Friday, January 31, 2014

In Times of Yore, Before the Internet, There were Textbooks..


Here's my YouTube video of a trip through the Social Studies Textbook Visits in Other Lands. I explain that I made the video because so many people have come to this website looking up "BUNGA" "Yams" etc.


Because this text was the first geography book for many, many North American children.  I myself can still recall the excitement I felt opening to the first chapter, Bunga of Malaya. That was in the fourth grade.

I'm pretty sure I got a brand new textbook, where you could still smell the print, so that made the experience extra memorable.

Now, imagine this. This text was used in schools from the Post War Period until the 1970s!

An entire generation of BOOMERS read this book, and learned about a Stone-age tribe in Malaya, not entirely grasping the fact that Malaya/sia was a modern country with a beautiful bustling capital City, Kuala Lumpur.

I didn't grasp the fact and my father had been born in Kuala Lumpur and my grandmother was still living there in 1964!

I bring this up because I have just transcribed a speech from 1946, one given my Marion Nicholson Blair, my husband's grandmother, who was President of the PAPT or Protestant Teachers Union to the Lakeshore Teachers Association. 

It's a fun letter, (I think) but it also makes mention  of a Textbook Committee. That very committee might have been voting on whether to put this classic social studies text (written by Americans) into the Curriculum.

When they decided YES, they had no inkling of how a generation of Montrealers would be mesmerized by Bunga and the other "exotic"children in the book... and remember that story into their dotage.. .

(I showed the story to a Malay librarian I got to know researching my grandmother's story Looking For Mrs. Peel and I thought she'd be amused by Bunga and how Malays were 'infantalized' for our consumption, but she wasn't. She found Bunga insulting.

The Readers we used in the 1960's in Canada were also from the 1940s'. (Things moved slooooowly in those days.) The Canadian Reading Development Series it was called. No one (well, maybe one scholar one time) comes to this website looking up those textbooks.

They were competent texts but like all school readers, they were made bland - for our uncontroversial consumption - and everyone knows a bland story is a boring story.

All I recall are the poems: Walter de la Mare (Silvery Moon) and that one with the rabbit screaming in a snare.."Oh, little one, I'm looking everywhere) so sad.. and the mean dog one too, oh and the elephant phone, I once saw an elephant who tried to use the telephant. And I remember the picture below, I loved horses, of course.

This was All Sails Set and the story was about the Blue Nose2.. the boat on the Canadian dime.

Here's the speech.

Madame Chairman, fellow teachers,

I am delighted to have the opportunity of meeting with the Lakeshore teachers association and extremely pleased that as President of the P.A.P.T. I was invited to this gathering.

It is an honor to be the President of the Provincial Association of Protestant Teachers. I believe that I am the 80th President.

I wonder if many of realize just how far back in Canadian history 80 years takes us.

In 1964, when the fathers of Confederation were holding their first meeting in Charlottetown to lay the foundations of this Dominion, of which we are so justly proud, our founders were laying the plans and preparing a petition to lay before the Governor of Lower Canada for the privilege of organization this Association.

From very small and inauspicious beginnings, we have grown and progressed sometimes painfully and over many obstacles to our present status and cherish the hope that we shall continue to do so in the future.

It is a significant fact that the basic principles of our association have remained the same through all these years although the constitution and by-laws have many and varied revisions.

For many years the presidents were chosen from the clergy, then later from our own profession.
One very radical and much debate (idea)took place over 30 years ago when it was proposed that a woman might aspire to the august position of President.

My presence here as President demonstrates this one amendment to the rules and regulations of the PAPT.

Among the old files of this association are some interesting documents showing the negotiations between the teachers and the government to legalize this association with the aim and purpose of protecting the education and interests of the Protestant minority in Quebec and of furthering the interests of the teaching profession.

The aims have never varied.
There has been great progress in education and in the teaching profession. It is sometimes hard to see it from year to year but when one looks back to the changes over a period of time, it is very evident.

One has to be reminded of the well-known story of Miss E. M. Taylor, one of our efficient early teachers who died in 1897 at the age of 94 who taught school for 16 and a half cents a week and worked for her board.

The highest salary she ever received was $1.00 a week besides her board. 

Even after a regular system of instruction was established, teachers nearly always boarded around from house to house, dividing up the number of days by the number of pupils.

Hence, if often happened that the burden of boarding the teacher fell on those who could least afford to bear it.

Then too there were often hard feelings in the community if the children of the home where the teacher had boarded longest made greater progress than some others, the point of contention being that they had extra instruction at home.

Since of teaches or engages in any other work primary to earn a living, the monetary returns are important.

Certainly, there has been progress here.

In my own teaching experience, the initial salary of a teacher entering the profession is at least four times as great as I received when I began to teach.

And there is the added inducement of increase if one continues.
That was not an established fact years ago. You just stayed at the same salary unless you could find some place where they were offering a few dollars more.

In Montreal, in 1919, the initial salary in elementary schools was $350 per year, against $1,000 a year today.

