Sunday, February 27, 2011


Colin Firth as George Falconer has a bit of a tease with a GQ model style guy. Funny, I found an old article about Colin Firth online, from before he was famous, where the author suggested he was a GQ kind of looker. But you know, he can play a very unattractive man, as in the English Patient. All he has to do is gain 10 pounds or something. Male actors have to diet too. They criticized Hugh Grant latey for looking 'fat' in a movie, when, I'm guessing, he gained 5 pounds or so. But we are used to his lean look.

It's hard being a leading man.

Anyway, I'm posting another old article "the Appalling Truth" on this blog. It was written over 10 years ago, but has the same theme as The Winter of Our Disconnect, a book just recently published, about a mom who banned all media in her home, for a time, anyway.

This essay was often published in certain ESL texts, but then it got too 'old.' I mean, we had one tv in those days. But many students still look this article up on the web. Don't know why.

Now they talk about people stealing copyright, (I wonder if taking a picture of your TV is breaking copyright? Ridiculous if is.) I gave my essays to a small one-woman parenting website for FREE and she then sold it to a conglomerate (one of Canada's major media players) and they published my essays and apparently, I have no right to them. Talk about stealing from the poor to give the rich...

The Appalling Truth

Technology changes us. With the invention of the clock we lost the ability to live in the present. The telephone made us Pavlovian slaves to the sound of a ringing bell. And with the advent of television, we removed ourselves indoors, for the most part leaving the streets to marauding canines and fancily-attired exercise addicts.

As a mother and very serious media watcher, I am as troubled as anyone about the violent and sexist content on television. But were television wall-to-wall programming of the PBS caliber, and commercial-free, I would be just as concerned.

I just don't like what TV is doing to my family. It has become some kind of oracle -- never mind McCluhan's "electronic fireplace" -- that commands all of our attention. We don't listen to each other, husband to wife, mother to kids, kids to parents. It was with this in mind that I suggested to my husband that we ban the tube from the house, on an experimental basis, for, say, about a year.

"No way!" he said.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because, it would be hypocritical," he deftly answered. "We both work in TV."

"You work in TV. I don't."

"Well, you like to criticize TV. How can you criticize something you don't watch!" Good point.

"I just don't like what the thing is doing to our family," I continued. "It's noisy. It jangles the nerves. It's like a drug. It's addictive. We watch anything, anything, even programming aimed at adolescents. I mean, I used to read Dostoyevsky. Now I watch Steve Erkle."

"So you traded one idiot for another," my husband quips, but I am not amused.

"Well, you know what I mean. Besides, the stupid contraption keeps us from doing what human beings are really supposed to be doing."

"And what's that? Foraging for nuts and berries?"

My husband, the TV junkie, sees nothing wrong with the boob tube. "I grew up on it, " he answers, "and I'm no psycho."

If my husband had his way, there would be a TV in every room. And they'd all be tuned into Star Trek. And I must admit, there are times I felt the only interest we ever had in common was Star Trek, oh and the X-files, and way back when, Cheers. In the early months of my first pregnancy we'd cuddle together on the couch like two spoons and I'd fall asleep, my head cradled in his lap, before Sam Malone's first conquest. Togetherness.

But now we're like two channel-zapping zombies. "You know, they say that spending time together in front of the television does nothing to enhance a relationship," I tell my now bleary-eyed husband, trying to make him feel guilty. It's a war of attrition and it is working, sort of.

"Okay. Two weeks," my husband relents. "We'll try no TV for two weeks. That's all. But you tell the kids."

We have two boys, Andrew and Mark, 7 and 4. They kick up a huge fuss when I tell them that our tiny bungalow has been unilaterally declared a TV-free zone. Now it's their turn to try to make me feel guilty. They hang their pathetic little heads in genuine mourning as they watch their dad, the TV freak, reluctantly disconnect the enormous tangle of wires enabling the miracle of modern home theatre in our suburban castle. And am I feeling guilty? No way!

I stand tall and victorious in our living room, easy to do when you are five foot ten, a champion of my somewhat left-of-center family values, the protector of my children.

That evening, we read our children books, sing them songs and tuck them in for the night. I go to bed with that Margaret Drabble I've been using as a giant paper-weight for the past year and my husband snuggles up with Stephen King.

Two days pass. The kids have finally stopped complaining about The Terrible Loss. In fact, they don't appear to care at all any more. They have found other, more interesting, things to do. Myself, on the other hand, I'm suffering from a mean case of withdrawal. "It's Thursday Night. Must-See-TV. Do you think maybe you can bring the TV up for just one show?" I ask my husband, who happens to be down in his workroom drilling a hole into a six-foot piece of plywood for no apparent reason. "We'll keep the sound really low," I add, because kids can hear hypocrisy even in their sleep.

"Why don't your read, Ms. Literature Freak? You haven't exactly been burning up the library shelves," my husband sneers rather condescendingly as he stops to wipe some sawdust from his nose hairs.

"Well, that's because I only read the best, and my brain's too fried at the end of the day to read the best," I answer, convincing even myself. (That has been my pat excuse for my intellectual lethargy since becoming a mother.)

My husband rolls his eyes back into his head and puts down the drill. No further argument from him. He happily carries the TV upstairs and reconnects its myriad wires in no time. (A real pro, my husband.) We sit back and laugh at George and Kramer, Elaine and Jerry. "This show is just like real life!" I announce.

The problem is, we do the same for Murphy Brown a few days later. And for X-files, each night my husband clambering up the basement stairs with a twenty-inch Sony stuck to his face, and then stumbling down again thirty-something minutes later, trailing his wires behind him. Then the true test. Indeed, a real dilemma for us. A rerun of Star Trek: TNG is airing; but at 7:00, before the kids' bedtime. What to do? Clearly, no sleazy hypocritical way around this. "I can always get a tape and watch it at work," my husband, the news editor, smiles, taunting me once again. "You, on the other hand, will have to do without."

A real dilemma, and I am not alone, I know. I recall a friend, fortyish, married with two kids, unapologetically telling me that watching Star Trek reruns was the highlight of his day. "It's the only philosophical show on TV," he claimed.

And, certainly, here is Captain Picard, perhaps the wisest man in the universe, forcing me to face a very ugly personal truth: It isn't my kids; it isn't even my husband. I am the real TV addict in my household

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Colin Firth or Clive Owen?

Bette Davis in the Letter.

Hmm. I'm watching The Letter, the 1940 Bette Davis vehicle based on the Somerset Maugham short story.

I've been reading a lot about this year's 2011 Academy Awards and the key media controversy: whether the King's Speech (a throwback to Old Hollywood kind of movie and a revisionist view of history with respect to the Royal Family) will win over The Social Network - a movie for our times - but also a rewriting 'history'- if you can call it that.

Both the King's Speech and the Social Network are examples of great storytelling and all great storytelling entails stretching, varnishing, embellishing the truth.

This Letter movie is part of Turner Classic Movie's 30 days of Oscar, it was nominated for a number of Oscars, including Best Picture.

This movie is an entirely forgettable venture (it ain't no Wuthering Heights, although it is William Wyler's signature flourishes and much like the King's Speech, it has only indoor sets: CHEAP to make, I guess). I'm also guessing that I am one of the few people who purchased it over Amazon this year. Me and a bunch of Bette Davis fans.

It's about the wife of a Malayan rubber planter who shoots her lover and tries to cover it up. It is based on a true story. And the real story (as least as printed in the local press, can be found in the Malaya Straits Times archives.)

I bought The Letter on DVD because I recently wrote a play about my own British grandmother's experiences as the wife of a planter in Malaya in the 20's and 30's and her internment at Changi Prison in Singapore in late 1941, when the Japanese overran Malaya on bicycles after Pearl Harbour.

First thing I noticed today, upon a second viewing: there's a problem with the dialogue. In one of the first scenes Davis's character tells the police that as a planter's wife, she is used to being alone. But then a little later the husband claims he has never spent more than one day away from her.

Apart from that... well, today, I found one point most interesting with respect to my grandmother's Changi experience. The lawyer defending Davis's character says at one point 'any respectable woman would have shot a man who was making advances..' they don't mention the word "rape".

I believe this really does reflect the thinking of the times. (And I guess that is all you can ask from historical fiction, some umbrella truths.) In the Double Tenth Trial, when the Japanese Kempetai is put on trial for torturing and sometimes killing certain European civilians, the real-life prosecutor for this trial suggests that the worse my grandmother suffered was having to sleep and go potty in front of men.

She was kicked and punched, threatened daily with beheading, and starved to within inches of death, and forced to sit cross-legged for 5 months in solitary confinement, but the worse thing she suffered was the indignity of having her feminity compromised by farting in front of members of the male sex.

The Prosecutor for this Double Tenth trial comes off as sexist. He suggests my grandmother has a good memory because married women are always vindictive.

(Of course, just recently in Canada, a Manitoba judge let a man get off with rape because the woman who was taken to the woods for the attack was wearing skanky clothing, a tube top and lots of makeup... (unlike the rest of us respectable gals who wear shirtwaist suits and corsets and niqabs.)

