Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Tale of Two Women Botanists, Sybilla Merian and Carrie Derick


These are beautiful botany drawings by Dutch artist Maria Sybilla Merian from 1730. During the Scientific Enlightenment women were kept out of the new field of science in general  - with the exception of Botany.

After all, looking at flowers was a genteel thing and one didn't need a formal education to document what they looked like, just an observant nature and some drawing ability. (And if women could embroider flowers, they could certainly draw them.) The importance of Merian's work: she went to Surinam to document 'new' species.

I've written a great deal on this blog about McGill Botanist, Carrie Derick, who happened to be a Canadian feminist pioneer and the first female full professor in Canada.

Just recently, I completed a final draft of Furies Cross the Mersey, a book about Carrie Derick and her role as lead suffragist in Montreal in the 1911/1913 era. I include a note about Merian. I have Derick owning two prints of hers, framed in her living room. That is made up, but I got most of my info from Margaret Gillett's little book on Derick, No Fool She.

Carrie Derick was President of the Montreal Council of Women from 1909-1912 (the era of my e-book Threshold Girl) and the President of the Montreal Suffrage Association, founded in 1913 and dissolved in 1919.

Also in 1912 she was appointed Full Time Professor of Botany at McGill, a 'courtesy' appointment as she had been turned down for the position of Chair of Botany, even though she had been acting as de facto Chair for 3 years.

She continued to be education chair of the National Council of Women - and she used her authority as a Botanist to promote eugenics, which is why there will never be a Heritage Minute about her, although there is a street named after her in Verdun. No question, some of her beliefs were quite scary: you can read about them in Gazette articles from the era. She gave lots of talks on the subject.

Still, it must be understood. Eugenics, in 1910 was very chic. 

McGill was eugenics central (according to the Oxford book of Eugenics), The Ontario Hygiene Reader for high schoolers had a chapter on eugenics, or choosing your mate well, and the 1912 Child Welfare Exhibit in Montreal (mounted by top citizens, English and French, and attracting hundreds of thousands of people) had a eugenics display. The NY exhibition, held a year before, made no mention of eugenics, but many of the smaller US exhibitions did, the Pittsburg Exhibition in 1913 calling itself a child welfare and eugenics exhibition. 

Google News archives shows that eugenics was discussed through the 20's into the early 30's and then stopped. I wonder why? (Well, we know why.)

There were two types of eugenics, positive, where a young person was told to choose his/her mate well, or negative, removing 'defectives' from the gene pool.. and of course the definition of defectives was left to the individual.

One funny article from the thirties I found has a lady decrying that young girls only are looking for a guy with a nice car and a 'life of the party' face and not worrying about genes.

There's a book of Derick's posted on archive.org... a collection of Botany articles published in the Montreal Herald in 1900.

The Nicholsons of Richmond read the Herald, so it is very likely that Edith Nicholson 'met' Carrie Derick through her work long before she met her in the flesh at McGill in the 1920's. In my story, their paths cross at suffrage meetings.






By C.M.D!!! Did they not want to say this was written by a woman?? I think so. The preface says these drawings are from the pen 'of a well known botanist of high standing'...No wonder Derick got into feminist activism, as the case of 18th century  Merian reveals, women Botanists were not such an unusual thing.



              Carrie Derick writes a note to French Canadian suffragist Marie Gerin Lajoie on McGill Botany Paper

                                    This is a more scientific paper, autographed by Derick.


 A drawing from Flora Nicholson's 1911/12 Nature Diary for Macdonald Teachers College. I don't know if she ever met Derick (through her sister Edith) but in my e-book Threshold Girl I have her attend a meeting of the Montreal Council of Women.

Flora refers to the dowdy Miss Derick as the woman who studies flowers but does not wear them on her hat.


More of Merian's work.


Cleaning the Cupboards, physically and psychically

My Verre Francais Amourettes pattern from family. The Internet has lowered the price on this classic art nouveau/deco piece, but I don't care. I've always thought it was lovely, even as a child seeing it in my aunt's home.


I can't stand the sight of my story Furies Cross the Mersey, third draft, so I put it aside and decided to spend my time cleaning up my house.

Metaphorically and literally.

