Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Place where Hygiene and Values Intersect




May Fair Wells, who figures in my ebook Milk and Water. She was a Southerne Belle who expected her servants to do all the housework, except sewing. She liked that. She lived in Westmount, a rich suburb that sent its sewage downstream to the poorer areas.

Yesterday, I audited a Johns Hopkins course about the History of  Public Health and the professor explained that the Urban Hygienist movement of the Victorian Era issued out of Jeremy Bentham and the idea of Utilitarianism.

Ironically, it was in Paris where medicine men first figured out the epidemiology of urban diseases like typhoid.

But, apparently, they didn't feel that the governments should get involved with 'cleaning things up' as this would interfere with the individuals rights.

It was in Great Britain, in Manchester and such cities, were the urban hygienist movement  got rolling, because it was understood that healthy workers made good workers (and good soldiers).

Individual rights came second to the general good with these English.

Utilitarianism.

Kind of ironic, really, if you think about it.

In Montreal, the issues around tainted water supply and sanitation ushered in the modern welfare state, at least according to some scholars.

......

Using primary sources allows students to learn history from the inside out.

So does genealogical research.

A few years ago, I purchased and read the book, The Age of Light, Soap, Water and by Mariane Valverde, but there was little in this book that  I didn't already know.

I had been researching the background to the Nicholson Family Letters for my books Threshold Girl and Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, books that take place in the 1910 era.

In 1904 and 1909 there were typhoid epidemic in Montreal.

 Norman Nicholson, the family patriarch, who had contracted typhoid in 1896, wrote in one letter that he was afraid to drink the water anywhere, including up in the Bush in La Tuque where he was working.

Once bitten, twice shy.

Macdonald College, way out at the tip of the island in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, where Flora Nicholson studied to be a teacher in 1911/12, had put in a well in 1909/1910.

Before that, for three years, they had been using river water.

Ste. Anne was far away from where Montreal dumped its sewage but there were fears (real or imagined) about the quality of the water out there.

Herbert Ames, the Privy Man, who wrote The City Below the Hill, revealing how many Urban Montrealers still used outdoor toilets in 1897.

But with Protestants, like the Nicholsons, in that era, the concept of cleanliness got mixed up with the concept of godliness.

That's why I opened Threshold Girl with this quote from a 1911 issue of Food and Cookery Magazine.

"Give us a healthy home, where the homely virtues prevail, where the family basks in purity and peace."

The Nicholsons were a wonderful and  devoted family  who loved their fine home, Tighsolas, but their closets held skeletons too. Plenty of them.

When I wrote Milk and Water, about by French Canadian ancestors in 1927 Montreal, I discovered even more about the place where ideas about hygiene and values intersect. (It's a very complicated place.)

1927 was the year of another typhoid epidemic in the City, caused by tainted milk this time.

It was also a year of many scandals, one of which was the Montreal Water and Power Purchase, where a rich industrialist, Lorne Webster, flipped said company in a few days for a $4,000,000 profit.

The City of Montreal bought the private company in 1927 to control the water supply to their newly annexed suburbs.

My grandfather, Jules Crepeau, Director of City Services, was made a scapegoat  for this fiasco and he was forced to retire in 1930.

Jules was a 42 year old veteran of City Hall, who had started out as a messenger boy in the Sanitation Department in the 1880's.


The Art Deco Facade of the Public Bath on Amherst opened in 1927. Montreal had 16 such baths in the era.

Milk and Water explores the different values of French Canadians and English Canadians in 1927, the era of American Prohibition.

One key  area where values diverged was with this Hygienist movement. French Canadians were wary of the movement for reasons centered around class, ethnicity and religion.

My grandfather was on the City Clean Up Committee and he is quoted in the newspaper as saying "You can't force people to be clean."







Thursday, March 27, 2014

What a Difference Four Years Makes

Here are two letters from Not Bonne Over Here, the WWI letters of the Nicholson family. These two letters span the war, but they don't reference it. 

The Nicholson women lost many friends to The Great War and to the Spanish Flu, but their own close relations, including brother Herb, didn't enlist. 


That means, of course, that they didn't get to vote in the 1917 Conscription Election, despite being avid suffragists.

 (Only the wives, sisters and mothers of soldiers could vote in that election. Most Canadian women would get the vote in 1918.)

This must have bothered the Nicholson women who were active in war-relief work, but if it did, they didn't complain about it in their letters.  

I'm publishing these two letters together because they are amusing, read side by side.

The first letter from 1914 is from Marion Nicholson to her mother, explaining how helpful her husband, Hugh, is with the new baby.

The second from 1918  is from Hugh to Marion, begging her to come home from a visit to her Mother's, complaining about being left alone with his inconsiderate sisters- in-law.


October 29, 1914
281 Old Orchard

Dear Mother,

Your letter came yesterday and I was glad to get it and I can tell you that you need not worry about me doing any work for I do not get the chance as Hugh is a regular "Biddy" now and makes a very good one indeed.

I certainly could not get along if I did not get so much help from him.

In fact, I can say he does almost all that needs to be done and as for having any hands in water, I only have them in when they are not clean in need of a wash.

The Baby I think is getting along fine.

I had two nights that she cried and fussed so much that I was up nearly all night.

At least I was up from one until four and there is not much night after that,  is there?

I fancy now there was not much the matter with her, but at the time I did not know what to do with her.
 However the last two nights have been much better. I only hope they will last.

Now, Mrs. Morrison was in yesterday with her little boy, he is a fine little fellow, but quite big for six years.
She found that the baby had grown and thought her doing fine.

Tuesday night Isabel and Allen walked over here.

Just imagine Isabel taking that outing. She is so discouraged with waiting* that she is getting desperate.
She sent in the money for the eggs which I was to give to you to take home so I will send it tomorrow.*
Purves was in this week and came up for tea on Tuesday. He found a big change in wee Margaret. .
We weighed her today with her clothes all on as I forgot to when she was having her bath and Hugh said it was 9 1/2 pounds but that seems too much to me.