Ps. I saw a woman in a niqab in the Bellagio casino in Vegas. Why would a husband who believes that a woman should be shrouded in public go to Vegas? It's like my husband forcing me to go to Hooters, which he joked about going to, until I set him straight.

My play, Looking for Mrs. Peel, tries to stay close to the 'truth' which, of course, is always point of view. I 'm trying to do the same with Flo in the City. But it's probably not the way to go, as the King's Speech and the Social Network show.

This The Letter movie has the woman pronounced not guilty at trial, but I believe the woman in question was convicted, but the local Europeans raised such a ruckus she was allowed to leave. And that TRUTH tells alot about their clique back then.

Indeed, when I first found this stash of Nicholson letters I tracked down Canada's best selling author of YA history novels. She told me flat out: Forget the History. Go for the Story.

Hmm the elements of this post would make for a good essay, but I'm too lazy to plot it out, today.

And even I have been saturated with Colin Firth media stories. They all contradict each other anyway. That's the Hollywood publicity machine, I guess. The 60 Minutes King's Speech story was obsequious and not investigative in any way and didn't touch on the issue of the Royals and their iffy politics pre-1940, nor did it touch on Colin Firth's left wing advocacy, widely-publicized in England, his recent endeavor for the History Channel: Democracy is not a Spectator Sport. I wonder why? But it did reveal that he liked to play-act in kindergarten. Now THAT won't offend anyone in the US, will it?

I guess they are trying to get non urbanite, right wingers to go see the King's Speech. They are even taking out the swear words as if no one ever swears in front of kids.

I think I have to find someone else to adore. James McAvoy is just SOOOO young, although he clearly likes older women...So Clive Owen it is!

Looking for Mrs. Peel 6: Courting Scandal

Looking For Mrs. Peel 4: Sun-baked bag of Wrinkles

Looking for Mrs. Peel 2: Just Like Emma Peel

Granny in 1967

Looking for Mrs Peel 1

The year 1967 has been described as The Last Good Year, by Canadian historian Pierre Berton, also as The Year That Changed Cinema, by Time Magazine, as well as the Best Year Ever in Pop Music by, well, just about everyone. In and around anglo Montreal,that memorable year, radio was the communications medium of choice for young people. Kids listened to the likes of Buddy Gee on CKGM, Dave Boxer on CFCF and CFOX's Charles P Rodney Chandler on their chintzy transistor radios and kept track of the respective weekly hit lists. One of the most popular new DJ's was an import, a former British merchant marine sailor named Roger Scott also on CFOX. In late May of 1967 Scott aired 'pirated' tapes of the Beatle's Srgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Album, before it was officially released. My older brother was mightily impressed.

In the US it was the Summer of Love and the Summer of Race Riots -two facts I couldn't ignore because my British father preferred getting his news from American Walter Cronkite, on the CBS television station WCAX Montpelier Vermont - and as was the norm, we had but one black and white tv. But these same heady Expo months were also a time of tension in the Middle East with Six Day War where we came close to nuclear war ….again... and 'the tipping point' for Vietnam and a time when decisions were made that 'signaled the end of Britain's' imperial adventure'.* According to Historian Matthew Jones, in 1967 the British wanted to pull out of 'East of Suez'(Singapore, Malaysia and the MIddle East) entirely. While school children from Victoria to Gander were learning the words to CA NA DA, Bobby Gimby's giddy centennial year signature song , the Americans were putting pressure on the British to stay. President Lyndon Johnson even bribed them, offering to back the pound sterling and "solve all your financial problems."*

So, if Lyndon Baines Johnson appeared to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders, as he rode that long long escalator up past the kitschy photographs of Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart in the American Pavilion at Expo 67 on his official visit, that's because he did. (* Matthew Jones' Decision Delayed Historical Review.)

Malaysia, the 15th country to sign up for the World's Fair - in July '64 (plot 3320 Ste Helene's Island) didn't have a pavilion in the end. They had pulled out; perhaps because Singapore had been expelled from the Malaysian Federation in 1965 ( to quell the unrest between the Chinese and the Malays) and couldn't come up with the money.

Tunku Abdul Rahman Malaysia's first PM had visited the Expo site in '64. One wonders what Bobby Gimby felt about all this: the so called Pied Piper of Canada, a former CBC musician and bandleader, and a Canadian cultural icon, is reported to have composed them an unofficial anthem, Malaysia Forever, and earned his whimsical moniker, on a visit to Singapore in '62. The song itself is steeped in mystery; no former colonial or expert in Malaysian studies I have reached has ever heard of it. Negara Ku has been Malaya's (Malaysia's) national anthem since 1957.

Looking For Mrs. Peel Complete play pdf

The King's Speech: Momentum is Everything

Leaving Las Vegas yesterday, on a bright sunny day, I was happy, because I had enjoyed three days of pure restorativesunshine - and sunshine is what I went to Las Vegas for in the first place.

The weather forecast had been ominous for days: it would be cloudy, cold, rainy or even snow on our chosen dates.

Luckily bad weather held off. The gray stuff has arrived in time for this weekend. LA is predicted to get record cold, rain and maybe snow?? just in time for the Oscars.

I caught a bug on the plane or in the casino, so I'm in bed reading the Oscar (ah, Academy Awards, copyright :) articles, especially in the Guardian that are going berzerker over the King's Speech.

That 'little' British movie may take the prize of best picture over Social Network. Many are predicting this anyway. The movie has momentum. The Social Network, released aeons ago, does not.

Many reviewers think that this is something of a travesty. Most tend to believe Colin Firth deserves best actor (and since he missed out last year for a Single Man which hardly anyone watched but 'everyone' admired) and since he's hit the jackpot in the awards season leading up to the 2011 Oscars, is there any doubt he'll climb the stairs to the dais (employing his trademark elegant gait) to pick up his first best actor award? I mean if he doesn't slip in the snow and conk his head earlier on Sunday.

But these critics I'm talking about claim the Social Network is better cinema and more likely to go down in film history as the more memorable and meaningful film.

Both the King's Speech and The Social Network, these critics say, are examples of marvelous storytelling, which is what movies are meant to be about, but the King's Speech is old-fashioned cinema.

The Social Network, they believe, is a story for our time. (And they point to the big mess in the Middle East as proof.)

And I can see their point. Very clearly. But being older I prefer that the King's Speech win best picture.

I would have gone to see that movie even if it had spent 2 days in the cinema. My great aunts, born in 1880s and coming of age in the Nickelodeon era, would have liked this movie, too, and just the way it is. (No sex, no violence and frankly, they had first hand experience of the abdication and cut out newspaper stories which they left behind in a trunk.)

But that's not why I think the film The King's Speech deserves Best Picture. Because it's accessible...

And it's not for the superb acting, either. What British film or BBC afternoon play for that matter DOESN'T have good acting? And Colin Firth is expert at playing decent men struggling with a problem. Darcy...George Falconer..etc...

The King's Speech deserves the Oscar because the movie was made on a shoestring. 15 million if we are being told the truth.

The reason why there aren't many great movies this year (and attendance is at a record low) is because many movie projects, including some of Colin Firth's, were cancelled with the last economic downturn. That's what I assume, anyway, when they disappeared from IMDB.

Now, the movie money people tend to believe what gamblers believe, that you have to gamble a lot to make a lot. So we have Cameron's Avatar and plenty of high tech movies that lost a lot of money and a few, like the incomprehensible (to old-fashioned old female fart me) Inception that made a tonne.

Special effect movies like the Tourist, with AAAA list stars can tank, as we all know,not that we feel too sorry for the A list stars.

I want the King's Speech to be crowned best film of 2011 (despite the unabashed promotion and unfettered attempt to wine and dine the Academy voters. I mean, Weinstein admitted it!) because I feel this might inspire mainstream filmmakers to get down to basics and make good simple watchable movies to entertain me. I'm selfish. The young can have their video games.

This King's Speech proves that you don't have to sacrifice production values when making a 'little' film. And you may make money too.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to see all the svelte/emaciated/anorexic starlets and stars on the red carpet, sashaying around in silks and chiffons, covered in goosebumps or wearing, oops, dare I say it FUR, which is good for the environment and the financial health of empoverished aboriginals, but don't tell them.

Friday, February 25, 2011

100 Dollar Lessons and Bland Duck


"Cheap Vacation" over.

3 days, 4 nights at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

No frills West Jet flight, very fancy hotel.

800 ish per person for Hotel and flight package. 4 days of fantasy, pretending we don't have to go back to dirty cat boxes and "What's on at the AMC" entertainment options, oh, and snow, snow, still some snow for another month or so.

We spent about 1400 in incidental charges... not including gambling...which is called 'gaming' because you are gambling nothing. You are going to lose money. Period. Even if you win a bit.

But that's OK. Because Vegas isn't doing so well these days. We heard many a tale of woe. Highest unemployment in the US at 20 percent. Most foreclosures in the country. Half finished hotels destined to remain that way for a few more years or perhaps forever.

