social evil', where some children are brought into the world blighted in body and mind and prey to the saddest and most hopeless of all physical ills. Predestined to the prison or asylum. One of the medical witnesses at the commission said most of the children born into the slums are predestined to this evil..... Usually, the social evil meant prostitution and other sex related issues. (Today, of course, we have our own sex related social evils constantly brought up in the press.) Funny, but the arguments for and against legalizing prostitution haven't changed an iota in 100 years. It's a stagnant issue...In the old days, they didn't have 'child abuse' or, more precisely, it wasn't mentioned, but it was understood that many or most prostitutes were children. After all, girls left school at 12. So it amounts to the same thing. There was a great deal of child labour in those days, another kind of child abuse. Today, kids work, but in the middle class it's usually for pocket money which ends up fueling the entertainment and junk food industries. Plenty of young people do work to help support their families, though. And the Third World child labour fills our closets and drawers with cheap clothing.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Baby, Come Home.

Marion Nicholson, August 1917, at Tighsolas, with friends and daughter Margaret, and baby Marion, my late mother in a law.

I've posted this picture before on this blog, although I wasn't quite sure of the context. I have figured it out: I have connected it with a letter I have from 1917, which I've posted below. Hugh Blair, Marion's husband is writing to his wife, begging her, in no uncertain terms, to please come home. She is visiting Tighsolas with her two young children. Flora and Edith are with Hugh, and not taking care of him. I had transcribed the letter and posted it on Tighsolas, even though it was outside of the 1908-1913 timeframe of the Nicholson Family Saga, because I thought it a funny letter. (So had my mother in law, she had tucked it away from the other Nicholson letters.)

Now I see it for what it is: the social context. I get ahead of my story (Flo in the City, about a girl coming of age in the 1910 era, based on the letters of but Marion got married in 1913 to Hugh Blair, a typical Quebecker, being of Scotch, French-Canadian and Cree origin. She got married because she was a 'take-charge' person and the only way she could take charge, as a single woman in 1910, was to get married. The letter below shows that she did, indeed, take charge of her household, in such a way that husband Hugh became dependent on her for his very sustainance. It's all very interesting. In the years since 1900, the many new household technologies had freed housewife's time up, considerably, but somehow their duties as mothers and homemakers became more important than ever in the eyes of society. Go figure. This cockeyed trend continued through the century - and Flo in the City, my novel in progress, will attempt to explain what happened.

Now, sisters Flora and Edith were not married. Flora was working as a teacher (and living with Hugh and Marion) and Edith was working as a secretary, in the new pink collar area, at Sun Life.

They didn't have to cater to their brother in law's needs. They weren't beholden to him. They were independent women. Marion was apparently at Tighsolas to tend her sick mother: it can be assumed that she was also there to get a bit of a break from her husband and duties as housewife, since she had just given birth.

Remember, too, a horrible war was still raging, although. I have letters from a October, 1918, where Flora and Edith visit family friends in Montreal, the Tuckers, who have just heard word a son, Percy, has been killed. (Then they hear he is alive, then that he is dead.) Another son, Herb, is at the Belgian front too. He is not killed, and feels guilty. He tells that to Flora, 'his girl' in another letter.

Hugh to Marion

My dearest sweetheart,

I cannot express in writing how pleased I was to hear your voice over the telephone a little while ago and was very sorry when I learned that due to the circumstances, you were not able to come home…Dearest, I have never written you on this strain since I have known you and before I say what I have in mind, I beg of you to please try and understand it in the light that I mean it. For Marion, dear, I love you with all my heart and it is because of my affection for you that I try to pave the way a little. I honestly, would not intentionally hurt you Marion. Now sweetest, here it is: You know, Dear, that you have left me alone at different times for indefinite periods, but may I say that I have never yet found one month to be as long as this one. Really, it has seemed to me almost like years. I would a thousand times rather be left entirely alone than to be left again with the girls, as I cannot get them to do anything which appears to me to be reasonable. I have come home on several occasions and the front and back doors were not locked. They will not close the windows and the house is almost like an oven. They forget to order food. The refrigerator is left open; the ice is melting as fast as you can put it in. Cawlice. Water is running all over the floor and things are lying about. I am sick and tired of the whole place. Take pity on me Darling before I go crazy and come home to me to look after and love me. *but under no circumstances take chances. Take it from me, God help the poor man that gets either one of them, if they don't change. You can do more in five minutes than they can do together in a day. You have forgotten more than they'll ever know. God bless you Marion and may it be God's will that he can spare you to me for many long happy years.

PS. Don't fail to burn this when finished reading.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

PONDERING THE FUTURE 39th installment

Talking machines. Eaton's 1909.

June 1, 1909. Victoria Day Monday. A holiday.

A sweet, breezy Monday afternoon, and Flora is once again on the porch of Tighsolas, with a notebook on her knee, studying a scene from Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, for a classroom event she was putting on. Sometimes school could be fun. End of year exams were approaching, but this year she had managed to keep her head above water, with respect to results and, if she didn't freeze at exam time, she would likely pass, most subjects anyway. The new teacher, Mr. Cross, continued to be more lenient than Mr. Jackson. He had even suggested she have her eyes tested - and yes, she needed glasses,for long distance viewing. She had worn the new pair, purchased in Sherbrooke, last week, all day at school.
Margaret had never asked about the Easter exam results. After her close call with tonsillitis, and a harsh winter spent shut in except for the occasional whist or bridge party, she was seldom at home. The carpets in Tighsolas had yet to be aired out. Father had come home for a week in late May, after the thaw, and had rolled and seeded the garden for Margaret, considering her still too weak after her illness. He had joined Margaret in a chorus of Why doesn't Herb write?
Flora's hat was still on her dresser in the bedroom. That appointed day, she had indeed got up the courage to visit Hudon's, Poppy hat on head, only to be met by another woman, taking Eugenie's place. Mademoiselle Hudon is in New York. "'Ave you not read da social notes in da Richmond Times? I am here to serve you, instead." Crestfallen, or was it relieved? Flora had beat a quick retreat.

