Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cat in the Manger



Unfortunately I couldn't find the camera in time to catch Fou Fou, the Tabby, eating the plate of dog food laid out for Bullwinkle, the Boston Terrier, who either didn't want it that much, or was afraid of the cat. Fou Fou spent a good 5 minutes munching away. Maybe it's a dominance thing.

Now, Bullwinkle has eaten Fou Fou's food, on many occasions,  not to mention Fou Fou's poop, but I've never seen Fou Fou lower himself to eat dog food. 

Even if it is some high end Chicken Soup for Doggie Soul brand, with all natural ingredients that sounds better than anything I buy for myself. 

And we had laid out his favorite flavour of Fancy Feast, (500 a pound for chicken, if you do the math) on the kitchen counter where we feed our two felines, so that the dogs won't eat their costly protein rich food.

Why we let our cats drive us to bankruptcy with their capricious taste buds, I don't know. The vets are in on it, for sure. The pet food industry. It's decadent and ridiculous. (I know what my cat would answer. "If you'd only let me out to eat the chipmunks under the neighbour's wood pile, you wouldn't have worry about feeding me.)

When my friends and I get together, we often recall the good ole  days when the  family dog ate left over Italian Spaghetti - with the red peppers. And liked it! (Well, let's face it, dogs today still drool over OUR food. The vets tell us it's bad for them. That their stomachs are too refined.  And by the way, your dog needs his teeth cleaned or he'll get heart disease, 700 dollars, please.)

With the price of human food rising, soon we humans  might all be eating from the pet food aisle(the ads claim their products are healthier than human food, but in reality there are no laws overseeing the industry, I imagine. So it isn't safe for human consumption, despite the fact it costs more than most human food. More than canned ravioli, that's for sure.)


Anyway, I spend a lot of time visiting different grocery stores looking for Fancy Feast on sale. 50 cents a can is all I can hope for. I used to buy cheaper cat food, but silly Fou Fou didn't want to eat it cold, or old, so it was wasted.

I once started making my own cat food, deciding it was cheaper. But that mostly went into the garbage,too.

Anyway, if things continue the way they are going: if food gets any more expensive (and they are actually talking about taxing it here in Canada!) I'll have to contemplate eating Fou Fou or Bullwinkle. 

How can they even consider taxing food, which is already so much more expensive than in the US where they understand that any one person is about 5 meals away from rioting in the streets from hunger.

 Take away our democracy, but don't take away our food or cheap Internet! That's the mantra. And while you're at it, keep booze super cheap too!

They give food away in Messina, New York, where most people are poor and out of work (I heard the average income is 15,000 a year..and where many Canadians go to buy groceries. 

Food is cheap in the US. 

As I wrote in an earlier post here, Whole Foods in San Francisco, which I visited a while back, sells food, meats and veggies, no more costly than my local grocery... and of much much higher quality. 

And people are rich in SF. That branch is supposed to be the most expensive Whole Foods in the entire US!


Oddly enough, Fancy Feast, I found was very expensive in the US. A dollar a can.










Monday, February 27, 2012

Next year, let the Twittersphere Host the Oscars


Well, the Academy Awards for 2012 are over and some would say mercifully. The general media opinion is that they were boring; as Billy Crystal stayed safe - but sounding very much the 70's comedian, even with the racist jokes that weren't considered racist back then.

And so many of the winners couldn't speak English, which is ironic and what happens when a SILENT movie wins the Best Picture. 

No one is mentioning from what I see, that Clooney got shut out, despite practically owning the nominations. 

He did his best to do his part, all the talk shows and stuff. Can hardly feel bad for him, tho. And Tom Cruise, thanks to his renewed box office clout (albeit with a seventies (60's?) franchise) got to deliver the Best Picture Award and rather anachronistically mentioned the 'shared experience' of movie watching in a cinema. 

Crystal's only nod to modernity was his joke about watching movies on a 'big screen' his iPAD.

The Laurier Palace Theatre on Ste. Catherine Street east that burnt down in 1927, killing scores of children, and which provoked the Quebec National Assembly to pass a law where no children at all could attend movies in our dear province from 1927 to 1967. I couldn't even see Sound of Music in 1966. Well, I think I sneaked in.)

My e-play Milk and Water is about this very era in Montreal History. My grandfather was Director of City Services and implicated in the whole Laurier Palace Fire business, in more ways than one. His brother was VP of a Theatre Chain!

Anyway, that means Christopher Plummer, the Canadian-born actor who played the serious guy in Sound of Music and who won best supporting actor for his very different role in this year's Beginners, probably couldn't see movies as a child, as he grew up in Senneville on the Western end of  Montreal island. 

There was a cinema in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, on the main drag,  I wonder if that cinema broke the rules and let in the rich kids from Senneville? Apparently, a cinema in Verdun did just that. My father in law, a little older than Plummer, had to take the bus from Westmount to this Verdun movie house, in order to see movies as a child.


(I have an idea to make next year's Academy Awards relevant!)

Let the Twittersphere be the HOST! Have Twitter Feeds projected on a crawl or Twitter-ticker  high up above the stage. "Is that J-Lo's nipple?  How come all the female presenters TOWER over the male presenters? Soon all the actors will be digital anyway. Relevant, immediate, dangerous!