(EDITOR: Flora made 500 a year out of Macdonald Teacher’s School in 1912. Males got $800. Marion was making $650, with six years experience.)

In is not only with regard to salaries that there has been progress, but in almost every way, in buildings, equipment, text books, administration and teacher training.

It is my belief that the PAPT has played a great part in this advancement in that is has held the teaching body together and has been the official spokesman of their aims and aspirations.

The fact that it is one of the oldest organizations in the province of Quebec and is still active shows that it has served well and been of value.

Any society or organization not functioning for the welfare of its members will fade quickly out of existence.

The PAPT is not and has never been one with a huge bank roll, though through its 80 years a great deal of money has been paid into it.

This had been spent yearly in the interests of education and the teaching profession.

I might say, although we have not accumulated money, we have perhaps grown in wisdom and knowledge.
One evidence of our wisdom was in deciding last year that we must have a home of our own, a central office where the work of the association could be more effectively carried out.
It is a modest undertaking when one compares it to the importance of its work.

I hope the day may come when our home will be larger and the services rendered by it to the education of the teaching profession much greater.

I would like to remind you that the Central Office at 1410 Guy Street is your office for it is your money and mine which pays for it and should be used by all in every way possible.

The PAPT will grow and become more effective only by the loyal support of its members, and it is for us to see that it continues to grow and serve education and the teaching profession of this province.

It is only by being actively interested in the association that one can realize the scope of the work undertaken by PAPT.

There are some 30 different committees each taking on special part of the whole plan and each carrying on under the direction of the Executive.

I will only mention two: One the text book and course of study committee, who have prepared a most extensive and comprehensive report which is being considered at the meeting of the Protestant Committee which is being held today.

This committee was under the Chairmanship of Mr. Parks.
The other committee on automatic membership has prepared an amendment to the original ACT 52 Victoria to try to give the teaching body a professional standing comparable to the medical and other professions.

I hope I have shown you that big things in education have been done in Quebec and we look forward to much greater progress so that Quebec may be the leaders of education in the Dominion of Canada.

These are stirring times and there is no limit to what the future can bring if we realize our responsibilities and shoulder them and work together towards a solution of all the problems facing us.

The time for reconstruction is now, as it is the children who are in our schools today who will face the post war problems in this Province.

It is vitally important that we plan carefully and well.

We belong to that group of workers who receive little inspiration by public recognition of work well done, but like the products of our schools, the young men and women of our navy, air force, and army who have done so much to protect and keep  our way of life, we must meet the challenge to us to keep faith and work steadfastly.

Going the way of the Horta

Marion Nicholson receiving the Order of Merit from the School Board in 1946. A fellow teacher  said she might like to throw her medal at the head of the Central School Board, who she'd been fighting in her capacity as the Teachers' Union President. Marion is a character in Threshold Girl, 1910 era e-book on

Yesterday, I took a look at the remaining papers belong to Marion Nicholson, my husband's grandmother and the WWII President of the PAPT Teachers Union. (Provincial Association of Protestant Teachers of Quebec.)

I tried to find an angle to them that might interest outsiders (or even insiders) because I know that very few people are interested in the history of English Quebec, despite the fact that in the 1910 era, English Quebec was Canada.

In the great British novels of the early part of the century, say, Brideshead Revisited, they mention Montreal, not Toronto. In Parade's End, too. Well, in all the novels. Toronto was a backwater. Calgary would sometimes be mentioned, but always as a joke. (The Prince of Wales had a farm near Calgary, that's why they even heard of the place.)

Visitors, like Rex in Brideshead, were Montrealers.

But no longer.

Last week, a venerable Montreal Girls School, Queen of Angels, announced its closing for lack of students.

In case you didn't know, you need a special certificate to get your children into English school, and have for years. You must prove that one parent attended English School in Quebec.

There used to be exemptions for Private Schools, but they removed that, I think, a while back.

So, you see, it's a lost cause.

Funny, because yesterday I saw this 'on the wire' on Twitter: A New York Times article claiming that public schools in that city are giving dual language instruction, French and English.

8 NY public schools offer dual Language French courses; that's second only to Chinese and Spanish.

Bizarre! Read about it here.

The thing is, these US courses are probably way better than the compulsory dual language course my sons took in the burbs of Montreal.

In those days, in the 1990's, there were no textbooks for French Immersion kids, it was up  to the individual teachers to 'dumb down' French texts produced for the use of French first language students.

Some teachers did a better job than others.

Anyway, as I've written before, in the 1960's the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal was one of the highest, if not the highest, performing public board in North America - and the proof is all the graduates who went on to stellar careers, mostly outside of Quebec, mostly in Ontario.

(There's so much truth to the comment that the Partie Quebecois made Toronto.)

Cheap university education (at McGill, etc) also helped.

In 1946, Marion Nicholson, PAPT President was dealing with a Crisis, apparently. There was a huge fiscal problem at the Central Board and hundreds of teachers were given their notices.