Marion, is at her dressing table in her tiny room on Bleury. She slipped a ten dollar bill from her Friday pay into an envelope to send to her mother, but she didn't feel like writing a long letter. What could she write about? Not last night. Yesterday, Victoria Day eve, a Sunday night of all things, she had finally made it to Dominion Park.
The crowd had been simply enormous, many many thousands of visitors. Her beau for the evening, a soft-spoken young man in his father's tanning business, a friend of Dr. Cleveland's, had persuaded her to ride on the train, first thing, right up front, up and down and around, and afterwards her head had been swirling.
No sooner had she found her equilibrium, he bought her a ticket to see Mini Ha Ha, a miniature female acrobat who twirled around and danced about and walked a tightrope in workaday dress. The billboard described her as 'charming' but Marion could have thought of better adjectives to describe the odd little female.Then there had been the fun house, the wild animal show,the infant incubator exhibit, the Southern Plantation Nightingales, with their sad, spiritual songs, the re-enactment of the San Francisco earthquake of 1905 and finally the evening's novelty act, a swarthy Mediterrean beast of a man who battled with snakes.His oiled muscles and slate black eyes bulged huge as he fought off a nefarious nest of writhing serpents (as the cryer put it) up to his naked waist in water and Marion had been so taken by surprise by the sight of him, she had flushed ruby red, her timid escort actually had asked her if she were going to faint. But no, it was just the crush of the crowd, she pretended; 24 hours later, the feverish feeling inspired by the sight of the strongman still lingered. Or was it simmering indignation towards her new landlady, who had publicly scolded her for coming home after 11.00. For breaking house rules. How she despised being told what to do. At 25 years of age. Her brother could do just about anything he wanted and she had to be home before midnight, like a character in a silly fairy tale.

And, speak of the devil, in a flat just a few streets away,on de Bullion, Herbert Nicholson was drinking a scotch amid a rowdy group of young men, of the clerkish kind, and some ageless women of the uninhibited kind and waving a card in the air.

"This is the temperance pledge," he said slurring. A redhead grabbed it from his hand. "I therefore promise, with the help of god to abstain from the use of all intoxicating liquids."

Another young man walks up and asks, "Nicholson, how bout some gaming down in Chinatown."

"No, Smithie. I'd better not. I'm supposed to be in Cowansville. My sister lives around there now. And she has all kinds of spies, chums who want to get into her good graces."
"That didn't stop us from going out last night to see that W.C Fields guy at the Bennett Theatre."

"Well, I'm not going to press my luck." The truth was, Herb had run out of money. His entire paycheque gone in two days! Lucky he had pre-purchased a ticket back to Cowansville. He'd have to put off his landlady, this month.

"Is your sister a working girl? Like us?" asks his female friend

"No, certainly not. She's a teacher. She has a diploma. She lives in a respectable boarding house."

The woman raises her eyebrows, menacingly, and she turned away.

She says to another woman, "Our friend 'erb is a Christian socialist at heart. Lucky it is not his heart we want."
"You should be nice to eem, Marie-Claude. Or e won't get you dat job in motion pictures, with is friend Sinnott."
"Well, don't hold your breath, Ginette," says Smithie, blinking hard a few times as if there is something bothering his eyes.

And in yet another downtown Montreal area home, an solid respectable four storey greystone at 72 Sherbrooke Street West, in a well-furnished but noisy third story bedroom situated above the street, Edith Nicholson sits reading Vanity Fair,by the late afternoon sun, half listening to the sharp clip clop of horse hooves on the street and the duller sound of muffled arguing below.

Mr. Crepeau, a small, dapper dignified looking man, has come home, a day late, as it were, and had a row with his fat, overbearing wife.

Somehow, crockery was broken. Her student Alice, was in her bedroom, trying on a new dress from Henry Morgan, purchased today, by the father. Baby Cecile was in the nursery, being tended by Claudille, a new girl, sent by the nuns. This was the third charity case in five months delivered to Mme. Crepeau, for rehabilition, and a little honest housework.
It wasn't that Mrs. Crepeau was lazy. No, as a housekeeper, this stout woman with the enormous chest was as capable as Margaret Nicholson in every respect. She did all her own cooking and cleaning, despite the fact the family earned 5,000 a year.
Edith had been instructed not to talk to the new girl. Education, apparently, was the scourge of the fallen woman. Anyway, this was a girl destined to work as a domestic, once her 'apprenticeship' at the Crepeaus had run its course, if she could be kept away from the other. "Claudille is only 17, the same age as Flora," she mused. But any resemblance ended there. The girl was hard and coarse, and, paradoxically, much more fragile than Flora, somehow, despite being a tall, heavy girl, and a stranger to the corset, it seemed.

Edith pulled away from Becky Sharp for a moment to ponder her immediate future. She could not wait for June 15, when she would return to Richmond, with sister Marion and spend the summer relaxing at ice cream socials and card parties and maybe attending a dance or two, if a consort could be found. If not, Aunt Bella's Victrola and the Merry Widow Waltz would have to suffice. Edith had purchased some music cylinders to give to her niece and nephew. (She hoped they were not already bored by the device.) But after that, what would she do with herself? What could she do? If Charlie G. didn't come to his senses.

HOW RESTLESS MEN ARE - 38th installment

Eaton's Catalogue: Hats for 1909 fall and winter.

Flora’s plans were put off once again, because Margaret came down with a very sore throat the next day and called for the Dr. Moffat.