The British born man who gave me an expert massage at the luxurious Bellagio Spa (the word luxurious is over used, but not in this case) said that the hotels were full, but people were not spending at the hotels. Only using the pool and eating off strip at Macdonalds or whatever. They must tip poorly too, which is sad, as this is how the workers make money.

The Bellagio is lovely, though. The WHOLE THING and full of delightful little surprises. Most of its restaurants are 'higher end'...There's an original look to each and every 'finer' restaurant, but the food, well...I've had as good in Montreal, many times over. For much less money.

I guess because these restaurants don't count on repeat eaters, so decor becomes the major "impulse" draw.

We ate at a the Prime Steakhouse, with a view of the fountains and faux Renaissance paintings (nice ones!). and I should have ordered beef, as that's their speciality, but I ordered the duck because I tend not to eat beef. And then I forgot to put the gravy on, so I found the duck beautifully prepared and presented but bland. Alas. I was tired or something. But the waiter put three gravies in front of my husband, who was having a perfectly grilled medium rare 8 oz filet, so I didn't know they were for me too. Until the next morning, when I told my hubby. "You know what I should have done? I should have taken one of YOUR three sauces for the duck." And then realized the sauces were PROBABLY for me too.(I'm assuming, as the dish was so tasteless.)

I did have two glasses of a berry nuanced cabernet sauvignon from the Hill Family Estate Napa Valley at 29 a glass, in large part beause it was the most expensive by the glass choice and I was feeling adventurous. (Retails for 42 a bottle in US. If we can get it probably costs 140 a bottle in La Belle Province.) A butternut squash soup we started with also lacked seasoning in my opinion. (I had a much nicer one in October in the restaurant in the Chatwal in New York.)The Prime Restaurant meal cost 300 for two.

Our meal at the other restaurant, Sensi, was mediocre, but, thankfully, not that expensive. Four of us ate for 300 ish. Great sleek modern decor with waterfalls and chrome and glass and the kitchen business on view through a window. My appetizer of vegan risotto was totally tasteless, (I won't eat a Risotto without cheese, said my son) and said son's gnocchi had a split sauce and he was upset (he works in a resto himself and says he'd get shit for making such a meal.) He mentioned to the waitress after eating it anyway, and we were awarded a free dessert sampler which was in my son's 'expert' opinion, exceptional. Do you realize how much prep a taster like that takes? my son said. This Resto is known for its wine list apparently.. but if you have great wine, you should have great food.

(And my son had been spoiled: the first night he had taken his girlfriend to the Alize (Michelin Star)for a 10 course tasting menu which he found 'amazing.' His girlfriend, a burger and fries afficionado, liked it too, although she got bombed on all the wine.. she had her own and a lot of my son's. They got all dolled up and looked like a "poster image' of a beautiful young couple at Las Vegas.

But the rest of the food we tasted at the Bellagio was fine, sometimes very fine. and good value for money, which is what really matters. The Cafe Bellagio had the best grilled veggie sandwich I've ever eaten outside of New York City (and they made it for at six in the morning, the first time) and the in room breakfast was elegant and tasty. (The woman who delivered the meal to our room reminded me of Natalie Portman stripper character in Closer. Whatever I said, she answered "Thank you" in a neutral way. (Maybe she was an ex stripper.)

And the fast food place is small, but had good burgers and crispy delicious fries. My husband had beef and I had salmon. 30 dollars total.

We had one meal at New York New York, in an Italian Place. My ravioli was simply awful, as it tasted like 'store bought' that was over cooked and soggy with a can of peppery stewed tomatoes thrown over it.

But then again, this wasn't New York. It was a fake New York. And it wasn't Montreal either, where you can get a delicious pasta dish - never fail - at Pasta Tutti Giorni for 10.00.

But the service in that New York New York resto, as elsewhere, was polished and friendly. And that's nice as in Montreal this is not always the case.

So next time, I'll stay at the Bellagio but try other restos. (It's a long walk to other casinos, for "Old Folk" like us. God, my feet were simply aching. And parts north of the feet too. (You don't realize how LITTLE we moderns walk in 'real life' until you go to Vegas.)

The last meal we had, the noon hour of the day we left. was in some bistro at Paris Las Vegas, and I had a 'subtle' (sic) salad nicoise, with sushi grade tuna and just a suggestion of dressing on the peppery greens, potato, olives, hard boiled egg grains, for an ordinary Montreal price. ( I will try to make this dish myself.) So there you go. The 40/50ish waitress was at least my height, 5 foot 11, but, perfectly proportioned with beautiful broad shoulders and slim hips: Without a doubt an ex show girl.

The windows cover 3 floors each..

So, we lost all our money. I played blackjack with the hubby and son and his girlfriend one evening and the dealer was a hoot and a half. Well, both male dealers were entertaining, as a funny older Chinese dealer took over at break and threatened to cut off my fingers if I touched the cards again.

Both dealers seemed to want us to win and basically told us what to do. We all won that night. The next day we all lost...much more than we won. I think this is how they want it to happen, somehow.

And my son's girlfriend and I won a lot and lost even more on the Sex in the City Machines, which, at least, is a fun girly game. Samantha was good to us, but Charlotte was not. And we didn't meet Carrie or Mr. Big once.

And my husband and I had 'a hundred dollar lesson' at the craps table. In other words, we were hanging around the table and the attendant said she'd tell us what to do, but only if we bet. She is the one who called it 'a hundred dollar lesson' which was honest of her, because you clearly cannot win betting 5.00 a shot.

But if people won at the casino, there would be no Bellagio, I imagine. Especially in this economy. You are getting a lot of hotel for bargain basement prices and they even subsidize the West Jet flight and throw in a free show. (We saw Zumanity, which was interesting in an unintimidating to the intellect Brechtian-style way. Gosh, I haven't used the term "Brechtian" since university.

Oh, and my son was very pleased, as on the way home, we flew with this young man, Josh or Jonathan Duhamel, who is the poker champion of the world. My son, who loves to play poker, and is good at it (but not on this trip) went up to him as he waited for his suitcase and asked for his autograph.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Yes, Rosie, there are English Quebeckers

My husband taped an edition of Who Do You Think Your Are, because it featured Rosie O'Donnell who traced an ancestor back to 1860's Montreal.

Irish Catholic, baptised in Notre Dame Cathedral (where the first stained glass window was co-sponsored by my grandfather, Jules Crepeau.)

Rosie visited the Bibliotheque National and the National Archives on Viger, the same place I visited to find the dossier of what remains of the National Council of Women documents from the 1912 era.

Unlike me, she found someone to help her who spoke English :)

Rosie's ancestor was a Murtaugh from Ireland and she found all this out she joked "I guess that makes me part French Canadian."

Just a joke, but it goes to show you how NO ONE understands that there were a lot of English Canadians in Montreal in the 19th and 20 th century and not all Rich Westmount Scots, and that there are STILL anglos in Quebec.

Rosie's ancestor was a day-worker or journalier as it was usually written. As I've blogged about recently, that was a very common 'profession.'

And this is believed despite that many Quebec born anglos went on to work in Hollywood. Mack Sennett, (Sinnott) from Richmond, Quebec being one them.

Norma Shearer from Westmount. Glenn Ford (Quebec, City). Let me check IMDB. Colleen Dewhurst, Ruta Lee, Ben Blue, Leonard Cohen (but of course), etc, etc. Oscar Peterson, Mort Sahl, the guy who wrote Hertzog (name temporarily escapes me, from Lachine and Vanessa Lengies, the young actress who went to high school with my son and the other contemporary actress from 24.. she's from south shore.)

Anyway, I really like Rosie, causes she's smart. And this was otherwise, an interesting program, especially for people who like genealogy.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Norman Nicholson, 1900. Fuzzy, but it's a blow up of a picture of him standing in front of his house. And it is the only photo of him with long white whiskers. There's a family portrait, taken in 1896 showing him with long dark whiskers. And later on, he cut them off.
This fashion was on the wane in 1910. Herb mentions he doesn't recognize someone because he has cut off his whiskers. Herb and other men in their twenties all appear clean shaven. I wonder if this is because of safety razors being invented. Must check.

I have Norman's expenses before he married and a 'shave and a haircut' cost money.

Women didn't spend anything on their hair. Hair salons were few and far between in North America. I saw an advert for a hair sculpting salon in Toronto. I guess society women went there when they wanted a fancy do like the Pompadour.

Of course, the hair industry is huge today. I think it got rolling after the WWII. And then hats slowly fell out of fashion.

Of course, as I recently discovered, a Toronto woman, Elizabeth Arden, moved to New York in 1909 and started a beauty salon based on the French fashion, but it was more about skin.

Arden wasn't a beauty like Coco Chanel, but she did have a gorgeous complexion, apparently. She rose to become the richest woman in the world, supposedly. (Richer than royalty?) Chanel did pretty good herself, I suspect.