She fought the Board, bringing the Provincial Government into the fray, and it worked. The teachers got their jobs back. Letters of congratulations poured in from grateful schools.

That year Marion was awarded the highest honour, Teacher of Merit. A teacher writes to congratulate her and then says, maybe you should fling your medal at So and So, the President of the Central Board, who had been her adversary.

The next year she is chosen by the Canadian Teachers' Federation to represent them at a UNESCO conference in Paris.

The next year she dies of a heart attack. Everything caught up to her, it seems, although family members believed she died from bad doctoring... She was given the wrong thyroid pills...

She also smoked,of course. All the Nicholson sisters did, but Edith and Flora lived into their 90's.

A congratulatory note from Willingdon Elementary, the alma mater, I've read, of William Shatner who would have been at elementary school at the time.  Now English Instruction in Quebec is going the way of the Horta.

"Thanks for the devoted and capable leadership in the time of trials over salaries and tenure of employees."

Marion's last union card...

Marion's letter to Mom on her first day of teaching at Sherbrooke Elementary, 1906
Sherbrooke Quebec
September 10, 06

Dear Mother,

Have just finished my first day at school and it is not half as bad as I expected. But most of my pupils had never been at school before and their mothers had to come with them and tell me their particular troubles so that I would take particular care of them and I did not know one from the other after they had gone. Had 38 pupils today. Pretty good for a start, don't you think. Expect I will have more tomorrow. Mr Gruel came up today to hear me teach. I think he was very mean to come so soon. 

He might have waited till I was really settled down to work. 

The Phonic system is not half as bad as I thought it would be, although I have a lot to study up yet. Sat Mill Long and her cousin Irene, Ruth and I drove to Lennoxville and had a fine time. Don't know if I will send my wasting home or have it done here. Will see what it will cost first. I think that if you have not started to make that green dress, that I will have shirt waist suit and a short coat. Wish I had that black skirt. I feel like a kid among all the old maid teachers. Wish you could see them, they almost beat the Rd. ones. Wore my red and white shirtwaist suit because it was the longest one I had and I thought I would look more dignified and more like a school marm.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

What Drives Success, the Nicholsons and the New York Times

 Marion Nicholson of Threshold Girl: she had a talent for' using' her well-off  friends for her benefit: but is that such a bad thing?

Today, a tweet from tennis great Martina Navratilova led me to a New York Times article What Drives Success? by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld (husband and wife)

It's  a favorite topic of mine. Indeed, it is the subtext of my e-books Threshold Girl and Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, books based on real letters of the 1910 era.

The Nicholsons of Richmond, Quebec were hard-working Presbyterians of the 1910 era who did everything right, at every step, but never made any money.

 Indeed, they were always teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

But that doesn't mean their lives were not successful. They were dutiful members of society who believed that their purpose was to do good, not to prosper themselves, per se.

 It's all how you define success, isn't it?  (It doesn't help that the Nicholsons had excellent connections: without these connections they would have fallen into the abyss of poverty despite their Protestant work ethic. Maybe they would have had to sell their bodies to survive. Who knows?)

My grandfather Jules Crepeau,  the top Montreal Civil servant in the 20's. The family myth says he rose up from sweeping the floor at City Hall, and then I later discovered he was related to the Forget's the most successful French Canadian family, one man head of the Stock Exchange and another President of the Water and Power Company. (Even French Canadians like this "self-made man myth.")

This article, What Drives Success? in the New York Times (published a few days ago)  is a promotion for an upcoming book by Yale Professors, and, from what I can see, it is the same ole, same ole, flipped on its head, masquerading as something new.

By the time I read the article this morning  the message boards were closed, but the messages on the board pretty well cover all the arguments against the Chua/Rubenfeld thesis... and very nicely, too. Some posters agreed, but they didn't have to supply any empirical evidence as to why they agreed. Just personal anecdotes.

This American History Course I recently audited (American History 1880's to the WWII pretty well refutes what these authors have to say.) I think anyway.

My personal feeling as a quasi-historian interested in the 1910 era:  this article What Drives Success? is a lot of nonsense containing a grain of truth wrapped in the still very alluring American Dream myth of the 'self-made' man...but the argument contradicts itself.

(By the way. Success = Big Moolah here. High grades and entry into top universities. Not happiness, unless it is the happiness as defined by utilitarians.)

Chua and Rubenfeld claim that certain groups, mostly Asian, enjoy success in today's America because they are raised to be driven by a sense of  personal inferiority and a matching sense of cultural superiority that they can never shake  - and that they aren't into instant gratification, like 'ordinary' Americans.

All very well. (I strongly suspect there are plenty of 'successful' people on paper who are emotional F*&Kwits, as Bridget Jones says.)

But an especially  important  point is brought up over and over in the NYT message boards for this piece: that these cultural groups (Indo Americans, Chinese, Jews and Mormons) are GROUPS,  that offer protection and support to the more ambitious kids within their fold,  in the form of start-up money and first jobs, and who knows what.

It's always been thus, it's never been a meritocracy. Community has always been important to any individual's success.

