Saturday, December 31, 2011

Montreal Civic Politics 1927 - and my grandpapa


Jules Crepeau, Director of Municipal Departments. (That's how is title is generally written in the newspapers, but not always.

Well, I'm 3/4's of the way through the first draft of my play, Milk and Water, about Montreal in 1927, and I'm still figuring things out. Important things. Like exactly why did my grandfather get pushed out in 1930.

As my play takes place in 1927, it's not essential that I know, but it helps because these forces are looming over him at that time.

I went back and read the speech Camillien Houde gave in the National Assembly in March 1927, with respect to the Montreal Water and Power Purchase.

He ran off at the mouth a bit, I think, being a new politician, so that speech contains some clues, I think.

Houde says that Alderman Brodeur, Chairman of the Executive Committee from 1921-27 has absolute power in the Civic Government, but that he is under the control of a well-known politician.

Hmm.

Houde also says he wants all those who benefited from the Montreal Water and Power Purchase, "pursued like criminals."

I suspect the man he is naming is J.L. Perron, (who is at this time either Minister of Transportation or Minister of Agriculture.) It was naive of Houde, as you don't pursue your own.. even if they are political adversaries.

J.L. Perron was a prominent lawyer and had worked with McConnell and Lorne Webster.

Looking Perron up on the Net I see he died in early 1930!

So Brodeur died in November 1927, Perron in 1930 and then my grandfather is forced to resign over the Montreal Water and Power Purchase  in late 1930 -although he clearly had nothing to do with it and although the voters didn't know him from a hole in the head

Houde lost his Provincial seat in the May 1927 election - and he contested and eventually won it back. (Electoral fraud). While he was waiting for the judgement he also ran for Mayor and the rest is History.

Houde was a most interesting politician, as everyone knows.  He used 'modern' technique  sticking to simple buzzwords to engage the populace. Joking a lot. He invoked Montreal Water and Power over and over in his speeches, for years, keeping a cloud over the former Martin Administration (despite the fact it was a worthy, necessary and even a landmark purchase with respect to the evolution of City Services) and he did the same with the Laurier Palace Fire.

These were two of the era's  Hot button issues, which he kept hot by keeping the memory of them in the minds of voters. Sound familiar??? He kept doing this despite the fact that a Juge had ruled that the Laurier Palace fire was no one's fault.

He kept doing this despite the fact that the MWand P purchase was a boon to the poorer citizen.

Mederic Martin was so incensed over the MWandP innuendo, he eventually called for an inquiry of his own to 'clear his name.'

I also dug up another interesting article in a Financial newspaper. In early 1926, the shares of Montreal Water and Power were worth 78 dollars, a healthy amount, said the article, and this was because the company was likely to be purchased by the City. (The company also made healthy profits the year before.) Lorne Webster offered 85 dollars a share for the company in November 1926.

So in early 1926, it was common knowledge that the City was about to finally get around to buying/expropriating the MWP.

Why? It is because the National Assembly amended the 1921 bill (permitting expropriation) allowing the City to Purchase to purchase  shares of said company. I can't easily find the exact date of this bill because the 1926 session isn't online.

Gee, years ago I attended a Books and Breakfast affair where a writer, William Fong, was promoting his new book, J.W. McConnell, Financier, Philanthropist and Patriot.

I bought it, thinking it might be useful for the project I was then working on about the Nicholsons of Richmond.

It's much more useful for this project, Milk and Water....My grandfather, Jules Crepeau, was a big fish in the small pond of City Politics and a small fish in the Big Pond of the Power Brokers and Industrialists.

Not surprising, since he is related to the Forgets of Montreal Tramlines.

"Mon Oncle Rodolphe" as my mom called Senator Rodolphe Forget.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Cliques, City Hall and Politicianing

Mayor Mederic Martin of Montreal, earlier years, 1915 circa

Even though Juge Boyer declared no one to blame for the Laurier Palace Theatre Fire in 1927, after his exhaustive inquiry, Mayor Camillien Houde milked it for all he could in the 1930 era.

He made a 'clique' speech in April 1930 (five months before my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, the Director of Services was forced to resign over the Montreal Water and Power purchase). The speech was reported in both the French and English press.

And it gives the real reason why my grandfather, the top ranking City Civil Servant, was forced to tender his resignation after 42 years of service at City Hall.

I am writing a play Milk and Water about Montreal in 1927 that features my grandfather.

Houde said he wanted to get rid of the cliques at City Hall. When people accused him of just wanting to replace one clique with another he said "Mine is not the clique that has done the damage at City Hall. Mine did not favour the Montreal Water and Power Deal. My clique is not responsible for the typhoid epidemic or the Laurier Palace Fire. Nobody calls for vengeance against us." (This was spoken in French, no doubt and translated by the reporter from the Montreal Gazette.)

Ah Politics. As ridiculous and nefarious then as it is now. Of course that's why I am writing Milk and Water, a play about 1927 Montreal using my grandfather and my husband's grandfather (Thomas Wells, President of Laurentian Spring Water) as main characters.

A few months later, during the Council Meeting where my grandfather's letter of resignation was debated, a rowdy session, Houde also managed to make reference to the Laurier Palace Fire.

Of course, ridding Montreal of the established cliques wasn't that hard. The Chairman of the Executive Council since 1921, Alderman Brodeur, died of a heart attack in November 1927 (in New York, in a car sitting beside Mayor Martin) so that probably paved the way for Houde's surprise election win. I'm only guessing.

This Brodeur deemed the most powerful man in Montreal, in his obit. It is likely he who my grandfather served.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Cross on Mount Royal


The Crepeaus 1928 ish


Well, there's a cross on Mount Royal, as every Montrealer knows, but I just learned that it was erected in 1924, during the tenure of my grandfather Jules Crepeau as Director of  City Services of Montreal. I am writing a play about him called Milk and Water

According to  Sarah Schmidt, author of Domesticating Parks and Mastering Playgrounds, a McGill University History Thesis written in 1996, this was no random act. Years before, the Protestant elite of Montreal had rejected a plan to have a statue of the Virgin Mary on the Mountain as against all they believed in. No goddesses on Mount Royal.

Schmidt says that the tramline to Mount Royal, completed in 1929, was the next step in a process where the French of Montreal re-claimed the mountain for themselves. 

She said the French newspapers saw this tramline as a coup for the French working class. She mentions Mayor Martin and Camillien Houde as both being from working class backgrounds. Martin was Mayor off and on in the 10's and 1920's. Houde was mayor from 1927 to 53 (I think) on and off too.

Odd, because just today while I was looking on the National Assembly website's historical pages for something else, I found a speech by Camillien Houde where he denounced the tramway line. He said working class parents would never send their children way up the Mountain. He thought it was a money grab by the tramway people. He wanted local parks set up for the kids to play in.

Funny... Houde was speaking common sense here. Working class people did not have the time to spend with their kids for long trips in the park. Houde seems to be acknowledging that kids from large families often were raised by older siblings and went out without their parents.

My point exactly with respect to the motion pictures. The mothers thought it safe if an older child brought a younger child to the cinema, which would be nearby, in their neighborhood. Until 1927.

My play, Milk and Water, where I have Jules Crepeau my grandfather  have  a long talk with Thomas Wells, my husband's grandfather tries to make sense of this... Thomas Wells was a founding member of the Rotary Club and very involved in "the boy problem." (The Montreal Rotary established Weredale House and Shawbridge Boys Farm.)

He, himself, being a busy upper middle class man, hardly spent any time at home. And his wife liked it that way, or so said my father in law, who was raised by an aunt.

There's a joke in the family. My father-in-law at 5 or 6 had a bad dream and he went to the top of the stairs and cried out for "ANYBODY."  He had no special person taking care of him. Indeed, his mother didn't like boys.

I decided to write Milk and Water when I found a card of condolence sent by Houde to the widow of Thomas Wells, May the boy-hater, in 1951 or 52. Can't recall exactly. "Hey," I yelled to my husband. "Camillien Houde knew your grandfather."

Houde sent my own grandfather packing in 1930... for a dubious reason. He was blamed for the sketchy circumstances around the Montreal Water and Power Purchase in 1927.