Here's a bit from a 1938 Montreal Star, that the Nicholsons of Richmond cut out, that is in the La Plus ca Change realm of thinking: Even in 1938, they were worried about declining attendance at Motion Pictures.

Ironic as 1938 is a year before what some consider the Best Year Ever in Movie Making (1939, the year of the Wizard of Oz, which ironically was mentioned in a satiric sketch at last night's Oscars and the studios' penchant for testing movies with focus groups before deciding the final cut.)

A World Within Four Walls

Going to the 'movies' has become as much a part of modern life as going to work or going home to dinner. It is a habit that survives wars, strikes, political upheaval and national crises.

The first 'movies' were gaped at in much the same way as their contemporaries, the first automobiles. Today nobody stands at the curb to yell, "Get a horse!" at the streamlined version of either. The modern motion picture is as far a cry from the nickelodeon "flicker' as the sleek, sixteen cylinder limousine is from its one-lunged ancestor.

This development was possible because going to the movies, like automobiling, became a national habit.
Why? Why do we go to the movies? It is because the motion picture has taken unto itself some basic functions in society. Motion Pictures intensify life!

For the younger generation, especially, an evening at the movies offers nearer kinship with other people - a greater insight into life - than a visit with neighbours.

The movies has given our eyes new ways of seeing. Because a star's face appears before us on the screen in a hundred foot close up, we are more familiar with his features than those of our sister.

A portrait of a motion picture audience would show peace in the darkened theatre, happiness…freedom from care… hands held. As the audience reacts at what is taking place on the screen, it shares its feelings - and affirms that man is a social being. It is a group experience that is good for all of us, good for our individualities.  Motion pictures are the chief cultural possession of the average man and woman. Millions who are removed from the other arts find it in the film their literature, their expressions of beauty in form and design, their interpretations of the world about them.  

While the motion picture theatre is itself a great classroom in which our generation has acquired matchless knowledge of far regions and understanding distant peoples. There is more than a passing connection between the American way of life and American leadership in the world of motion pictures. For the movie is by its very nature a democratic product - a cooperative effort of the talents of many people. Their work is subject to the approval of the box office - a referendum as accurate as that of the ballot box itself. It is in this pubic expression that motion pictures have found their greatest inspiration, their constant challenge to a new endeavor… 

Great stories, splendidly produced…love-filled romance, stirring drama, gay adventure, hilarious comedy, tuneful musicals, star studded casts filled with your favorites -new talents for which the world has been searched. One after another these fine pictures are coming to the screen of your favorite theatre, a world within four walls.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Not Brainwashed by Hollywood _ That's Me

The Laurier Palace theatre, Ste. Catherine Street E. (Wikipedia Photo)

Well, we finally got some snow, and my husband and I are recovering from a bad bug, so we stayed in the house yesterday.

And we watched all the promos for the 2012 Academy Awards, on the News, on the Internet, everywhere.

(Well, my husband watched a lot of History Channel shows about Aztecs and Garbage Dumps, too.)

The Oscars (copyright :) are tomorrow and the publicists are hard at it. This is the biggest annual event of all, publicity-wise, and this year these uber-high-end PR people who work in Hollywood have their work cut out for them, because hardly anyone has seen the movies up for best Oscar.

They are hard at work pumping something no one is really interested in. (Well, we all like looking at impeccably symmetrical and radiant emaciates parading their dazzling designer fashions: it's a lowest common denominator thing, a primitive urge to admire the alpha male's mate.)

But the media is compliant: they leave tonnes of air time open every year for endless Oscar-related features. It's a tradition. And it's filler between pharma commercials.

Like me, many older folk have probably meant to see these nominated movies, but winter got in the way, or work, or winter vacations, or the fact the 'good' movies play only at the Art Cinema far far away in the City.

I myself saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Iron Lady and the Ides of March - oh, and of course, the HELP. I haven't seen the Descendants, although my son says it is a movie that is right up my alley. And he's good at predicting my preferences. He saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind before me, predicted I would love it, and it has since become my favorite modern movie.

I'd actually like the Help to win. My favorite movie this year, oddly enough, was called Source Code. It was a sci-fi Groundhog Day.

According to experts, that Silent Movie will win, the Artist. Maybe Hugo. The Academy (made up of mostly over 50 white males, I recently read) is in full nostalgia mode this year.

Or are they? An article I read yesterday (on the Net, but can't remember where, maybe Maclean's) claims this Hollywood Nostalgia Trend is actually about the FUTURE. Because what comes around goes around. In 1927 the Talkies were upsetting the status quo, today digital movies.

Anyway, my stories Threshold Girl and Milk and Water are tangentally about the movies. Threshold Girl takes place in 1911/12 the Nickelodeon era, in the town Mack Sennett was born (according to his own bio) and Milk and Water is about Montreal in 1927, the year the first talkies came in, and the year of the Laurier Palace Theater Fire, an event which figures largely in my story.

Hollywood is a powerful ideological force and has been since the 20's -when the motion picture companies actively set their sights on college kids (but attracted younger folk too).

 I am developing a theory. We know that 'Anglo-Quebeckers' are different from the rest of Anglo Canada, but why?  Perhaps it is because from 1927 to 1967, children in Quebec did not, could not, attend the movies.

If you don't know why read Milk and Water.