If I can think of it I will try again tomorrow.

This afternoon Dr. Clark of St. Andrew's called and Hugh luckily happened to be in and now he is going to send to Three Rivers for his certificate and put it into St. Andrew's.

He seemed to like Dr. Clarke.

I think it was just as I said long ago; he needed a little pressing.

I told Dr. Clark that we had Flora here too and she he said he would come to see her sometimes.

We are going to get three sittings there so will not be Church Wanderers any longer.
\
He was enquiring for Edith. Said he knew her quite well.*

With love to all,
Will stop for this time.
Marion



 July 16, 1918
39 York, Westmount


My dearest sweetheart,

I cannot express in writing how pleased I was to hear your voice over the telephone a little while ago and was very sorry when I learned that due to the circumstances, you were not able to come home.

Dearest, I have never written you on this strain since I have known you and before I say what I have in mind, I beg of you to please try and understand it in the light that I mean it.

 For Marion, dear, I love you with all my heart and it is because of my affection for you that I try to pave the way a little. I honestly, would not intentionally hurt you Marion.

Now sweetest, here it is: You know, Dear, that you have left me alone at different times for indefinite periods, but may I say that I have never yet found one month to be as long as this one.

Really, it has seemed to me almost like years. I would a thousand times rather be left entirely alone than to be left again with the girls, as I cannot get them to  do anything which appears to me to be reasonable.

I have come home on several occasions and the front and back doors were not locked. They will not close the windows and the house is almost like an oven. They forget to order food.

The refrigerator is left open; the ice is melting as fast as you can put it in. Cawlice. Water is running all over the floor and things are lying about. I am sick and tired of the whole place. 

Take pity on me, Darling, before I go crazy and come home to me to look after and love me. but under no circumstances take chances (with mother's health). 

Take it from me, God help the poor man that gets either one of them, if they don't change.

You can do more in five minutes than they can do together in a day.  You have forgotten more than they'll ever know. God bless you Marion and may it be God's will that he can spare you to me for many long happy years.

Lovingly,
Hughie

PS. Don't fail to burn this when finished reading.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fighting Back against the Pet Food Industrial Complex

Cat food started to be manufactured in the 40's and by the 60's there were thousands of brands, with Puss N Boots the most popular.  You can find many Puss N Boots TV ads on YouTube and print ads all over the place. From what I can glean, the brand is advertised without any raw STATISTICS showing what it actually contains. The ads were all marketing doublespeak, even back then, with highly ambiguous copy.


Nothing irks me more than a merchant who disses his own inventory.

I went into the local pet store the other day to buy some 'gourmet' cat food, cheap gourmet cat food at 59 cents a small can - as opposed to the brands at 1.50 a can or even more.

I found the shelf  and noticed most flavours were sold out.

I gathered a tall armful of  flavours that remained and walked gingerly to the checkout.

I asked the owner, as I unloaded the cans onto the counter "Is this cat food discontinued?"

"No," he replied.

"Oh, good," I said. "I thought it was discounted  because it was being discontinued. My cats like this brand. They really gobble it up."

"No, it's cheap because it is a lousy cat food," he said. Your cats gobble it up because it is full of salt."

The owner picked up a blue-green can, squinted and read the ingredients. "Meat by-products," he muttered, shaking his head.

"Well," I said sheepishly. "I supplement their food with real meat, like chicken liver. But usually they won't eat even the finest Pacific coast salmon."

"They won't eat it, " he answered, "because they are used to junk food. Just like people."

I half laughed, paid for the dismal little cans of crap and left the store.

However, I was not laughing inside, I was peeved.

I just  hate being emotionally blackmailed by someone who benefits from all the BS around the Pet Food Industrial Complex. It's bad enough with the Vets.

(On a recent visit, my vet complimented me on the wonderful health of my two older cats, their shining eyes and glistening coats but when I told her what grocery store food we were feeding them, she said it was very bad food.)

I wasn't born yesterday, I knew what the vet was doing (paying for her kids' Ivy League college careers) and I knew what the store owner was doing.

In fact, I was born a long, long time ago, and I can remember my mom feeding our black domestic tabby, Kitty Kat, Puss N. Boots from a blue-grey can. Puss in Boots that smelled of (gross!) FISH.


Puss N Boots may have smelled 'fishy' to me in the 1960's, but it contained by-products.. This ad shows a tuna and says that cartilage and bone is included for calcium, organs for nutrients and flesh for protein. But again, no statistics on what the stuff really contained.

My mother supplemented Kitty Kat's diet with whatever we were eating that day: raw eggs, stewing beef, calve's liver.  Sometimes she bought a bag of smelts just for him.

Kitty Kat lived to 17 and he was an outdoor City Cat.

I doubt that anyone from my generation is taken in  by all the BS around the marketing of cat food. We're not taken in, per se, but we still buy the stuff.

And we still believe BITS of the propaganda, probably cherry-picking that which resonates most from childhood conditioning.

 Like the line where they tell us not to make our own cat food because cats need special mystery nutrients. I ALMOST buy that one, because I can't find any evidence, one way or another.  And if there's no evidence, it must be true, right?

When I returned home from the pet store I vented to my husband. "We're being taken in by the cat food industrial complex, " I said, snarling, incisors bared, holding up a can of the cheap 'gourmet' cat food I had just bought, under humiliating circumstances, trying to read the list of ingredients through my reading glasses and using a magnifying glass.

Meat-by Products, grains, and a list of bizzaro chemicals that almost make me feel as dyslexic as my husband when I  sound them out.

"I guess the guy at the store is a BIT right. They are taking industrial sludge from the floor of a Chinese slaughter house and pawning it off as 'gourmet' (which means nothing) and charging as much for it as for a...ah...a box of fine rare Tuscan truffles. Hmm. 'Packaged in Canada. What does that even mean?