That's what I was looking for on the National Assembly Website: a reference to the 1926 amendment  allowing the City of Montreal to buy stocks in the Company, rather than just expropriate it. Because a short time after, Lorne Webster, the Industrialist, offered to buy Montreal Water and Power from the majority stockholders and he flipped it, making 4,000,000 in a few months when the Montreal City Council finally got around to OKing the purchase in a secret session on February 14, 1927. My grandfather's personal Valentine's Day massacre.  Got it? 

I wanted to see who promoted this amendment. I wanted to see if it was the Honorable Perron, the Minister of Transport, who was a business partner of Webster's. (According to the Fong biography of McConnell.) Alas, I couldn't find it.

All very well, so typical.. except I doubt my grandfather had anything to do with this flip. 

This was all a cause celebre in the press, a scandal some said, but few people in the National Assembly or on the Bench dared accuse Webster or his cronies of any wrong doing. Business is business they said. Everyone is allowed to make money, even at the taxpayer's expense. (Houde was an exception, at the beginning, but even he had to relent against the big guys. )  But the people wanted a scapegoat. Or Houde said they wanted 'vengeance' for this purchase, ah, and the Laurier Palace Fire, and the typhoid epidemics of 27. They got it, my grandfather. A person the voters hardly ever heard of....

I'm going to have my grandfather say something like "The industrialists are the gods, the puppet masters, and we are the puppets, dancing for their pleasure or something like that... In September 1927 he won't know what's going to happen with respect to the suspicious actions around the purchase/expropriation, but he'll have a sense someone is going to pay for it.




Monday, December 26, 2011

Spies and Civil Servants.


The Jacques-Cartier Window in Basilique Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, Montreal.

I am writing a play Milk and Water about Montreal in 1927, based on events in my grandfather's life. He was Director of Municipal Departments.

Well, my mother didn't bring me up to be religious, being a lapsed Catholic herself, but she did tell me something: that a window at Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica 'belonged to her father' Jules.

Now, this church is a huge tourist attraction and I've been there many times over the years, usually with friends or relations who are visiting.

I noticed the last time I went there that the three Jacques Cartier themed windows were surrounded by a glass enclosure, a special little room reserved for more private prayer.

It's too bad, not many of the many many thousands of tourists who come to Notre Dame Basilica will ever see this window close up. Or my grandfather' s name, on the bottom.

I doubt this is what was intended back in 1929 when my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, Director of the City from 1921 to 1930, co-sponsored this window, which would have been the first window as you entered.


There it is.... Jvles Crepeav...

This tryptic shows Jacques Cartier reading the gospel to natives.

I took these pictures despite the fact a sign indicated that cameras were not allowed in this little chapel. Too bad for them..  But I was discreet.

I know my grandfather was Church Warden of La Paroisse Notre Dame, because I have his obit from 1938. Jules Crepeau:  "hardworking Civic Servant who worked his way up from message boy in the Health Department to become the first Director of Services for the City."

The obits say he was a dedicated, even brilliant, civil servant, who took some hard knocks in his career, but survived them. A little known man who had a huge impact on City Politics. Hmm.

I am writing a play, Milk and Water, which features Jules as one of the two main characters. Thomas Wells, my husband's grandfather is the other main character. The play takes place in 1927 (during US Prohibition) outside an after-hours night club.

My grandfather and my husband's grandfather are awaiting the possible arrival of David, the Prince of Wales, and some friends.

They are delivering fresh water. It is the year of yet another typhoid epidemic.

Still, Montreal in the 20's was a city at the height of its prestige and influence.

The summer of 1927 was a very busy one for my grandfather. He was porte-parole for the City Council and Executive Committee and there was an inquiry, started in April, completed end of August, into the Laurier Palace Motion Picture Theatre  Fire.

Some people, most notably Hugh Graham of the Montreal Star and little known MNA Camillien Houde, were calling for another Inquiry into the recent Montreal Water and Power purchase, where some well-placed industrialists  made millions in the space of a few months speculating on said purchase, and all at the expense of the taxpayer. (They feel, anyway.)

My grandfather would lose his job over the Montreal Water and Power business, despite not benefiting one iota. (From what I can figure.)

He had little, if anything, to do with the purchase. He didn't even attend the Council Meeting where the motion to buy passed, but, alas, that is politics. He would be forced to resign in 1930, although with a huge life pension, In 1937 he would be run over by a City Constable and die of complications a year later. No more pension! The 1938 obits don't mention the car-accident, which makes me somewhat suspicious.

 While unemployed in the Depression Era, my grandfather, by all accounts a workaholic, frittered away his time in goofy business ventures and went bankrupt, despite his excellent pension. All goes to prove he was no savvy businessman, only a dedicated civil servant in a rather shady time and place.

He knew so much, having a 'prodigious memory' you'd think we would have become 'a consultant', but perhaps that is why they gave him a huge pension, to keep him silent.

I saw the contents of his City Hall file: I found no secret contract to keep him quiet. Maybe it's in Camillien Houde's file :)




Outside the Basilica, Boxing day. Beautiful day. A Monday, too, so there was free admittance to the place. Otherwise it's 10 dollars for adults.

Here's a picture taken in 1933 for a book on the Windows of Notre Dame Basilica, of the Jacques Cartier window, before they obscured it with an alter and hid it in a prayer room. It is Window No. 1. And my grandfather and two other church wardens sponsored it.




But I lit a candle for 2.50.


I just rushed in to to snap the pics as my husband circled in the car. We were wanting to make a 1.05 showing of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy at Atwater AMC.

Good movie, but we should have hung around Old Montreal instead. Sunny warmish day. And that movie is moody, shot in very bleak tones. No Mamma Mia, that's for sure, even if it has a Philby-esque Colin Firth character.  Gary Oldman and Mark Strong are very good. Mark Strong played along side Colin Firth in Fever Pitch I recall. He played a goof. Not here.

 One thing they have done, improved the parking in Old Montreal. There are signs everywhere showing where to park and how many parking spaces are available at each venue.


Sketchy Obituaries 1938.Milk and Water


I have these two obituaries, for my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, the former Director of Services of Montreal. Useful to me, as I am writing a play, Milk and Water based on his character. Apparently, he attended the Sacred Heart College and also at College Mont St. Louis..But he did start at City Hall at 12 years old and it was three years before he started work as a message boy in the Health Department, 1888.  So maybe the 'family myth' is correct and he started at City Hall sweeping the floors.

(This is very useful to me, as my play is about WATER, and health, and social welfare.)

The fact he was church warden for La Paroisse Notre Dame is important to my story: in fact, the first window on the right at L'eglise Notre Dame or Notre Dame Cathedral in Old Montreal, is co-sponsored by him. I must get down there with my digital camera and take a picture. That particular window, I recall, is inside a glass enclosure, a special prayer room, but the public still can enter. Maybe I'll go today, boxing day.

Upon his fortieth year at City Hall, in 1928, the papers ran a few testimonials, too.

The thing about these obits, they claim he died after a long illness, but don't mention the car accident he had a year before, which precipitated the illness. He was run over by a City Constable. This accident was reported in the Press.  The obits also fail to mention that he was forced for retire, by the first Houde Administration. And the obits don't mention his brother Isadore, who died falling out of his office window.

Le Devoir printed a longer obit the day after the first obits.

(Translated off the top of my head.) “Yesterday, upon his death, the newspapers published some rather dull obituaries of Jules Crepeau, none of which give a just account of the exceptional role the man played in Montreal politics…. Jules Crepeau was intelligent, ambitious, and proactive.His education was rudimentary and didn’t give him a background in culture, unlike his successor Honore Parent. (Crepeau finished his studies at night) But this affable man turned all his considerable intellect and curiosity and energy towards the work at hand. From the start he comprehended the importance of the municipal administration, its vast complexity and its workings and he had a sense of being part of something grand and of great import. He started out as an intern in the Health Department and rose steadily, especially after going to work under L O David in the Head Clerk’s (Greffier)Office…

He rose in the ranks, slowly at first, then more quickly until all the Municipal Councillors and the aldermen had only his name on their tongues. He became the first Director of Services in 1921. Jules Crepeau was too passionate, too uncompromising not to have taken sides in disputes, so he made enemies and he took some hits, some of them nasty.