Below: Norman's expenses as a bachelor: 15 for a haircut, once a month.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Letter From Hugh 1912

Marion, in Hudson? Love wasn't always such smooth sailing. A real 'love' letter from Hugh to Marion. In September he blows off a woman, Jean, who has clearly been on his back to marry, so he is seeing two women here, at this moment in time. So his address My Dear Marion is slightly premature :)

Montreal, Quebec
August 11, 1912
My dear Marion,

Your very kind letter of the 6th came duly to hand a few days ago and intended to answer it at once but have not been able. Bill went away to see about a cut of lumber which was offered our firm and I had to see to the business here. I phoned home on Friday evening telling them that I thought that I would go down for over Sunday by the 1.30 train, but when the hour came around for me to go I was closing a purchase which I made so therefore I could not leave. Then I decided to go down at 5 o'clock, but at 2.50 I was called up by one of my customers at Mile End and had to go out and fix him up, by the time I was through with him, I had the pleasure of seeing the 5 o'clock train going by at the crossing at Park Avenue. So instead of writing you from home in Three Rivers, I am as you will no doubt notice, writing you from Montreal.

I am pleased to learn through your letter that you are having a nice time and sincerely trust that it will continue so right through. I do not doubt your word in the least Re: Edith being a good guide. Leave it to her, as the saying goes.We have had very disagreeable weather since Wednesday. It has rained every day. This morning it seemed to be nice and clear but it started to cloud up and about one o'clock and at present looks as if we were going to have a thunder storm. I hope you are not getting this kind of weather your way or it will certainly spoil your trip.

I do not think that there is very much danger of having the White of my eye frozen right now, but I had an awful time with it from the blow I got a few weeks ago.

Some way or other a piece of paper got into it at the time I was struck and turned out to be very painful as it caused the eye to swell up again, a couple of days after I had written you, I went to the Doctor about it and he took a little piece of green paper out from under the lid. He said that it was the poison from the dye that was causing all he pain, so just gave me a solution to wash it with and it is again better and hope that I shall not get anymore green or white paper in it as it is not at all pleasant to my personal feelings, I would much rather someone else try it for a change as the sample I got was quite sufficient for my liking. The worst of it was that I was not at all satisfied with what he did take out, as I imagined that he would take out something about the size of (he draws a huge blob here) it felt all of that size) but to my great disappointment he only took out a piece about this size (he draws a dot).

That's what really made me so made after was to think that such a mite should make me suffer so much. The doctor laughed when I first went in to see him at the question or rather the answer I gave him when he asked me what brought me there. I said that I had come to see him about my eye as I thought that I must have something in it. He said, what do you think it is? I said, I don't think anything, all I can say that it feels very sore and about the size of an elephant. Well, he said if it is an elephant that you have in your eye, I won't have much trouble in seeing it. I said, you shouldn't. After examining the eye he took this speck out and said (showing the spec) there is your elephant.

You should be here tonight to hear the Mr. Gordon give a sermon to the young men. The subject tonight will be "Mistakes Young Men Make" so being so young I intend to take it in.

I notice by the advertisements that there will be quite a few nice plays out this fall in Montreal. So if I am here - and of course you also - and care to them in, I will enjoy taking you along. Of course, I would not like to neglect our Old Standby at the Orpheum. But I suppose there is no use planning too far ahead as many changes can take place between now and then.

I saw Purves last Monday and he was telling me that Mr. And Mrs. MacLeod were down at the seashore. He told me where , but I forget. And that Mrs. MacLeod was partially paralyzed since she has had fever. I am very sorry for her and the family as it will go hard with them.

I notice how very neatly you throw sarcasm at me in your letter. Re: You find that you have to send something in the shape of a letter in order to get one yourself. Very good for you, old gal, as I never thought it was in you. But of course 'Smartness" here will have to comment by saying rather hard to write to Marion Nicholson Boston Mass. When and where do you think that the letter would find you. Then to find out that you are at 148 Hollis St, Framingham Mass. Is another proposition. So go easy. I suppose you have full intentions of trying your hand at the smuggling game upon your return home into Canada. Be careful as you might have to send for help to bail you out. I can see where you would not have anymore rest from the "Kiddy" if you do get caught.

As I have not anything very startling to tell you I will bring this chapter to an end by wishing you all kind of good wishes for a very pleasant and good trip.

Yours sincerely

Tender Passions

Sarah McLean McLeod, 1825-1912. She was illiterate. But her descendants put great store in the written word.

"A well written letter has opened the way to prosperity for many a one, has led to many a happy marriage and constant friendship, and has secured many a good service in time of need; for it is in some measure a photograph of the writer, and may inspire love or hatred, regard or aversion in the reader, just as the glimpse of a portrait often determine us, in our estimate, of the worth of the person respresented.

Therefore, one of the roads to fortune runs through the ink bottle, and if we want to attain a certain end in love, friendship, or business, we must trace out the route correctly with the pen in hand."

From Light in Dark Corners, a popular "sex-hygiene" book of the 1910 era.

The first letter is from Light and Dark Corners, a sample Love Letter.

The Second is a sample Love Letter from the Nicholson copy of Martine's Sensible Letter writer, 1860. You can see (hear?) a difference in tone.. and Light In Dark Corners was a very PRUDISH book.

There is no greater sentiment than love and why that reality should be obscured by mere sentimentalism with all its train of absurdities is incomprehensible...

How to begin a love letter: Never say My dearest Nellie, My adored Nellie, until Nellie has called you My Dear or has given you to understand that such familiar terms are permissable. As a rule a gentleman will never err is he says "Dear Miss Nellie" and if the letters are cordially reciprocated, the Miss Nellie, in time, can be omitted.

My dearest Laura:

I can no longer restrain myself from writing to you, dearest and best of girls, what I have often been on the point of saying to you. I love you so much that I cannot find words in which to express my feelings. I have loved you from the very first day we met, and always shall. Do you blame me because I write so freely? I should be unworthy of you if I did not tell you the whole truth. Oh, Laura, can you love me in return? I am sure I shall not be able to bear it if your answer is unfavourable. I still study your every wish if you will give me the right to do so. May I hope? Send just one kind word to your sincere friend."

From Martine's Sensible Letter Writer, 1853. Nicholson Family Copy. New York, Dick and Fitzgerald.

The letters beyond all comparison the most attractive and interesting are those written in the intimate confidence excited by tender passion. The language of the heart is universal; in all countries, and with all people where there is sensibility, it is understood. It is the language of nature, charming us with its simplicity, and by its true expression of our feelings, possessing the power of commanding our sympathy. The sentiments should spring from the tenderness of heart. Any extravagant flattery should be avoided, tending to disgust those to whom it is addressed and to degrade the writers and create suspicion as to their sincerity.

Sample Letter:

Dear Allie.

Will you allow me, in a few plain and simple words, respectfully to express the sincere and esteem affection I entertain for you and to ask whether I may venture to hope that these sentiments are returned? I love you truly and earnestly and knowing you admire frankness and candor in all things I cannot think that you will take offense at this letter. Perhaps it is self flattery to think that I have any place in your regard. Should this be so the error will carry with it its own punishment for my happy dream will be over.

Favorable Reply:

Dear Sir. In the same spirit of frankness you have used in addressing me, I admit that among the gentlemen of my acquaintance there is none that I esteem so highly as yourself. I must, however, have time to think your letter over and to look into my own heart before I give you a more decided answer.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ghost Story

Norman's Sword and letter.

You know, my husband drove around with me on Saturday while I took pictures of St Henri locales, but he's not that interested in my Tighsolas Project.

But as I was going on and on about Dominion Textile and Royal Arthur School he remarked, "You know what is REALLY interesting. The story of how we got Norman's sword."

I agreed. But I haven't really stopped to think HOW FREAKY the story is.

You see, back in 2004, a few months after I first discovered the Nicholson letters, I wrote up a story about them for a Quebec Heritage Westmount.

Shortly afterwards, the webmaster of said website emailed me to say a couple in BC wanted to reach me, as the had Norman Nicholson's Masonic Sword and they wanted to give it back.

So I emailed them on the jump (that's an expression Marion Nicholson used) and they told me one WEIRD story.

A few days before the day I got the email, a Mrs. H, living in the Okanagan of BC and married to a geologist, looked up at her living room wall and saw the Masonic sword hanging there and wondered, for the first time ever, who that sword belonged to.

She pulled it from its sheaf to see the name Norman Nicholson engraved upon the blade.

Now, Mrs. H knew that the sword had been in her husband's family and that in the early 1960's the family had rented a house in Richmond, Quebec and that said house had a dusty attic and that her husband, then a young boy, of course, liked to play in the attic because if was full of mysterious boxes and trunks belonging to the owners of the house.

One trunk contained a lot of letters and the boy took some of them and cut the stamps out of others and pasted them in a stampbook.

The attic also contained a sword and a picture of an 'old man' in a funny uniform with the sword at his side.

The boy took the sword to his room and when the family moved, the sword and picture, and the stamp book, got taken along.