My husband spent a week off lately cleaning out the garage, which makes room for any stuff I might want to keep there.

Last winter, I cleaned out quite a few cupboards and drawers, although the drawers have filled up again, especially in the kitchen.

Well, everyone knows the drill. (I kept a drawer full of stuff commemorating my son's 2009 trip to Greece with his now wife.  He isn't interested right now, but one day he may be. And besides, he lives in a small apartment. I also kept a box of his school work from grade 5, but that's just something I want to keep because my parent's never kept any school work of mine.)

For me, it's a psychic cleansing. Our big house over the years has been a place where family, friends and our grown kids stored all their stuff for short and long periods.

It's really bugged  me!

And then the grandparents died and that meant going through a coupleof life times of accumulated memorabilia and keeping only what really REALLY matters.

My in-laws, who kept a very neat  house on the outside, never threw out anything, not in 50 years! That's why I have the 1000 Nicholson Family Letters that I have turned into books about the Edwardian Era.
Picture of me and the Nicholson trunk of letters and stuff I found, from the Montreal Gazette, 2005.

Threshold Girl, Diary of  a Spinster, Not Bonne Over Here and soon Furies Cross the Mersey (a book that contains the Nicholson letters and the story of the suffragists of Montreal and the first female full professor in Canada, Carrie Derick of McGill).

I also have all my husband's elementary school report cards, his Centennial Year Phys Ed competition Silver Badge, etc. etc.

My husband stored most of his parents' stuff in the garage upon cleaning out their house ten years ago and now, happily,  all that remains are a few boxes of papers he wants to burn rather than throw out, although I hardly see the danger of throwing out tax returns from 1955.

I am determined not to leave behind such a house when I pass on.. (Of course, I will).

If I died tomorrow, I asked myself yesterday, how would I want my stuff ordered so that my kids will know what to keep and what to throw away or sell in a garage sale.


Like my two Rembrandt vases from around 1900. They belonged to my grandmother and then my aunt, then my mother and now me.

But I am the only person who knows they are Thomas Forester vases from Stoke On Trent, worth not very much, about 600 dollars I was told by a Antiques Roadshow Lady, but pretty and also a key piece of family history.


I have photographs of these vases from the month I was born, my parents sitting under them at my Aunt's home on Harvard in NDG in Montreal.

So, all I have to do is type the story of story of the vases on a Word Doc and stick it in said vases, for my kids, who could care less at the moment about such things.

And I will take any family photos I have and put names to faces. That is important. I have so many old family photos with people I have no idea who they are.

Oh, and I'll print them out too. Digital memorabilia is very ephemeral. What are my grandchildren going to think when they find a floppy disk 40 years from now? Or an audio tape, or even a DVD?



My Tuscan bathroom.. with my grandmother's urns, from her marriage at 1901 under the sinks. Hmm. The urns were at the head table at my son's wedding last year.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT: Too much of it.

The oldest thing in my house, a 1857 book of Romantic Poetry and the second oldest thing in my house, my crap laptop..(joking.)


Yesterday, I put away my 3rd draft of Furies Cross the Mersey, my story about the British Invasion of Suffragettes to Canada in 1912/13 - because I need some distance from it. I need to be able to see it with fresh eyes.

I hope to launch the ebook on amazon when Carrie Mulligan's movie Suffragette comes out in a little while.

So I watched tennis instead, 5 channels of it: the US Open, the Berdych match, the Dancevic match, the Sharapova match and the Wozniacki match, all at the same time. Too much tennis.

 Caroline Wozniacki practicing two weeks ago in Montreal. My pic.

Well, I flipped back and forth. Sometimes I put two channels on the screen.

Then, I turned off the sound and tried to find something on BBC Radio Four to listen to and found an omnibus version of  Kate Chopin's the Awakening,  but I discovered I can't watch tennis and listen to a radio play.

 They I went to litteratureaudio and listened to someone with a nice voice recite a bit of Zola's Nana.

I decided I wanted to hear some poetry. How quaint. But, poetry recited by amateurs is awful. I went to YouTube to see whether  SirPatStew or Jeremy Irons had some readings up there. No, unfortunately.

I found a nice Yeats poem read by Colin Farrell.