But it must be stated that no accusations against him stuck. On the outside, his reputation got larger and larger. In Quebec, before the Committee of Private Bills, it was his opinion that held the most weight. He was the one people went to for information because they knew that information would be succinct and exact. I once knew a banker who had thousands of safety deposit boxes in his bank, but if a client showed up he knew exactly which box to open. Jules Crepeau was like this man. The Administration is made up of many many boxes, or more precisely, articles and charters, rules and regulations, and if you wanted to know about any one of them, you called Jules. He had a prodigious memory and you could trust it. It remains only to say that this venerable and brilliant civil servant is an example to all, for his sense of service, his zeal for his work and the pride he took in serving the public.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Hat Mystery 1927


Montreal Alderman, circa 1927. My grandfather, Jules Crepeau, Director of City Services. In the big hat.

Well, odd. Jules on the right is wearing a style of hat that I can't find anywhere on the Internet, a kind of bowler top hat.

The exact same style Thomas Wells is wearing in this picture... Is it a Montreal Style? Probably not. I'll have the  men both wearing this hat in my play, Milk and Water: good symbolically.

They are essentially the same man, one French, One English, one a Civil Servant, one a Business man.







Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Quebec Liquor Law 1927

Aunt Alice.

In the late twenties my Aunt Alice was married  and living in New Jersey. Hmm. But she isn't in any of the Atlantic City pictures of the Crepeaus.

I awoke last night thinking I have a picture, somewhere, of Jules talking to another man on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

Must find it..Then this morning, I'm not as sure as I was last night that such a picture exists. But I think it does. The man he's talking to is much much taller, as I recall.

As I write Milk and Water, my play about Montreal in 1927 (still an era of Prohibition in the US, but not so much in Canada)  I found an advert in the July 1, Dominion Day Montreal Gazette  where the Quebec Liquor Commission is congratulating itself on its sensible policy.

THE QUEBEC LIQUOR LAW

"It is noteworthy that with all the liquor laws enacted in the different provinces in Canada, in all the last few years, the Quebec liquor law has not been materially modified.

It stands today, after six years of the most severe trial, exactly as it was when first put into operation in 1921.

Other laws have been challenged and overthrown, losing favor from year to year until they had to be abandoned altogether.

Severely attacked at its origin, the Quebec Liquor Law has seen its enemies lose in number and in vigor until at the present time it has come to be surrounded by almost unanimous approval by the population of Quebec...."  and so on.... in absolutely lovely English. Oh, and with with special credit extended to the Premier of Quebec and his colleagues "who had the courage and foresight to break away from the apparently irresistible trend of prohibition."

Hmm. Interesting. Of course, if this were 100 percent the case, there would be no need for this newspaper PR exercise.

But even W.E.Raney, the former Ontario Attorney General, who testified to the US Congress in 1926 against Quebec's Liquor law, using second hand info from the 1925 Coderre Report on Police Corruption totally out of context, agreed that it was useless for him to go to Quebec to complain, as no one there listened to him.  (Quebeckers are DIFFERENT he explained to the Americans. )

Raney (or Coderre) singled out my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, saying he controlled the Chief of Police in Montreal, but the transgressions cited had nothing to do with liquor. They had to do with Motion Picture Houses.

(Raney quoted from a Montreal Star story on the Coderre Inquiry Report. That story claimed my grandfather forced police officers to turn a blind eye to theatre owners who admitted under age children without guardians. My grandfather supposedly tore up 'actions' against these theatres' and fired policemen who complained. In truth, the cop in question was fired for bribery. Phew. Complicated.) My grandfather's brother, Isadore, was the VP of United Amusements, a chain of 16 motion picture theatres.

1927 was Canada's Diamond Jubilee Anniversary, 60 years since Confederation and the rest of the newspaper was filled with grandiose patriotic promotions, much like in 1967.

My mother told me that her family, the Crepeaus had a huge party on St Jean Baptiste day and then left for summer vacation in the US. That is, everyone but Jules.

Oh, and another article that summer, related to the inquiry in the Laurier Theatre Fire, claims that Labour people had complained in 1926 to the City about crowded theatres and underage patrons.

And yet my grandfather's name didn't come up in the Boyer Report. He testified at the inquiry, indeed he was the first, but he was there to explain why the theatre was operating without a license.

Of course. Thomas Wells' cousins, the Townsends, made a fortune one year, mailing hard liquor from Quebec to the rest of Canada, using a loop hole in the law. I wonder when this was, before 1921, or after.

They had a huge operation,  employing many young women to open orders around the clock, apparently. The Townsend brothers, 2 of them,  made enough in one year to retire for life.

Thomas will mention that to my grandfather in my play. My grandfather, around then, was working with Montreal Greeks, on an import business. All kinds of Mediterranean goodies. Too before its time. He would have been jealous to hear about how easy it was for the Townsends to make money.

Olives are lovely, but olives in vermouth and gin are better for business. I guess I have to use that line now :) I just read that the  martini was invented in around 1910 but that with Prohibition and bathtub gin it become the most popular drink.

Friday, December 23, 2011

1927 Life in Montreal


The Crepeaus in 1920's..6 or 7. Atlantic City probably. (Well, I can see exactly what Jules wore in the Summer of 27..)

As I write Milk and Water, my play about 1927 Montreal, that uses my grandfather and my husband's grandfather as main characters, I've decided to flip through some era Gazettes.

You see, I have reached the point where I need to print out the draft to do an edit - and I don't have any paper.. and it's Christmas madness in the stores.

Lots of interesting stuff in the paper.  The Gazette had plenty of ads for Scotch Whiskey and such. Also lots of ads for theatres and gambling as in the races, horse and greyhound. And the fashion ads are lovely, the era styles being so enduring in their appeal.

One summer editorial revealed to me that J.L. Perron, (one of the men who benefited from the Montreal Water and Power purchase by the City of Montreal) was Minister of Roads.

He is cracking down on speeders in 1927. I read somewhere else, in a McGill Thesis I think, that cars in the city increased tenfold during the decade.

Cars and horse drawn vehicles were at war. The horse lobby (livery lobby?) held a giant parade in 1927, where cart horses used in industry were showcased. As in "SEE HOW IMPORTANT HORSES STILL ARE." Mederic Martin attended.

Laurentian Water in 1927 still sent its water around by horse drawn vehicle. ( I assume, but family lore suggests they went over to trucks early on.)

Another article that has relevance to my play: In 1927 they the Parks and Playground people opened a new park and playground for children in Point St. Charles.  "If we are to have a strong and virile nation" we need parks like this for kids, said one of the officials presiding over the opening.

"Kids need a safe place to play," said another. "to get them off the streets."  "There is scarcely a day when children playing in the streets aren't knocked down-sometimes fatally."

Apparently, someone has promised to pay to have a drinking fountain installed in the park. (Important!)

So, Mothers were afraid of cars in those days...So no wonder they felt good when their sons were safely in motion pictures houses...even if the moralists did not.

And now, with the Laurier Palace Fire, children were to be banned from movie houses. Well, at least they had playgrounds, although not that many. Montreal famously had (has?) far fewer playgrounds than most North American cities.

But it had the Mountain, right? Except the mountain was for rich anglos mostly.

Anyway, I do believe my grandfather was on the Park and Playground Committee. Many social activist Protestant types were on this committee, feeling that green spaces rehabilitated the poor, as long as the poor were kept from behaviors typical of their class.

Water fountains in parks were good, then Dads didn't have an excuse to take off to the tavern.

Today, parks are 'dangerous' places, what with perverts and monkey bars. It's much safer for kids to stay cooped up in the house and garburate media and junk food.

..
Also, I found an ad for clothes. Morgan's I think. Remember the era of corsets and lace, the ad read. Well today it is all simple lines, brief skirts and boy-like tendencies.

Another article talked about the women's movement. Curious and Restless women (as they were called in the 1910's) were now the norm, although when it came to the vote, women were more conservative than men. So the article said.