"You always say that, " my husband replied. "But that's how consumerism works. You know that. You wrote ads for a living, for Heaven's sake.

Corporations only care about maximizing profits, not about your cat's health, despite what the adverts say."

Despite what they have always said. (Yes, I wrote ads for pharmaceutical products, in those days aimed only at doctors, so we copywriters felt exonerated. Doctors should know better, we felt, than to believe any claims we made.)



Ah, the advertising. Lots of superficial feel-good claims, right from the beginning.  But where's the meat of the information??


Yes, it's not the first time I've been upset by this ruse. People are spending more than ever on their pets, a very recent news article claimed, and I'm no exception.

I've tried to make my own cat food a few times, but the trouble is the stupid cats won't eat it and I end up throwing it out.

Ideal cat food is supposed to contain 30 percent protein,  or so some web experts say.

 Most 'gourmet' brands  of cat food have 10 or 11, so no wonder the cats eat more than they need. They are starving for protein! (Not that it matters. They spend 90 percent of their time sleeping in whatever sun-streak they can find in the house.)

That's my take anyway - and I'm standing by it.

Talk about maximizing profits!

(And I suspect that  there's more than salt in these gourmet cat food products, addicting my cats. Catnip?)

But this time, I'm determined.

Even if I have to let my cats go without food for five days..

So, that night I make some cat food using ground turkey from Costco (the kind we eat) and other 'secret' ingredients and, guess what? It doesn't take five days,  just a few hours to get my big cat to eat the mush.

What did I do differently? Did I add catnip or something? Did I add (eek!) salt?

No,  I started to feed the cat's meal to the dog, right from the cat's own plate. The dog was more than happy to gobble it up.

My cat jumped onto the counter and started cat-chowing down.

Even those famously finicky felines can be psychologically and emotionally manipulated, it seems.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Washing Away Sins and Cholera and Typhoid: 1830 Liverpool to 1927 Montreal




Yesterday, I bought a book, the Life of Kitty Wilkinson, by Michael Kelly off Amazon. An inexpensive Kindle book.

I bought it because yesterday I listened to a BBC Radio Four Extra Drama from 1999, I think, Kitty Wilkinson.

Good Stuff!

Kitty was a Liverpool woman in the early 1800's who became a cleanliness advocate, with a difference. She was working class. She was a washerwoman herself, the lowest of the low.

And she opened her home and boiler to her neighbours so they could wash their clothes and keep away the cholera.

She did the washing herself, with the help of a few upper class 'do-gooders' who weren't afraid to get their hands wet.

The play is by David Pownall.

I am particularly interested because the play covers exactly the same territory as my Milk and Water, about Montreal in 1927.

Purity, purity, purity. Washing away sins. Difference between Protestant and Catholic 'good works'.

There's even some Kantian issues in there: what it means to be virtuous. Is being virtuous out of sentimentality and emotions not worth as much as being virtuous out of reason? (Something like that.)

Kitty was a tough woman, described in the play as perhaps having little empathy, or she couldn't take on the dirty work she did.

Mother Theresa like.

It is explained that the 1932 cholera epidemic came out of India.. Well, in 1910 Montreal had the highest infant mortality rate in the Western World, described as not much better than in Calcutta.

Thanks to Kitty Wilkinson, the first public wash house was created in Liverpool (perhaps in all of England.)

In the late 1800s Montreal started building 'bathhouses' in imitation of England. By 1927 there were 16 of them, the latest a wonderful Art Deco building on Amherst that now houses the Eco Museum du Fiers Monde, a working class museum - that criticizes the Square Mile  the Protestant Elite of Montreal, the same elite that fought for the bathhouses.

Ironic. I took the picture below a couple of years ago. The bathhouse was built during the tenure of my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, who was Director of City Services He is a main character in Milk and Water.




Monday, March 17, 2014

Nature Study - Then and Now


Blue Bells from Flora Nicholson's Nature Diary, 1912.

I awoke to minus 18 Celsius morning, which seems such an afront for mid-March.  Like many Quebeckers, I have become used to warm springs, at least for the past two decades.

But Montreal,  Canada has long been a cold, cold  place.

On March 12, 2012 I took a picture of my backyard because there was no snow at all. Yea! I was a happy girl.

March 12, 2012 and today, March 17, 2014.

A hundred years before that, on March 21, 2012 the temperature was 14 below zero Fahrenheit (Canada used that measure back then) and that's even colder than minus 18 Celsius, I think.

I know because Flora Nicholson, subject of my story Threshold Girl,  was a student at Macdonald Teachers College in Ste. Anne de Bellevue (about 2o kilometers from where I sit right now) and for an assignment she had to keep a Nature Diary.

(The 1910 era was one of rampant industrialization and educators were nostalgic for more simple, agrarian times. They felt city kids needed to 'go back to nature' if only in theory. )

A few days ago we drove by the OLD BARN at Macdonald College, that it still in use today  by McGill It was likely constructed before 1907 when the college was founded. So it's part of the original farm.

Date: March 21st. Events: First day of Spring. Notes: 14 below. Skating!

By April 1 st the temperature had risen to 45 degrees (F). O Canada!

On April 7 Flora writes: Sap of Maple Tree. Good run of sap on Sunday as night before was cold and frosty.

(Two years ago during very warm 2012 March they were warning that meant much less maple syrup. This year with the cold cold March, they are warning, yes, much less maple syrup. What gives?)

Flora's entry on April 12th: English Sparrow. Brown backs with touches of black. Male has large black spot on throat and up towards side of head. Tame.

And on April 16th. Robins. Back dark brown, Head Dark Brown. Breast reddish. Flies low. Cheerful song. Also: Woodpecker. (red-headed) Resembles robin. Back brown and white. Head reddish. Pecks trunks of trees with its bill.