We weren't brainwashed by the Hollywood Dream Factory as children, as was the rest of North American youth.


Just a theory.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Edith's Story: Chapter 1, draft 1.


June 20th.

HCB has arrived. 

He is sitting on the green corduroy chesterfield in our casual parlour, the back parlour, off the kitchen, just three feet from where I myself recline in the sturdy cherry wood rocking chair my Mother usually sits in. When she has time to do so.

She has draped it, I notice, to cover the threadbare cushion, in the canary yellow afghan I crocheted for her at Christmas. 

HCB is staring at me with a look of confusion more than compassion, patiently, maybe anxiously, waiting for me to say something. This boyish man is politely allowing the shock of it all to sink in.

With his head of  straight sandy hair and the beige cardigan he is sporting over boney, broad shoulders, HBC, indeed, looks just like a school boy. 

And he is so informally dressed, when compared to me, we are quite the ridiculous pairing.

But as he explained, he was heading out to a summer camp near Potton Springs with some Montreal friends, when he decided to hop off the train at Richmond. And I had invited him to drop by at the first chance, so he did.

There’s no one to bear witness as we sit so close together in the family room of Tighsolas. An awkward couple, despite our age-appropriateness. Both 27, you see. In another universe we could have become suitors.

HCB, the bank clerk, in my mother’s favorite rocking chair. Me, the school marm, in my father’s world-weary leather wingback.  

HBC  in his casual summer country-outing attire and me in my formal white dress. I look like quite the eccentric, even Miss Havisham-like. Not a look I previously had aspired to, but quite fitting, these days.

When he first arrived, and I immediately invited him to come into the house to sit and talk privately in our parlour, I told him to spare me nothing.  

I wanted to know all. All about the 'mercy' trip to Mexico. All about the job transfer  to Cornwall. All about everything leading up to and right after the fire. That horrific fatal, fateful fire. The conflagration that converted me, in the space of one week,  from a blushing bride-to be to be, perhaps a little on the ripe side, to a opiate-addled spinster-in-training.

As he began, the small, subtle muscles on HBC’s smooth-shaven face, the ones around his mouth and especially on his temples, pulled taut, so I knew there was more to this sad sad story than even I had guessed.  So much much more - as it happens.

I wanted to know, I had to know. Still, I wished on some level that he hadn’t dropped in this particular morning, despite his standing invitation to do so, despite his obligation to do so as Charlie’s closest friend. My dear fiance’s partner at work and leisure at the Bank of Montreal in Danville, Quebec.

Because as he ambled up the street, we were all in our white dresses, standing in front of the house, having our picture taken my Mrs. Montgomery, our neighbour. Me, Mother, Marion and Flora.

We were all wearing our new spring hats, too. Well, Marion and I had brand new Easter Bonnets. Purchased at Ogilvy in Montreal on April 28, just a day before the TERRIBLE. .


Mother’s hat was a year old, refurbished with a few pink silk apple blossoms and Flora’s, well I can’t recall when she got hers. It was of an ordinary sort, with no up to-date flourishes, no velvet ribbon, very a la mode in the 1910 season, just a few faded sprigs of some imaginary bloom, so likely she trimmed it herself with remainders from the basket in Mother’s sewing room.

It was Mothers’ idea to get all dressed up and have  a luncheon out on the front lawn, as we had done in the past, although much later in the summer. Usually as a way to to escape the clinging heat in the house.

But it was not hot this day, in June.  Mother was simply desperate, that's all: desperate to  save me from my spiraling sadness.  Desperate, too, to forget her own escalating set of problems.

So after church (Mr. Carmichael’s sermon was on the Garden of Eden) we ceremoniously applied our white dresses, a fashion from before the turn of the century, white dresses being  genteel dresses, for they stained easily. And that was the point.

People with white dresses, dresses that showed the dirt so easily, had maids and washing women. 


We didn’t. It took  us two days to wash, dry and press our white dresses. Our  genteel impractical white dresses.

As we sat there, teetering on kitchen chairs on the grass, my mother’s brainstorm had a negative effect on me.


I could see, through my fog of depression,  how ridiculous we looked, how pretentious, in our fashionable over-sized hats and ridiculously out of date white dresses. Queen Victoria, Victoria Regina,  had started the fashion, decades before, in an effort to promote British lace to the world.

I felt out of body and I could also see how plain silly we looked, from the street, and I suddenly I hoped no neighbours were watching. (But of course they were. They always are.)


With the card table and kitchen chairs set out on the soft lawn and our best china and silver, too, over a fine linen tablecloth embroidered in blue, on display, like animals in a zoo, or like that infant incubator exhibit at Dominion Park.


"Step right up, ladies and gentlemen: on view The Canadian Middle Class. Of Prime Minister Laurier's Time. Aspiring to the finest lifestyle, theatre, opera, music recitals, afraid of falling into the lower class. Working Class, really, on paper, but with an education in Latin, Botany, History and Euclid’s geometry. Tennyson and Lord Byron, too. So instilled with an appreciation of beauty.




Relying on creams and potions to disguise the rough and reddened skin of their hard-working hands. 


Yes, ladies and gentlemen, these specimens are unique to all Canadian Society in that they WASH THEIR OWN CLOTHING.

(Sometimes it felt that way.)