 (As the Berkeley course reveals: ethnic groups (Irish, Swedish with paramilitary help) at the turn of the last century fought hard and dirty to keep others out of their chosen job-areas. The Chinese, oddly, got the worst  of it.)

No individual succeeds in a vacuum. No two parents, however resourceful, can raise a kid a and give him all the advantages.They need family, friends and co-conspirators..

(Marion Nicholson, of Threshold Girl, was widowed and left to raise four children.. She went back to teaching (lucky she had a profession and diploma) but she spent a lot of her time lobbying friends on behalf of her children. She got the Masons to help support her family. She even prevailed upon her well-heeled  friends to pay for kids' college educations. )

I tell the story on this blog about Italian Immigrants in 1910 landing at Ellis Island, where one brother might go to New York, one to Montreal, where there were strong Italian communities.

Business people from the South tried to lure the Montreal-bound Italians by telling them Montreal was a horrid  freezing place (and it is!) and that the South is lovely and warm.

But these men still didn't go to the South. They were not stupid, even if they were illiterate. They knew they needed 'friends' and 'comrades' to succeed in life.

In today's increasingly 'privatized' world, it is hard for average middle class kids to develop networks, unless they are Mormons, or part of another close-knit community that favors its own over the non-member.

And they are being raised in a culture that is all about instant-gratification. That's how these giant corporations make all their great gobs of money, suckering us into buying things we don't need (or are bad for us) using clever state-of-the-art science  and dubious grey-area marketing claims.

 (One NYT comment suggested the poor American diet doesn't help.)

It's amusing to me that the authors, who trash the popular self-esteem movement, are out of Yale.
 From what I gather from auditing Yale lectures online, a day doesn't go by when a Yale student isn't told how 'superior' he or she is by their profs.

At McGill, we sucked up to the profs: at Yale, the profs seem to suck up to the students.

(A few teachers on the NYT message boards suggested that these high-motivated Asian students are driven to cheat to get ahead. They are so afraid of failing.)

And it's odd, to me, considering how badly early Chinese immigrants were treated in America, how little sympathy the author has for Black Americans, who suffer from the same social barriers.

 There's one other point I want to make. Even if you believe that Success = Big Moolah,  there's always only so much pie to go around.

Not everyone can have the lion's share (to mix metaphors): the point is to make the pie LARGER so that the average citizen has a nice-sized piece. (Is that Rawls or John Stuart Mill?) and that is not what is happening in today's predatory economy. Not in this "Winner take all" world.

(The Chinese love to gamble. But this is not brought up in the article. Maybe we middle class white Americans should be teaching our kids to be risk-takers and not wimps. Of course, low-class risk takers always end up in jail.)

Heh, Martina. Thanks for guiding me to this article. Tennis is pretty "Winner Take ALL? isn't it. And to succeed in tennis, these days, whatever motivates you, takes a rich family.. am I right?

As for Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, lawyers and not social scientists: stirring controversy, even if it is counter-productive and does nothing to promote social good, makes money. So bravo to you.)

Here's an article  from a 1910 era Education Magazine, written by Australia's Minister of Education:

From Educational Foundations June 1909
(A.S. Barnes and Company)

Opening to Essay Education-The Economic Side by Will Scott.

The state would educate the young in order to make them better citizens; in order to advance civilization. It being desirable that all of its people be good citizens, the state strives to educate the children of all.

The theory held by the state is also the theory of the individual – so far as other people’s children are concerned. They are to be educated so they will not violate the law – not cross swords with society.  But as to their own children, that is quite a different matter. They should be educated not only to make them good citizens, and not chiefly for that purpose, but to give them an advantage in the struggle for existence.  The object of education for one’s own children is not so much to live better but to get a better living; not so much to do better work but to get better pay….Education gives the individual an advantage in the struggle for existence only when he has more of it than his fellows…From an industrial viewpoint, education is a labor-saving machine, enabling one man to do what ten did before. Like other improvements, it tends to decrease the number of jobs, and thus to sharpen competition and decrease wages.

Excerpt from School Power: A Pressing Necessity (Frank Tate, Australian Director of Education).

We must recognize, that in the struggle for existence, the law of the survival of the fittest applies to nations as to individuals, and that in this struggle for existence there is not only the struggle that results in the open shock of war, but the less obtrusive but no less intense struggle of peace, the struggle for trade supremacy. We must realize too how different modern conditions are from those that obtained even fifty years ago. The history of the past thirty years yields ample evidence that command of markets is to be won by the nation that brings knowledge and training to bear upon the operations of producing and marketing commodities which the world wants.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Stories She Told and Stories I Tell

The Centaur Theatre, in the old Stock Market Building.

Yesterday, me and my bottle of wine watched the documentary Stories We Tell, by Canadian film-maker Sarah Polley.

It's been sitting on my PVR for a while and I'd heard it is very very good, so I was waiting for the right time to watch it, so that I'd appreciate it.

Yesterday, it being the second to last day of the Polar Vortex Winter Blast (they promise), I decided to do nothing at all. So I pushed play.