He came within the hour and said she had tonsillitis. First Mrs. Montgomery, now her.

He gave her some amoxcillin, along with a nerve tonic which contained alcohol, not that she knew it, and told her to stay in bed.

Flora and May took care of the fires, and got their own breakfast although Flora still went to school as usual.

That was Margaret's idea and considering how serious tonsillitis was - in that it could develop into pneumonia - Flora suspected Margaret knew more about her mediocre marks on the Easter Exams than she let on.

As it was, Mrs. Montgomery was always running in with something for Margaret and the girls to eat, so they got on fine. Other friends, the Skinners and Mrs. Beiber sent in chicken broth.

“I never knew such neighbours as we have,"said Margaret one morning a few days later when she felt almost recovered, her sore throat completely gone.

"I couldn’t have been that sick if doctor only came three times, " she added.

Still, I am glad I did not tell Father about it.

Norman had written two days before to tell her how foolish he thought Mr. Montgomery for wanting an auto. She had not yet answered and was worried that he would sense that something was crooked at home.

So, she wrote back that afternoon: Well you think Mr. Montgomery foolish? Well, everyone does. Dr. Moffat said, "Strange how restless man are. I suppose at one time he would think, if he only had a house in Richmond and could live comfortable, he would be happy." Mrs. Montgomery said she had put him off the notion for a year, but now it is no use, nothing else will do him. Poor man, putting himself and everyone else in danger. I would have lots of money before I would want an auto."

Ps. I have not heard from Herb. He is making me ill.
She wrote something like that in the post script of all her letters, lately. It was becoming one of those mannerisms, that had no real meaning.

She gave the letter to Flora to post, and left the envelope unsealed in case Flora wanted to add a bit, to please her father. She did not want to write anything, but she read over her mother's letter all the same. It was nice to see that Margaret appreciated her and May and that she said nothing about the exam results she had not yet seen. Phew. Her mother had so many burdens. Yes, many burdens, but also many good friends, and that was a great consolation. Especially when a family had no men around to take charge.

As Flora walked to the mail she made her plans for the next day. After school, she would drop into Hudon's to bring back the Delineator Magazine she had borrowed. And she'd just happen to be wearing her new Poppy hat. Hopefully, Miss Hudon would comment on it (how in fashion it was) and then Flora could happily inform her how she had made it, herself, from the frame up. And, then, perhaps Miss Hudon would ask if she enjoyed making hats and then, even, offer her a position as a designer, is she was impressed enough. Well, maybe that was expecting too much, from this first sally of hers, into the mysterious world of the working woman.

Snakes and Brothels

Sewing machine from Eaton's catalogue, 1909.

Yesterday I spent more time looking at the Montreal Gazettes from the 1910 archived online and, boy, what fun.

Now, I have decided that two or three more installments will end this part of Flo in the City: I will end with a scene with brother Herb, in a Montreal brothel. So the first chapter begins on the verandah of a respectable street in the town of Richmond and ends at de Bullion Street. That is quite reasonable, as this parallels the trek of many a young girl.

I found some scintillating information in the newspapers, about the efforts being made to clean up the de Bullion Street, which wasn't too far from where Marion had her new digs. Christian socialism, they called it, which was better than the other socialism. As a speaker put it, Christian socialists tell the poor "What is mine is thine." And those other socialists tell the poor "What is thine is mine." I don't think The Nicholsons would have agreed. They were religious, but also considered themselves 'the working class.'

I found so much info, last might, my head is spinning. One VERY interesting tidbit. I found a Sherbrooke Record for 1910 that revealed that there was a great need for teachers in the Eastern Townships, in 1910, but they had to have a diploma. Not that they were getting great pay...25 dollars a month, compared to the 50 Marion was getting in the city...But Edith couldn't apply, she had no diploma.

I also found out a great deal about Dominion Park, all about the acts and such. It half burned down in November 1907, but seemed to be going strong again in 1908. On Victoria Day 1909 they had a huge crowd, 30 thousand the paper says. So I will have Marion visit on that day! Apparently, the place had an act where a man wrestles with snakes in water. I think I will include that scene. What is that famous sculpture, Lacoon or something? It's all very archetypal and sensual. Flo sees the archer at Wellsley and is riveted. Marion will see this man...I looked it up...It's Laocoon, a Trojan Priest killed by sea snakes sent by Zeus. Well, if the image of that statue has stayed in my head since I was in my 20's, taking art history at McGill, Marion can get the image stuck in her head!! One thing I learned in that class, snakes are a symbol of femaleness, not maleness. Hence Medusa. I think that was mentioned in that lesson about Laocoon. It's easy to see why, if you look at the baroque style statue in the Vatican museum.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A STRANGE QUIET BOY 37th installment

Hats from 1909-1910 Eaton's Catalogue for Fall. The catalogue for spring of the year isn't online, but I just have to look at my Delineator from August to know what the prevailing fashion was...a profusion of petals. And this is why I have photos of Marion and Flo in such hats, posted on this website. Just look at the slideshow.

So, I decided to check the archives for any discussion of Mack Sennett earlier than 1930. It is unlikely Marion and Edith knew that the man in the movie was Mickael Sinnott from Richmond. I found a 1934 Time Magazine article and his origins are not mentioned. He is born in Canada in 1884, it says. Sennett mentioned his origins in the first chapter of his autobiography.

The lastest bio says he was born in Richmond, in 1980. That would make him a contemporary of the Nicholson kids, one way or another.

Anyway, as I scoped the Montreal Gazettes for January 18, 1909, to see where Man in the Box was Playing I noticed that a man called W.C. Fields was performing his act at a local musical hall. Hmmm. Quelle coincidence. Mack Sennett discovered W.C. Fields. I could re-write history and make, say, Herb, discover W.C. Fields and tell Sennett. Wouldn't that be fun?