The boy grew up, became a geologist, married and moved many times around the continent, always taking the sword with him.

In his home in BC, he hung it on the wall... and then one day in 2004 his wife got curious..

And that's the weirdest part.

Mrs. H. decided to check out the provenance of the sword just a short while after I had written the story of the Nicholson letters for a website.

First she entered the name Norman Nicholson into the search engine, but a famous poet shares that name, so she got nowhere. Then her husband told her that he had a letter from the family in his stampbook (which he still had) so she looked and sure enough, there was a letter addressed to Margaret Nicholson, so she entered that name and immediately landed on the web page with my essay about the Nicholson letters and another picture of Norman Nicholson in his Mason Uniform.

So she emailed the website and within two weeks the sword and picture was back home in Quebec, if not in Richmond.

I put sword on the mantle.. and even more weird, a few days later I heard a thump in the living room in the middle of the night and I got up to find that a binder with Nicholson memorabilia had fallen off the coffee table and sprayed open and Norman's death certificate was on top.

The dogs, I guessed. What else could it be?

And then I went on reading, transcribing and researching the background to these letters for 7 years, without thinking to much about Norman's Sword which remains in our living room, standing up agains the wall under the picture of Marion in her white dress taking tea.

Workopolis 1910

Because so many Canadian children were growing up with a view like this:

Or like this:

There was a movement to bring them back to the land. The school garden movement, in both the US and Canada. There is a park in front of the building that housed Royal Arthur, so I'm guessing there was some gardening activity.

My last post describes the journey I took last night, using the 1911 Census, through the streets of St. Antoine Ward, (or St-Henri) seeing who lived there and what they did for a living (sic) and what salary they pulled in.

After noticing that 500 was about an average salary for a skilled or semi skilled worker, I had to wonder. How come so few males wanted to become teachers?

In 1910, in Montreal, a male graduate of Macdonald earned an automatic 8o0. a year, while a female graduate like Flo made 550.

And the male graduate, however good at his job, would likely earn a principalship in no time, as they didn't give women these jobs.

Of course, they had reasons for doing this. 1)Many women, like Marion, left the profession after a few years to marry.
(Although I have to wonder if Marion would have left the profession so quickly if a 'young boy out of school' hadn't taken the job teaching 5th grade that she had been promised.

Now, there was no clear cut rule that a woman who married had to give up her job. At least I don't think so. In the Nicholson letters for 1913, after she has become engaged, Marion is apparently debating whether to work another year. Of course, maybe that means she would have put off her marriage.

And I wonder if she would have given up her job if she had been able to find a nice place to live.

Whatever, she left the profession. And just one year before she had described herself in a letter as 'on my way to the top.')

Another reason the Powers that Be were trying to lure men into the teaching profession: 2)the male students in the higher grades were a rough lot and in the higher grades there were more boys than girls, because girls often dropped out at twelve years of age.
And another reason, often cited, was 3) that the feminine milieu of school was just plain bad for male students. Principal Robbins of McGill Normal School is quoted in the Montreal Gazette 1910 era as saying this feminizing effect of too many women teachers is having a 'grave national effect' and that boys need a strong masculine hand.

But back in 1907 Marion had been offered the Principalship of a school in Hatley, and in the letter offering her the job, the supervisor admits that the boys are a tough bunch "but you can handle it, I am sure." The salary was tiny, though, 250ish, if I recall.
At her first school in the country, Marion had seen the Principal get into a fist fight with a male student.

So male teachers were given preference, despite being few and far between, which really irked ambitious woman teachers, especially the career women who never married. Marion wasn't alone in how she felt.
She just had a way out: marriage. And then her husband died prematurely, leaving her penniless with four children to support.

Of course, prospective teachers would have had to be well-educated and maybe the well-educated men felt they had better prospects. Like Herb, who always thought he deserved more. Herb graduated from St. Francis College (I assume, I have no proof that he graduated, only that he attended). He became a bank clerk. Edith's great love was also a bank clerk. Bank clerks didn't make much, either.

But then they didn't have to watch over "50 very bad children' whose parents were the working poor, like Marion had to.

Jewish graduates weren't allowed to work at all. Many of these girls were hired by the Jewish Community to go into the homes of new immigrants and teach them about hygiene, etc. This likely accounts (at least in part) for why infant mortality among the Jews of Montreal was the lowest in the city!!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Anglo Enclaves and Such

Unknown man and women. Tighsolas. I think this may be Henry Watters and sisters. Why? Because the only picture of Henry I have (had, I lost it) was a photocopy of a microfilm obituary. And I recall he looked like this, deep set eyes. I found his obit in the New England Journal of Medicine. He studied in the US, his medical studies anyway after being graduated (they used the right term) from St. Francis College. He interned in 1905 at Newton. (I have letters from him when he is starting his practice, working for free for poor people.) He was on the Board of Trustees of Newton Hospital. Died at 56 in 1937. (He's buried in Melbourne.)

I've continued my tour of 1910 Montreal, St-Antoine and I finally found my anglo enclave, on streets around Belmont (Imperial?) that no longer exist. Well, Belmont, is gone too, I think. It is under Place Bonaventure. (McGill Normal School was on Belmont in 1905 when Marion was at college. It was a real hole apparently. Flora was much much luckier to be at Macdonald.
"Everyone hates the Normal," Marion wrote in a letter from school.

And I found my Jewish/Italian Enclave just north and east of Royal Arthur, (St-Felix) just south of Dorchester, again where the Ville Marie now is.

Lots of Russian Jews who had just arrived. In 1910. The worker in one family, a tailor.

I found the richest guy in the area, a jeweller for a store, maybe Birks. Anglo. Made 1800 that past year, he said. The only decent salary in the entire area.

And I found more Italian Presbyterians. All cabinet makers. And some Americans who were written down as Negroes. (Porter.)And Chinese men who worked as launderers, who'd been in Canada since the 70's and 80's. The Railroad!

And I found one Greek, a peanut salesman, working for peanuts, 480. a year, but that's just 20 dollars less than Norman Nicholson makes in 1912 in Hearst, Ontario on the Transcontinental Railway after the Liberals lose the Free Trade Election.

And then I stumbled on an entire page of people who didn't work. I noticed they were written down as "inmates," then I noticed they were all Irish Catholics, most elderly, in their 60's and 70's, one 16 and one 95.

M. Bridges Havre on La Gauchetiere. Must mean haven. Hopefully not a workhouse. They still had those in England in 1910.

My husband asked why I cared about finding these Protestants and Jews. Because they were the families of the kids attending Marion and Flo's Schools. They were the reason the Nicholson women got jobs in the city and why the Flo wrote at graduation time: 'We have the Montreal Board at our mercy."

I still haven't found anyone working at Dominion Textile. I found some tobacco workers, though.

A Real Mix!

Atwater Market in Little Burgundy, a trendy venue today, built in the 30's, hence the beautiful deco styling.

Yesterday, I took a quick car tour of Little Burgundy, near the Lachine Canal, and near Canning Street, the site of Royal Arthur School, where Marion Nicholson taught in 1908-1912.

I seldom go to that part of town, despite the fact it's so close to downtown and the Old Forum site and the AMC theatre, where I regularly watch my 'adult' movies. As in good movies. (I love that scene in the Simpson's where Bart catches Moe coming out of the Adult Movie Section of a rental store and Moe is carrying a load of Truffaut's and Woody Allen's and Moe says in his sleaziest tone "Brideshead is going to get Revisited Tonight."... My husband doesn't get it.)

This area has been left behind by time, although people are working hard to gentrify it.

So close to downtown and on a canal, you'd think it would be easy, but I don't think the plan is working all that well.

The area, despite the condo projects (and bustling Atwater Market) seems desolate and deserted.

Why, because it's a former industrial area, and it just isn't a pretty area. It isn't Greenwich Village, if you know what I mean. It isn't the Plateau.

It has these looming heritage industrial sites, the Northern Electric Building and the Dominion Textile Building, all built with Victorian economy in mind, and other smaller such buildings and then a few tracts of era housing and no trees! A few cute churches, though.

I will revisit in the spring.

After, I took a tour of the area in 1910. Using the Census. I discovered that the immediate area of Marion's school overwhelmingly was home to French Canadian Roman Catholics and Irish Catholics. (Although there's a concentration of Protestants right on Canning, for good reason, I guess.)

A few Protestants and Hebrews (as they wrote) were scattered here and there, on adjacent streets, mostly newly arrived immigrants. Scotch Presbyterians, but only a few, Irish Protestants, but rare, Norwegian Lutherans, Italian Presbyterians (yes, one such family, who must have felt very isolated)Russian Hebrews, a real mix. English Anglicans too.

Which means Marion's 50 bad students, as she described them, were a real mix too, with most not having English as their tongue (and the new Scots talking so broad she probably couldn't understand them. (That's how Herbert describes the Scots he meets out west.)