This was a day after the Titanic sank. I'm pretty sure word was out on the street about the disaster.  Flora's sister, Edith, a teacher at Westmount Methodist Institute in Westmount,  writes her mother on April 19th:

"This year has gone by very quickly after all. What a dreadful accident to the Titanic and such a great loss of life. It seems to have cast a gloom over every one. People can talk of nothing else. Mr. Hays will be a great loss to the Grand Trunk. There are to be memorial services in all the churches on Sunday morning. A special one for Mr. Hays in the American Presbyterian.

I think I shall go out to Macdonald tomorrow and see Flora.


Flora and one of her 1911 letters from Macdonald College to her Mom in Richmond, Quebec.
Click here for a video tour of her portfolio.


video



(Still, Edith's April 19, 1912 letter) Later Sunday Afternoon.

I went out to Macdonald on the 1.30 train and spent a pleasant afternoon. She is looking splendid and is so beautifully dug out there. It is an ideal spot. The ice has moved out of the Ottawa a little but not yet from the St. Lawrence. I went to the memorial service in the American Presbyterian this morning. The front was draped with black. The pulpit with the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes. The service was very impressive . He is certainly well spoken of."

Flora doesn't make an entry on the 20th, the day her sister Edith visits her. But on April 21st, Flora makes her next entry in her Nature Diary. The ice has moved on the river, she writes, repeating Edith's observation.

And she continues making entries for about 10 8x5 inch pages, in pencil, in her neat school teacher handwriting. She observes junkos (aren't they winter birds?) clipping sparrows, crow blackbirds,  purple martins, and on April24, elm trees with buds about to burst into bloom. On May 4, 1912  she sees the dog-toothed violets of the picture. Six petals, six stamens.

Flora's  final entry: May 28th. Saw a bumblebee.


Flora graduated in June, as described in Threshold Girl. She gets a job on the City Board, teaching in Griffintown. Her students are mostly the children of newly arrived Russian Jews.

In 1914 she writes a letter home saying she is invigilating at Parent's Day and she describes a school packed with parents anxious to know how little Johnny and Sally are doing.

Here is a sample classroom exercise, in boxwork, as described in Flora's Macdonald Portfolio. Boxwork was part of Manual Training " to instil a taste and love for  labour, to inspire a respect for labour, to develop independence and self-reliance, to train in habits of order, neatness, cleanliness and methodical work, to train the eye to a sense of form and beauty, to develop industry, patience and perseverance.” (That bit is from Flora's notes.)

To be made in the 3rd year,

I will show the children a box, already made up that is both closed and opened out flat. Then I shall take a little review of the work taken up, mostly square tray, fancy tray, explaining that we use very much the same measurements in the cubicle box. (She spells cubicle cubical.)

Then I shall have the students place their cards on the table, with straight edge facing them. Then I shall have them measure two inches from right hand edge both at back and front edges and joining these points and having them cut off that strip.

Then I shall have them measure left and right hand edges and from back and front edges and joining these points which gives us three rectangles and  six equal squares. 

Then I would ask the pupils how many faces there are in a cube. They would invariably reply 6. So they would see we have too many squares.

Then I would have them draw diagonals from lower squares on left and right hand side and also from squares on right and left hand side towards the back edge, score the other line and cut the heavily marked one and fold. 

As I was giving instruction for this, I would draw it on the blackboard.



Flora's Candy Box from her Portfolio.

Flora continued to teach all her life, despite marrying and having children.

She also continued to draw and document Canadian nature scenes in her paintings.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Rue Mouffetard, then and now


A two year old video on YouTube of rue Mouffetard in Paris. A good video to visit if suffering from cabin fever and/or winter blues.


"The quarter I immediately fell in love with was around the Place Contrescarpe. The rue Mouffetard particularly.  Everything about it, including the outlandish baths at the foot of the street, reminding me of the East Side, the ghetto: Orchard, Delancey, Allen streets.  A world of edibles and of people who appreciated them. Eat, drink and be merry! Each vegetable had a beauty and life of its own. Even the pigs hanging on the hooks looked ravishing. So clean and pink, so enticing with the shamrock stuck in one ear."

This is from Henry Miller's Paris 1928.

I love his style, always have.


Paris in the twenties

I bought the book researching my next e-book based on the Nicholson Family Letters: A Presbyterian in Paris.

Edith Nicholson of Threshold Girl and Diary of a Confirmed Spinster visited Paris in 1928 with McGill University. I have her letters home to Mom.

She loved the Louvre. When first researching her trip I wondered "What would a Presbyterian school teacher feel looking at all those sensuous and seriously Catholic Renaissance Paintings.


Edith and her beau, Charlie Gagne, who died in the Rossmore Hotel Fire of 1910, documented in Diary of a Confirmed Spinster.


Since then I've taken a few online courses, history and religious studies, to figure it all out. It's a HUGE topic, isn't it?

All I know is that Edith Nicholson writes that she spent all her free time in the Louvre and that she was given a special tour of the Italian paintings by an expert through her McGill connections.

Miller is enraptured by the city when he first arrives, but soon gets tired of the moochers and Presbyterian school teachers...

So, Edith wasn't an anomaly.

 I wonder what she felt about this Corregio? Did the guide tell her that these pictures started out in the private porn collections of rich men?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Nella Last and My Grandmother: Two "Parallel" Lives Changed by War

My secretary with all of the Nella Last books in a place of honour.


A few years ago I heard the book Nella Last's Peace serialized on BBC Radio Four  and I was enraptured and ordered the book off Amazon.co.uk. A short time after I ordered Nella Last's War, the original book, and Nella Last's 50's.

These books are all based on the diaries of a Cumbria Housewife who volunteered for a historical project called The Mass Observation Project and who subsequently supplied them with millions of words on hundreds of pages.