And yes, Stories We Tell, is very very good.

Oddly, just this week, the highly-acclaimed documentary was snubbed by the Oscars, a move that perplexed many a reviewer. (The film has won 4 very prestigious Best Documentary Awards: London, New York and LA Film Critics Awards as wells as the National Board of Review. Phew!)

I dunno. Maybe Stories we Tell is too Canadian. Maybe it is too Candid.  Or maybe Oscar feels the film is not a real documentary, with all the faux Super-8 re-enactments, more like the cinematic equivalent of literary non-fiction. (Maybe Stories We Tell should have been nominated in the Best Foreign Film category.)

I dunno.

I liked it, which means I watched the film this first time without deconstructing it. I even suspended disbelief as I watched those very re-enactments, thinking "How did they get this footage?" Silly me.

Anyway, I will say Stories we Tell is a cinematic tour de force and it is very Canadian.

Indeed (Spoiler Alert) it tells the story of how Sarah Polley, from Canadian acting royalty, discovered that her legal father was not her biological father.

And she tells the story from many points of view and she describes her process while she films.

The documentary is about the nature of family memory. How could I not like it, that's one of  my favorite subjects too.

And it's about nature-nurture, another of my favorite subjects.

Spoiler Alert 2: Budding movie-maker Polley discovers her biological father is a well-known movie producer!

Too weird.

 The CIBC building Downtown Montreal. For a long time there was a three lump Henry Moore statue at the bottom (from Expo 67, I think.) When my father and I would drive by I would ask "What is that?" and he'd reply "That is what happens to you if you jump off the building."

Now, in 1978, Polley's mother, a vivacious 42 year old, moved from Toronto to Montreal to do a play at the Centaur. She conceived Sarah Polley, brought her home,and continued life as normal.

What was I doing in 1978?  I had graduated university with a communications degree,hoping (beyond hope) to work in the film industry and got a job as a freelance secretary instead.

I had no office skills. I couldn't type and my French was crude. 'C'est a la part de qui?" and other receptionist phrases was all I could say, despite having a French mother.

Like most Anglo Quebeckers I could understand a lot.

But you didn't need French to work, part time, in a Montreal office those days. The separatist Parti Quebecois had only been in power 2 years.

The company I worked for was just happy if I showed up and was pleasant. And I made good money for doing nothing, like licking envelopes all day.

Of course, if I wanted a good office job, I should have learned to type and upped my French and dressed less like a Hippie. But I didn't want an office job. I was an see, a bohemian, slumming as a secretary.

 Sarah Polley

Well, doing that job I worked for a day or a week or a month, in just about every office building in downtown Montreal.

In 1978, when Sarah Polley's Mom was making her in Montreal, I think, I was working in an office in the CIBC building, the tallest in Montreal at the time. Just a few minutes away from the Centaur, really.

It was a small office, a holding company or something, and the atmosphere was pretty nice, as the big boss was an easy going middle aged man who worked with his shirtsleeves rolled up. I remember his name, actually.

Under him were two much more uptight men his age or younger, who wore their business suits.  (I remember their names, too.)

All the men looked as if they had played on the same College Football Team.

There were two secretaries in the office, one English, one French.

The English gal was working class and full of beans, very smart, or she wouldn't have been there.

And the French gal was more reserved. I remember telling her I wanted to be a writer and she scoffed, a bit.  "How do you know you can write?"

(I remember both of their names, actually.)

I worked for  a fourth man at a desk around the corner for a very silly business. It seems my boss ( a former executive of a large Canadian company) had been laid off in his fifties and his friend, the boss, had given him some office space to try to start his own business.

He had the bad luck to have me as a secretary, full-time for about a year.

I was super bored most of the time.  The business sold tanning machines, and there wasn't much to do. Answer the phone, send out brochures of information (saying that the rays of these machines did not cause cancer.) I remember the name of the business, Sun Valley Tans.

The Woman's Y was right down the street and I spent my lunch hour taking an aerobics class in the basement, in bare feet on a concrete floor.

That's where I first destroyed my knees - and it's taken me 40 years to get them back into perfect working over.

Another thing I remember clearly. I remember visiting the little snack bar on an adjacent floor and while waiting for my coffee and danish, thinking "I don't belong in a downtown skyscraper." My soul hurt. 

Anyway, Sarah Polley's mom (who had already lived a long and complex life, married twice, estranged from two of her children) was living it up with Bohemian artistes in 1978.  Hanging out with Montreal's theatre types and falling for a high profile Jewish movie producer.

Stories We Tell is very sympathetic to her and her plight as a housewife/artist.  Maybe that's why Oscar snubbed it.. (No, can't be that!)

(One of my best friends, a thespian/playwright himself,  in and around that time, had a girlfriend who was the receptionist at the Centaur Theatre , so I was a couple of degrees of separation from this Canadian tale. Maybe my friend had met Polley's mom or even partied with her. Who knows.)

He was working as a copywriter at a Radio Station. He would later get me a job, too, as a radio copywriter.

