Friday, March 18, 2011

Sunlife Building 1917

Edith, second from right, during WWI, I assume. She is young and this is the Sun Life Building. She was Red Cross Commandant for Quebec in WWII.


SUN LIFE Building. Today
I came upon this 1917 letter from Edith Nicholson to her Dad, on paper so crisp it could have been purchased last week.

It was letter head, although the company name was written in discreet fashion on the top left, in that font with absolutely no flourishes. Sun Life Insurance Company of Canada.

Montreal, Que

142 Notre Dame Street

October 14, 1917

Dear Father,

..Flora and I are both going out home for Thanksgiving. Flora is going out in the morning. I will be going out on the afternoon train as we have every Saturday afternoon off.

I started to work on the 17th of September down here. I like it very well for the time being, but I don't think I should care to stay here altogether.

There are over 200 on the staff. I am in the accountant department. My chief lives next door to Hugh. Mr. McLaughlin has been very nice. There are 14 in our office.

This is the head office. They are hoping to move into the new building on Dominion Square opposite the Windsor Hotel the 1st of March.

This building seems to be very old and we are very much crowded for room.

I am only glad to have this position until I get my shorthand and typing up.

Then I hope I shall get something better.

....Edith


Hmm. Edith worked as a teacher at Westmount Methodiste Missionary school form 1909 to 1912. Then she went home and worked for two years as a teacher at St. Francis College in Richmond.Both jobs had a low salary of 200 or so a year, as she did not have a diploma.
Stenographers, I can see by the 1911 Census, made between 400 and 700, the salary of a teacher with diploma.
Stenographers, in those days, was a catch all phrase for female office worker. Perhaps there weren't any 'typist' jobs then. Perhaps you had to have both typing and shorthand.

Anyway, as you can see from Edith's note, people generally worked Saturday Morning in the first part of the 20th century.

Another interesting point: her boss lived next door to Hugh and Marion, her sister. Well, connections, connections. I am guessing this is how she got the position.

The first phase of the Sunlife Building was finished in 1917. The bottom part. It took many years to build the tall classical building that now exists.

The Windsor Hotel, as I have written on this blog, was THE swank PLACE in Montreal.


In 1905, when Marion Nicholson roomed at the YWCA while attending McGill Norman School, she wrote about a "scandal" in the newspaper. Someone said the YWCA, which housed 'itinerant women' was too shady a place to be situated beside the Windsor. One of the girls rooming with Marion apparently wrote a letter to the Editor of the Montreal Gazette, mocking this concern.

The Y was a respectable place: indeed, Marion hated it: TOO MANY RULES.

All this speaks to the issue of female freedom in the 1910 era. Any woman, not under the protection of her family, was considered suspect.

That includes office workers.