Nella Last's War was originally published decades ago, but in 2008 it was turned into a successful television program Housewife 49 starring Victoria Wood, reviving interest in Nella's Life. (I bought that too.)

I know I find her life most interesting, even if it is a 'small life' like most women's lives up until now.

Nella was born in 1890 in Lancashire, five years before my own British grandmother, who was born in 1895 at Teesdale  in County Durham, not too far away.

My own grandmother did, indeed, lead a rather 'big' life, not that it was entirely her fault. She got swept up in the currents of history.

During WWII my grandmother was interned at Changi Prison in Singapore and tortured in an infamous incident, the Double Tenth.

               Self-portrait. My grandmother in her cell at Changi. From the Cover of Looking For Mrs. Peel.

What a difference 5 years can make!

It is  very likely that my grandmother and Nella would have lived very similar lives had it not been for WWI.

My grandmother was born in  1895 and not 1890 like Nella, so she came-of-age too late to find a mate in England and went to Malaya to marry Robert Nixon, a rubber planter. (My theory, anyway.)

During WWI, at 19 years of age plus, she worked as a land girl in forestry, guiding the huge Clydesdales that pulled the logs around.

Perhaps she got a taste for adventure during WWI, in the same way Nella Last got a taste of independence during WWII.

Homely, intelligent Nella didn't have to find work in her youth: she had had a considerable dowry and was able to 'buy' a husband. I think that's how it was done in Edwardian times.

This dowry is discussed in her diary. On occasion frugal Nella gets a little perturbed at her door mat status, and she considers that she brought the money into the marriage  that permitted her moody husband to start his business.

I can't say for sure that my grandmother went to Malaya only to marry, but I have to guess, as this was usually what happened.

(Well, British men came back to England after a few years working at the plantations expressly to find a wife. Their companies wanted them to 'settle down' but NOT with local women.)

In those post WWI days, these white British Colonial women were looked down upon by almost everyone seen as parasites of sorts or women living a fairy tale existence way above their real station in life.

Here are some relevant blurbs:

             "They (white colonial women)have possessed (or still possess)all the
            advantages of wealth but never been trained in the
            responsibilities,”leadership and courageous example.They are
            pampered and admired all out of proportion to their desserts in an
            open market. They are middle class were they back home, they would likely 
            be sweeping out a four bedroom cottage."


            Giles Playfair. Singapore Goes off the Air, 1943 (Playfair met my mother at Malayan Radio during                 the Fall of Singapore and describes her as a strong, stubborn woman.)

            "Indeed, the presence of white women in the tropical East sets a
            problem for which a satisfactory solution has yet to be found. The
            disadvantages are obvious; an enervating climate, a multiplicity of
            servants to attend to her wants and nothing to do all day except to
            seek amusement. I doubt if the white woman will ever be suited to
            long residence in a tropical country like Malaya, and I cannot
            resist the contention that her presence in such large numbers, is
            responsible, at least to some extent, for the decline in the white
            man's prestige.

            Bruce Lockhart. Return to Malaya, 1937

            The unsung maiden aunts of the Edwardian era deserve a very special
            place in British history. There would have been thousands of sad,
            unfulfilled women who were forbidden to take a career yet where
            blatantly exploited by the more fecund members of their families.
            Without these devoted slaves the children of Empire Builders could
            not have been educated in England because it was impossible to go
            home every holiday in those days of sea travel."

            Dr. Cecily Williams: Retired Except on Demand by Sally Craddock. 1983

       Four bedroom cottage? Like Nella, I guess.


Dr. Cecily Williams was interned with my grandmother and also caught up in the Double Tenth Incident where many civilian men were tortured to death -which resulted in a 1946 war crimes trial.

(There were four women involved in the incident and they all survived.)

But Williams was a medical doctor, so  highly-respected at the Changi Women's Camp.  Both Cecily and my grandmother acted as Commandant for a  period. My grandmother thought Cecily nice, but a bit scatter-brained, which is ironic, all things considered.My grandmother resented her special status and also looked down upon Cecily's spinster status.

These "Imperial Women" with servants to do everything didn't have much choice but to be layabouts. They weren't encouraged to get involved in "good works" in Malaya as they might have been back home, because that would involved meeting up with natives and upsetting the natural order of things. But they were encouraged, well FORCED, to send their children away early to England.

One local lady I recently met told me her mother, married to the Chief Surveyor of Singapore, did a lot of sports to keep herself amused in the 1920's. Golf and such - and she scored cricket for Singapore.

My grandmother found a way to alleviate her boredom and to contribute to society by becoming the secretary of the Kuala Lumpur Book Club in the early 30's  and Chief Cricket Scorer for Selangor too.

She was the only woman allowed into the men's side of the Royal Selangor Club to perform this activity.

(English school girls, apparently, learned how to scored cricket.)

The Kuala Lumpur Book Club started out at the turn-of- the-last century as an all-white bastion, so, I guess, it was considered a safe place for a British Woman, but after WWII, my grandmother opened it up to the locals, even, Yikes, to women.
My grandmother, Dorothy Nixon, scoring Cricket at the Royal Selangor Club. From a 1951 March of Time Newsreel.



Saturday, March 8, 2014

One Hundred Years Ago, in Montreal.


Exactly 100 years ago, the Industrial Titans of Montreal (and therefore Canada) were at war and my grandfather, a Montreal civil servant, got caught in the middle.

That's how I now see the totally forgotten Edward Beck Affair of 1914.

 Edward Beck was the Editor of the Montreal Herald, one of three important English newspapers in Montreal,  who ensnared three Provincial politicians in a bribery scam using Burns Detectives and a 'detectaphone' and who was VERY proud of it.

The Herald had recently been sold to a group of people. one of whom might have been Hugh Graham, the owner of the Montreal Star. He wouldn't say.