Meanwhile, I'm re-writing history just a bit as I have Flora Nicholson, of Flo in the City, my novel in progress about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1908-1913 era, make a hat to try to impress local milliner Eugenie Hudon.

"Have you got your examination marks back from the teacher?"Margaret asked Flora, as they sat together at lunch, on the Saturday. In return for the maple syrup she had sent in to the McCoys they had sent her, among other city specialties, a strange new product called peanut butter. The mother and daughter were trying it out spread on oatmeal bread.

"The peanut butter has a dreadful texture,it sticks to the palate" Margaret remarked, placing the rest of the sandwich back on the plate, "although is it pleasingly sweet. They say children love it. Well, children can keep it."

Flora did not answer right away. Luckily for her, the new teacher who had replaced Mr. Jackson was not as severe. She had received her marks 2 days before, just as she was putting the finishing touches on her Spring Bonnet. She had passed all subjects, but just in the case of French and Composition. (With the hat she had gone for a garlard of small poppies, pink ones, over the red satin ribbon. The poppies she had crafted herself from old organza like dress material. She had placed small purple felt dots in the center of each bloom and pasted the orange wings from Eaton's at the side. Flora could see from the Delineator Magazine, that small florets were out this season and a profusion of petals was in. )
Margaret was diverted by the telephone's ring. She stood up, wiped her hands with her apron, and walked into the hall. There was short pause, then she said "That is dreadful news, but expected all the same."

"Another good Liberal gone," she said to Flora, when she returned after hanging up the phone. "Bella tells me found Driver's body in front of Pope's, where he had fallen in. The Stevens of Melbourne found his body. He is being buried today. And Mrs. Montgomery tells me they are dragging the lines at La Beniere for George Sutherland's body. He had been acting strange for a while and wandered away from home. They are offering a 100 dollar reward for information."

Flora let out a little gasp, she didn't know the Drivers, but she knew Sutherland, a strange and quiet boy at the best of times. There had been a rash of deaths in the past two months in Richmond, from La Grippe and Old Age and The Drink, the usual, but these two drownings seemed an odd coincidence.

She eyed her Mother who, with this news, had forgotten about her initial line of inquiry.

She had better get down to Miss Eugenie's, as soon as possible, she thought to herself, before her luck with her Mother runs out.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fire and Death

Cameras in 1909. From Eaton's Catalogue. I have an advert from a magazine for a Brownie Camera, showing two boys out cross country skiing as with a camera. Nature Photography, the ad says. Good Wholesome Fun!
Of course, the ad wouldn't mention 'wholesome' unless there was a taint of unwholesomeness about the product. Well, we know what it - many new technologies have that taint. I recall in 1977, I was in a 'cinema class' and an enthusiastic student was talking to the prof who was a film maker, about the new 'video camera'. The prof was not impressed:he remarked that the video camera would just be used for porn.

OK. More wonderful finds with the Gazette archives. For a few years now, I've been wondering some things related to Tighsolas, my social studies website at which features the letters of the Nicholsons, a Canadian family in the 1910 era. (This novel in progress, Flo in the City, is based on the letters.) Both questions I have are fire related.

1) A few years ago a book came out on Protestant Education in Quebec and it claimed Royal Arthur School closed in 1909 because of fire. I was confused as that is where Marion taught, and she wrote back on Royal Arthur Stationery for a long time after that.

Well, I found the notice of the fire. Just a few minutes ago. The school partially burned down. One wing, the east, remained open. Some of the 500-600 students in the school were sent to another local school and others were taught in a church. I'm have no way of knowing, but I will assume that Marion worked in the east wing.

Now, I know that Edith lost her great love in a fire. She told her niece as much. In a 1910 letter, she writes about her loss. A while back, I had visited McGill and looked up May 1910 to see about a fire in Cornwall. I saw that a Charlie Gagne was killed and I knew she had a boyfriend, Charlie G.

Well, I have confirmed it. An article from the Ottawa Citizen archives describes Charlie Gagne as a bank teller at the Bank of Montreal in Cornwall, originally from Levis, who had just arrived from Danville,which is, of course, near Richmond. I wonder if he was French Canadian? And I wonder if he is in any of the pictures I have posted on this. Maybe he is that handsome young man in the pics on the trip to Potten Springs.

The fire was a big one, with 12 dead, including a family. The Rossmore Hotel among other buildings, burnt down. It remains Cornwall's major fire.

Well, I have details for my story. Hmm. A Bank Teller. Not exactly marrying up. Maybe that's why they weren't engaged, but had only 'an understanding'.

More Information Overload!

Here's a snippet from the 1909 Eaton's Catalogue, the patent medicine page. Patent medicines were full of big promises and opiates.

Well, as I wrote the last installment (36) of Flo in the City, my novel in progress, about a young woman coming of age in the pivotal 1908-1913 era, based on the letters of, I decided to check the Net for information on where the Motor Company of Canada was located. And lo and behold, I found out. On Atwater and Ste Catherine, where the Forum is.

I found out, because the Montreal Gazette has archived some of their newspapers from the era. I had seen some before, at McGill, for the newspaper archives are available there on microfilm, but what a process to go there and look up stuff. I've only been once.

So how pleased was I to see that some issues are now available at my fingertips.

I found out that motion pictures played at the Royal and the Princess. During the week of May 4 edition, a number of funny and 'educational' films were playing. The Last Days of Pompeii, a Wilbur Wright motion picture and one silent short entitled The Chaperone and one titled Asking Father's Consent. (The subject of women and marriage was a big part of motion pictures, back then and still is, isn't it?)

I will have fun researching details for my story. In this case, I found an article on the event at Knox Church that Marion attended and wrote about in her letter of May 5!