I did find all of my favorite poems on the Net. (My favorite poems tend to be other people's favorite poems, ee cummings, Dylan Thomas, Beaudelaire) But reading poetry on the Net does not work for me. Too many ads and flashing banners.

So, I decided to buy a poetry book off Kindle (instant gratification) because I no longer have any of the poetry books I bought in the past.

But then I remembered  I had at least one poetry book, an old one belonging to Edith Nicholson, my husband's great aunt, who was the inspiration for Furies Cross the Mersey because she was the one who left behind newspaper clippings of suffragette Barbara Wylie visiting Montreal in 1912. 

Imagine reading a real (and really smelly) hardcover book. What a concept!

I pulled the book off a nearby bookshelf, the one in the living room beside the immense pile of DVD's that no one ever watches anymore because everything is on PVR or Netflix - and it's just too bothersome to load a DVD.

The Poets of the Nineteenth Century, published in 1857.(They got a little ahead of themselves.) This book just might be the oldest thing in my house, and my house  is full of old things.

It was published plunk in the Victorian Era!
The book has 100 illustrations.

Now, not my favorite era, the romantics. Still, the first REAL poem I ever read, I think, was a Wordsworth, Daffodils. In the fourth grade. "I wondered lonely as a cloud."

 We had to transcribe it and the neatest pages with the best hand-writing got posted on the wall.

I didn't make the wall.

So I don't know whether I remember that incident for the beauty of the poem or for the humiliation of being the only girl in the class who didn't get her poem posted. (Something like that.)

Edith Nicholson didn't put her name in this green volume, but I am sure it is hers. Why? Because it contains a number of women poets.

Now, back in the 1960's, Tennyson, Coleridge and Shelley and Byron, Keats and Tennyson were household names, in my household anywhere as my mother and father were classically educated.

But not Charlotte Smith, Anna Seward, Mary Tigh, Joanna Baillie, Mary Russel Mitford, Mary Howitt, Amelia Opie.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning, maybe, but she was married to a poet, am I right?

The only woman poet I was familiar with was Joni Mitchell and her cloud poem Both Sides Now: Bows and Flows of Angel Hair that just got voted in some CBC survey the best Canadian song ever. (I think.)

I imagine only specialty English classes at specialty Women's Colleges covered these 19th century women's poets. 


Today, I can look up these names on the Internet and see their portraits too.

The Internet is reviving women's history. There's even information there on Carrie Derick, the first female full professor in Canada and the subject of my book Furies Cross the Mersey (because she was involved in the Canadian suffrage movement). Up until now, the only info on Derick was contained in a couple of books by McGill Professor Margaret Gillett.

But I digress.

Wait, I see a poem by a Mary Howitt: the Ballad or Richard Burnell.  I did  know one of her other poems! My mother often recited it. "Will you walk into my parlour said the spider to the fly."


Daffodils figure in Furies Cross the Mersey. In February 1913 the Montreal Suffragists mounted a Suffrage Exhibit (that Edith attended).  In an effort to separate themselves from the militant antics of the British Suffragettes, they put lots of Jonquils and Valentines everywhere.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Silly Little Fish Story


Yesterday, a beautiful late summer Sunday, I took a walk on the not-so-wild side.

I decided to buy a whole fish and grill it and serve it up with salads made with the organic veggies I had bought at Vankleek Hill the day before.

Why not?

Nice weather is a gift in Montreal, most years.

And winter's a'comin'. Indeed, they seem to be predicting a cool autumn.

I took this pic on my road two days ago. Yikes!

A few years ago, in a similar spontaneous mood, I bought a whole sea bass at Adonis on the West Island an baked it, with fennel, and ate it by all by my lonesome, and it was sooooo good.

Too good to be eaten alone, with Foo Foo the cat staring me down.

But, back then, my husband wouldn't eat fish that wasn't breaded and out of a box.

Today, I've convinced him of the pleasures of fish, if it is fresh. Well, a couple of trips to Nova Scotia convinced him. Fresh fish can be a wonder.

Adonis is too far to travel these days with these gas prices, not on a whim, so I went to the grocery store in St. Lazare. It's a nice big beautiful IGA serving the upscale community.

