Saturday, February 16, 2013

Spielberg, Affleck, Lincoln and Argo and the Montreal Suffragists

The female semeur or sower in the vestibule (not the right word) in Montreal City Hall. Sower, not sewer. What's in a symbol? Lots and lots and lots!

I visited Montreal City Hall to check out the archives there. My grandfather worked  at Montreal City Hall 1888 to 1930. I've been to those archives before, retrieving his personal file for my ebook Milk and Water.

My grandfather, Jules Crepeau,  worked under this Mayor, Mederic Martin and for shorter times, Mayors Duquette and Lavallee.

The cute guard inside the entrance let me in and I snapped a photo of the legislative chamber, or whatever it is called.

I was looking up info about the Suffrage Movement in Montreal. Funny. I think,  that the Montreal Archives hold the Fonds of La ligue des droits de la femme, the Provincial Voting Rights Group started in 1922, after the war, and not the BANQ archives, where the Fonds of Thérèse Casgrain and Gerin-Lajoie are located. 

Below is a page of the 1918 debates over An Act to Give Women the Vote.. (Margaret Nicholson of Threshold Girl my ebook,  describes these debates as "silly" in at letter I have.) I have been trying to get a copy of this for ages!! (It's in French only.)

I'm no Spielberg (not rich enough) and no Affleck (not handsome enough) but, this year at least, I have something in common. I'm wondering about history and the nature and limits of historical story-telling.

The Academy Awards for 2013 are coming up on Sunday the 24th of February and as usual, I'm trying to play catch-up on all the nominated movies.

It looks like the battle for Best Picture is between Affleck's Argo and Spielberg's Lincoln, two very different movies, but both 'historical' in theme.

I saw Argo when it came out and thought it was very good, fast-paced funny entertainment. As a Canadian I did not care that Affleck has messed around with history and the story of the Iran Hostage Crisis.

I'm certain the news reports of the time messed around with the history.  (I actually had a Iranian friend in 1978, who was a student, but I never asked him about politics. Typical young person!)

 I recently saw Lincoln and was surprised at how pedantic the movie was. "Spielberg's best movie after Schindler's List," said one review. I don't agree, not that that's a bad thing for the director of so many superb (and uber-entertaining) flicks.

Years ago I avoided watching Schindler's List cause of the heavy-duty subject matter and then one day my son was watching it at home on videotape and I started to watch and couldn't stop.  I hardly could keep my attention on the Lincoln movie. (Well, I was very tired that evening.) "This is like  a long, beautifully-rendered, superbly acted  Heritage Minute," I said to my husband who came with me.(That's a Canadian thing, by the way.)

I thought the movie was so TELL as opposed to SHOW... such a blatant history lesson... I even looked up the terms "Lincoln" Spielberg and "history lesson" when I got home to see that all the critics agreed, but in a positive way. Tour de Force. Etc. etc. And the movie has made a fair bit at the Box Office so the hoi poloi also agrees, or a lot of American kids have been let out of school to see the movie ;)

Well, it must be an American thing. Foundation Myths and all that.

I have to say, though, I was interested in the political manoeuvering  aspects of the film.

 You see the reason I was tired is that the same day I had spent the day poring over documents in an archive in Montreal, reading about the Montreal Suffrage Association for a book I am writing.

The Montreal Suffrage Association's story is one of those millions of tiny history stories that only a handful of historians know and care about. (No Heritage Minute about it, that's for sure.)

And because of the "Two Solitudes" nature of Canadians and Canadian scholarship, no one has figured out that maybe "Something's happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear."

Pierre Berton, Canada's Pop Historian,  surely understood, I can tell from reading his histories. But he merely writes it all off in a sentence or two. "The Protestants tried to impose their values on everyone else."

I am interested because I am approaching this story from the two sides, English and French. My husband's ancestors were Scotch Presbyterians from Quebec, my ancestors were French Canadian.

My husband's ancestors were suffragists and would-be suffragettes living in Montreal during WWI, my grandfather was Director of City Services of Montreal, and having to deal with these Protestant Reformer types most of his 42 year long career, at regular meeting of the Civic Improvement League for instance.

I even suspect that he got his lofty post in 1921 because he was the one who could best deal with these people. And he suffered at their hands as well, with huge smears on his reputation.

Anyway, the Montreal Suffragists were all about political manoeuvring (my opinion) and they got all caught up in their tangled webs during the 1917 Conscription Crisis..which is a well documented part of Canadian History but certainly NOT a foundation myth, more a Foundation-dismantling myth. (I have trouble spelling that word ManOEUVering) even though it comes from French.)


Here's a video I took at Place D'armes in Old Montreal.

Anyway, there's a tie in with the Lincoln myth and my story about the Montreal Suffragists.  There was no suffragette movement in Canada, like in the US and UK. (Indeed, the Montreal Suffrage Association tried many times to get Anna Howard Shaw to come to talk, but she declined.)

An Isabel Skelton, writing in the 1913 Canadian Magazine, explains.

In the US, she says, they have a history of equal rights movements and that is the reason for their active suffrage movement. In Britain, there are only 88 men for every hundred women, so they have many more working women than in Canada, and that is the reason for the active movement there.

In Canada, well, we are single minded homesteaders, she says, 'intensely on the make" so 'political and civic responsibility does not loom large' in our minds. 

And Canadian Women already have many rights... For instance, female property owners can vote at the municipal level and at the school board level and that's what women care about, their immediate community and education. Our marriage and divorce laws do not discriminate in favour of men, she says. (Not exactly true.) For all these reasons, the suffrage movement is stalled here. Is comparatively inert. (That's how she put it.) It also doesn't help that were a huge diverse country, so it is hard to start a movement here.