Saturday, September 11, 2010

July 1911 - Long Hot Summer

I took a look today at the July 1, 1911 edition of the Montreal Gazette. I have recently read The Perfect Summer 1911, by Juliet Nicolson, about England in 1911, where there was a Coronation and a heatwave.
Well, there was a heatwave in Quebec, too. I have the Nicholson letters from the summer of 1911 to prove it.
And there was a coronation too. The same one, of course, as Canada was (is) part of the British Empire.

The film of the Coronation made it to Montreal and was shown at King Edward Park as part of the Dominion Day Celebrations. King George had been crowned but a week before, and a negative copy of the film of the Coronation was put directly on a boat to Canada and developed en route, so that Canadians could, without delay, hear The King's Speech (I'm not referring to Colin Firth's new movie, here, although it is supposedly terrific and a crowd-pleaser, but to the Daddy) as well as see footage of Sir Wilfrid and other Canadian luminaries who attended. (Apparently, it had taken a month for news of Queen Victoria's Coronation to reach Canada so this was proof of the great advances in technology since that time.Well, duh. )

No doubt Sir Wilfrid wanted the exposure as an election was coming up and his Free Trade stance was not popular.

This July 1st Edition of the Montreal Gazette has as editorial about the Coronation, "In some sense and fashion, the Coronation of George V and Mary may be said to have awakened the enthusiasm of loyalty, patriotism and Imperial oneness."

This edition also had an article claiming that vacationers were leaving the city in record numbers although no mention is made of the heat. Nicolson, in her book, talks about the sea side vacations taken in 1911 by Londoners, upper and middle class, to escape the record heat.

Trains to Portland (for Old Orchard Beach, Maine) were packed. Also trains to Halifax.

But for those who stayed in the city, this 1911 Dominion Day there was always Dominion Park where you paid extra to see Fighting the Flames "The Greatest Spectacle ever Seen" and some minstrel singers and a singing comedienne and North America's greatest illusionist. They appeared to have cornered the market on hyperbole in that era. Today we have marketingese, another kind of slight of hand, illusion - or is it delusion.

And for those who want to escape the heat, the Princess Theatre was hosting a travel show, "ideal location as the theatre is always cool" with 'scenes' films or just photos? of the South Pole with penguins and ice floes and polar bears (What?); A Day in Venice; Milan Cathedral; Hawaiian Surf and the Life of the Butterfly (with slo-mo I guess) and Danish Dragoons on horseback and a big dog show.

If there were indeed pictures of of the South Pole, they must have been from Scott's first expedition. In 1911 he was on his ill-fated second expedition. (I loved the book Scott on the Antarctic, which I read in elementary school.)

And at Sohmer Park there were some minstrels, again, offering up "representations of Southern Fun" and some jugglers and the Field Brothers, a song and dance team and some strong men. The usual ;)

What were the Nicolson women doing on July 1, 1911? Well, I have no letters for that exact date, (in other years they attended Dominion Day celebrations in Richmond) but I know that Marion finished school on the 25th of June and went up to Hudson, Quebec (where her grandson and his wife (me) would make a home) and sailed on the Ottawa River, and she then took some car trips around Richmond, Quebec. Edith went to Sherbrooke with friends and then entertained the daughter of the Principal at her school at Tighsolas. And Flo, well, she failed French and was upset, but she still got into teaching school. It had been so hot in Richmond in June, Margaret and Flora had slept out on the verandah. They hadn't been scared, because they had Floss, their dalmation, for protection - and their neighbours were doing the same. (Tramps from the trains were always a fear.)

The Nicholson women were 'cash-poor' middle class, but they did not lack for friends, well off professional class friends with automobiles who could take them on car excursions to the countryside or surrounding towns or even as far as Montreal. And as I have written before, in the 1910 era, car rides were considered a terrific form of entertainment. Indeed, cars rides were cutting into the theatre business's profits, according to a 1910 article in the New York Dramatic Mirror.

The next year Edith and Marion would visit Boston relations in the summer. Flora had gone out to Boston in 1908 and that figures largely in my book Flo in the City, about a girl coming of age in the 1910 era, based on the letters of
For a July 6, 1911 letter written by Margaret with some cute anecdotes
At the end she warns husband Norman not to get too personal in the letters as you can never tell who will read them. (Like anyone in the world in 100 years' time.)