I passed many beautiful horses grazing by the roadside, a bonus for me. (I didn't have time to take pictures of them, but they were brown and glistening and peaceful looking. One roan in particular. I think the colour is roan, kind of beigey/mauve.)

They had no sea bass at this IGA. The only whole fish was a trout. "Truit biologique" said the nice counter lady (fish monger? Fishwife?)

I knew that didn't mean wild trout, but I bought it anyway. 18 dollars.

I stuffed it with fennel and garlic and red onion and my husband grilled it and it was...awful.

It was like eating protein mush, no texture, no taste. Just like the BBQ chickens we get these days. It just turns me of.

On top of it, for some reason, there were flies around. I've never had flies in my back yard gazebo. What's up!

"This trout needs a Hollandaise sauce," I said.

I'm guessing it was farmed trout. Not a muscle on its body.

Anyway, another fish tale about the 'best laid plans.' If you start with huge expectations you are bound to be disappointed.

The last trout I had eaten was at Cafe Mélièz in Montreal and it was superb, presented on a bed of squash.

The very first time I ate trout was in Wabush Lake, in 1958.

My father would go out fly-fishing and catch me a tiny little fish or two and my mother would gut them and fry them in butter. I was, even back then, the only member of my family who liked to eat fish.

Unless the tailings from the iron mines got in the lake back then, that fish was as pure as can be. The butter too.  Truit biologique.

My dad and me in Wabush. He's got little fishlings in his fingers or is it fingerlings in his hands?  I ate these ones. no doubt.

Years later, when I was about 14, I spent a few weeks in the summer in the Laurentians, visiting an older friend of my mother's. She had her grandson there, Ti Loup was his name. ( I guess he was Louis the second.)  He was about 12 or so (pre-adolescent) so we got along well, very well, I remember.

We spent the days wandering in the forests and playing in the streams and one time we came upon an 'old' man fly fishing and he said if I could guess the breed of trout he had just caught, he would give it to us. "Speckled trout,"  I said with assurance. He gave us the fish.

Up until then we had been living on hamburgers, almost raw, and peaches, which tasted way better than they do now.

I remember feeling so healthy during those two weeks. (I guess I was freeing my lungs from all the lead in the air in Montreal.)

I bought a basket of peaches yesterday at the IGA, but I'm not sure whether or not they will be edible. It's touch and go these days.

My husband didn't mind the trout. He has no great expectations when it comes to our fishy friends.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Making Maybe Movies in Vankleek Hill, Ontario


Vankleek Hill in Eastern Ontario is looking good these days, those turn of the last century homes all spiffed up. (Some West Islanders from Montreal moving there to retire, it seems.)

Queen Anne Revival houses up the ying yang.

If they ever need a location for the movie of Threshold Girl (that takes place mostly in Richmond, Quebec) they can use this locale.


 There I am in the rear view mirror, taking pictures. Rear view mirror. How appropriate!


This house resembles Tighsolas, in Richmond, built by Norman Nicholson in 1896.


Tighsolas, Richmond Quebec in 1910 or so. The house is still there. The new owner invited me to visit, reaching me by my blog, but I never heard from her since then.

I am editing Sister Salvation about the Montreal Suffrage movement in 1912/13. Tighsolas is one location.

In fact, the story has so many locations, it cannot ever be a movie or tv serial like Downton Abbey.

I did this on purpose; I tried to showcase the variety of homes in Montreal in 1911, from Julia Parker Drummond's Scottish Baronial castle on Sherbrooke, to a one room tenement flat with no windows- and everything in between.




Friday, August 22, 2014

Do Women Read the Montreal Gazette? They do!


A very interesting front page insert in the November 28, 1912 Montreal Gazette, right under an article SUFFRAGETTE OUTRAGES, about them setting fire to pillar boxes.

The Headline Suffragette Outrages is about the tamest I've seen, but the headlines got more and more sensational, of the murder and mayhem variety, in the next little while as the Mrs. Pankhurst's militants ratcheted up the civil disobedience, culminating in Emily Davison's death in June 1913... and then came war.

And this was the very time the Montreal Suffrage Association was being organized. You can almost understand why they promised to be sane and sweet and reasonable at their launch in March 1913.