But before I could feel too ashamed I saw him, HCB as I coyly referred to him in letters home, or is it HBC? walking up from College Street and the station. “I was on my way to Kingsey Falls  to see a friend, so I dropped by," he said. "We're’re off by the 3.10 to Potton Springs. A group of fellows from the bank. I am sorry, I decided right there on the train, about five minutes before the Richmond stop. There was no time for a telegram."

"Yes, but I told you to drop in anytime. So please don’t apologize." I said, wondering if he wanted the Oyster Canapes we had prepared for our tea or should I offer him some cold tongue.

We couldn’t ask him to join us for lunch, that would have been absurd and uncomfortable. 


And that wasn’t the point, anyway so we quickly went into the empty house. Straight to the parlour. The casual parlour, as there was not time to prepare the formal parlour for a visitor.

He asked only for a glass of water.

"I’m sorry to have disturbed you," he repeated. "You are celebrating something. A happy occasion? A Birthday."

"Quite the opposite," I assured him.

I brought him the glass of water, in a light green tumbler. And then I asked him to proceed. Without further delay.To tell me all he knew of the circumstance of the death of my Charlie G,  right from the beginning, from that trip to Mexico in November up until that dreadful night, the night Haley’s Comet ominously passed directly over Cornwall, Ontario.

I wanted to know all the most minute details of all Charlie was doing the three months since our informal engagement over Christmas, especially what he was doing that he didn’t tell me in his letters. 


He couldn’t have spent all his off work hours in the Presybertian Church on 2nd street as he claimed to me.  Even I knew he wrote that just to please me. To prove his conversion to the WAY had stuck.

So HCB began, leaning back on the couch, his right elbow at right angles to his body as he combed the hair on the back of his head with his hand; his bicep was a muscular one, much more round than Charlie's, I guess you call men like him wiry, deceptively strong.


But then suddenly taking on a posture and air of a much older man, possibly imitating his own father or a beloved Academy professor, he opened his mouth to speak.

About Mexico, about Cornwall, about… the circumstances of the Rossmore Hotel fire.…I think it took over an hour in all, but I can’t be sure, and then when it all began to sink in, the ugliness of it, the numbing realization that I had been protected from the truth this past year, protected by Charlie and HCB as we older siblings protect our little Flora from the unpleasant truths of our own dear, devoted but deeply troubled family.

I had been protected from the real reason Charlie went to Mexcio to help out that Canadian concern after the typhoon and protected from the real reason he got transferred away from Danville to the Cornwall branch immediately upon is return. And worst of all I have been protected from knowledge about myself, my self-centeredness,  my  female narcissism. My shallow solipsistic existence.

I had spent the past year believing myself to be a woman misused, mistreated. Because I enjoyed the part of being tossed in love.  I had taken to my bed like a wealthy old lady in novels and guzzled heart tonics, to elicit pity more than to recover from grief.

HCB told me in plain English, that everything Charlie had done the last few months he had done for me, for love of me. Out of a desire to marry me, and as soon as possible.

He did not get cold feet in October when he left for Mexico! We was not trying to weasel himself out of our understanding in March when he asked for a transfer to Cornwall.. 


Charlie was trying to make this marriage happen – and as soon as possible.


How could HCB  look at me, now. How could I look on myself?. I wasn’t a victim. I was the victimizer.

And I knew he had to be thinking the same thing. 


This handsome man of the middle class, son of a fairly prosperous farmer, now a bank clerk, like Charlie, (although not as handsome as Charlie, nor nearly as charming) but like Charlie stuck in a respectable but sadly dead end job and without much chance of marrying well.

A reasonably well educated man with no serious connections, so no real hope. A young man thinking of moving out West, to Alberta or Saskatchewan, like just about everyone else around, including my own father. 

And what he didn’t say was even more hurtful...If it hadn’t been for YOU,  Charlie would still be alive!

He'd still be alive. My Charlie.  And through the wall of my pitch black state of mind, my depression, I still felt sick to my stomach. Because the truth was truly shocking. The appallingness of it. The Uncleanliness..


So that's why Charlie spent his off hours in the Presbyterian church.
Not to please me or to impress me, but to hide from those who would harm him?


"You are saying he might have been murdered. And all the others who died merely inadvertent victims of this same evil scheme?"

HCB answered nothing. He just sat there, letting it sink in. Not knowing what more to say. Perhaps trying to stave off his growing repulsion for me. He examined the dark oak moulding around the doors and windows of the parlour, the same moulding my father had installed himself in 1896, with such pride, for decoration like this added greatly to the cost of a house.

Then HCB finally spoke. "You must  know. He wasn’t doing anything illegal.  He’d want you to know that. Like I said, opium is legal to buy in Mexico.  I’m telling you this because he wouldn’t want you to think ill of him.

And with that HCB sprang up from the couch, or was it chair, to leave.

Think ill of Him? How could I?  I was the villainess in all piece. Not dear Charlie, dear dead Charlie. 


Burned beyond recognition. Immolated.They identified his body by his tie pin, found nearby. In that stairwell. Half of  his body, anyway. HCB didn't tell me that. It said so in the newspaper.

"I have to catch the next train," HCB  said. He actually had a full half hour and it was only a 10 minutes walk to the station, but I merely nodded. 


“Are your sure you  don’t want us to make a salted pork sandwich for your trip.”

No, we’re planning on getting an early supper at the Hotel in Potton Springs..