I did not see children marked down as 'employed'.. all 'students or ecoliers' but they might have lied, and as I've said, many kids had to work outside of school. The two Russian Armenian families described the dad as a merchant. Well, if he had a store, his many children likely worked in it.
But if he had a push-cart, they worked at something else, delivery boys, babysitters.

The men and women of the 1911 era worked at the usual variety: drivers (horse) was a popular job, as was dayworker/journalier (someone who did anything anywhere); bricklayers (a reasonably well paid profession) and as waiters and shippers, etc.

There were many young women working as stenographers (which would be typists, I think.) Now, I knew this was an up and coming profession for women, but I can see it was well established in 1911, although not particularly well paid.

No family seemed to make the 1,500 deemed necessary to raise a family in 1911. Not even close. (That's why it is obvious the kids worked.)

I found two foreladies, which sounds very modern. And people who worked in buanderies, or laundries. And I found a writer, in insurance.

Oh, and sometimes the job description was vague ..employee of manufacturing.

And sometime the person was more precise: Operator at Northern Electric; or at least precise about where they worked: flour mill (Red Roses?) Sugar Mill (Redpath?) and GTR as in Grand Trunk Railway but I found no one working at Dominion Textile....yet.

Operators put through the long distance calls, if my understanding of the term here is correct. I didn't check to see if these were men or women. Women I assume. Certainly that job became a woman's job.

The oddest entry I found was 5 or so adult men, who had just arrived in 1910 from all over, Mexico, Norway and other places, who all lived at the same address and who all worked in the same "roller mill." Clearly someone brought in certain skilled labour to start up a business. That's the only explanation I can think of. (My husband says a roller mill is where metal is turned into sheets.)

Dominion Textile is now condos and businesses and a fancy restaurant.

Northern Electric. I was in that building a few years ago when it was being turned into a Techy place... Scary and cavernous. My husbands tells me the operators strode around on roller skates, the distances they had to cover were so great. I'm not surprised!!

Oh, and I finally found someone else, not especially far away on Tupper in Westmount, who was making 7,000 a year. My husband's grandfather, Thomas Gavine Wells, who was the President of Laurentian Spring Water.

The volunteer transcribing that page of the Census made an error, and mistook a T for a F, so I couldn't find him originally and this perplexed me.

Well, he had his second or third wife, Beatrice, and also two sons, Edward and Jaimie. Funny, the two sons, as my father-in-law remembers it, were Ted (Edward) and Morris. So unless Jamie is James Morris, something fishy is going on.

Now, 7,000 was a huge income (if it's true). He's making more than my own grandfather in the era.

Anyway, this just serves to show the great gap in incomes in the 1910 era in Montreal. Hey, looks as if we are headed back that way. Well, we are already there. The average family makes 50 thousand or so and pays out most of that to taxes, their mortgage and food, (and bank interest) and then some people make 4,000.000. a year and hardly pay taxes. I'd say that's pretty comparable to the 1910 era.

I always thought that when he remarried May Hardy Fair from Norfolk Virginia, in 1917 (the marriage certificate said he was a lawyer, a lie and also claimed she was widowed, another lie..the rich lied a lot, I guess :), that they lived off her money.

She was a Hardy Fair, cousin to General Douglas MacArthur.

But he was still at Laurentian, so he must have still been making a lot.

In 19o9 there was a typhoid epidemic in Montreal and Laurentian capitalized on this, scaring people into buying their water.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Car Trip to the City! 1911

Near Racine. The E.T. is a hilly place.

This scene is in Threshold Girl a ebook on kindle...

"As you will see by the address, I am in Montreal. I came in with Dr. and Mrs. Skinner in the motor Friday. Left home at 10 am and got to Waterloo at 12.30 had dinner. Saw all we could of the town and left at 2 for Montreal, got here at quarter past six. Without one break down. It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed every minute of it.

I will name the places we passed through so you will know the country we passed through. Melbourne, Flodden, Racine, Sawyerville, Warden, Waterloo, Granby, Abbotsford, St Caesar, Rougemont, Marieville, Chambly, Longueil, St. Lambert, Pointe St Charles.
Don't you think I was a very fortunate girl to have such a trip?

We are taking Grace Cross home with us. Have not yet decided whether we shall all go Monday or Tuesday.

Marion Samson was out at Hudson with the Fields' for the week end so I am staying with Marion. We have had a fine time. Sat morning we went shopping. Had lunch in town.

Went to the theatre in the afternoon. Then to tea at Dr. Cleveland's. Got home here about eight and then Dr. S took us out for a ride. Were out until 10. It is beautiful riding on the paved streets. "

The Route Edith took in June, 1911 from Waterloo. Richmond is top right corner.

Well, as I have written, the speed limit in the city was 8 miles an hour and in the country 15 miles an hour. They were 6 and 3/4 hours on the road.

Norman wrote in an earlier letter that it was 73 miles to Montreal, but I wonder if he means by rail. I traced the route on Google Maps and I think it's 151 kilometers or 94 miles.

Now, if you take 6 hours and 45 minutes to go 94 miles your average speed is, let me figure it out...about 14 miles an hour, about the speed limit!!

I think I will re-trace that route in the Spring. The E.T. is one hilly place, so they went up and down hills, that's for sure.

44 letters from 100 years ago, and the 'car' or the auto as they called it back then, is the definite star.

This is definitely Marion with a couple. I think the Montgomerys. Why? Well, Marion wrote in a letter that she met the couple on the street in Montreal and that they were buying a car. Margaret also wrote about that Mr's decision to buy a car. And, according to the 1911 Census, Mr. Montgomery is around 40. Looks right.

This means the white haired buy with the whiskers driving the car in the other picture I have is Dr. Skinner! So I can see what car they used to drive to Montreal. Not steam and not electric; well, I could have guessed that.

See Marion's caperon?.. that dead rodent hanging on her shoulders. Very fashionable in 1910. Kind of disgusting when you found one that belonged to an ancient aunt in the closet, all mangy, smelly with dessicated eyeballs.
The Canadian Motor Company was on Atwater Street, in the place where the Old Forum was, and that now houses AMC Cinemas.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Qu'appelle Snapshot

Winnipeg, 1910. Herbert's favourite Western City.

Why did I assume Herbert Nicholon wasn't enumerated on the 1911 Census? He was.

I instantly found him in a Qu'appelle Saskatchewan boarding house.

There are at least 8 other boarders in this place, 7 men, one woman, all in their mid to late twenties, with one guy 32.

The woman is a stenographer at a law office. Like Herbert, she is a Canadian born Scotch Canadian Presbyterian. 3 of the other men are Canadian born, one of these in an English Anglican.

Four of the men are 'new Canadians' arriving around 1905. Two from England, one from Scotland and one from Germany. He's a Lutheran.

Herbert lists himself as an accountant. Four other boarders are salesman, but they work in stores, 3 general stores one drug store..and the other boarder is a ledger something, which sounds like a clerk. And one of the men is a bartender!

The owner of the place is Welsh Canadian and he is a teacher at a public school. He and his wife are Baptists.


On the same page, there is a Hungarian Canadian waitress, she has been in Canada since 1903. Also a German Russian waitress, who has been in Canada since 1908. 3 other Hungarians working as Cook and Waitresses.

All the rest are Canadians of UK Origin.

The Stenographer is making 500 a year. Two of the salespeople 850. and the other one making 1000! A huge salary by Eastern standards, but everything is so expensive there, as Herb writes.

Herb lists his salary as 800. (I have to check what he told his parents he was making. Hmmm. Let's see if I catch him in a lie! No he didn't. But he soon quit his accountant job at the bank to work on commission for Massey Harris. In this job, he devised schemes to rip off the farmers - to make extra money. What a nice guy!)

The teacher, a man, makes 1300.

Double WOW!

Now, I have to wonder why the Montreal Council of Women told the Royal Commission that stenography was high paying and that some stenographers make up to 1200. a year. (A stenographer was a catch all phrase for office worker with typing skills. ) I have just found two stenographers, one in MOntreal, one out West and they make about $500, less than a newly graduated teacher with diploma.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Census is Amazing!

This 1911 Census, online, is proving so helpful!

I was wondering if Marion Nicholson ever got enumerated, she wasn't put down as living at Tighsolas June 1911. (The emumerator made that decision.)

I know she lived on Tupper, in 1911, but it's hard to find streets on the online Census.

But as I edit the Nicholson Family Saga (volume 1) letters, I am checking up on people mentioned in the letters. I looked up Grace Cross and EUREKA. She lives with her mom and sister at 3 Tupper in 1911. (She lived in Richmond in 1901) She is in sales "dry goods" and makes a paltry 200 a year. And right next door is a Mrs. Louise Ellis, 43, Irish Presbyterian.

The famous Mrs. Ellis!
Mrs. Ellis is the HEAD of the family (why she has to take in boarders) She has a son, 21, who is a clerk in sales and makes 300. a year. He is listed as a Roman Catholic. (Husband must have been Irish Catholic.)
She has two boarders listed, an Eileen Chisholm, 26, Mamie Higgins, 23. Chisholm is a nurse in training pulling in $500 a year and Higgins is a stenographer, making $480.
No Marion Nicholson, 27, teacher making 650. But,then, as a teacher, she went home for the summer.
So the Census missed a lot of citizens, and not only the itinerants, like Herbert Nicholson.