Whatever,  the 'new' Herald owners wouldn't print his story.

Beck writes in the Montreal Daily Mail tabloid. That's him in the photo.

The Toronto Newspapers and the Montreal Daily Mail, a tabloid, picked it up.

So, Beck left the Herald, started his own tabloid, Beck's Weekly, a newspaper with one sole published aim, to expose the corruption at Montreal City Hall. The original Title was to have been THE TRUTH.



His first act was to ensnare my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, Second Assistant City Clerk, in a similar set-up. (What WAS my grandfather thinking, all considered?)

This episode made all the papers, as Beck had already published the details, but only the Toronto Sun quoted from the Beck's Weekly article.


As you can see: Beck's prose was rather dime-store novel.

My grandfather sued for libel and won, but only 100 dollars.(LOL)

Beck was put under arrest.


Beck was run out of the Montreal newspaper business, not that it stopped him from criticizing Montreal City Hall and Quebec Politics in the future, in oblique ways.


Oddly, Sir Hugh Graham, publisher of the Montreal Star was a witness at Beck's Inquest. Hugh Graham was a notorious critic of City Hall and Quebec Politics, but a partner? of McConnell, perhaps benefiting from the tramways deal. (He owned land in TMR.. See Graham Boulevard.)

Beck refused to say he had spoken to Graham at the Herald.




My Grandfather was related to the Forgets. Sir Rodolphe Forget was the richest French Canadian industrialist and a partner of McConnell's in Montreal Electricity and Transportation.

Now, newspaper editors and middling civil servants are supposed to be impartial about the Big Business goings on of the Country, but clearly Beck and Crepeau  were not.

Anyway, my grandfather would win this squirmish and be richly rewarded in 1921, becoming the first Director of City Services with a salary of 10 thousand a year.

He would be once again embroiled in scandal: I write about it in Milk and Water: Scandals, Lies and Cover Ups in Jazz Age Montreal.

One can only imagine how Beck felt about the 1921 promotion, working in Ste Anne de Bellevue for a magazine representing the Pulp and Paper Industry.

He died in 1930 and his obit glossed over his 1914 debacle. As far as I can see he never became Editor of the Montreal Star.


But I only touch on Beck in Milk and Water. I have my grandfather brush him off in a few lines.

But going over the information today, I realize that there was much more to the story than I first realized.

In February/March/April 1914, as Beck was busy catching politicians under sleazy conditions, a Montreal Water and Power Bill was being introduced in Quebec.

The City was wanting a bill passed to make it legal to purchase Montreal Water and Power, a private company that ran suburban water-works - and that was making Montreal's galloping expansion very problematic.

Now THAT you can read all about in Milk and Water.

The City Engineer, in 1914, was suing Beck for libel over this business. In November 1913 Beck had published a full page hissy fit in large BOLD type, dissing the proposed Montreal Tramway Contract and Montreal City Hall Corruption.
(I saw it in the Herald archives in Ottawa, while looking up info on the Montreal Suffrage Association, a start- up that Beck gave a great deal of newspaper space to so that they could explain themselves.)

The Tramway Company's Brazen Demands! was the headline of the full-page editorial/rant in 16 or 18 point.

"It is well-known that the tramway company has City Hall under its thumb and it can work its sweet will with the people working there."

It is known to have an alliance with a sector of the newspaper industry, stifling public opinion.

The President of the Tramway and several of his henchmen occupy seats in the Legislative Assembly and unblushingly vote away people's rights."





Hmm. And despite this Private Members Bill being passed without a reading (apparently) it would take 13 years before the purchase was finalized and then, it  was finalized under very IFFY conditions.

 Norman Webster and other rich industrialists would buy the company in early 1927,  flip the company and make 4 million in a month or so, because Montreal City Hall voted to buy the company, for 14,000,000 and not the 10,000, 000 Webster had bought it for.

A MNA the Honorable Perron, would also make money. I believe his law firm defended my grandfather in the 1914 Beck Case. (It also was future Premier Tachereau's law firm.)

My grandfather  would be forced to resign in 1930, ostensibly over this Water and Power Purchase.

New Mayor Camillien Houde would claim my grandfather should have advised against the purchase. (Which made no sense.)

My grandfather would counter that it was all none of his business and that he never attended the almost secret sitting of City Council where the final decision to purchase was made.

And Webster and his partners would be acquitted of all wrong-doing in the affair.. Webster would be very relaxed even glib at the hearing over the purchase. The Court would concur: "It is s perfectly acceptable to speculate for business," the presiding judge would remark.

Despite costing the Montreal taxpayer 4,000,000 dollars, the Montreal Water and Power purchase would prove to be a very good thing for the City of Montreal.








Friday, March 7, 2014

When News Headlines Don't tell the Truth: 1927 Montreal


My grandfather, Jules Crepeau, Montreal's Director of City Services in 1927,was the first to give testimony at Juge Boyer's Royal Commission into the Laurier Palace Theatre Fire that happened in January of that month.

I wrote MILK AND WATER: Scandals, lies and cover ups in Jazz Age Montreal about my granddaddy's very bad year, 1927

Oddly, the Gazette Headline claimed  LITTLE PUBLIC INTEREST initially in the Inquiry.. Hmmm..


But interest happened! A lot of interest. So much 'interest' , indeed, that Juge Boyer was moved to recommend in his final report  that children under 16 be banned from movie theatres in Quebec, even in the company of an adult.

And that's exactly what happened.

Quebec children couldn't go to the cinema from 1927 to 1967. Well, plenty sneaked in. My mother-in-law got all dressed up like a grown up to see movies. (She visited Ontario once and went to a movie and was shocked at how badly behaved the children were.) My father in law in Westmount went to a movie theatre in Verdun that allowed in younger tykes despite the law.

The infamous fire where over 70 children, mostly boys, perished  took place on a Sunday at a matinee.