And as this  was getting set to walk out the door, I knew I  had to ask him one more question. It was loathsome, but there was no keeping me from it.

He was  turning toward the door, pirouetting elegantly on his lithe legs. Athletic young man.


"I’ll see myself out."


I could tell he was dreading passing my family out on the lawn. 

So, I stopped him, extending my arm.  "Henry?"


"Yes."

"I have something more to ask you....Do you know where I can get any, for myself. The opium.,  For my own use? My own medicinal use. I'm running out."

And now it was his turn to be shocked.

So I explained, embarrassing myself by sounding so desperate.


" It’s not like in Montreal where it’s easy to get prescription medicine. This is a small town and everyone knows me. The drug store is owned by Mr. Sutherland, and Dr. Moffatt is related to me by marriage....You say it isn’t illegal for us, only the Chinese."

"No, I’m sorry, I don’t," he replied, stuttering. "Edith. I’m sorry."


He folded his straw boater in his hand. And then he rushed out the front door. And right by my silly-looking sisters and Mother taking tea on the front lawn. 


Without so much as tipping his hat to them. Well he couldn’t possibly as he had twisted it like a dirty rag between his pale fists.


Edith's Story is the follow up to Threshold Girl and is based on the The Nicholson Family Letters

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"There's going to be a catastrophe" -Laurier Palace Fire Prediction 1924


My grandfather Jules Crepeau, Director of Services, Montreal 1921-1930.

"One of these days there's going to be a catastrophe. If a fire breaks out these days, many of those inside will not be able to get out."

Constable Conrad Trudeau at the Coderre Probe into Police Impropriety, December 13, 1924.
Well, well.

As I write Milk and Water my story about Montreal in 1927, featuring a long conversation between my French Canadian Grandfather, Jules Crepeau and my husband's anglo grandfather, Westmount businessman Thomas Wells, I've been wondering about the Laurier Palace Fire that happened in January of that year. I am thinking of adding a word or two to my play to show that my grandfather has his suspicions about the fatal event.

According to one eye-witness account, a child's, the fire started in the projection room, with melting celluloid, as happened in theatres. But it was asphixiation that killed most of the kids in the Ste Catherine East movie house. They succumbed to the smoke or were  crushed to death by panicking patrons.

Only one adult died, so it appears that adults trampled kids. Or there were few adults at the Sunday showing.
I haven 't read the complete details of the Boyer Inquiry into the fire, though.

But as I read the testimony of this Coderre Report, from 1925, I am struck by the testimony of one Constable Conrad Trudeau.  He claims he is a super-conscientious cop, whose efforts are being thwarted at every turn - and he singles out  my grandfather, Jules Crepeau the Director of Services. Trudeau is charged with watching coal weights and inspecting motion picture theatres. He says he has not been supported in his work, that charges are dropped or tiny sentences meted out, without him giving evidence.

Trudeau's testimony on December 13 against by grandfather (as reported in the Gazette) has to do with coal, but Juge Coderre, in his final report, reveals that my grandfather also interfered in motion picture 'actions' or citations. On numerous occasions.

This Trudeau guy  is especially against children attending motion pictures, where he says that boys first learn about guns and thievery (from the motion pictures about cops and robbers.) He says that certain people hang out outside theatres and purchased tickets for the underage kids. "There has been an epidemic of allowing children to enter the movies," he claims. (This is nothing new to cities. Young boys all across North America were attending motion pictures without a guardian. I've read statistics that suggest that as much as 30 percent of all theatre attendance were such kids.)
Well, as it happens, Conrad Trudeau is also in a bit of a pickle. He has 'loaned' money to an alderman in the hopes of getting a tavern license for a relation.

As it further happens, he is FIRED for this, by my grandfather, BEFORE the enquiry ends in March. Juge Coderre cites the incident as  in his final report.

Later on Trudeau asks for his loan back. LOL!

And then in January 1927, there's a terrible (game-changing) fire at a theatre, (directly across from a firehouse) just as Constable Trudeau predicted to the Coderre Inquiry. So now the Presbyterians, Catholics and Nationalists get their way: no children under 16 AT ALL can see Hollywood movies.
What I find especially odd is that my grandfather's part in all this (his brother was a VP of a theatre company)is never brought up, not during the Inquiry into the Fire and not later, by the Houdists, in 1930, when they wanted so desperately to get rid of him - and succeeded. And yet it all had been printed in the Gazette and Star, and likely in the French papers. Sure, Camillien Houde often brought up the Laurier Fire in his speeches, even at the rowdy session of City Council in December 1930 where my grandfather's 'resignation' was debated and finally accepted. But he never mentioned  the specifics about my grandfather interfering in police work with respect to motion picture by-laws regarding under age patrons.

My grandfather is ousted in December 1930 and then in 1933  Jules'  Brother, Isadore, VP of United Amusements, falls out his St James Street office window. Hmm.



Something's happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear. (Or maybe not)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Too Many Masters: Boardwalk Empire Montreal 1925


Yesterday, I drove into Montreal to visit the Bibliotheque Nationale near Berri to find the Coderre Report. That library in their database claims they have the complete report on hand for consultation. I am working on my second draft of Milk and Water

They didn't, so I wasted 9 dollars parking in their underground. Oh Well.