But this little bit of info also underscores how DIFFICULT it was for young women to find lodgings in the big bad city without having any friends or connections.

And then I had another epiphany, rather late in coming, that Dr. Henry Watters is May's brother. (That's why he is so nice to her.) Why I didn't figure this out earlier, I don't know. It's because he is so much older. (Ten years older, born in 1880.)I figured he was a cousin..There was a William Watters, a bit younger than Henry who died, (so many many deaths). I have the obituary in the Nicholson collection. I'm not sure when, though. Wait! yes, I am sure. Thanks to the Census. He was born in 1888.. he died at 22...1910 or 1911!

So that's the William who dies in the letters!!
This Census Information is AMAZING.

In 1911 the Watters family (listed as Waters) live in Kingsbury.

In 1901 they live in the Gore and Henry is with them. And AGAIN their name is misspelled WATERS.
If they misspelled names like Waters on the census, imagine how they misspelled more foreign sounding names!

The Servant Problem - In Black and White


Right now, I am performing the second edit of the May 27 1911-December 18 1911 Nicholson Family Letters, which will likely be volume 1.

It's a trick, deciding how to annotate these letters so that the 'story of the Laurier Era' unfolds in understandable fashion.

But I'm having fun.

And thanks to the Census of 1901 and 1911 online, I'm getting a clearer picture of THIS SERVANT PROBLEM, which is key to the story of Canadian women in the era....

In 1911, as I have written, only 2 families in the Tighsolas neighbourhood have domestics, or servants, or maids. Live in ones anyway.

In the 1901 era, almost all families have a live in maid, including the Nicholsons, who have a 58 year old maid called Maggie Mclean (yet another relation) but this CAN'T POSSIBLY be the same Maggie Mclean who died in 1907, and left the Nicholsons out of her will. She was wealthy. (Still, I have to check... I'm sure I have her age on the WILL that I have.)

So by the 2nd letter only, I am annotating a great deal about servants. Readers might wonder why this is so important. But then Flora goes to Macdonald, which is a school founded to teach science to farmers and domestic science to women... so that the middle class girls can become better housewives and so that lower class girls can become better domestics.

The Powers that Be In Canada were all for poor girls getting work as domestics, which they described as honorable work, as opposed to, say, factory work. (The Montreal Council of Women did not agree. They thought women should also get technical training in the trades, which would give unmarried women independence.)

But really, they were trying to fix that irksome servant problem for themselves and their posh friends.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Letter 10 : All the Town News

Flora Nicholson.



July 12, 1911

Dear Norman,

Your letter of July 10th received tonight and as you are not getting your mail regular I thought I'd better write at once. Hope

I had a long letter from Herb last night. He said he was writing you. He had a very pleasant visit with Mr. Neilson he had been acting manager for 15 days while the manager was having holidays so said that was the reason he was so long in writing.

I mailed you papers that Gilbert sent from Edmonton. Too bad they cannot put the mail in at Cochran. They always save money at the expense of the working class.

I see where the Government has or is talking of voting seven thousand for a reception to be given this Duke of Connaught the 12th of October. (Governor General)

Sir Wilfrid was given quite a reception at Montreal. (Upon return from Coronation.)

We had very hot weather just as hot as in Montreal. I see by your letter that you did not escape. Was in hopes that you'd have it cooler being so far north.

We are badly in need of rain have but for a few days it has been much cooler and we are able to get our rest at night. The garden is looking fairly well, the lawn is quite brown in some places, and this week thought I would not have it cut. I'm letting it go until the middle of the week I think. I told you that Stanley Hill was doing it.

Billie Hill cut the hedge when I went to pay him he said Mr. Montgomery settled for the whole thing.

The Montgomery's seem to be getting on well with the house. Have it all boarded in.

We have been reading the accounts of the dreadful fires at Porcupine and Cochran. There was a sketch of a map in the Witness. Thankful that you were farther East.

Monday July 17th

The sick people are some better. Mrs. Beiber has gone down to the sea side with one of her sisters from Quebec. Marjory is keeping a little better.

Old Mr. Smilie was buried Wednesday from our church.

Grandma was no feeling well for a few days. She is up at Bella's.

They had the auto painted just got it Saturday night. So yesterday they went out to Kingsbury.

Sutherland has not had an offer for his house yet.

It was sad Earnest Hall losing their only child little girl aged six years. She was buried same day. Mrs. Craik went to her funeral and Mr. Hepburn met them at church.

Marion went to Miss McCoy's wedding she returned this morning she had a very nice time. I think now she will settle down.

The Skinners went to Weedon Saturday by Auto. Last Wednesday they took Flora to Sherbrooke, left at one o'clock returned at 7 pm. Friday they took Edith to Nicollette Lake. They are very kind to this family.

Dr. and Mrs. Moffatt came up one evening and took us for a ride in his auto, he runs very nicely, not too fast. Beiber is the talk of the town.

Dr. was asking for you. He thought when you were on the rail the sit was not so bad as the walk. Mc Morine was asking for you also.

In regard to Flora's exams, you will see that she failed in French. Her name did not come out in the paper and she is feeling pretty badly about it. However, she can enter Macdonald. Had a talk with Mr. Carmichael. So you better make light of it for she did study hard. She just gets nervous at examinations times. When I hear about the marks, which will be a few days, will write you.

Just at time of writing it is raining hard. I hope you will take good care of yourself. This heat is very trying. We have all kept well.

Hoping to hear from you soon,
Your loving wife

As Flora failed her final French exam her name was not printed in the Richmond Times Guardian with the names of all the other graduates. There were few secrets in this town of 2,500, as Margaret's letter makes clear.

It is no surprise that Flora's failure did not keep her from entering Macdonald. They were in dire need of teachers in 1911. Flora would go to Macdonald on a scholarship for rural students, who it was hoped would graduate and then go work in rural schools. But the need for teachers in the big city were even greater.

The relentless heat in 1911 caused forest fires in Northern Ontario, not far from where Norman was working. The Montreal Gazette blared a front page headline: Fires Sweep Northern Ontario. South Porcupine, Cochrane Wiped Out. Fires were always a concern for these workers building the railroad. But railroad work, in general, was very dangerous.

The reception Laurier and the Coronation Contingent got was in Quebec City. A large crowd on the dock let out three cheers as a band played O Canada. Laurier returned from this trip abroad a SIR.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Reciprocity and Borders

Flo and Floss. The Women believed Floss protected them from the tramps... Richmond was a railway town.

Well, just as I am examining the 1911 Reciprocity Elections, the Canadian and US governments announce that they are in negotiations with respect to a common perimeter, 'border talks'.

President Obama says that these border talks are about jobs and prosperity.

Obama said, and I quote the Montreal Gazette"that he's confident the "new vision" for the Canada-U. S. border will lead to enhanced prosperity for both countries." This new arrangement (details to come, some of which they may actually explain to the public) will create jobs and increase exports (for which country)?

Obama said he expects Harper to be very protective of Canada values, which shows how little he knows our Prime Minister (despite being on a 'first name' basis, or understands Canadian values, the ones that separate us from the US, like Pot OK, Guns bad.

(Actually, the church-going statistics probably say it all. Not many atheists in the US. But if we had no social safety net, maybe more of us would attend a church. In the 1910 era, I suspect, you attended church because you needed "connections" to survive -and the preacher could be entertaining, in an era before radio.

Maybe Obama should read the Tighsolas letters!

Actually, I don't think there is a 49th parallel between our two core ideologies. North America is divided ideologically between urban and rural, with the burbs vacillating. Two Solitudes.

So all those out of work auto workers in the American North East are going to become border patrollers. Instead of working on the assembly line, for decent money, turning out automobiles that they can afford, (there's a great video on YouTube of the Ford Assembly line and it has 6,000,000 viewers) they are going to protect the continent from outside invaders, and pot, although I'm sure the flow of US guns north will only increase. Cause guns are good, right? Good business.

And "Whatever is "good" for business, is "good" - as in morally, ethically, good. I once read a brilliant essay, penned by an American, on this topic. I must track it down and read it again. I think it was from the 1930's but I might be wrong.

The fact is, many Americans still believe that the 9-11 bombers came through Canada. The idea was planted in many of their brains (and as saw in a Sunday Morning feature) once an idea is firmly planted in the fear center of the brain, it cannot be removed. Politicians and pundits these days exploit this unhappy fact, making a mockery the democratic process that demands critical thinking of its citizens.

Harper says, this border deal isn't going compromise our sovereignty. But somehow I doubt it. With the Arctic melting down, that area is so attractive to the US.

An article in the National Post says this might tie us to the US, as we've never been tied before.

I'm worried, because, if the US were not a country but a 'person', and I were a psychiatrist assessing the mental health of this 'person' I could only come to one conclusion: Split Personality with bouts of extreme paranoia, caused by recent trauma and declining power. (A bit like the Nicholsons in 1910.)