Peter Hing, the first ever Chinese graduate of McGill was honoured. The article in the May 4th paper, says that Princpal Peterson of McGill used the forum to criticize the 500 dollar head tax, claiming it discouraged bright minds from China coming to McGill. (The US was ahead of Canada in this regard.) Apparently, Hing outlined the situation in English and then spoke directly to the Chinese Montrealers in the audience. He finished by saying that opium was very bad...

Why Marion went to this affair, I don't know. It was a McGill do aimed very much at the Chinese community. It just shows that the Nicholsons had quite an open mind about the world and interesting connections...

Another cool thing. A large ad on the same page was for Laurentian Spring Water. My next project after this one will be about the Montreal in the 20's, and focus on my grandfather, the Director of Services for the City and my husband's grandfather, T G Wells, the President of Laurentian Spring water. It will be titled Water and Milk and it will be a two solitudes style thriller with a social welfare theme.

BUSINESS MUST BE BOOMING -36th installment

Marion, left at car dealership.

334 Bleury,

May 5, 1909

Dear Mother,

Received your letter some time ago and intended answering it before this and have been lazy about it as usual.

My class has been having their examinations and has done much better than expected. I have applied for higher work to Mr. Silver, but will not know the answer until next month.

Edith and I went to Lachine his afternoon to see the Carlyles, they were telling us that Weldon was going out West.

Yesterday, coming home from school, I met Mr.and Mrs. Montgomery on the street. They are here buying an automobile and Mrs. Montgomery is having a new suit.

I am having Dr. Cleveland fix my teeth and he thinks he will be able to save my front one, but says it is in a bad state.

Mr. And Mrs. McCoy think the syrup fine and they liked the sugar too.

Monday night I went to hear Peter Hing speak at Knox's Church. He is the first Chinaman to graduate from McGill. They praised him to the hilt. I think all the Chinamen on the island of Montreal were there beaming on their countryman.

Now I must close.


Marion lifted the leaf of paper and blew on it in staccato puffs and then waved it in the air. She stilled her hand and examined her work. Not an elegant letter, but it's all she had time for, with report cards to be filled in, 50 of them.

Small world, meeting the Montgomerys on the city street, but she lived close to the center of Montreal now, not far from Edith's greystone on 72 Sherbrooke Street west. The snowbanks had long melted, and the sunshine was friendly and she had decided, this afternoon, to walk up to Ste. Catherine from her new boarding house on Bleury, where the skirt she had torn two months before, the morning she almost fell under a streetcar, was thrown over a chair in her small room. Next year she wouldn't have to risk life and limb to get to school on time. She had finally found a boarding house, just one streetcar away from her school, that accepted only young ladies. Mrs.Wyatt, the woman who had run her boarding house in Sherbrooke had provided excellent references, so she has been accepted.

Marion had switched to her lighter blue suit as soon as the Spring weather had warmed and that was what she had been wearing when she bumped into the Montgomerys on Ste. Catherine, looking very much the poor school teacher in with her faded floral bonnet and lack-lustre
astrachan caperone. The wealthy couple persuaded her to visit the car dealership with them, a few blocks west at the corner of Atwater about 15 blocks west on St. Catherine. They waved down a carriage.

Along the way, as the horse clip-clopped along Montreal's main drag, Mrs. Montgomery asked many questions which Marion managed mostly to evade. Yes, it was her school that burned down, but one wing remained so she still had a job. Yes, she and Edith had seen the Merry Widow, and visited with the Dr. Clevelands. Mr. Cleveland was a dentist, formally from Richmond, who had married one of her mother's cousins, a Thorbourne, of "The Thorbournes" who founded St. Francis College. The taxi arrived at the Forum Buildings and the trio climbed out onto the street.

"What exactly is Edith doing? asked Mrs. M. a few minutes later as the trio walked the outdoor showroom. "Giving English lessons in a private home," was all Marion answered and then she climbed behind the wheel of a Lozier automobile in the center of the lot.

"This one suits me fine," she joked to Mr. Montgomery. "Don't I look grand?" She stroked the Turkish upholstery beneath her and drew a line with her index finger on the mohair roof above her.

Yes, remarked the salesman for the Motor Import Company of Canada, a short middle aged man wearing eyeglasses, a blue suit and vest and very shiny shoes. "This model, as you can see has left side drive,center control. Also a six cylinder long stroke motor, dual ignition(he was now talking to Mr. Montgomery, of course)a unit power plant as well as special Lozier smokeless lubrication. The ladies will like that. He turned to Mrs. Montgomery. It saves on the clothing."

How much? asked Mr. M.

3250.00 replied the agent. This is a superior vehicle. But now let me show you a Pierce Arrow, the most sophisticated automobile we sell, and we are its exclusive dealers in Montreal.

$3250! thought Marion. This auto costs more than Tighsolas. The insurance business must be booming if Mr. M. can afford to buy an automobile like this.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Catalogue is worth a thousand letters?

Eaton's Fall and Winter Catalogue, first item. 1909

I have 1000 letters left behind by the Nicholsons. Of these 1000 letters, I have posted about 300 from the 1908-1913 era on, my social studies website.

I am now using these letters to write a novel, Flo in the City, on this blog.

Flo in the City, is about a young girl, Flora Nicholson, coming of age in the era. Flora is 16, a student in 'high school' or academy as it was called back then. Flora has two older sisters (Marion and Edith, both teachers) and an older brother, working in a bank.

The Nicholson letters tell an important story, about a pivotal time in Canadian and world history. The same story can be told in pictures from the Eaton's catalogues of the era.

This morning I perused the 1909 Eaton's catalogue available on and snipped some pictures. I know if I compare this catalogue with the 1913 one, I will see some major differences. And I plan to do just that.