Not exactly the film business, but hey.

PS. If you want to see a great tv show, with Sarah and her dad Michael, buy Slings and Arrows.

Read my Family Stories on

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Law of Unintended Consequences

I once read that 'teenagers' were invented by the transistor radio.

 If they could have their own radio, they could have their own music, and, then, they would  have their own fashions to dance to said music and soon thereafter, advertising aimed directly at them.

The picture at top is a photograph of my mother-in-law, born 1917. Nothing strange about that, except that the photograph was made in 1929. She was twelve years old!

She's had new eyebrows painted in,  as was the fashion (from the movies) and is wearing bright lipstick, I assume bright red. (She always told us they didn't have teenagers in her day.)

She needed to make herself up like this if she wanted to get into the movie houses to see those pretty actresses with phoney eyebrows: In Quebec, in 1927, a law was passed denying children under 16 the right to go the movies.

You see,  70 children were smothered to death in a panicky crush at a Sunday showing at the  Laurier Palace Theatre, where there was a little smoke but no fire.

My own grandfather, Jules Crepeau, was implicated in a big way.  See Milk and Water to learn all about it.

An old cinema on St. Denis, with a newer facade.. 

(Of course, my mother-in-law  may have gone as a child, until the ban, which would have made giving up the pastime all the more difficult.)

She told me a story. She once visited an Ontario movie house and was so surprised to find out how badly behaved the clients were, the young clients, yelling and throwing garbage everywhere.

In Quebec, young people had to behave in the cinema, lest them give themselves away.

Here's yet another incidence of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Young girls were putting on make-up  (making themselves alluring to older men) to get into the movies rather than just staying away.

For this ban wasn't really about fire safety: there were plenty of public gathering places that were firetraps. 

This was a rare time the Protestant Church and the Catholic Church and the Politicians in Quebec agreed on something.

The Churches believed the movies were immoral ..Besides they were taking away clients from the Church. (Some people testifying at the inquiry were perplexed: they claimed the Catholic Church had invested heavily in the motion picture business.)

And the Quebec Politicians weren't too keen about American values..Open mouth kisses and all that... or the English Talkies that were just coming into being.

It was the working class, everywhere,  that mostly attended the motion pictures in the Nickelodeon Era. In Quebec, the French Canadians were working class.

And it didn't matter what language they spoke, the films were silent. That's why the working class immigrants from everywhere took to the new film medium.

Anyway, my mother-in-law wasn't too boy-crazy, being the child of strict Presbyterians  although a year or two later she started seeing a guy with a motor she was sent off to an All Girl's Private School.

Tralfalgar. On the Mountain in Montreal. Where, apparently, she gained a lot of weight :) Here's a pic of the Trafalgar ski team.

Tennis Legends, Tweets and Bizarre Buildings

Chris Evert and Genie Bouchard posed for this pic that is the official pic for the Road to Singapore Promotion of the WTA...The final elite tournament for the top 8 will be held in that city/state at the end of the season.

Genie's tweet is here.

As I've mentioned before on this blog, Evert is exactly my age - and she simply looks fabulous.

I wonder if Dorothy Lamour is going to make the final 8 of the WTA this year?  I suspect that is what Bob Hope and Bing Crosby would have asked in their opening song.

I love those Road movies...but I can't remember exactly which one was the Road to Singapore. Is it the one with Anthony Quinn as the improbable native?

I could look it up on IMDB but am too lazy. Below that: the grounds of Jarry Park Tennis compound last year. Very pretty place.

Genie's picture was everywhere at Jarry Park, even last year. Of course, this year she will be touted as the Australian Open semi-finalist and who know's what else. She's top 20 right now.

My son was in Singapore last year, visiting the Changi Museum, to see if he could find any memorabilia about his great grandmother, Dorothy Nixon, who had been interned during WWII.

She is the subject of my e-book Looking for Mrs. Peel.

I tell her story about her life in Malaya, as a planter's wife, and her imprisonment during the war and how she was one of four women tortured in the Double Tenth Incident.

It's a bit of history  they know about in Singapore and Australia. It's not much of a story here in Canada.

Colin Firth's recent movie, the Railway Man, about the same topic, has done terrible box office, or not even been released.

The first part of Looking for Mrs. Peel takes place in Montreal (Genie's hometown) in 1967, during the year of the World's Fair Expo.

My grandmother visited us and she wasn't impressed with the City or with me.

My grandmother in 1948, scoring Cricket for Selangor. She stayed in Malaysia after the war

See that odd building in the WTA Promotional Pic at the the top of the post, behind the tennis legend and (the odds are)  legend-to-be?

The one that looks like a boat has come to rest on top of a building after a big storm. Or maybe more like Stonehenge?

Well, it's the Marina Sands Hotel and it was designed by Canadian architect Moishe Safdie, who also designed the very controversial Habitat 67 for Expo...