February 1913 headline.


I'm just about finished Sister Salvation, my story about Montreal in the Era and the battle between the suffragists and suffragettes as in Pankhurst sympathizers.

It starts with Pankhurst's visit in December 1911 and ends with the launch of the Suffrage Association with Miss Carrie Derick, McGill professor as President.

It's as much Derick's story as anything. During this time she was fighting for her professional dignity at McGill.

 Toronto papers applauded Pankhurst.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Peaceful (and not so peaceful) Protests, Then and Now

A very strange strike out in the minutes of the Montreal Suffrage Association.


The modern media-generated trope with respect to the suffragettes of Great Britain in the 1910 era, consists of a young, bright but very bored member of the aristocracy getting involved with a cell and going out one night to break a window pane or two and then getting arrested, only to be released from jail when her angry but loving father intervenes through connections.

That's what happened in Upstairs, Downstairs anyway and in Downtown Abbey.

Upstairs, Downstairs did not have a budget for outdoor scenes, let alone complicated outdoor scenes.

In November of 1912, about 200 well-dressed women walked up the high street, then stopped in unison, pulled out hatchets and started breaking plate glass windows in shops.

This was a peace of theatre and very effective even in a world without Twitter. The proper middle class woman of Edwardian England was supposed to be shopping in those stores, not breaking the windows down. What were the men of England to think?

This was to protest the Prime Minister going back on his word with respect to the reading of a Conciliation Bill that was to give some women in England the vote.

Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst was in the United States at the time and she claimed in her autobiography, penned only the next year, that she didn't know anything about the renewal of destructive militancy, that the troops back home figured it out for themselves.

Sure!
A mention of torture through forcible feeding in a resolution in the Minutes of the Montreal Suffrage Association. There were some members who strongly supported Pankhurst, but in public the organization showcased their "peaceful and reasonable educative aims.' One of the executives, a clergyman, told the inaugural press conference in March 1913 that 'it would be better if the suffragettes starved to death in jail."


Pankhurst spoke in Montreal, in December 1913, after the renewal of the window breaking campaign and that probably wasn't good timing for the Montreal Suffragettes who had invited her to speak back in October.

Right now I am editing Sister Salvation, my story about the Montreal Suffrage Movement of 1912/1913, and the story centers around the idea of protests and marches.

There were no marches at all in Montreal.

Indeed, a curator of the Museum of History, contacted me a while back wondering if I knew of any artifacts extant regarding the Suffrage Movement in Canada.

I didn't.

There aren't any, as far as I know. Women in Canada didn't make placards and pins and such for their protests.

They didn't protest. They wrote letters to Borden and sponsored education evenings.

There was a Suffrage Exhibit in February 1913, but that event sold literature and pamphlets and sweet suffragette chocolates and valentines.


Mrs. Pankhurst was really ratcheting up the civil disobedience at that time and the Montreal Suffragettes didn't want to get associated with her anymore.

It's too bad that the truth about the suffragettes and their movement isn't well known, although Meryl Streep's new movie Suffragette might change that.
Dr. Ritchie England of the Montreal Council of Women picking up Mrs. Pankhurst in December 1911 at the train. England had only recently been made President of the MCW. It was Carrie Derick who asked for Pankhurst to be brought to Montreal. This pic is from the Montreal Star from a photo from Margaret Gillette's We Walked Very Warily about women at McGill.


A lot can be learned about the Suffragettes and their goals and methods-and Votes for Women, their magazine is available online.

A lot can be applied to what is happening in the news today, especially when it comes to Ferguson Missouri.

The suffragettes took to militancy after being put in prison for peaceful protests, for being arrested for protecting themselves from the police or refusing the protection of the police..for instance.

Americans held many marches, one huge one May 3, 1913, where a lawyer called Inez Milholland, or horseback, led over 10,000 marchers down Fifth Avenue.

That even figures in my story Sister Salvation as well.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Banning Militants from Coming to Canada

Edith's clipping, falling apart after all these years. Luckily, I transcribed it.

The first time I ever heard the name Barbara Wylie was when I read it on a headline of a newspaper clipping cut by my husband's great Aunt Edie - and left in an old trunk for 90 years!