For right now, I've taken some snapshots from 1909, which I will post on the website as I write the installments of Flo in the City for the rest of 1909 and for 1910.

The advertisement above, for winter jackets, is the first picture in the 1909 Eaton's fall and winter catalogue. This says a lot. Just like in modern department stores, as you 'enter' the catalogue you are met with women's fashions. This says something, too.

Simply put, it suggests that women's lust for clothing drove the consumer age, which makes the story of Flo in the City extremely relevant. The study of fashion history has always been considered a frivolous aspect of turn of the century history, say, compared to automobile history, but it clearly is not.

A person can learn an awful lot about women's social history and 'consumer age' values, by examining fashion, and an awful lot about the 1910 era, by studying the Eaton's catalogues.

Ironically, Edith mentions in a letter than she desires a pony jacket. No coincidence that 'pony coats' are the first item in the 1909 catalogues.

But at 37.00 such a coat is out of the question for Edith, who makes about 200. a year. That doesn't stop her from purchasing a 7.50 hat from Ogilvy's in 1909, a more stylish and expensive hat than would be found in the Eaton's catalogue: a woman's gotta have fun.

I grew up in the 60's and 'the residue' of this era remained: for instance, my mother thought Persian Lamb the epitome of chic. I thought it was for old blue-haired ladies. On the other hand, those peignor sets, with silver comb, brush and little box, for something or other, simply enchanted me. They seemed the epitome of feminine to me. "Comb your hair 100 strokes each night, " my mother would say. And in movies, that's just what the beautiful actresses did, as they sat at their dressing tables.

Sunday, Sunday

The Mount Royal Look Out 1910 (Valentine and son's postcard)

In a previous installment of Flo in the City, my story based on the letters of, my social studies website about the 1910 era in Canada, I had one of the 'characters', Marion, a new teacher, write her lesson plan for the Monday on a Sunday in 1908.

In a 1913 letter, she remarks that she roasted a chicken 'and on a Sunday.'

The Nicholsons were Presbyterians and very religious. Marion's daughter, also Marion and my late mother in law, recalls that as a child in the 20's, Sunday was a very quiet day at Tighsolas, as the kids couldn't do anything.

Hmm. Margaret Nicholson went to church every day, and often twice a day. After all, there wasn't much else to do in the house but work. And sermons were entertaining, and if the Minister was a dud, you still met neighbours and heard all the news at church.

In 1907, the Canadian Parliament passed the Lord's Day Act. This is one case, where the leftist unions representing working people and religious institutions came together to try to give people a day of rest.

The United States hadn't yet passed a such a law. In the 1909 Delineator, there's an article. "Saving Sunday for America." This Lord's Day issue concerns both the man who carries 'a dinner pail' and the man who carries a Bible, says the article. The ordinary man, it seems, is merely inconvenienced. "I was up in Montreal the other day, where they've passed that blessed Lord's Day Act, and do you know, I couldn't buy a smoke in town. I was making something of a blow about it in the hotel lobby and when a young fellow stepped up to me and said, "Say, look here. Do you want to work seven days a week? 'No," I turned on him. "What has that got to do with it?" "Well," he said."I'm a cigar clerk and neither do I."

It has been only since the 1990's that large stores in Montreal have kept longer hours and stayed open Sunday. We still have few 24 establishments like in the US. Still, the parking lots of the mega shopping malls are now filled to the brim on Sundays. Shopping has become a leisure activity, one that is both 'free' and 'expensive', if you know what I mean. And with debit cards, and credit cards, money is almost always available. My father's excuse for not spending on the weekends, "I didn't get to the bank in time on Friday," no longer stands up.

And in Quebec, we've just got rid of a rule that insists grocery stores keep no more than 6 people on staff on Sunday. They had to, because customers complained about the slow service. Many many people shop for food on Sundays, these days. We are a true 24/7 society, with more and more people working shifts.

Ironically, every since I can remember, Montreal has been 'sin city' where the entertainment establishments have stayed open late into the early morning hours. Toronto was always labelled Toronto the GOOD for its stubborn adherence to the Lord's Day Act throughout the century.

Of course, the Lord's Day Act contains an inherent Catch 22. If people are freed up on Sunday, not having to work, they need someplace to go for fun and leisure, like Dominion Park or the Nickel, and people are needed to run these entertainment establishments.

In Nickelodeons or Motion Picture Houses, apart from the people taking tickets, there was always a piano player and usually a speaker or explainer before and after the film - and sometimes even during the film. In French establishments the person was called a Bonmenteur and he was something of a cultural translator.

Today, in good economies at least, it's students who take up the slack, taking tickets and doling out overpriced junk food at the local Odeon. It's a perfect marriage of convenience, but only works if a student can keep up his or her grades.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

MEN WILL BE MEN - 35rd installment

Ivory Soap Ad circa 1910. "No other soap is so pure."
In the 60's Ivory Soap sold itself on being pure. But the concept of "pure" wasn't quite what it was when Ivory Soap first started promoting itself widely, in the 1900-1910 era. That was the era when just about everything, food, medicine, makeup and cleaning products, even milk, well, especially milk, promoted itself as pure, because, in the decades before, many consumer products were found to be tainted with dangerous elements. Lead was the most common additive, because it actually tasted and smelled nice. In the 60's I recall being drawn to the smell of car exhaust, which I knew to be dangerous. The lead in the gasoline!

A balmy Saturday in April. Mrs. Montgomery, Margaret noticed, was taking advantage of the fine weather and had her carpets out. Rather early she thought. Margaret was on the back porch, hanging some rags to dry. She had no intention of embarking on any major spring cleaning, so she was somewhat irritated when Mrs. Montgomery, seeing her, waved and shouted out"So Margaret, when are you going to put yours out?"