It was built as an example of low cost housing, but it's very expensive today. (Genie might soon be able to to afford to buy a condo there.)
 Rafa and Ferrer at the Banque Nationale Stadium last year...I had front row seats for the superstars. Next August I can see the ladies of the WTA..

Monday, January 27, 2014

When Family History Meets World History

Yugoslav Refugee Camp: Austria 1946.

Margaret Blair, center, eldest daughter of Marion Nicholson Blair in Refugee Camp in Austria. She didn't volunteer. She found herself in Europe when war was declared and just got to work. She had  terrific role-models, her mother (President of the Teachers' Union in Montreal) and her Aunt Edith, Commandant of the Quebec Red Cross in WWII.  Besides, with her mom a busy working widow, Margaret learned responsibility early, helping to raise her younger siblings in the 1930's.

In 1912, Marion Nicholson, my husband’s grandmother, was offered a chance to accompany her friends, the McCoys, on a trip to Europe. She had to decline. “Teachers will have to make more money before I can go to Europe,” she wrote in a letter to her mother. Read Threshold Girl here.

In 1913, she gave up teaching altogether to marry a Hugh Blair.

She had been deeply upset when “a mere boy out of school” had been hired  over her head for the 7th form  and given 800 dollars a year to start, when she was living on a 650 a  year salary – and she already had 6 years’ experience.

So it’s not a surprise that when her husband, Hugh, died young in 1927 leaving her penniless with four children, and cut out of his family business that  she went back to work and joined the Teachers Union, eventually rising to the Post of President in 1942.

In my last post, I published a speech where she is arguing for a raise for elementary teachers.  The speech I have transcribed here is one of her last, for she died suddenly of a heart attack in 1947.

In this speech Marion A. N. Blair (as she called herself) discusses her 1947 trip to Sevres, France, to attend a UNESCO conference as a representative of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

And she answers a question I have long wondered. Did Paris look all bombed out to her? 

  Apparently not. Paris bombings (from what I read) took place in working class areas.

Well, she finally did get to Paris, and not only as a young  empty-headed tourist doing the rounds ( like this American ingenue in a previous post) but on a serious mission.

.(See pic way below of Edith in Red Cross Uniform)
 Margaret Blair 1914-1978. Margaret died young of alcohol related disease. She thrived in the chaos of war, but wilted in the POST WAR as a domesticated 50's housewife. Marion's side trip to Austria was likely on Margaret's behest.

It was both a great privilege and a great honour to be one of the Canadian Representatives chosen by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, to attend the conference of Unesco held this summer in Paris.

Personally, it was an extremely broadening experience and one that I consider a liberal education in itself.

UNESCO, as the letters indicate, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, is embodied in the United Nations Charter drawn up in San Francisco in 1945.
As you know the tree mains divisions of the U.N. are 1) International Court of Justice 2) General Assembly 3)Security Council

Out of the General Assembly come many specialized agencies such as
WHO (World Health Organization)
IRO International Refugee Organization
ITO International Trade Organization
International Bank for reconstruction and development
International Monetary Fund
International Civil Aviation Organization (Editor: headquartered in Montreal up until recently, I think because the Ferry Command (in which my own father served) was at Dorval Airport.
International Labour Organization.

Consequently, you can see that UNESCO occupies no mean place in the scheme of International Planning.

Unesco did not develop directly from the recent war but there is no doubt that the frightful prospect of atomic destruction hastened the formation of UNESCO under the U.N.

There were  international organizations on educational lines before this such as :

International Organization of Intellectual Cooperation in the framework of the League of Nations formed in 1922
An International Bureau of Education  organized in Geneva in 1925
Then in 1942 a Conference of Allied Ministers of Education was held in London.

However, until the San Francisco conference of the U.N. an international educational Org. remained an ideal rather than an accomplished fact.

Thus Unesco, we may say, was born in November 1945, when its charter was drawn up. Since then it has grown until the present time where it has a membership of 31 nations.

A seminar was held in Paris this summer of representatives of these 31 nations and for this I was appointed by the Can. Teachers Fed.

Of course, you realize that the purpose of the UNESCO Organization is to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture and World Peace.

Its objectives follow three broad lines:
1.Education, Scientific, and Cultural Reconstruction of countries (members of Unesco) which have been devastated by the war
2. A universal minimum of education
3. Promotion of International Understanding

True to all matters pertaining to education, Unesco struggles forward with a worldwide problem on a budget of 6 million, which is the price of a good destroyer which one well-aimed torpedo can send to the bottom of the ocean, a total loss.

This sum, which may seem large on paper is very small when divided among 31 nations and the magnitude of the work to be done.

ie. Eliminating illiteracy and giving a basic elementary education to all peoples. If we brush aside elementary education for all, we fail our responsibilities as one of the most fortunate of the nations. To be purely selfish jeopardizes our own security and our democrative way of life.  

All people without knowledge are easy prey to unscrupulous  people or nations or non-religious groups, working to promote their own advantage.

We well know from bitter experience that it has come to some countries.