The Report was widely described in the Press of the Day. March 14, 1925.

What I really want to find is the testimony, 10,000 pages of it, because I want to see what WASN'T included in the papers of the day. That's more telling.

Here's what Jules Coderre wrote about my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, in a section of the report entitled TOO MANY MASTERS.

"There is more. Not only must the Superintendant of Police submit to the constant and narrow direction of the Executive, but he is also placed under the jurisdiction of another functinonary whose position and powers are ill-explained to me, so ill that I can find nothing regarding them in the Charter. I am referring to the Director of Services placed there as an intermediary, I am given to understand, between the different departments and anyone outside and any given department.

The Superintendent of Police tells me that Mr. Jules Crepeau is over him. And what proves it beyond a doubt is the liberty the latter takes in ordering the suspension and even the withdrawal of proceedings against theatres which were based on cases made and instituted by the superintendent of police. What proves it better still, is the liberty, really too great, which he took during the inquiry, of suspending Constable Trudeau for a reason entirely foreign to the accomplishment of his duties, and just at the moment that Mr. Trudeau had revealed in his evidence the strange actions of Mr. Crepeau.

For the police to be placed under the power of the Executive Committee is regrettable, but that is explicable, if not excusable, but that he should also be submitted to another functionary, forced to submit to his intervention, that he should see another  functionary countermand the authority of his orders, that is absolutely intolerable and lends itself to great abuses.

Particular cases mentioned at the probe convince me profoundly and I can admit no avowable motive in support of  such untimely interventions."

Now, that's why I'd like to read the testimony! I know that at least one case had to do with underage theatre patrons... because W.E. Raney claimed as much in his testimony to the US Senate hearings on Prohibition in 1926, where he read out from the Montreal Star news story covering the Publication of the Coderre Report, March 14, 1925.

Juge Coderre doesn't seem to know that my grandfather's brother, Isadore, was VP of a theatre chain, or he might have been a little less perplexed.

And, then, in 1927 the Laurier Palace fire, where scores of young children, mostly male, where killed in a crush to the door after smelling smoke.

My grandfather testified first at the Inquiry into that fire, but his actions as exposed in the Coderre Probe, but two years before, were never brought up.


Read the first draft of Milk and Water.   Below, a listing for the Inquiry in Archives Canada, claiming they have testimony and such at their Montreal office. But the link goes to the Bibliotheque Nationale, a defunct page. So I am not optimistic about finding it.



Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Just Leave A Message" Titanic Era Inventions


office or home, in your handwriting, you can do so by means of the telewriter, without going out of your room. The "telewriter" is attached to the ordinary telephone wire without interference to the telephone service or complicated switchboard. You merely press a button and write and your handwriting is reproduced on a roll of paper in the home or office of the person you wish to communicate with. Messages have been passed between London and Birmingham in this way."

Well, as the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic approaches, in April, I thought I'd go over some Titanic Era trivia in this blog. I'm taking a break from Milk and Water and back at work writing Edith's Diary, the follow up to Threshold Girl - which about a college girl in the 1911/12 era, based on real letters.  "Too bad about that boat accident," writes Norman Nicholson, my husband's great grandfather. "So many great men lost. But they will be replaced in time."

As the anniversary of this iconic event nears, more and more young women are downloading the ebook Threshold Girl looking to research their Titanic Era topic: TITANIC FASHION. The book contains many colourful fashion plaits from the Delineator Magazine.

This 'telewriter' invention was described in a 1910 Technical World Magazine. I don't think it ever caught on. That magazine (later to become Popular Mechanics, I believe) explained the science and technology advances of the day, in long wordy articles, and their writers were excellent, but it also listed a few 'oddball' inventions in short snippets at the end of each magazine. A very modern touch, aimed at readers who were just beginning to have to deal with the 'information overload' of the modern era.

Many of these inventions were automobile accessories. The electric headlight? Nah, it won't ever catch on.




And one other item in a back of the magazine feature for the year 1908: Monster Twin Liners

"The two new White Star liners, Titanic and Olympia, are rapidly nearing completion. These twin ships will be the largest vessels afloat. They will each be nearly 900 feet in length and displace 60 thousand tonnes of water. At the present time the Olympia is metal plated and the Titanic in frame. The huge gantries under which these vessels are being built have for the past year been recognized as landmarks in Belfast Harbour."




Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Dose of Summer

My Cousin V. and me in one of  the prettiest places in the world. San Francisco, and the Golden Gate Bridge  taken from the Marin Hills, or Marin something, across the way. My husband wanted to go to the top, but I am afraid of heights. I always ruin things for him on our vacations.

I only learned last week, on this trip, how to pronounce Marin, as in the accent on the second syllable. I hadn't heard it pronounced before. When I think of Marin County I think of Phillip K. Dick novels for some reason. I guess that's where I first heard the name. My older brother was a Dick fan long before it was fashionable - and he passed the books on to me. I recall enjoying Dr. Bloodmoney the best.

I had prepared for 'coolish' San Francisco weather, but we got only nice weather, especially by Canadian standards.

V. drove 11 and a half hours to get to SF, as we crossed the coastal mountains at around Santa Cruz to see the area!

She's used to driving, she used to be a news producer. After the 1989 earthquake she hopped in the car and drove from LA to San Francisco to cover the story. The news crew camped in a parking lot and ate Red Cross food until the power came back on. When it did my cousin asked someone to get her a sandwich from a local restaurant. She then got food poisoning.