The churches, both Catholic and Protestant, saw this Commission as a chance to ban Sunday Showings that were taking a way their customers.

The inquiry was slated from the start to look into whether movie houses should stay open on Sunday, which really had little to do with 'safety' issues.

Here's the entire article from the Montreal Gazette.

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1946&dat=19270427&id=9JEuAAAAIBAJ&sjid=-IsFAAAAIBAJ&pg=6556,3972101

My grandfather's name had made the newspapers two years earlier, in Canada and even got into the New York Times with respect to a Senate Hearing into Prohibition. He was fingered by a cop at the  1925 Coderre Inquiry into Vice in Montreal. Allegedly he used his position to force police look the other way when it came to movie theatres and under age patrons.

Oddly, this very relevant information was never brought up at the Boyer Commission, just 24 months later. How odd.

In 1930, my grandfather would be forced to resign by Camillien Houde over the Montreal Water and Power deal, something he had little to do with.

Again, his alleged involvement in the movie theatre chicanery was never brought up during the raucous debate in the newspapers over this event, although Houde did cagily bring up  the Laurier Palace Fire the night of the debate at City Hall over whether or not  my grandfather's resignation should be accepted by the Aldermen. All soooo  very very suspicious.

My grandfather left, with my Aunt Alice and my grandmother on the right with two other aunts in the 1910's. My mother was not yet born.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Importance of Storytelling


In 2005 I researched and authored a Children's Literacy Guide for the Quebec Federation of Home and School Associations, with short easy-to-read pull out pages. Here's one of my favourite.




Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Of Shirtwaists, Generals and Online Courses.

May Hardy Fair Wells, a great seamstress.

Yesterday I started working on a new online course, Networks, Crowds, Markets, the third online course (with tests) I've taken since January, but the first with - UGH - Math.

I took it for the challenge and because I want to understand a little about social networks and how they work. I am in Communications, after all.

There's not much math in the course, just some algebra - but  it's been decades since I did whatever it is you do with algebraic equations.

The first class is on Graph theory.  I listened to a few lectures last night.

The course alternates short video lectures with short tests. (Not fun.) I aced the tests with verbal problems and did very very poorly on the tests with visual problems.

I mentioned this to my son, the Physics graduate.

"I'm so useless at math, I can't even do baby graph theory problems."

"Graph Theory?" he replied. There's no baby graph theory. It's difficult"

So I showed him.

Anyway, this morning I explained to my husband that I have no spacial understanding at all.  He already knows this and often mocks me when I'm trying to figure out how to get some household appliance to work.

"That's because I am a girl and I never made things with my hands as a kid. I just read and played with dolls."

"Women sew, " he said. "That takes spacial ability."

"Of course it does. But I never learned to sew."

My husband's relations, from both sides of his Family Tree, all sewed. The Nicholsons of Richmond sewed, as I show in my e-book Threshold Girl about Canada in the 1910 era. 

Margaret, the Mom born in 1853, bought a White machine in 1889 for 50 dollars (a huge amount) and she made all the girls' clothing for decades. Being nicely dressed was very important to these 'new' women of the growing middle class. After all, they read lots of magazines like the Delineator and Ladies' Home Journal.

A ragged cover of a 1910 era Delineator I bought off eBay.


Her daughter Marion, my husband's grandmother, the boffo WWII Union Leader, was a terrific seamstress, the most skilled of all the children.

She made the college graduation dress for her little sister Flo in 1912, using her old 'silk' and covering it in 'ninon.'  I write about it in Threshold Girl.

My husband's sister, Dean, born 1944, made her own high school graduation dress and it was Disney spectacular.

Margaret Nicholson didn't make her son's clothing though or her husband's. Too difficult. Those were store bought. Very expensive too.

Now on the other side of his family tree, well, his grandmother, Mary Hardy Fair, born in Norfolk Virginia, was a crack seamstress, who made all her children's winter wear in the 1920's, putting fur trim on all the coats, even her son's coat.

(Her young son was terribly embarrassed about this, out on the hockey rink in Westmount, and often 'lost' his coat in the tall snowbanks, I am told.)

Mary didn't sew because she had to. She was rich, married to Thomas Wells, the President of Laurentian Spring Water.

She was afraid for her children, afraid of the deep cold Canadian winter because she was from the Deep South.


Dean, in high school prom dress and as a toddler stuffed into one of her Grandma May's coats.

May Hardy Fair Wells  was thrifty though, and this is where the engineering skill comes in.

Apparently, she thought the pattern-makers were in cahoots with the material manufacturers, getting you to use more material than you needed. So she always bought less material and worked out her one layout on the paper.

(I only sewed one piece, in my life. In high school. A pink gingham apron. I never finished it and only passed the class by the skin of my teeth. I got a 50 percent or so. Too bad, because being 5 foot 11 I never found clothes that fit in my youth and it would have been a useful skill. My mom didn't sew. She was French Canadian and to French Canadians of a certain class, sewing was too low-brow. )

Now, as it happens, May Hardy Fair was the first cousin of General Douglas MacArthur, or "Dougie" as she called him.

First cousin on his Mom's side.  His Mom was Mary Pinkney Hardy.

I read a bit in an old National Geographic that claimed that MacArthur inherited his superior tactical skills from his Dad, the General, and his 'sense of style' from his mother's side, the Hardy's of Virginia.

But sometimes I wonder, knowing what I know about May's amazing sewing skills, if some of those genes didn't help the famous General better 'visualize' the battlefield.





Shirtwaists from Eaton's Catalogue circa 1910. The Catalogue grew in leaps and bounds between 1908 and 1913, mostly filling with women's fashions. Shirtwaists were the uniform of the new working girl. I write about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in Threshold Girl.


Nicholson Invoice for sewing sundries 1901

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Possibly the worst editorial ever written: but it had a purpose.

Edith Nicholson in her 'mannish' shirtwaist and the same shirtwaist in a Delineator Magazine. She also read the Ladies Home Journal writing in a letter home, "Curls are in this year. I read it in the Ladies' Home Journal."


In February 1913, an editorial cropped up in the Montreal Gazette. No doubt it was part of a 'disinformation' campaign to diss the suffrage movement and, most importantly, the militant British suffragettes who were invading Canada and Montreal and also making big headlines in the press (true and exaggerated) for their warrior-like ways at home.

This editorial is special for another reason: it just might be one the worst one ever written. It isn't really an editorial at all because it largely quotes someone else from another print venue.

I guess the Gazette Editors, all men, felt that they needed to quote a woman about suffragists.

I wonder what Edith Nicholson of Threshold Girl and Diary of a Confirmed Spinster thought of this editorial, calling her and her ilk unfeminine and manly. She was such a girly girl when it came to fashion.

This editorial was published a few months after militant suffragette Barbara Wylie came to speak in Montreal and mocked British Prime Minister Asquith. Wylie had written a note to Votes for Women Magazine saying she had lined up a possible meeting at Royal Victoria Women's College of McGill.

  Caroline Kenney, sister of militant suffragette Annie Kenney, was possibly already in Montreal stirring up trouble. She gave a rabble-rousing speech in early March that did not impress your average Montrealer.

In late March, the Montreal Suffrage Association would  be launched and with a loud promise to be NON Militant and 'reasonable.'

Miss Ethel Hurlbatt, a suffragette sympathizer from London, England  and Matron at McGill's Royal Victoria College, the Women's College, did not sit on the board of the M.S.A. She had bowed out of suffrage activities at the Montreal Council of Women recently citing work conflicts.  This article may have been one reason why.


The Efficient Citizen 

So far, the severest condemnation of the militant suffragette has, apparently, come not from men, public or otherwise, but from women.

This, it may be said, is rather in the favor of the militant suffragette than otherwise, as it is well known that women are the harshest critics of women’s shortcomings or excesses.

We do not care to weigh the value of such a judgement from that point of view, but simply to note it as among the facts or considerations that may lead to the attainment of an ultimate just conclusion.

In the last issue of the National Review, Miss Helen Hamilton undertakes to account for the appearance in Great Britain of the militant suffragette by the taking of certain English schools.

As she has been a teacher herself, she probably knows something of what she is discussing.

Her article is headed “Suffragette Factories.”

She begins by representing the manufacturers as pointing proudly to the ‘finished article, the public school and college trained girl” as not a mere woman, but an “efficient citizen.”

This expression is, she says, a favorite one in certain scholastic circles. Miss Hamilton does not approve of it, although it has won the admiration of some simple parents. To her it is ‘inhuman, so superior – so neuter” suggesting to  a startled and unwilling world “an almost sexless creature.”

She knows that her statements may meet with contradiction and that it may be urged that school and college have had nothing to do with evolving such a type as the armed suffragist. But such a type could not, she holds, have come into being save by artificial means.

 It is well known that some of the militant suffragettes are highly educated women, and her education must, to some extent, have been responsible for her opinions. It is just after the completion of her training that she begins to reveal her most striking characteristics.

And what are the characteristics that she displays? “Independence, self-assertion, self-importance, a desire to make a mark in the world, a somewhat aggressive and dogmatic attitude toward others, especially to men, a want of tolerance to those whose opinions she does not share, combined with a contempt for ideals which are not her own.”

How so undesirable a type can have been developed, Miss Hamilton is at some pains to make clear to her readers.

The explanation lies in the fact that she has been educated on pretty much the same lines as a boy, and that, at the most impressionable period of her life, she came under the influence of women who had undergone a similar training.

If the influence is strong and the girl is by nature malleable, she discards the home and is subdued by the school influences, and develops into a ‘bad imitation of a man, in other words, into a suffragette type of woman.”

Another  influence on which Miss Hamilton lays stress is the varied succession of entertainments, rehearsals, literary clubs, debating societies, and other attractions and distractions, which make a constant demand on the girls’ time, and estrange her more and more from home and its claims. It may be thought that instructions in domestic science, cooking, sewing, house decoration and management ,  ought to be a counter –irritant, as it were, to the distractions, and make for love of domestic life. But Miss Hamilton’s experience has convinced her that girls who pass through courses rarely settle down at home.

But why do parents lose control of their daughters? Miss Hamilton says that mother have a blind faith, not untinged with fear in the college trained woman.

There is another reason for the alienation. After living for years by a time table, the girl of “the suffragette factory” is at a loss what to do with herself , when it is all over.  As for the general character of education, Miss Hamilton says that the pupil is crammed with a smattering of a multitudinous subjects.  The result is that often instead of finding pleasure in reading, she acquires a distaste for it. Art, which would stimulate the imagination and emotional qualities, is pushed into the background.

The Efficient Citizen: must be a creature  of reason blind to beauty and gentleness – otherwise she might develop into a "mere woman.” But the central aim of all this training is to give life and exercise to the ‘man vs woman spirit.” The girl is taught to compete with men in the same kind of work, and ignoring the fact that nature has given him an advantage in some kinds of labour, as he is physically stronger, she learns to look upon him as a tyrannical oppressor.In fine, Miss Hamilton concludes, the Efficient Citizen, who becomes the militant suffragette, has ‘shed her femininity” with all that made it attractive.

For her own part she has no use for such a hybrid.

Hmm. The word hybrid. Was it Hamilton's or the Gazette's? It suggests a non-human, doesn't it?


Next bit is about Auto Vehicle show. (Oddly, the Montreal Suffrage Association has a booth there the next year.|The motor show opens today in the Drill Hall on Craig Street and the 65th Armory on Pine Avenue will have on exhibition the latest devices in the way of automobile bliss, which are rapidly growing in favor in Montreal as elsewhere.