It was remarkable to find representatives of these 31 nations, regardless of nation, race, colour or creed, united in the problem of international understanding, wishing to develop themselves along their own lines, keeping their own cultures, realizing through all that there is a beauty and value in differences, though all our aims were exactly the same.
It was inspiring to the ultimate success of UNESCO that the nations of the East, Egypt, Indian, China, Iran, Turkey, as well as all Latin American were as interested in International Understanding for World Peace as we were.

I am sure you will be interested to know how we were cared for during the Conference.
As you know, the headquarters of UNESCO is in Paris, where they have permanent staff directly its many activities.
Julian Huxley, an outstanding scientist and able administrator, is its Director.
(Other names)

We lived at the Lycee at Sevres, originally the factory where the beautiful Sevres China was made and at the Salle de Garde (Mme de Pompadour, now a Normal School).

Although there were many sessions and free discussions, we managed to see quite a lot of Paris.
Living as we did at the Lycee, we became very well acquainted with the other delegates, meeting them for meals three times a day and carrying on discussions on all kinds of topics of interest.
It was very easy for us to develop an international understanding, but this has to be carried back to the nations, which is not always so easy.

During lectures, the barrier of language was eliminated by interpreters.
It is not easy to estimate another’s problems when they cannot be adequately expressed, and we only guess at them through the light of our own experience.

After leaving Paris with its beauty and culture and without seeing much material destruction of property I went to Austria.
(Random words scribbled: French visa, French theft, Meeting Margaret, Money, Salzburg, Police Permit, 20F)

We drove through the Austrian Tyrol, the most beautiful scenery I have ever imagined, up winding roads over and around mountains, around beautiful lakes and deep valleys.

The headquarters were in Leoben ?), an industrial town  of about 30,000 people. (Words: Iron mountain, mining university, walled city, gate 1200, 1700, clock.)

It was while I was in Austria that I visited many D.P camps. Most of the people I came in contact with came from Yugoslavia. Some of them had left voluntarily, because of conditions, others were forced out for political reasons, even taken in the middle of the night, put in closed trucks and dumped across the border leaving all their worldly goods and possessions.

We must not imagine that these people were all undesirables. They were from all walks of life, doctors, musicians, teachers, tradesmen, mechanics, laborers, and many many children whose parents were probably dead.

At present these people were placed in camps, taken care of and protected by the Allied Commission.
There you realize they must stay until the peace terms are decided and some country or countries open their doors and taken them in as immigrants.

In most of these camps , the people are encouraged by the officers to interest themselves in different crafts and skills. Some that can play instruments make up a small orchestra, then they are moved to other camps to entertain. 

Others who can cook and sew are given jobs as cooks and seamstresses or as tailors in the camp, for which they receive a minimum wage.

Others with clerical abilities help put in office routine.

Perhaps the greatest lack is in education.  Each camp tries to have some kind of school for the children, although supplies are inadequate and there are no qualified teachers.

It is estimated that there are 120 thousand displaced persons in Austria. 

I visited one of the children’s homes where there were 145 children seemingly happy, never having known  any other life, not remembering a home or mother’s care.

In one camp I witnessed the evening meal of a group of boys aged 10-14. It consisted of: (?)
I wonder how many Canadian children would have liked that fare. Nevertheless, the place was spotless clean.
Boys had made window boxes and filled them with flowers. They had also large veg gardens (no weeds) to augment their food ration.
I did not see any milk, though I believe that some of the babies in the children’s home had some. (Cows)

Each year the theme for Education Week is chosen for us… This year it is the four freedoms:
Want.. Releg ? Fear…of Speech

The need of these freedoms I saw very clearly in my travels this summer. I saw people in WANT without enough of the proper kind of food and with little clothing;

I saw people afraid of the future and well they might be in light of their own experience.

I saw people absolutely disillusioned and full of suspicion regarding their fellow man.

I saw people deprived of all the rights and privileges of citizenship which we as Canadians enjoy.

Often I fear, not realizing what a wonderful thing it is to be a Citizen of Canada.

These four freedoms, spoken of so glibly and lightly for other people…What are they but words if we do not make sure that we have them and keep them here, may I repeat, have them and keep them here.

We have spent billions to destroy, should we not spend billions more and finish the job with construction so that these four freedoms become the basic human rights of all mankind?

Everyone  of us believes in planning for the future. Every insurance policy, every savings account, every investment account is a means to plan for the future.

The greatest and safest investment in our futures are Canada’s public schools.

The world has become so small with modern inventions, radio, airplanes, we rub elbows with people of distant lands. It is time we made this proximity secure and comfortable with understanding and neighborliness, feelings on both sides.

Disaster can come through indifference, carelessness and complacency. We know that it must be secured and cherished though each succeeding generation. We, each and all, have a grave responsibility to fit our children to carry on. There must be  an education in Democratic Faith, in loyalties, in knowledge and in the discipline of free men.

As Lincoln said in his 2nd Inaugural Address: To do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations

More Yugoslav Refugees

Meanwhile, back in Quebec, Edith Nicholson inspects the Red Cross Troops.