I’d rather not, in case of rain, Margaret shouted back, annoyed to find herself apologizing to her neighbour for her housekeeping. “i’m doing the windows,” she added, defensively. In fact, she had done one window and had no intention of doing more, not today.

Why couldn’t nice weather be enjoyed for what it was: Nice weather and not an opportunity to do more work.

Flora was in the garden, raking. Mae was on kitchen duty. Flora had received her results from Easter Examinations. They were neither here not there, so she had not bothered to bother her mother about them, not yet. Her plan was to finish her hat, visit Miss Hudons’, and see if there was a future for her in millinery, first. Insurance of a sort.

Mrs. Montgomery put down the broom she was using to beat her hall runners, and walked over toward Tighsolas, her boots sinking slightly in the muddy grass. She was on an intelligence mission.

"How are your Edith and Marion making out in the city? she asked. Has the snow melted? No more falling into snowbanks, I hope."

Margaret had told her nosy but kind neigbour about the tramway incident, for it was the most innocuous piece of news about Marion she could offer up to the woman, harmless. If fact, she didn’t have much news from either daughter, a true embarrassment were the fact widely known. Edith wasn’t writing much and Marion wasn’t big on giving out information at the best of times. Her two daughters were going to see the Merry Widow at His Majesty's, that as much she knew, but she didn’t say, for she wasn’t sure how Montgomery would take it.

"Yes, the snow melts much faster in the city as you know. Well, except for the snowbanks.. The sun radiates off the building and the cobblestones heat up."

"Ah," said Mrs. Montgomery. "I only ask because Nathan is going to the city.. so I wonder what boots he should wear. He has been looking to buy an auto. He is planning to sell the horse and even build a shed for the auto."

Margaret stood still, amazed.

“That’s wonderful, he can take us out motoring,” Flora said. Flora had read about many such excursions in stories in magazines. The motorcar figured promintently, these days in the literature. All elegant people rode in them.

Mrs. Montgomery replied, "Well, they are very expensive and very dangerous, I see no point, but men will be men. They love their toys." Flora noticed that she seemed at once proud and unhappy about the impending purchase.

"Well, I’d rather a fine horse and carriage any day, than a car." And then she stopped, realzing the Nicholsons could afford neither and that this was common knowedge.

"Me as well," replied the neighbour, pretending not to see the irony in the statement.

Flora gazed upon the two matrons, aware that much more was going on here than an exchange of local news. Mrs. Montgomery was happy to be able to say that her husband was buying an automobile. Some autos cost as much as 3 thousand dollars.

Mrs. Montgomery then returned to her carpets, just as Florence Peppler, Margarets’ niece, appeared from across the street.

"Have you heard?" You probably know that Mr. Driver who bought the Saunders' old place has been ill with Grippe and seems to have lost his reason. They were trying to watch him, but yesterday morning he got up at four o'clock, his wife was alone with him and tried to prevent him going out. But he turned on her. He got out and no trace has been found of him. They think he must have got into the river and men are looking by the bank. The river keeps very high, still, a terrible thing. Mrs. Driver blames all those patent medicines he has been taking. They have addled his brain, all the opiates and impurities.

And they were dragging the lines at La Benere for George Sutherland's body. He had been acting strange for a while. He wandered away from home last Saturday, a reward of 100 dollars offered for any clue.

It is a strange coincidence,don't you think?

Margaret wasn't so sure about that. It seemed but another reminder that some women had it much worse than she did.

The Olden Days of Yesterday...And I mean YESTERDAY

Ad advert for Bell Telephone, 1910.

"The Bell System has become the nervous system of the business and social world. The comfort it affords the women in the homes of American cannot be measured. The mother of children can find out where they are at any hour of the day and HOW THEY ARE, even though their visits carry them to the country village or the city hundreds of miles away. The husband on a trips talks to his wife from the hotel room. There is a world of comfort knowing you can talk together at a moment's notice whereever you may be. There are 6 billion calls over the Bell System every year. Many of these are comforting calls from afar whose actual money value can no more be reckoned than the value of the happiness one man has and another cannot buy.....

Well, this ad, from 1910 era, is relevant to Flo in the City (my novel in progress based on the real life letters of )in so many ways, I don't know where to begin! On some level, it sums up the key theme of my novel.

The Nicholsons had a telephone which they used for local calls, for ordering from the general store, etc, but the telephone was rarely used for long distance purposes, even with all the problems the family had in this period, and even if Mother Margaret was determined to keep track of her kids, wherever they may have been.

But this ad, which employs the same marketing strategy used to promote the cellphone (and many other new technologies) 100 years later, plays on fear, and the most fundamental fear of all, a mother's fear for her children.

It plays into the sociological patterns of the industrial era, as well. Families were breaking up. In the Eastern Townships of Quebec, within the 'anglo' community, this was happening on an especially large scale, due to lack of work for the younger generation.

That's why the Tighsolas letters exist and that is also why they have historical relevance. The Nicholsons were archetypal, representative and not an exception. They were middle class in a time the middle class was growing, but also under great stress, being buffeted around by uncertainty. Like middle class families today, let's face it!

Anecdote: the other day, as per usual, as I left for a short drive to the grocery store, my husband asked me if I have my cell. (I don't use it much.) I said yes. But I had to laugh. 'You didn't worry when I took our really crappy second hand rust buckets years ago, say, to Montreal, say in an ice storm, say with our small kids in the back, and today you are worrying when I take my rather nice new Malibu, with the OnStar "big brother" package, a few kilometers to Loblaw's in nice weather.' (During the infamous Ice Storm of 1998 or was it 99, I actually drove to Montreal on the barren ice-caked highway, out of desperation as we had no heat in the burbs.)

