Sunday, September 12, 2010

Milk and Water


The Crepeaus.Old Orchard Beach. mid 1920's.

Terry Copp's The Anatomy of Poverty is one of the few books out there about Montreal's Working Class in the 1910 era.

I purchased it on Abebooks and read it as background to the Nicholson letters. I learned from Copp and other sources that in the 1910 era Montreal slums were second to none in the Western World with respect to poverty and that key indicator 'infant mortality.'

But I later learned that infant mortality was highest among French Canadians. Jewish Montrealers for instance had a low infant mortality, despite their poverty.

They had smaller families and got their children vaccinated.

The report above, from the July 1, 1911 Montreal Gazette, shows that there exists an "anti vaccination league." It reveals that Dr. Louis Laberge of Montreal's Health Department would have liked to have a mandatory vaccination program (volunteer ones were in place at the public baths that had recently been opened up) but many didn't want any such program in place.

It was a freedom to choose matter.

Well, too bad I can't invoke the spirit my grandfather, who worked in the Health Department under Dr. Louis Laberge in the early part of the century before moving to the Greffier's Office.

I could get the inside scoop.

A while back I clipped another bit from a 1911 newspaper claiming that Montreal's water was so undrinkable 'people had to buy bottled water' (Laurentian Spring Water that belonged to my husband's family, sold bottled water for 4 cents a gallon). The article claimed that Montreal had more cases of typhoid than any city in N. America. (Again, I wonder if this is true or a perception.) But, of course, the poor could not afford to buy water and no one thought it was important to give it out for free...

This article quotes a person: "It is better to have small healthy families than big sickly ones." Now, it was not French Canadians who grappled with this: The Edwardians reveals that at the turn of the last century, the parents of poor industrial age families often understood that having too many children was detrimental to to them, but they weren't equipped for family planning. These families were best off early on, when the parents were strong and fit and able to work and their families small, but as the families grew and as the parents aged, their earning power declined. When kids could go to work and contribute to the household coffers, there was a reprieve (Edwardian era youths were discouraged from marrying early for this reason) and then once the kids left to start their own families, well, it was a spiral into abject poverty for many parents and often meant an old age in the Work House, a kind of prison. According to this book, Edwardian Age children did not take their elderly parents in. They had their own problems by that time. (Was this the same in French Canadian families. Well, I don't think we had Work Houses.)

So, you can see how raising the mandatory school age (a good thing by all accounts, especially for girls since they were the ones who left school by 12) also hurt some families, who counted on these kids (and the poor wages they earned in textile factories, for instance, for support.

Anyway, I have to get to the bottom of all this as I intend to write another book (once I've done with Flo in the City, my story of a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1910 era based on the letters of http://www.tighsolas.ca/. That book, tentatively called Milk and Water will be about my grandfather Jules Crepeau, Director of City Services and my husband's grandfather, Thomas Gavine Wells, President of Laurential Spring Water and citizen of Westmount and will take place in 1927, the year of another typhoid outbreak. It will be a Two Solitudes style thriller with a social welfare theme.