The article, from a September 1912 Montreal Standard, is a glib one: reporters arrive at Viger Station to meet the British Suffragette Miss Wylie and almost miss her: they expect a battle-ax to de-train but instead get a tall, slim elegant woman.

Montreal reporters of the time often handled suffrage stories with more than a hint of glibness. Suffragettes were funny - that is when they weren't being terrifying.

Back in 2004, when I first unearthed the Nicholson Family letters from my in-laws' basement, I didn't know any of the background to this story.

Now I am pretty well an expert.

10 years' of research will do this.

I know that Barbara Wylie was a 'minor' suffragette, one of Pankhurst's troops who came to Canada in 1912 to stir up trouble, who went out West and soon returned to England to be arrested in front of His Majesty's Theatre in 1913.


Miss Wylie from Votes for Women Magazine, the article reporting on her trip to Canada.


I know that in August, 1912, Barbara Wylie and two other British Suffragettes accosted Prime Minister Borden while he was in London, England, and bragged about having been in jail.

I know that Borden banned suffragettes from coming to Canada, in September of 1912, but that the ban didn't deter Wylie.

I know that the Montreal Standard mocked this move, saying "How many suffragettes can we even recognize, 100 maybe?" (See cartoon, below.)

When Wylie came to Montreal in late September 1912, she didn't bother to do it discreetly, alerting in advance the reporters at Montreal. She was immediately invited to speak at a private Westmount salon, with a reporter or two in the room.

No one ever arrested Wylie, even when she almost incited Canadian Women to violence in a speech a month later on November 5, at the YMCA.


Borden banned the suffragettes in September because he had invited Winston Churchill and Prime Minister Asquith to come to Canada. Perhaps he did it on their behalf. They didn't end up coming.

It was left to the newspapers to deal with the invasion of British Suffragette and so they did, mostly by dismissing them or by ignoring their message or by turning them into fashionista celebrities.

Miss Wylie's lovely looks were more reported on than her fighting words.(An exception below, where she spoke at the YMCA in Montreal.)


Well, I'm editing my story, Sister Salvation, about the Montreal Suffrage Movement that was tied into the child-welfare movement, at least until 1914, when the suffragists of Canada (most of them anyway) got on the war wagon and pushed hard for more young Canadian boys to die in England.

(Someone obviously saw the irony in this as the Child Welfare Exhibit was right then and there changed to the Baby Welfare Exhibit.)

I have a scene in November, where Wylie speaks at the Y. I describe what really happened, as reported in the newspapers, except that I put Edith Nicholson in the audience.

Edith did not go to hear Wylie, I know, because I have letters showing she visited Montreal in late October, early November, but then went home on November 2. But she did cut out that clipping.
It is possible her sister Marion and her Mother Margaret went, but I have no proof.


Miss Wylie walks to the speaker’s platform, confidently, her heels clicking on the floor.

Her almond eyes look bigger and brighter than on the other day.

She begins by describing the events of 1912 with respect to suffrage:

And once these are detailed she says, “We women have nailed our flag to the masthead and we can no longer retreat with honor, so we will go on and never falter, until women have received the vote on an equal basis with men.”

The hall erupts in applause, Edith and Marion and Penelope and Mathilda no less enthusiastic than the most enthusiastic suffrage agitators in the audience.

‘I encourage you Canadian women to gather in thousands and go and see Mr. Borden. Use all ‘ladylike’ constitutional methods first, Edith Marion Penelope and Mathilda laugh loudly with most everyone else, and should these fail, then I think that the Canadian women should be as willing to show an unselfish and high spirited constant devotion to the cause of liberty as the women of England.”

There is more loud applause, but rumble of discontent rises from the back of the room.
“Women did not object to making themselves conspicuous in tennis or golf and they should not be afraid of it in the cause of liberty for women who are enslaved.”

Miss Wylie hits a high note on the word enslaved and it is almost too much to bear for the women in the audience. They send out a loud roar.

Penelope’s colour rises to a deep red.

She imagines herself leading a suffrage parade down Sherbrooke, with tennis racquet in hand.


But an old curmudgeon in the back breaks the magic spell.