And yet she still loves San Francisco.

It's mid February and the forecast for the rest of the month in Montreal is for higher than normal temperatures, even rain. We have little snow, you can see the bottom of the trees in my backyard.

Perhaps, this month of March won't be torture and it is in years the snow is deep and the air cool. March is the cruelest month! Watching snow melt in the early spring is much like watching water boil over a stove for days on end.

The white stuff stays and stays and stays and then, all of a sudden, it reaches a kind of inverse critical mass (ah, tipping point) and melts, quickly. Sometimes only by mid April, tho.

Much like the Polar Ice Caps, I fear, are doomed to disappear. Not with a whimper but a bang. (I read two discouraging reports upon my return: A BBC report claiming Canadian Scientists working for the Federal Government are muzzled and another report claiming that school science course are, in the future, to be chock-full of anti-climate change propaganda. (They sort of go together.)

But this year I've had my dose of sunny weather, so darn the doom.  Below are two micro-mini clips of the trip and the trolley car.




Friday, February 17, 2012

Boardwalk Empire Montreal - Temperate Laws and Grapes of Wrath



The Crepeaus, 1922. Maria, Cecile, Jules, Alice and unknown beau.

Jules Crepeau, my grandfather, looks pretty stern here. He looks that way in most era photos. Maybe it's the light, maybe it's the pressure.

He's Director of City Services of Montreal in 1922 - a key and powerful position, newly created in 1921.

I write about him in my eplay Milk and Water. It takes place in 1927, during a visit of the Prince of Wales to Canada to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Confederation.

My grandmaman, Maria Roy, is cozying up to him here. I heard they were always fighting and that a lot of crockery was broken!

Well, I looked up the obituary of one Sir William Stavert, Montreal financier, who died in December 1937, just a few months after my grandfather was hit by a car on Royal Street  in NDG, a car driven by an off-duty policeman. My grandfather would die of complications a year later.

Sir William was the man who set up the Financial Structure of the Quebec Liquor Control Board, established in 1921. The obit says this Liquor Board served as model for all others, in Canada and the US.

Sir William was the man who testified at the Senate Hearings on Prohibition in 1926, on behalf of the Anti-Prohibition forces. By this time he had stepped down as the head of the Board.

According to a YouTube video by Kevin Joynt, Stavert may have stepped down due to a scandal. Apparently, Joynt's grandfather, a newly-wed police informer turned Montreal Cop in 1922, was involved in a possible bootlegging scheme (perhaps on behalf of Liquor Board Personnel) and forced to go underground and live a life on the run in the US, first as a soldier in the US Army in Monterrey, California (where I just passed through on a wine-tasting tour to Sonoma- and where John Steinbeck was inspired to write Grapes of Wrath. My California cousin says that the Sonoma vinyard experience is more traditional since NAPA has become highly commercial.)

The story proves 'nothing is stranger than truth'  and you can read about it here. (YouTube video).

Now I know that my grandfather and family visited Atlantic City all through the 20's. I have the photo evidence, with images of my mother, born in 1921, as a toddler and young child of 6 or 7 on the Boardwalk.

I have to wonder if Jules is on 'business trips' - hence the tense expression in these era photos.

William Stavert, Westmount Businessman, was knighted for his service to Britain during the war. He served in their Information Office. A spy! Obits say he lived a model life himself.

In a 1922 article (two full pages) the New York Times was already applauding the Quebec Temperance Law, as they called it.  "Quebec's Temperate Law Solving the Liquor Question" reads the headline. That paper would publish articles to this effect all through the 1920's.

Americans were spending all their money in Montreal, overflowing the local hotels, so the articles claimed. Indeed, hotels were so full, some American tourists had to sleep in their car!

Hence the 1927 song Goodbye Broadway, Hello Montreal!


And booze is now WAY cheaper in the US than it is in Quebec.)

The people are behind the law, the 1922 New York Times article says about the Quebec Liquor Regulations. The law is observed. And there is very little graft and corruption.

Read Milk and Water.






Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Imitating the Glamour Girls of Hollywood.


In my eplay Milk and Water, about Montreal in 1927, I speculate about whether 'good' French Canadian girls went to the motion pictures. They certainly weren't supposed to.

1927 is the year of the Laurier Theatre fire that killed so many children, and which ultimately led  the government to ban children from motion picture houses for 4 decades. I couldn't see a movie until I was 14 growing up. Well, I snuck in, as I was tall.

This all  was really about protecting Quebeckers from American influence. Both the Protestant and Catholic churches supported this law, though. They were losing their customers to the motion pictures.

But if the Crepeau women, most in their early twenties, didn't go to the movies, they were certainly influenced by them.

You can see it in the poses they struck for the camera.

These pictures were taken in 1922 and 1923, when motion pictures were still young, but very popular in Quebec. Indeed, the Tachereau government was lamenting all the bad American influence, such as open mouth kisses (ironically enough).

There were scores of motion picture houses in Montreal in the early part of the 20th century, mostly at city center, St. Catherine and St. Laurent, but just a hop skip and a jump from 72 Sherbrooke West, where the Crepeaus lived!