I'm wary, because whoever "protects" you also controls you. That's why teenagers resent their parents so. That's why Marion Nicholson, at 27, couldn't find a place to stay in the city. Society was 'protecting' unmarried women's virtue and their reputations. Whether it needed protecting or not.
Hmm. In 1911, Canadians voted out Laurier's Liberals because they were afraid Reciprocity would mean a US takeover of Canada, quite literally.

In 1911, I suspect, the Border was merely a suggestion (the Nicholsons had many many relations living in the Boston area and other parts of the US.)

Anyway, as I edit the Nicholson letters, late 1911, the family is deciding whether to rent or sell their beloved house Tighsolas. They are ambivalent, but essentially, the decision is made for them. There are so many people leaving Richmond, for Montreal and other parts, so many houses available for rent or sale, that they cannot sell the house, not for a price they can afford.

This, certainly, is something that many present day Americans can identify with!

And as I edit the letters, I can see that people voted along the lines of self-interest back then too. (That's the reason the suffragettes wanted universal suffrage: they claimed men only cared about making money and not about the human side of things. Give or take a Dickens or two.)

I see people being swayed by irrational fears too, ignoring facts and past history. So what do you do?

And my husband's all for this perimeter pact, if it means, as with the EU, ANY Canadian can go work in the U.S. sans visa, sans green card.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Laziness is the Cause of all Progress

Cubist Marion Nicholson taking tea in her white dress 1910

You have to know, dvd's are going the way of the DODO. (I almost wrote dildo.)

I was in the soon to be defunct Zeller's the other day and they had boxes and boxes of dvd's for sale. I said, "Maybe I can find Miss Potter," and I did.

And I pointed out to my friend, who has just bought her first dvd player, and seldom uses it, that the dvd format is defunct, and I'm the reason why.

I had a good 'media day' the day. I had watched a new Big Bang, a new 30 Rock, (with my husband at lunch before he went to work,at 2pm) and bit of Funny Girl (that I had taped)mostly for the wonderful 1910 era costumery and the songs and the entire All the President's Men. And then I listened to a BBC Radio Four Afternoon Play starring Patrick Stewart which was terrific. It was a comedy about Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler penning the script for Double Indemnity. (A movie I can't recall ever seeing.)

Before he left for work my husband pointed out that we had the dvd of ATPM, and I pointed out that that wasn't the point.

(I'm just too lazy to pop in the dvd, despite the fact we have a new Playstation and no longer use that ridiculous BlueRay machine that takes ages (well, 5 minutes or so) to load.

(I vividly remember a certain exhibit in the Man and the Community Pavilion at Expo. It was little miniature bedroom with wooden doll-humans. A man and women were in bed and all their worldly needs circulated on a conveyer belt around the bed. Over the bed was a sign that said: Laziness is the cause of all progress.)

Anyway, All the President's Men is one of my favorite movies and it never fails to please me at each viewing. It's just a great newsroom drama. I can't believe it didn't win the Oscar for best picture. What did? Let me check. Oh, it was a great year for film. Network, Taxi Driver, Rocky... And the winner is Rocky, the one that packs the most emotional punch and is formulaic. Posterity has decreed Taxi Driver was the best picture of the year, although I'd take Network, because it is so freaking prescient! ATPM did win best screenplay (adapted)however and a couple of technical awards.

Well, as it has been pointed out by many commentators this year, because the King's Speech might win Best Picture over The Social Network, that the Best Picture winner at the Oscars is seldom the year's best picture - as in best execution of the moving making craft.

OK. I was wrong about ATPM. But it really irks me that Cat on a Hot Tin Roof didn't win Best Picture - against Gigi (which is a lovely movie about a whore-in-training, but totally dumbed down from Colette's book.)

It should have won for the mere fact that never in cinematic history have the two most beautiful people in the world acted so well in such a classic tale.

Yes, it's a bit stagey. But it's adapted from famous play. In fact, in this week's Big Bang, Sheldon refuses to act out a bit from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof...

And, although I've never seen Double Indemnity, I have seen the Going My Way(rather recently on TCM) and frankly, I can see why Billy Wilder, at the end of this BBC Four radio play, is pissed his play lost out for best picture to that film. He won the next year for Lost Weekend, and it suggested he based the lead character in that film on Chandler.

So, it goes.

I personally loved the King's Speech and want to see it again, but I can see why many believe that it's not nearly as a good a picture as the Social Network, which I liked, except for the lack of real fleshed-out female characters and the surfeit of fratboy fantasy images;

The Social Network is this year's Network, it's about Media and it is forward-gazing. The King's Speech (also about media, in a way, the radio medium) is a Rocky style movie, that pulls all the right strings although it, too, is formulaic. And it's backward gazing.

Come to think of it, my favorite movie of all time, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a movie that is as anti-formualic as can be, didn't win best picture either, although it did win best screenplay. Crash won, which certainly wasn't a feel-good movie.

Anyway, this has nothing to do with Flo in the City, except that the 1910 era was the Nickelodeon era, the birth of cinema.

Edith and Flora and Marion went to theatre plays at His Majesty's and the Princess, and Marion and Hugh preferred the Orpheum, a Vaudeville House and Marion, went at least once to the NICKEL where she saw Man in the Box, with Mack Sennett, who was from her home town, Richmond -but she likely didn't recognize him.

There was an opera house in Richmond, but no Nickel. But in Montreal, along downtown St. Laurent (St Lawrence, back then) in the 1910 era, every third address housed either a motion picture house, cabaret, or vaudeville theatre, or all the above at once.

In their letters, the Nicholsons were always 'reviewing' sermons they heard. Just as with a movie, sometimes the sermon could barely keep you awake and sometimes it was so good it stayed with you for days.

Rolled Up Stockings and Cat Suits

Woman and BIG Hat..1910 Era.

In history class, in high school, we took 2 years of Canadian History; then two years of British history; then one year of World History.

I happen to have on hand the textbook used for the Canadian part, Canada Then and Now.

I just re-read (sic) the part about the Laurier Era.

(Now, the book was published in 1954, the year of my birth, and it is copyrighted to the MacMillan Company of Canada, that no longer exists. So I'll assume it is the public domain.)

The book is written in clear, cold noncommittal prose, as is typical for textbooks of the era. There are a few pages on the Wheat Boom and Immigration.

"By 1896 there was no cheap land left in eastern Canada. So many immigrants had poured into the American West that most of the good land there had been taken up. This was Canada's opportunity. Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior in Laurier's cabinet, began to advertise the fertile farmlands of the Canadian West, first in Great Britain and in the United States, and then throughout the length and breadth of Europe."

Well, a little fib here. Northern Europe maybe.

The books skirts the dark side of this immigration business, but of course, although when listing the nationalities who immigrated to the West, it is clear that no Greeks or Italians were invited to the party.

This is how history books (and some serious historical movies) avoid touchy issues. They don't lie, they just leave things out.

"The prospects were tempting. For a 10 dollar fee a man could take up a homestead. Each homesteader was granted 160 acres of land, on condition that he build a house on it, live on it six months of the year, break thirty acres a year, and put twenty acres under crop. If he fulfilled these conditions, the land was his after 3 years."

Well, the book also talks about Laurier's visit to the Imperial Conference during the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Year, 1897. (Which contained discussions about Canadians potentially sitting in the UK Parliament.) And it also has a bit about the Naval Bill and how Laurier's push for Reciprocity (free trade with the US) lost him and the Liberals the 1911 election.

Canada Then and Now claims that Canadians voted against reciprocity more because they feared being absorbed by the US. (An American politican bragged about soon seeing the US flag fly over the North.)

So I must find some era articles about this. Clearly lobbyists used this as a fear-tactic.

I'm right at this point in my editing of the Nicholson Family Saga.

Anyway, it's a very male-centered history, of course. Although the text is authored by a female. Why would a book published in the mid 1950's, the era when women were shuttled back into the home to wax their floors silly and keep their silhouettes svelte for hubby, contain information about the women suffrage movement?

No mention of shirtwaist suits and big hats, either, like in MY history. If I wanted to learn about the era's big hats, back in 1967, I had to wait to catch Easter Parade on my fuzzy black and white 18 inch Television. "On the Avenue..." Talk about Lost in Translation.

Of course, in the sixties, our landlady, who lived downstairs, was right out of the Edwardian Era, about the same age as Edith. But she just seemed incredibly old. (Well, she was.) And unlike Edith, who dressed to the nines until the very end, this woman wore an old house dress and her thick nylon stockings rolled around her ankles. And her sensible shoes were right out of the 1910's too.

And, in 1967, when my British/Malayan grandmother, born in 1895, visited us for Expo, I was also unimpressed. I wrote about it in Looking for Mrs. Peel. Compared to the young swinging Carnaby Street beauties, in their neon green and orange cat suits and go go boots on the cover of fashion magazines, she just didn't cut it in my eyes. Imagine that!