Read my e-books Threshold Girl, Diary of a Confirmed Spinster and Not Bonne Over Here, all written using the 300 Nicholson letters from the 1910 era.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Propaganda, Beavers and Walks in the Park

On our walk by the river in Jack Layton Park, in Hudson, Quebec, as we crossed the pretty wooden bridge, the one that goes over the little river and the beaver dam, I saw this view of the sunset and asked my husband to pull out his cell phone and grab it.

He did, but he forgot to get in the beaver dam just below, the dam that was making this pool of water so smooth and calm and reflective and by extension reflection-invoking.

Nature has a way of doing that to us humans.

I walked with two big dogs pulling and decided that was dangerous  as there were other dogs approaching and stopped and waited and waited....

Finally, my husband emerged from around the corner, kinda excited.

He had seen a beaver! A real beaver. Imagine that.

Here's the beast.

For a Canadian 'boy' to get excited about a beaver, well, maybe that speaks to our 'unnatural' modern indoor lives.

It wasn't on YouTube, so was it real?

They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Well, by the measure, Canada's national animal is nutty as a fruitcake.

This location, by the bridge, bien sur, that connects Jack Layton Park with Sandy Beach, always has a dam.


Here it was last year. Well, we called it a dam, but it's a beaver home, isn't it?

Yea, I know, this could be any beaver dam, anywhere, any time, but it was the one at Jack Layton Park last year. We waited and waited but saw no beavers.

And every year 'the Town' tears the dam apart and every year the beavers re-build it.

As I said, right now the dam is 180 degrees across the stream, like a human dam.(So much for my knowledge of beavers.)

Anyway, beavers were chosen to be Canada's national animal due to this attitude of never giving up.

Also, the beaver pelt industry created our country, KANATA, or so we were told back in history class. The Hudson's Bay Company and all that. Fancy pants Frenchmen liked to wear chapeaux of beaver fur.

I am not sure if that is exactly true. I think Europeans came here for our tall ancient trees, and then left us a lot of cobblestones in return. They used cobblestones as ballast for the empty boats.

Eventually, they would use human beings as ballast, people traveling to a new life. (I think. Don't quote me though.)

There are some very tall, very old pines we see on our walk in the park, but they are not the original pines, I am told.

Those original trees were so tall you could race your horse through the Canadian forests unimpeded.

Back in school we saw a cute little film. (I'm talking 1964 ish and elementary school.) It was  called Beaver Dam and had a catchy little song about the Busy Busy Beaver.

 It was by the National Film Board and I watched the film on their website a few years ago, but it is gone now.

I recall my brother back in the 1960's telling me the film was "propaganda."

He was right actually.

I just looked it up. The movie was about the very thing I am writing about, humans and nature clashing. Here is the synopsis . It was by Crawley Films. (So who's the insane party, the beavers or the humans?)

As I said, this film  is no longer on the NFB website, but the Hinterland Who's Who about the Beaver is on YouTube here.

Now that tune brings back memories for me and most every Canadian who was a kid in 1960's.

Media played a part in our growing up, too.  Well, duh. Boomers, you know.

In Canada, in the 1960's,  we were already on our way to becoming an 'indoor' society even if the NFB - with its films about forests and rivers and aboriginal people, tried to promote another impression.

(Propaganda? Well, they did films about cities as well.)

Today, the beaver in an embarrassment to a country where the average citizen's job (off the McJob) is to sit on his duff and watch media and consume pre-prepared meals.

(Sort of like the Suffragettes of Canada whom the Harper Government seems to find embarrassing and would like to expunge from the Public Record. Right now I'm editing my book Sister Salvation about the Suffrage Movement in Montreal and in Canada in 1912/13.)

And, ah, there's a sexual connotation to the beaver name, which cause our most prominent history magazine to change its name from The Beaver to something really boring like Canada's History Magazine.

Here's the dam. My hubby got it after all.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Ugliest Heritage Site in the World?


A clip from a YouTube video of the rock-hewn churches of Ivanovo in Bulgaria, a Unesco World Heritage site.

Here's the link Medieval Bulgarian Church. This Unesco choice is the perfect blend of man-made and natural heritage. The medieval frescos are the main attraction.