Ernest Ouimet had the most famous cinema, the Ouimetoscope. On Ste. Catherine East. Mr. Ouimet was fighting the Sunday closing laws, as Sunday was his best day for business. He said movie houses were exempt from the 1908 Lord's Day Act as a precedent had been set since the early Nickelodeon Era.

At about this time they started building 'suburban' movie houses, often lavish movie palaces. In 1927 two giant motion picture palaces were being built around NDG, the Granada and (I believe) the Empress. These movie houses were where I saw movies when I finally could go legally. I always thought they were a tad over the top... I could never figure out why they had those 'balconies' with no seats... like at opera houses.


Over a barrel: considered sexy in 1927.

This looks like a scene from a D.W. Griffith movie! It's my Aunt Alice, my Mom (the little girl) and my aunt Flo, the woman adopted as a waif off the streets, a story straight from D.W. Griffith. She came to beg at the door so often, my grandmother just took her in.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Boardwalk, Hermosa Beach and Booze.

1922 Atlantic City Boardwalk. My Aunt Alice.

Here's a good picture of the Boardwalk and that 20's style. From my Aunt Alice's picture album.

I'm scanning them before I leave for home after 10 days in California, Southern and Northern. We went to Sonoma and San Francisco for a few days and then drove the silvery coast beaches from Malibu to Los Pallos Verdes, and visited The Riviera locale where my cousins lived from 1964 until a few years ago. They had a million dollar view, literally, of the city and the beach, so when they sold, the new owners tore down the small stucco structure and put up a massive 2 storey home. A nice home, except it blocks the neighbour's view of the beach. Seems odd to do this.

My cousin, Alice's granddaughter, lives in Redondo Beach, nearby.

Last night my cousin, my husband and I went to the Hermosa Beach Comedy club to see Jay Leno and two other comics, who were very funny - and quick. I think the best joke of the whole night was off the cuff. Can't remember it though. (Hmm.)

Wonderful night.

My eplay Milk and Water is about Montreal in 1927, the era of American Prohibition.


Here's a video of Hermosa Beach at night, a couple of days ago. Hermosa Beach is a big party town.

My husband and I can't figure out why everyone isn't bombed all the time, since they practically give booze away in California. And you can buy it everywhere, just like in Europe. The pharmacy carried hard liquor and even little bottles of wine at the cashier.

Ironic, eh. In 1927, the US had prohibition, with Atlantic City being wet, I think. And Montreal (all of Quebec) was wet, but in Quebec they enacted a 1921 Liquor Control Act, which put hard liquor in government stores.  In 1926, there were Senate Hearings on Prohibition, widely publicized. Indeed, the New York Times had two full page accounts.

Many people testified, for and against prohibition. One person represented the Quebec Liquor Control Board and he said their system was exemplary and actually discouraged heavy drinking of hard liquor. Another Canadian, a W.E. Raney (a former Attorney General of Ontario and anal Presbyterian) condemned the system and indeed painted our City Hall as corrupt to the core, singling out my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, the Director of the City as especially sketchy. (He could tell the Chief of Police what to do.)

It's all in Milk and Water

All very ironic, because today in Quebec we still have a control board, SAQ, and it also sells most wine. Hence our inflated prices. Beer and plonk can be purchased in grocery stores and depanneurs.

In Sonoma, we did some wine tasting at Chateau St. Jean I think and purchased two white wines which  didn't last long. 22 dollars a bottle. Pinot Gris, they called it. Not Pinot Grigio.







Sunday, February 12, 2012

Colonial Cricket and My Grandmother


Here's a picture of my grandmother, Dorothy Nixon, the subject of my eplay Looking for Mrs. Peel that I have never seen before. I just received it by the magic of the Internet.

I have but one picture of her, in old age.

My play is about culture and generation clash and about the Double Tenth Incident at Changi Prison in 1942-6

My grandmother is one of three (or four) women who survived the infamous WWII Torture Incident. She left behind 'notes' which I fashioned into a play, after doing a great deal of research myself.

Long after I finished the play in 2005, the Malaysia Straits Times came online and I read some articles about Dorothy's work as Selangor's official Cricket Scorer. (Dorothy is more famous for being a librarian in Kuala Lumpur.) 

One article calls my grandmother "the grand dame of Malaysian cricket" and has her presenting The Dorothy Nixon trophy for best cricketeer to someone in 1962. The other snippet has one of Australia's top cricket commentators meeting with two of Malaysia's cricketing personalities, one of whom is my grandmother.


Well, my Aunt had mentioned to me that she had seen my grandmother's score books at the Selangor Club (in the 50's)  and that 'they were a thing of beauty.' Mrs.Kitching Hague, a Canadian woman  born a month after my father in KL in 1922, and whose father died at Changi, was also a cricket scorer out there, for Singapore. She tells me that she learned to score at school and that it is a special skill.

In the pictures my grandmother looks very young to me, but she isn't! She is about my age, 53 (I'm a little older.) But do you agree? There's a girlish look about her. Ironic, considering that this pic was taken in 1948, only a few years after she was released from Changi, where she had almost died, many times.



Always a cigarette in her hand. Well, that never changed. In my play Looking for Mrs. Peel, there's an ashtray incident that takes play in 1967, based on real life. Here's how I describe her, through the eyes of a adolescent girl who knows nothing about her grandmother's past, and could care less: