Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Digital Trilogy of Women's Life in 1910 Canada

Tighsolas in 1910 era

This is Tighsolas, or House of Light in Gaelic, the Queen Anne Revival Style Home that Norman Nicholson, my husband's great grandfather built in 1896, the year Sir Wilfrid Laurier came to power.

I discovered letters belonging to this family in 2003, transcribed them and posted a website in 2005 Tighsolas with the letters in raw form and background about the Laurier Era.

And then I decided to write a digital trilogy around the letters, featuring each of the three Nicholson 'girls', Flora, 18 in 1910, Edith, 27 in 1910 and my husband's grandmother Marion, 25 in 1910.

All of the young women were teachers in the era, not a 'sexy' profession, but, alas, the profession most well-educated middle class women went into in 1910 (despite the going belief that women had 'made it' and could enter any profession, although housewifing was the most desirable profession.

Threshold Girl   is the first book in the trilogy and it is available for free online. It tells the story of Flora Nicholson's year at Macdonald Teachers College in Ste Anne de Bellevue during the 'in their proper place' era. 

Marion and Edith figure incidentally in the story.

I am writing Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, Edith's story, and it is almost complete.  It tells the story of Edith's job at a Missionary School in Westmount, where Catholics, mostly French Canadians were educated and oft times converted to Protestantism. Not a slice of history normally discussed today.

It also tells the story of her stormy courtship with one Charlie Gagne, a former Roman Catholic for all I can see, who died in a hotel fire in Cornwall in 1910, the Rossmore. 

In Flora's story, I include a child labour theme; in Edith's a eugenics theme. The suffragette movement is included in both books.

The trick is, I am being faithful to the 300 letters I have, but filling in the gaps with invented stories. I call this a 're-imagining' of their lives. 


It took me a long time to figure out what was going on in the letters with respect to Charlie Gagne, but once I did, I noticed gaps.

I have turned his story into a murder/mystery, which probably didn't happen, but certainly could have. And then I can cover the drug issue for 1900. Opiates in medicines.

I haven't been able to type out Edith's story, as I have a neck injury, but once I do I will embark on Marion's story, yet to be titled. Marion was already a teacher at the Montreal Board in 1910, at Royal Arthur School.  She was also helping out her family the most, especially financially. And from 1911 and 1913 she was courted by Hugh Blair, whom she married. She was also the most dynamic of the young women, later becoming President of the PAPT Teachers Union.

When all three books are written, they will complement each other, and also fill in gaps in each other's story. For instance, Flora had no idea what was going on with her brother, she was protected. Edith had some idea, but since she had lost her love in a fire in May 1910, she too didn't know it all. Marion, however, knew it all!

The social issue I am tackling with Marion's story, possibly called The Push Pull of Biology and Ambition, or maybe just Biology and Ambition (yes!) is the Jewish Problem in schools. Jewish teachers were not allowed to work in the Montreal Board, however qualified.

Maybe one day I'll be invited to the Blue Metropolis, the big 'non-profit' event in Montreal supported, of course, by Heritage Canada. People from Heritage Canada occasionally come to my website, (even downloading the ebook Threshold Girl)  but my project doesn't fit into a comfortable niche, not with respect to Canadian politics. I'm guessing, anyway.

I'm discussing eugenics and suffrage in ways that only scholars have done in the past. Even the Two Solitudes issue. It's shades of grey I like exploring. 

Anyway, basically EVERY Anglo-Quebec initiative is funded by Heritage Canada, so what does that say? That it's the only funding available, sure, but also, that they control the message. That's what I think. How could they not, if  they are the only funding? I've worked with many non profits, I know how hard it is to get funding as a Quebec Anglophone Project, even for innocuous projects like literacy. (Whoops, that's political here too.) We are a minority within a minority, that's how the government sees us. 

I've also written Milk and Water about Montreal in 1927, using my own grandfather, Jules Crepeau as a character.  This story is more of interest to French Canadians, I can already tell, but I must polish it before I can get it translated. In this eplay, I put a new twist on the infamous Laurier Palace Theatre Fire.