Social activists were referred to as 'busy women.'





Thursday, December 22, 2011

1927 Tidbits, American Radio and Ste.Helene's Island Baths

Thomas Wells, unknown place and time. The twenties?  Must check the car. The hat is unusual, in that I can't see one like it anywhere on the Internet. Half bowler half top hat.

The baggy coat? Is it in style, or an old style.

Anyway, as I write Milk and Water, my play using my grandfather Jules Crepeau and my husband's grandfather Fuddy Wells as characters, I have a problem, in that the play takes place outdoors in the city on September 2.

They'd both be wearing hats and coats, maybe.

I just checked the temperature. Low 58, high 80. No need for coats. But they'd still be wearing hats.

And then as I checked the weather report in the Gazette I saw something on the same page that was extremely important to my story. Radio programmes came in from the States. They advertised them in the RADIO SECTION.


This didn't happen in my day. Only Canadian stations aired in Montreal and if my brother wanted to hear the Yankee Broadcast he hoped for a clear night and fiddled with the short wave band.

So there you go. That's why the Quebec government was freaked by the arrival of talkies. (At least that's my hypothesis for the story.) They were certainly freaked by American Influence.

Needless to say we all are familiar with the garb of the era. We just have to watch Star Trek, the City on the Edge of Tomorrow. Fedoras were big. They became gangster wear.

Christmas is coming and just as I am getting in the swing of things. Too bad. I scanned the 1890 Sanitary Department Reviews for Montreal (where my grandfather is listed as office boy.. I will have him impress Wells by remembering what's in the reports..) And the City Below the Hill, the 1897 report by social reformer Herbert Ames, where he says there are still too many privies in the City.

My grandfather will argue that the City had been actively removing them, where possible, except they were always playing catch up, because the City kept taking in more suburbs.

In 1890 there are already three public baths, Ste Helene's Island, Wellington and Hochelaga.

Gee, I just read about Ste. Helene's Island. That park was "the Mountain" for poorer French Canadians. SO I realized that when Expo67 was held on those islands, it had an extra special meaning to the French Canadian Community.


My cousins brought me there once a a little girl. Big swimming pools, I recall. But since I could not swim, the pools scared me.



Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Soda and Water and Wine and Whiskey, 1927 Montreal



An ad for Laurentian Soft Drinks 1927.

As I write Milk and Watermy play about 1927 Montreal, using my French Canadian grandfather Jules Crepeau and my husband's anglo grandfather, Thomas Wells, as characters, I've had to adjust a key element.

The play takes place outside a 'dance club' after hours, that is after midnight. The two are awaiting the possible arrival of the Prince of Wales, David...

Tom, the salesman, has brought some of his company's sodas. He explains to Jules that mixed drinks are all the rage now, due to Prohibition.

But yesterday I visited the site of the Quebec National Assembly, where in 1926, someone asks about the number of liquor licenses given out in Montreal in 1925.

The figures, 309 app. 255 taverns, a 50 hotels and 4 restaurants.

And then it hit me, dance halls didn't have licenses. Or cafes. That's where the illegal trade in Montreal happened. That's why you could have the morality squad confiscate liquor from a club in the morning and sell it back in the evening at a big mark up.

The liquor control board did its own marking up. From an article I read (NYT) a 17 dollar case of whiskey ended up costing 56 dollars to the buyer. (Oddly, the board was trying to start up their own restaurants. An MNA asks how this is going: the answer, very poorly. The Restaurants (4 of them) were losing money big time.)

Even in Quebec, public drinking was a MALE thing, taverns for the working class, private clubs for the wealthy.

It was until the 70's, when they started up brasseries.

Of course, women in Quebec were allowed to drink at home. At dinner parties. As Jules' wife, Maria Roy, did. (There always has been a stigma about women 'drinking alone.' At least until Bridget Jones. Well, even Bridget Jones.) I think Tom's wife, May Fair, poured herself booze whenever she felt like it. She was a big drinker. Or she sipped her whiskey out of flasks, otherwise tucked into her bedclothes.

 I have on hand part of the Crepeau's crystal collection. I use the giant water glasses for my wine, which I often drink while alone, snuggled up on the couch  with my dogs and cats watching Bridget Jones Diary... because the wine glass is pathetically small.  (I only had four water glasses to start, and I've broken two already, and one other is slightly cracked. That's what happens when you use heirloom stuff.)

Hey, it just occurred to me. I'm probably drinking out of glasses Mayor Martin, and other important civic figures, drank out of. This was their fancy set.

In the 20's, women drank 9 percent wine from tiny glasses. Today, we women drink 13 percent wine from huge glasses. ( A looming health issue, some say.) The tiny glass is for sherry I guess.

(PS, in a 1926 Canadian Jewish Times I see that a German Restaurant had a grand opening with a 10 course meal served to 100 guests, including my grandfather and grandmother and Mayor Martin and wife.)


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The News Media and Ethics, 1927 Montreal


Jules Crepeau and daughter Alice, 1916 or so.

I guess I have to go downtown sometimes soon and visit the Webster Library of Concordia in the McConnell Building again and look at the microfilms of the Montreal Star for April, 1927.

How Ironic!

I need to look up the article where the Star accuses Montreal Aldermen of taking bribes from Senator Lorne Webster, to agree to push through, in hasty and secretive fashion, the purchase (or expropriation) of the Montreal Power and Water Company,  after 12 years of procrastination on the issue.

It seems, from a Montreal Gazette account, that the City Council suddenly decided the purchase had to be made, a day after Webster had purchased a majority share of the company's stock through a New York based concern, The Family Trust.

A while later, the Council, using one alderman, sued the Montreal Star for slander and won.

And yet, according to the Fong biography of McConnell, Hugh Graham of the Gazette kept up the pressure on the issue from April to August of the next year, probably making Mayor Martin lose the next Municipal election.

Now, I don't understand the stock market business... but it was business as usual, even if a first time MNA from Sainte Marie, a certain Camillien Houde, had called for a royal inquiry into the 'shameful hold-up.'

This young man of the people lost his seat in the National Assembly  in May 1927, and while contesting the loss he ran for Mayor of Montreal, with this Montreal Water and Power purchase being the only real issue, and won, big time.

Houde dressed in crumpled suits during the campaign and kept mentioning he was ' a poor man.'

Mederic Martin, also a self-made businessman, but someone who enjoyed the trappings of wealth ( he always dressed dapper, and the hair, oh my!)  didn't convince the electors (universal male suffrage) that the Montreal Water and Power had to be purchased right then and there, that evening, so that "poor people wouldn't have their water turned off" by a cruel for-profit monopoly.

Most aldermen were returned in that October 1928 election, however. (Mr. Brodeur, Chairman of the Executive Council since 1921 and the most powerful man in the city, had died of heart attack in November 1927.)

No one disputed the necessity of the purchase. The fact that the purchase was pushed through at a unofficial Council Meeting, on February 14, 1927, a day after Webster got possession of Montreal Water and Power, and that a certain procedural rule was suspended to allow for this to happen, is suspicious, indeed. (All documents were supposed to be filed at the City Clerk's office my 10 am the day of a meeting. In this case, that didn't happen.)

The Gazette article says that there was a  precedent for this, "that 24 other bills were passed at that same meeting, suspending the rule." (Excuse me! That isn't saying what it claims to say! That's not an example of a precedent.)

Oddly, my grandfather did not attend this session - and it was part of his job  description to attend all Council Meetings.

The alderman won the case for slander: The judge wrote in his ruling, "The functions of a newspaper should be, above all things, to present the news of the day fairly, fearlessly, and without prejudice. It's primary function as the name implies, is to present the news.

When the editor presents an opinion it should be based on facts in order to influence public opinion around right lines. And when the editor of a newspaper indulges, for motives known to himself, in attacks upon individuals, rather than an action, he is not upholding the highest tradition of British (sic) journalism."

(And SIC for so many reasons.)

 My grandfather was the man 'who taught aldermen their jobs' according to a 1937 Gazette article, and he knew exactly how City Hall was supposed to run. I imagine he didn't like something about this business...He had worked for a long time as Assistant City Clerk.