Well, I'm pretty sure I might have missed this spectacle... so this trek through YouTube videos of Unesco World Heritage Sites is proving useful.


I also visited the Blue Mountains of Australia, a wilderness site.  A great place to hike apparently. With its own Grand Canyon.


Then, inspired by these hikers, I took my own hike to a local spot, the river-side park in Hudson Quebec. The newly christened  Jack Layton Park. The town has done a nice job in adding granite park benches for picnicking.

The water was low, the lowest in many decades apparently, and some men were leaving the park with their motor boat after an afternoon fishing expedition and my husband asked them "How was the fishing?"

The the only thing they caught, they answered, was some ugly huge light silver fish with a sucker mouth, species unknown. My husband wonders if it is the dreaded Asian Carp. This fish is not supposed to have made it to the Ottawa River.

As I wrote in an earlier blog, Montreal appears not to have a Unesco World Heritage site. Hmm. I wonder if the Guaranteed Pure Milk Bottle is a candidate.

In the 1910 era, Montreal had the highest infant mortality rate in the Western World, outside of Calcutta it was said. Tainted milk was an issue. The Power That Be started Milk Stations for Mothers.



Here it is before it was restored by Heritage Montreal, whitewashed and with Guaranteed Pure Milk rewritten on the surface. That is significant because English-only signs are not legal in Quebec anymore.

Here is it after, my pic from the train:


This landmark has significance for me. In University, in a film class, we had to watch a film my Dusan Makaveyev which was pornoish and featured Carole Laure being carried up this structure naked.

I think it was Sweet Movie. This filmmaker caused controversy with his Mystery of the Organism, (Orgasm). I think we had to watch that in class as well.

I suspect that Montreal has nominated sites to be Unesco World Heritage.. probably St. Joseph's Oratory. That place attracts tourists from all over the world.  But I don't think it is anything special, never did.

And I love beautiful churches, big and small, extravagant and simple, even hewn in rock.

One of my favorites: the Wayfarer's Chapel in Los Palos Verdes, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I visited that place in 1997 with my 'Uncle Peter' who has just passed away at 86.

He showed me and my husband all around LA, and complained only when we asked him to take us to Venice. "Why does everyone want to visit Venice?" he asked.



Wayfarer's Chapel. One with Nature. My cousins lived in the Riviera Section of La, next door to Los Palos Verdes, in a house with a stunning view of LA.

I just watched a rather long video on YouTube about Wright's Johnson's Wax Building. I'd seen it before, probably as a child on a TV doc and most certainly in magazines in adverts for Johnson's products. It all seemed like deja-vu.

I'm a big fan of Lloyd Wright - and if I were wealthy and had the choice, I would own a house in his style.


 Milk and Water is my eplay about Montreal in 1927, when there was a typhoid epidemic due to milk. The name Guaranteed Pure Milk Company is not random.

Milk was often contaminated in the early days of the century, so the name was meant to assure. This also was the era of the Purity Movement, which was, ahem, racist and sexist.

Here's a bit about milk stations from the 1913 Annual Report of the Montreal Local Council of Women. I put this bit in my current story, Sister Salvation, about the Montreal Suffrage Movement, which was maternal about about 'helping children.'

The Milk Station has been carried on in its new location throughout the summer and winter, with an average attendance of 100 children. The modifying is now done at the station by an Argyle Nurse, the council having expended 493 dollars for the necessary equipment. The Victorian Order nurse takes full charge for the rest of the work,with excellent results. She has a record of an average of 280 visits a month which does not include the babies seen by her at the station in the afternoon. 291 gallons of milk a year have been given without charge.

While 3, 280 gallons have been paid for, though frequently at a price before cost. The death rate has been only 1 percent, including the babies which died within 24 hours of being brought to the station. The city official to whom this report was made, found this percentage so low, he refused to accept it until he could examine the records, then assured the nurse that if the Council were to open other stations, the City would be very ready to help. An interesting evidence of appreciation is shown by the Maternity hospital which has sent many of its discharged patients to the station for baby food. At Christmas time a Christmas tree with presents and Christmas cheer was provided to the mothers and babies and older children.