I guess the more 'protective' technology we have, the more fear we have! I joked at the time, but it isn't that funny, is it? It's kind of ominous in a Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451 way.

And here's a less foreboding thought I just had the other day: Technology is moving so fast that 'kids' today probably see no difference between the 'olden days' of 2005 or the olden days of 1905.

The 33 lp is as much ancient history as the wax cylinder victrola. My cell phone (which was my son's first or second one) is as old a technology, to elementary school children, as that first wall mounted oak telephone box with it's hand crank. (We actually have one of those mounted at our entrance:we use it to hang our keys and such. My husband 'found' it as a kid in an abandoned farmhouse. In short, to them, History was just Yesterday, or Last Week. So they are as likely to be interested in the 1910's as in the 1990's. It's all the same.

I thought about this because a social studies teacher from BC uses my Tighsolas website in his classroom. He finds the letters on the website very useful to teach about the Laurier Era, as they provide 'authentic' accounts of life back then... Now, my 60's high school text book, Canada Then and Now, contained just a couple of paragraphs about The Laurier Era. (I know, I found a copy.)

How times have changed: Imagine if students today had access to just 3 paragraphs of information about the 60's instead of piles, mountains, megatonnes of information, almost too much to deal with.

In the few years of working on Tighsolas, I've seen an exponential growth in the amount of primary and secondary information just on the 1910's. Indeed, what I can't find today, I can wait and usually find within the next year.

Yes, times have changed: Back in elementary school, in the 60's, when I was assigned a project on life in another country, the only pictures I had access to where out of Travel Agent brochures. So, I did a lot of projects on Trinidad and Tobago, where life was sunny and oh so perfect! Today, a student can talk to a child in another country, although the very poorest children are still isolated and voiceless.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Teacher Sings the Blues

A drawing in the 1909 Delineator, illustrating a romance printed within. The image is of men saving women... I uploaded this one for this blog, because, well.. read on..

I just 'found' this letter. It has no date, so I kind of overlooked it. I have not posted it on Tighsolas, only just now figuring out that it is from 1908.

It is significant for many reasons. 1) It is from a fellow teacher at Sherbrooke High, who sounds very much like a bright young thing. I will use many of her figures of speech in future installments of Flo in the City, a work in progress, based on the letters of

This woman is also very depressed! The Nicholsons were in terrible trouble in the 1910 era, but no letter survives that reveals any of them to be depressed, not like this girl. (Mrs. Coy, in Boston, is the person who sounds depressed like this woman.) I wonder who she is, I have posted a picture of the Sherbrooke High Teachers on this blog.

She's a woman who has suffered a loss of some sort and dreads being an old maid teacher. In my next installment I will allude to this letter. I've already reached early spring 1909, but I think I can tie this letter in with another event that happened. A young man's body was found in the river. Little is said, but there is a suggestion he committed suicide. Depression or the blues, as they called it: it existed back then, and here's the proof.

Marion had many, many friends all her life. Her life wasn't an easy one, no not at all. But Marion wasn't a dreamer, and she didn't look back. She soldiered on at all times.

Megantic, Sunday Night.

I got your letter the morning I was leaving. You must think me horribly rude, but I have been in such a rush since I got home. I wanted to let you know that I was going to Richmond, but I didn’t know until the very last moment which was I was going. Got a telegram. I would have loved to have stayed with you, and I was so sorry not to have seen you. The Martyr came as far as Richmond. He was on his way to Montreal, but of course his train left ages before mine. What have you been hearing, Marion? Now fess up and play straight. I am consumed with curiosity.You have got the idea all crooked, for no pleasant prospect. I am going back to Sherbrooke next Saturday, I expect by the TCR, I don’t in the least look forward to it. I assure you the Mabel Trosu who is going there is a girl from Quebec and I never had the dimmest use for her in the days that we were youngsters. Believe me, the winter that stretches in front of me will be no pleasant one. Perhaps it may be more than commonly unpleasant. Anyway, I dread the very thought of school, and unless things change in a way not common to everyday life, I’ll not stay in Sherbrooke another year.

Now Marion. Things are not serious with me in the way that you imagine. I really think he is awfully nice but we are just friends. And I will miss you so much next year. I hate the thought of it without you. The Summer has been very quiet. Lal and the Martyr came down. He was on business, of course. A very flying visit. Then Lal stayed a few days later. I wish you were here tonight.

I really miss you very much as you are the only person I ever talk to. And I am quite sure you don’t miss me as I do you. I never really like a person, but 7 degrees of separation. And I have got down to where I kick. I am kicking hard these days. Bess and I reviewed the barren future and the dreamy post in a very searching way the other day. We are both getting old and I fancy we will both continue to get old. And I see myself a ___ Old Maid. For my __, I cannot understand or get on with Mankind and I feel the desire to do so is lessening.

I am beginning to take a most active and intelligent interest in the Pension fund. It really is up to me. I made certain from the Inspector that it didn’t matter whether you got your receipts or not. Fancy me growing into Miss Mitcheldown. I could be nice and tall and angular. I wonder if I could look as cross. I am making a new kimono and it’s hideous. Then reading a book of Scott’s, the Abbot. It is stupid and I am going back to Sherbrooke High and that’s the limit. Now pray tell me what is to become of one totally bereft of humour and sympathy. You really must write to me, Marion. You must. This letter is so horribly blue. And I know that you will think I am silly and put a wrong construction on it. But you know me too well. You will just shake your small, wise head and say “Florrie’s got the blues.” Remember my numerous attacks. But really, I do feel very very blue and I think, as I have outlined to you, I have good reason.

Now I must to bed. I hope you have a nice summer.

Your most sincere and forlorn friend, Florance J.P.
PS.I do hope you are preserving that obituary carefully