Anyway, I've got to figure out what happened to write Milk and Water, my play. I'll have Mr. Wells ask Jules if this rule had been waved before "You should know, you were Assistant City Clerk" and Jules, well, he won't answer...so that will be the answer.

My grandfather was forced to resign, by Council, over his part (or lack of part) in the purchase. Houde claimed he should have advised the Council against the purchase, even though the Chief Engineer of the City, who was also fired, supported it.

As if my grandfather, a civil servant,  was supposed to tell aldermen how to vote on issues. Very weird.

It was, however, my grandfather's job to explain to aldermen (and the press, and the public) about the rules of governance. And maybe he did just that -in this case - and maybe that's why he didn't show up at this meeting.


My grandfather did not testify at this hearing into the slander charge, as far as I can see..Hm. And you'd think he'd be just the one to ask about procedure at Council Meetings. Since he was he expert. Curiouser and curiouser.


Monday, December 19, 2011

The Puzzle gets Pieced Together.

My smart-alec Brother, Mark, circa 1952 * When Camillien Houde was still Mayor I think.

I decided to write this play Milk and Water, using my grandfather Jules Crepeau and my husband's grandfather, Thomas Wells, as main characters a few years ago, when I found a card of condolence sent by Houde to my husband's grandmother, May Wells, upon her husband's death. 1951 or 2 or 3.

"Hey, Houde knew your grandfather," I shouted to my husband.

I've been writing about my research into Milk and Water on this blog. The other day my older brother Skyped me to say he's been reading my blog and it's full of typos etc.

"Oh, so you're the one," I said.

"I don't understand what you mean, half the time," he said.

"That's because as I am writing the posts, I am trying to figure out what I mean. OK.Give me an example."

"Well, I can't tell whether Montreal had Prohibition in 1927 or not."

"That's because in earlier posts I wasn't sure, myself" I replied. "I now know. Well, sort of, because it's all rather confusing. The laws were intended to be confusing, I think."

The short of it is: These posts are 'my process'. It's taken me a while, but I've figured out that since 1923, hard liquor in Quebec was controlled by a board and in 1927, Ontario allowed beer and wine to be made and purchased.

(That's why in the early 1920's, my husband's relations, the Townsends, made a fortune selling hard liquor to the rest of Canada by mail order. A loophole in the law.  Hard liquor wasn't controlled in Quebec then. In one year they made enough to retire on. I must put this in the play Milk and Water.)

There are a lot of  sticky pieces to this puzzle that I am assembling to write Milk and Water. It's becoming easier: I wrote a fair bit of the play this morning, because I have most of the pieces I need.

But then I realized I didn't know the year Houde came on the political scene.

Easy to look up. He came on the Municipal scene right then and there. Indeed, In early September 1927, he was in-between jobs. He had lost his seat in the National Assembly in May 1927, but not before causing a commotion about the Montreal Water and Power purchase in the April session. He wanted the people who benefited brought to justice.

He is elected Mayor in 1928 by 22,000 votes. The Montreal Water and Power Purchase played a large part in Mederic Martin's ouster and Houde's landmark first elevation to the Mayoralty.

I learned Houde was a neophyte MNA in 1927, in other words, he wasn't a force to be reckoned with in early September 1927.  He first got elected in 1923 at 28 years of age. So, my grandfather had no idea he was going to be shot down by this funny looking  little man of the people, a banker, who would become a political legend in Quebec, even going to jail in 1940, for his 'treasonous' views on the war. Well, he was interned, which made him a martyr - as well as a celebrity. He made the cover of Time Magazine that year!


 I stumbled upon another article of interest this morning. The New York Times ran a long article in 1928 about the ever- increasing US motor tourism to Canada.

The new controls on hard liquor hadn't stemmed this Northward tide of American motorists, said the article, but liquor tourism wasn't strictly the cause, either. Canada's natural beauty was the main attraction, after all, as many tourists were going to Ontario. (Of course, you could now drink and buy beer and wine in Ontario.)

Apparently, some magazine or newspaper in the US had run an article warning that Montreal hotels were so full many American tourists were left to sleep in their cars. (I wonder if this article was generated by Prohibition supporters.)

Well, that's not the problem anymore. The traffic mostly is heading South, these days, what with the passport rules  (your average American citizen doesn't have a passport) and the exchange being what it is.

This is interesting, considering that in 1926, a W.E.Raney  testified at US Senate Prohibition hearings and described Montreal as SIN CITY. His testimony was given full page treatment in the New York Times. Hmmm.

And tourism only skyrocketed.. IMAGINE THAT. So it goes.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Water and POWER and my grandfather Jules



As I write Milk and Water, a play about Montreal in 1927, I am learning about my own family.

 I am learning about Montreal History and I am learning about the part WATER played in the socio-economic history of Montreal. That is, the providing of fresh water to citizens and the removal of their waste.

There are many scholarly articles available on the subject, and I've read many of  the era newspaper articles, but the clearest account I found, by happenstance, in the McGill Thesis Archives.

It was a thesis by Kathleen Lord, "Days and Nights: class, gender and society on Notre Dame Street in St. Henri, 1885-1905.

I downloaded it because I am interested in such topics, not thinking it would help me with this book, but perhaps with another book I am writing about the 1910 era.

Well, was I wrong.  Lord explains in clear accessible language the part Montreal Water and Power, the private company, played in the development of the city. And she also explains the part that company plays in the the typhoid epidemics of 1904 and 1909.

My grandfather, Jules Crepeau, Director of City Services between 1921 and 1930, a time when Montreal was thriving, a great and important city in North America and the World, was fired by City Council (or forced to resign) over the purchase of Montreal Water a Power.

The new Mayor, Camillien Houde, wanted him out!

My grandfather negotiated a huge life pension and then, a few years later, he was run over by a city constable. He died the next year from complications, bone cancer from all the X Rays, probably.

My mother said the family fielded a lot of death threats, against her dad and her older brother,  over the years. Yet, she believed his death to be a total accident. "The constable was very very sorry."

Houde decried the purchase (Lord calls it an expropriation) first in the National Assembly, where he wanted the 'criminals' who profited brought to justice, and later as Mayor of Montreal. (He was voted in largedly due to the perceived scandal over the purchase.)

And yet the purchase of Montreal Water and Power in 1927 was probably one of the most useful and necessary motions ever voted by Council. And instantly profitable. In the early 1930's, ousted Mayor Mederic Martin called for an inquiry into the purchase to clear his own name.

Water socialism, as Lord describes it, was the way to go for cities and one of the key reasons why other large cities in the world didn't have the water-borne health problems Montreal did back then.

There was an issue, however, over the timing of the purchase, but even then, my grandfather didn't have anything to do with that.. almost certainly. He didn't even attend the Council meeting where the motion to purchase was passed.

A handful of industrial elites profited handsomely, though, from a quick flip of the company in 1926. And all legally, it seems. Lorne Webster, Honorable Mr. Perron and an Allison and Beausoleuil shared a  4,000,000 profit.

So there you go.

And, yet, it seems to me, if Houde wanted to find an excuse to get rid of my grandfather, one was readily available....the Laurier Palace Business. Indeed, at the rowdy debate on Sept 30, 1930 City Council over whether or not to accept my grandfather's resignation, Houde 'randomly' tosses in a mention of the tragic theatre fire that had occurred a few years before. Just a spur of the moment whim? I doubt it. I'm sure Houde knew what he was doing. He was a savvy politician.

Hmm.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Eye and Ear Candy for Christmas -Downton Abbey


My Downton Abbey Series Two, UK format -whatever it 's called.

Back in the day, I learned that you could buy the British CDs off Amazon.co.uk and play them on the Computer and then through the big screen TV. I watched many of Colin Firth's littler films that way.

So this year, as soon as the Second Series of Downtown Abbey came out on DVD, in mid November, I bought it.

For some reason it took a month to get by Customs (when normally I get these videos even quicker than ones sent from Toronto), so I only beat Masterpiece Theatre's January debut by a month.

Anyway, the first season Downton was a delicious treat, if not a little soap opera-ish, I thought.  The second season is major soap opera-ish, though, I just discovered.

Except when you have production values that lavish and actors that good, soap opera becomes a kind of parody. Still, eye and ear candy par excellence. And a good portrayal of  WWI (You see I've read Testament of Youth, so I'm an expert.)

The writing isn't quite as good as last year, I think, some of the sub-plots a bit too predictable, some of  the characters have become too set in their schticks. ( Not Maggie Smith's character, though.  The Dowager was the best character in the first series and continues to be in the Second. Hugh Bonneville, still very good.. Ah, it's really subjective, which character you like or don't - for whatever reasons.)

There's a Christmas Special coming out in the UK. I hope I can see that by the Spring.

This second season has a sub plot that is most weird, featuring a Canadian element. As a Canadian, I found it interesting, especially as Montreal is mentioned as the  city of interest and not Toronto.

In those days, 1910 Montreal was the only Canadian city of worth. Toronto a mere backwater. It was pretty much that way in 1927, the year my play, Milk and Water,  is set. Not any more.

This sub-plot may re-emerge. However weird it is. I didn't know a person could pick up a Canadian accent in a few years. Well, actually, apparently, my County Durham dad lost his British accent almost immediately upon arriving in Canada for good after WWII, so there you go!

Another subplot, where Daisy the scullery maid has to pretend she loves a footman (who is off to war) to please her boss,  seems very realistic to me.

Indeed, I have war letters to Flora Nicholson of Threshold Girl from a certain Herb Tucker in Belgium.

He seems to think she's his girlfriend and yet when he returns with nothing but a broken finger, there's nothing more written about him.

The Tuckers are family friends.

Flora marries only much later in life, a poor uneducated man,  a railway guy. A man some feel below her station. (My father says he was the nicest guy ever!)

From the 1910 Nicholson letters,  I can tell she likes a certain Ross Cleveland, the son of another family friend in Montreal, Dr. Cleveland the dentist.

And I have a cut out from the Montreal Gazettte, about 1927, describing Ross's marriage to the niece of Sir Montague Allan - one of the most prosperous men in Canada.

Sir Montague even gives the bride away at the marriage. (I just checked and this man lost both his own daughters on the Lusitania, 1915.)

So real life is a bit of a soap opera sometimes. Poor Flora!

In my novel Threshold Girl  (which the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe/Harvard has accepted for their collection on early women's lives - and which the National Library of Canada will catalogue as soon as I have the final draft completed.) she invites Ross to a dance at Macdonald - but he only dances one waltz with her.

 I know, I have the dance card!!

Oh, and the plot where the youngest Crawley daughter runs off with the chauffeur. Cliche you say?

Well, frankly, my grandfather was a footman in Yorkshire (Helmsley I think the place was) and the story goes, the daughter of the Earl of the manor fell in love with him, so the Earl packed him off to Malaya to work in the rubber industry, a bribe of sorts, as those positions normally went to the sons of the Upper Classes...so again, a realistic plot line here in the 2nd season of Downton, even  if it seems a tad cliche or soap opera ish.

Of course, this family story may be a myth too. Some old aunt told it to my father. Maybe she was a Romantic.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Movie Palaces and Silly Accidents


Cinema V building on Sherbrooke, originally the Empress Theater built in 1927-28.

In College in the 70's, this was the repertory  theatre that showed 'artsy' films, cheap too, so we went there  a lot. No popcorn and soda, just coffee. One student in my Communications class in college wrote a paper on movie houses, showing how they made their profit from popcorn and soda, not from ticket sales, per se, so no wonder Cinema V went under.

Well, as I write Milk and Water, my story about Montreal in 1927, using my grandfather Jules Crepeau, and my husband's grandfather, Thomas Wells as characters, I find myself being drawn deeper and deeper into the motion picture business... so to speak.

As I've written in earlier blogs, my grandfather's brother was Isadore Crepeau, V.P of the United Amusement Corporation, a theatre chain, and that he died falling out of his office window in 1933, something I just learned.

Isadore, I figured out from the story of the incident in the Gazette, got his job just before my grandfather, his brother, was made Director of City Services, a key and powerful post.

And he died, in a very silly accident, if the newspaper accounts are true, two years after my grandfather was forced to resign over the Montreal Water and Power Purchase - and NOT over the part he is alleged to have played (in the 1925 Coderre Inquiry Report) in allowing movie theatres to flout the child protection by-laws.

Now, the setting for my play, Milk and Water, is in early September 1927, a day or two after Juge Boyer has come out and exonerated everyone in the fatal Laurier Palace Movie Theatre Fire, but also recommended that no children under 16 be allowed to attend movies in the future.

In a few months the Tachereau government will pass a bill to this effect (and there goes my childhood, so to speak.)

Now, Boyer's reasons for this new legislation really make no sense. If movie houses are fire-traps they are fire-traps for everyone...although in the case of the Laurier Palace fire only one adult died  and 78 kids..which allowed the judge to assert that the situation was only dangerous for kids.

The fact is, mostly kids were in the balcony.  It was mostly kids, mostly boys, who attended films, across North America, many sneaking in without a guardian, and era statistics can hardly reveal the numbers of kids who sneaked in.

Although a huge cross section of society attended the movies (one of the reasons some people were wary of it.)

So his law makes no sense, but it makes sense when considering that movies were soon to have sound. the talkies! (Well, they already did, the Jazz Singer.)

Now, after Boyer's ruling and before the Tachereau government passed the Bill that changed the entertainment landscape for all kids in Quebec for 40 years, the Theatre Companies threatened to take all their business out of Quebec. A hollow threat, obviously.

Two huge movie palaces were about to be built, the Granada and the Empress (the Cinema V in my day).

(The 1920's was Montreal's era. The City was a bustling manufacturing, commercial and financial center. Probably the second most important city in North America after New York with 1,000,000 inhabitants by the end of the decade. It was also a city of contrasts, with a great many poor and unemployed. The population was more than  2/3rds French.   New citizens were arriving from Eastern Europe and England, and from rural Quebec.)

Anyway, United Amusement Corporation issued a public offering of bonds that year, so I can see that it had 16 movie houses, 14,500 seats, mostly downtown, and had been in the business since 1908, the beginning of the nickelodeon era.

(Famous Players owned a share of them.)

Their admissions in 1925 totaled 3, 683, 396,  with receipts of 791, 200.
Their admissions totaled 4, 049, 970 in 1926, with receipts of  867, 999.
For the ten months ended June 16, 1927 admissions were 3, 531, 527 and receipts were 810, 486
(the law forbidding under 16's to go to movies hadn't been enacted year.)

With 2, 635,000 in assets, land, building, equipment.

Now, in 1928, since they were a public company we can see their net profits.. 485, 765.

Then in 1929 they went up again,  543, 126.

They claimed these figures didn't reflect the increasing patronage due to sound as the majority of their  theatres only got equipped for sound in the summer of 1929, which caused suburban patrons to venture into the city.

Anyway, it is clear that sound saved the day for the Motion Picture Companies back then, although sound movies may have been the main reason The Tachereau government banned movies to kids under 16.  (I assume it is.) To protect the French language.

And of course the kids found ways around it. My husband's mother, born 1917, said she and her friends just dressed up like older women to go to the movies...and they behaved well once inside.

Boys of course can't fake being older like girls can, but my husband's father, born 1920, and living in Westmount, said he had to take a bus to Verdun to see movies. So at least one motion picture palace on Wellington was breaking the rules. I imagine. Or had a back door no one surveilled.

Anyway, in 1927 they were still fighting over the Sunday Showings business, too.



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Power, Religion, Cinema, and PhD Theses

Ouimetoscope from Wikipedia. Public Domain

Hmm.

In my short novel, Threshold Girl, about my husband's great aunt Flora Nicholson in 1912, I have Miss Gouin, a French Canadian worker at Dominion Textile, ask Flora if they can go sometimes to the Ouimetoscope, as textile workers have Sunday off.

Flora says NO. Miss Gouin walks away.

As it happens, the cinema theme connects Threshold Girl and the play I am currently working on Milk and Water, about Montreal in 1927.

Had I not spent 5 years researching the Nicholson family letters from 1910 and learning about the Presbyterians in Montreal, I would not fully understand the context of the Laurier Palace Theatre Fire, that in 1927, was a game-changer with respect to movies in Montreal.

I found this excellent PhD thesis online, A Screen of One's Own, Scott MacKenzie McGill 1997.

Mackenzie describes the contempt the Catholic Church had for the cinema since the earliest days, a contempt tainted with prejudice, he claims, against Jews in particular.

He quotes a Roman Catholic official as saying that the motion pictures are worse than gambling, drink or opium.

He claims that some in the Catholic Church were incensed when the Supreme Court deemed it OK for motion pictures to stay open on Sundays.

All useful to me, as I assumed that  Church didn't care that much about the cinema, at least,not in the way the Presbyterians did.

What Mackenzie doesn't seem to know or acknowledge, is that the Protestants, particularly the Methodists and Presbyterians, had a very different view of the Sabbath than the Catholics.

I learned this by studying the mission of Edith Nicholson's school, Westmount Methodist, where Catholics were converted to "The Way."

Catholics didn't know that the Sabbath was a day for quiet contemplation and nothing else.  They played cards and played pitch and catch and such on Sunday. Oh My!

It was a strange coalition of the Presbyterians and Big Labour that brought in the 1908 Lord's Day Act.

But the Catch 22 was immediately apparently. If you give people a day off, they need something to do, preferably something social, fun and cheap. The motion pictures fit the bill.

Mr. Ouimet said he couldn't close on Sunday, as that was his best day. At least half of the other motion picture houses stayed open too.

Presbyterians were generally wealthy, middle class or more. Like the Nicholsons, they went to theatre and opera on Saturday. French Canadians were mostly working class.

(My upper middle French Canadian grandmother, a pious Catholic, did not let her daughters go to the cinema.  Although they might have gone behind her back. Despite the fact Jules brother, their uncle Isadore was a VP with American Theatre Amusements.  She gambled, herself, though, at cards and on the horses.)

That's why Flora can't say "yes" to Miss Gouin's invitation. It isn't necessarily snobbery on her part, or shame at being seen with a working class girl.

Oddy, in the mid twenties, it was the age of the luxury cinema and two such cinemas were being built, the Empress in NDG, that had an Egyptian Theme and the Granada (I think.)

To outlaw movies entirely would have meant to stop construction on these grandiose buildings, so iconic of the era, and most of which are now gone.


I wonder what happened to those outdoor movies at Sohmer Park, also established to separate the cinema experience from its dingy, dirty and dangerous store-front setting.

Were under 16's still allowed to see movies there? Probably not. Indeed, I read, in another McGill thesis about City Parks by Sarah Schmidt, 1996,  that in 1927, a group of 5 young couples (teens) were brought in front of the magistrate for having sex in the park. Not sure what degree of sex. They blamed it on the film they had just seen, that it aroused them too much.

I have to get this into my story.





Monday, December 12, 2011

Boardwalk Empire Montreal - Corrupt Police and Racial Stereotypes


His Majesty's Theatre in Montreal.

As I write Milk and Water the free Ebook my story about Montreal in 1927, using my grandfather, Jules Crepeau and my husband's grandfather, Thomas Wells, as characters, I can't keep myself from looking up more info on the city in that era and THAT can be dangerous, considering the wealth of info available at the mere touch of a keyboard.

Usually I just want to answer a question, a fine point, for my story and I find info that leads to more questions, etc.

The best thing I found: a  1999 McGill History PhD Thesis called Broadway North, about musical theatre in Montreal in 1920. It's by Marc Charpentier.

That's because this thesis sums up Montreal in 1921, socially, economically, etc.

Just what I need, since 1921 was the year my grandfather got his new post of Director of Services.

The thesis also contains a first person quote, from someone who had been rich and anglo in the 20's and who enjoyed Montreal's night life to the max.

This man basically says that it is only after midnight where the real partying got going - and that is because (I sort of assume) that the dance halls closed legally and the demure people went home and the partyers stayed on.

The Social Moralizers, as in Juge Coderre and W.E Raney said that only LOW life came out after 12... the seedy types, the predators, the social parasites, the inveterate sloths.. But not true.

The Beau Monde came out too.  The rich, the young and the gay (as they used to call them, and not call them.)

So the central premise of my Milk and Water Story... where I have my grandfather and my husband's grandfather, hanging outside a dance club , after hours, awaiting the Prince of Wales, who has mentioned he'd like to visit this club as it has a jazz band he's heard a lot about.

Perfect premise, all considering. If I say so myself.

Now, I will have my husband's grandfather say he saw Shuffle Along, a very popular jazz dance review that came to His Majesty's theatre twice, the second time in 28.

According to the Gazette Shuffle Along is a Big Joyous Musical Furore...and then describes the show in what we would call today 'stereotypes.' I think I read Josephine Baker played in the show at one time.

But the real talented Jazz musicians will be at this dance club.... That is open after hours...And cutting edge stuff attracts the young...always has, always will.

Anyway, as I looked around, I found another bit describing police corruption during the Prohibition era (from decades later)... Booze was delivered to clubs in the morning, confiscated by the morality squad in the afternoon, sold back in the evening at a 30 percent mark up.

The sale of hard liquor was  controlled by a liquor board in Quebec in the 20's.  In 1924, the New York Times ran an article with statistics showing  how having controls on hard liquor has caused arrests for drunkenness and other criminality to plummet, while bringing  a LOT  of revenue - with a lot of these bucks coming right out of the pockets of American tourists.

This kind of article really pissed the Temperance types, who loved it when Canadian W.E. Raney in 1926, at a Senate hearing on Prohibition, quoted from the 1925 Report of the Coderre inquiry, describing institutionalized sin in Montreal...the commercialization of vice, he called it,  in very descriptive terms. "The octopus of sin has its tentacles in every aspect of city life."

Oddly, this Coderre  inquiry was aimed at eliminating prostitution, and the illegal drug trade, not booze, but all the vices are bad because in the end they compromise women's virtue. That's the ULTIMATE result of vice. If if taken on their own, drinking, gambling, flirting, dancing aren't that bad. But they allow for the corruption of young women....

That's how I deconstruct the thinking of the era. (It is really about control.. control of women and control of lower classes and especially of those scary immigrants with their scary ways.)

So opium is outlawed in 1910, not because the Chinese use it to relax, but because they use it to entrap our women into  white slavery. But it's ok for school marms like my husband's old aunt Edie to take tonics for their heart conditions (a.ka. their sad love lives) that contain opiates.


And marijuana is outlawed around 1923, because black people are gonna get your girls, same ole, same ole.

So it's OK for the powerful rich men to drink all they want in their private clubs as they are not a threat to the social order - as they ARE the social order.

They are not a threat to women, except perhaps for forcing them to work as cheap labour in factories, but that is good honest work, right?

(Except that the girls often have to resort to unsavory activities to supplement their meagre incomes. But that's caused by their 'love of luxury'...a personal failing.)

 I found a very funny story from 1903, where the City of Westmount is mad at the St. Georges Club for getting a license for hard liquor, when the town doesn't  normally allow such things. (Mr. Wells belonged to that club, but only later on. GREAT for my story.

In 1903, the club members including Hugh Graham of the Montreal Star (who got my grandfather fired, more or less, with his campaign against the Montreal Water and Power Purchase) and Mr. Greenshields, of Tighsolas fame, soon to be Chief Justice of Quebec and a Mr. Allan, likely the same guy who kept rooms in his house for when Royalty visited. Anyway, the argument they gave : It's a PRIVATE club with its own RULES.

.....
The best line I've read  yet. A man testifying to the US Senate on behalf other Quebec Liquor Board describes "temperance' as something opposed to the excess consumption of alcohol. Which is what is it, literally.

Temperance doesn't mean abstention, but was described as such, for a long time.

In the same way, chaste doesn't been celibate, it means faithful.


MILK and Water the Ebook (Play)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Boardwalk Empire (Montreal) and the Social Evil 1927


My grandfather Jules Crepeau, Director of City Services.

Well, I've drawn up the first draft of the first part of Milk and Water, my  ebook, a play about Montreal in 1927.

SO I've covered the Laurier Fire and Coderre and I am starting to get into the Montreal Water and Power Purchase, which is key to my story, since my story is about WATER... and Power..

But as I re-read the Coderre Report from 1925, where my grandfather, Jules Crepeau was named outright, as someone who interfered with the police chief... I found a interesting point, that I have to stick into the Laurier Theater Fire discussion.

Coderre claims that many pimps are 10 years of age and around.

10?

So, the point I put in Jules' mouth, that many working class mothers, in 1927, feel movie theatres to be the safest places for their sons, gets support here.

It was mostly young boys who went to movie theatres unattended and it was mostly boys who died in the crush during the Laurier Palace Fire in 1927.

The Presbyterians always wanted theatres closed to boys, for they considered the cops-and-robbers type movies (Keystone Cops?)a bad moral influence.

Mothers, as usual, were smarter. They understood that the movies were a good place for boys to 'idle' -maybe even safer than home.

And this safe haven was taken away with this fire and I think it had more to do with 'talkies' coming in than protecting children. There were theatre fires in the US and they didn't ban the movies to children, despite the political clout of the morality types.

And the Catholic Church in Quebec had not railed against movies (the Protestants) in the 1910's and early twenties. Mr. Ouiment of the Ouimetoscope fame says nuns brought their charges to his movie house.

The judge who made the recommendation to ban children from theatres in Quebec, also deemed that they were NOT immoral - therefore they could stay open to adults. After the fire, the Archbishop of Quebec joined with the Presbyterians to claim movies are immoral. (Now that movie houses were being built in towns, they were a real threat to church, stealing their customers.)

This recommendation, which was followed through in the National Assembly, was a compromise of sorts, to the Church and to the Government and to the American owned Theatre Operators.

Anyway, the Coderre Report says the usual about prostitution, the same ole they say today. Coderre describes  rich prostitutes "who flaunt their wealth and get to visit the best parts of Princely Houses", and the low rent prostitutes, the slave cast ones, indentured to their pimps, addicted to drugs.

They are both equally as bad, he seems to think. A woman acting above her station in life is as bad as a woman living below her station (which is already rock bottom, but factory work is not slavery, it's wholesome or something... Of course, many prostitutes were factory workers, supplementing their meagre incomes._)

I have to figure out what my grandfather thinks of all this. He's bourgeois. His uber-religious wife (the uneducated daughter of a master butcher, with connections in high places)  doesn't let his daughters wear makeup or attend movies... She always says "You talk like a girl from de Bullion street." when her daughters do something a little  out of line, like swear or wear fashionably sexy clothes.

I know, because my mother, in turn, said the same thing to me when I swore. (She didn't care about my micro minis.)  Except I had no idea, until lately, what that meant exactly. De Bullion Street was just a slummy area of town. Today, I wouldn't mind being a girl from de Bullion. I'd have an expensive city home.


French Canadian or English Canadian, the middle class were very self righteous. The Upper class were hypocrits in general and the lower classes were people who used common sense and street smarts to survive. That's what G B Shaw mocks  in Pygmalion. Middle Class Morality.

Has it changed?




Friday, December 9, 2011

Opium Wars and Sad Women 1910

Edith Nicholson (on Opium)

I am writing a book based on family letters from 1910.  The book is about my husband's Aunt Edie, who lost her great love in a Cornwall Ontario hotel fire and who never married.

It's a follow up to Threshold Girl, about her sister Flora, who attended Macdonald College in 1910.

Well, it's like a puzzle, where I have only a few pieces, in the form of surviving letters from 1910 - and some pictures too.

Edith and her man, Charlie, had a flirtation in the summer of 1909. She showed him to her father who mentioned nothing about it to anyone. In other words, he didn't approve. So the couple didn't get married. In those day, you needed money to marry as a women had to give up her job at marriage.

In the middle class, anyway.

And Charlie, her beau, was only a bank teller.

Well, the next mention of Charlie is in a letter from September. He has gone to Mexico, and the flirtation is over.  Her mom says so.

Mexico? Why Mexico?

But I checked online and realized there was a serious hurricane in Monterrey Mexico on August 31st. A famous Canadian  industrialist, William Mackenzie, had a Water and Power Company then.

It is possible that a few young men from Canada were brought down by Mackenzie to aid in the recovery.

Why else go to Mexico?  A bank teller. They made little money. I know because Edith's brother was also a bank teller.

So now I can figure out a way to make my story a bit of a thriller.

1909 apparently was the first year of the Mexican Revolution. Zapata and all that. So things were volatile down there.

Charlie desperately needed money to marry.  So what did he do that might have gotten him into trouble? I can think of something relevant to Edith's story: he imports some opium

Opium for smoking was still legal in Mexico in 1910. And, at least according to a huge article in the New York Times of 1911, US had lax laws concerning the drug (one out of ten pharmacies dispensed it) and an enormous amount of addicts (many of whom, supposedly, were women like Edith, being prescribed medicine for 'heart' conditions. The Prozac of 1910.

The US Opium Czar, a McGill educated doctor, claims that he has no stats of imports from Mexico. He is more concerned with the Phillipines and Hong Kong.




Cleanliness, Godliness and Montreal in 1927




The Crepeaus  in say 1918. Jules far left.

Now, the idea that bathing in water cleanses more than the body wasn't invented in the 1920's. It's obviously archetypal, hence Christenings and Baptisms.

But it did reach a kind of apogee in the first part of the 20th century in North America, as large waves of immigrants came to Canada and the US - and muddied the social water, so to speak.

As I write Milk and Water, a play about Montreal in 1927, the Prohibition Era (where I use my grandfather Jules Crepeau and my husband's grandfather, Thomas Wells, as main characters) I have to somehow synthesize all I know about this subject.

I think the three quotes here sum things up:

The first is from Food and Cookery Magazine, 1911, and I used it to preface my ebook Threshold Girl

Give us a healthy home full of intellectual activity where the homely virtues prevail. Where complete honesty and frankness have free expression. Where the lungs expand with pure air, and the brain quivers with wholesome aspiration and sincere inquiry. Where souls bask in contentment and the sunshine of purity and peace..

Then I found this quote, from a New Yorker who advocated public baths in 1900.

.."bodily cleanliness is the first essential. By comparison, religion, education and morals could be dispensed with and even crime tolerated for the present. If this reform could be retained, with it crime would soon disappear and the reign of religion morals would be supreme."

Another similar quote: The foundation of general cleanliness is bodily cleanliness. Until a human being appreciates the latter he will not insist on the latter. Thus it is filthy streets and houses are tolerated. It is idle to expect that people will observe habits of personal cleanliness until the facilities are provided.."

And then there's Dr. Boucher, of City Hall speaking at a meeting of the City Improvement League: Measures of personal cleanliness should not be neglected. They are a daily necessity, especially the washing of hands."

Hmm. French Canadians officials didn't equate the cleanliness with the  godliness thing. (Despite the fact my grandmother used to chase her kids around and sprinkle holy water on them, when they did bad - which I will put in my story.)

And French Canadians obviously had good reason to be wary of the 'hygienist' movement, considering these quotes.

Well, I gotta work this out. I gotta figure out what Jules will say to Thomas and Vice Versa.

Thank Goodness, in the 1927 session of the National Assembly, the one where MNA Houde brought up the Montreal Power and Water purchase, calling for an inquiry in the sale so that 'the criminals' who benefitted could be brought to justice (the motion was declined) they also debate Hygiene.

(I guess the typhoid epidemic of 1927 had something to do with it.)

An MNA accuses the government of doing little to protect public health. And public health is important to prevent disease, and epidemics and human capital. No mention of washing away the sins of the masses with clean water. No mention of PURITY.  Or even water.

Yet Montreal had 15 or 16 public baths in 1927, and The City  had just opened a showcase facility on Amherst with great public fanfare. (It's an eco-museum now, a tribute to the working class.)

Public baths were also swimming pools in Montreal.

Vaccination programs were held in this public baths, I discovered.

They had a City Clean Up Day in Montreal in the 20's. My grandfather was Chairman and treasurer of the 1927 Campaign.