Friday, January 29, 2016

Victorian Lead Smelters and Redwing Chapels


 My ancestor, John Cowen, was born here and not in Blaydon House. I think.


For a while there I thought I had an illustrious ancestor, Joseph Cowen, the radical Liberal MP from Newcastle on Tyne. Yea, I thought.

Looking up my great grandmother Emma Cowen's father, John, born 1832, I saw he was born in Blaydon, which would make him the brother of this man.

There was no other John Cowen born in Durham in 1832, so it had to be him.

But, no, I was foiled by a typo. My John was misspelled under Cowin. The John Cowin born 1932 in South Bedburn, where a future census claimed he was born.

Joseph Cowen, my great great great grandfather. Grocer. "Nation of Shopkeeepers" I wonder what kind of job grocer was.  In the Edwardian era in Canada to own the general store meant you had prestige and power. You could sway voters.

I am not the descendent of a radical liberal politician, friend to anglo-Jewry, but a descendant of an Victorian Age auctioneer, who was the son of a grocer, who was the son of another grocer, who was the son of someone who worked in the lead smelters.

Lead smelters, now there's the hideous job I was looking for.

It didn't take me long to find out all about the lead mining industry in Alston, Cumberland, where most of my Cowen's lived. (The place is still crawling with Cowen's.)

Lots of books out there on the subject. I downloaded a book off archive.org  about Alston and its pastoral and mining people.



For a time, apparently, lead mining was the only industry in the area, so my ancestor had no choice.

He had about 8 kids so that work didn't dampen his mojo.

Lead was in everything back then, even in food, up until 1900 or so.

 You see,  lead smells and tastes nice. That's why, in the 1960's, I enjoyed the ubiquitous aroma of car exhaust pouring out of the back end of the neon coloured T-birds on our street where I happily jumped hopscotch, despite understanding it wasn't good for me.

These Durham Cowen's were all religious, but what we refer to as dissenters. Their births and marriages were registered at RedWing Chapel, Garrigle, Cumberland.

Here's a picture from a genealogy  website.
from www.fivenine.co.uk.

Here's a drawing of the same chapel in the book about Alston and its people.


Yep, it's getting easier and easier to find things about genealogy on the web. That pastime used to the purview of people with enormous patience and no small amount of leisure time.

 Soon, I imagine, you'll just enter your name into a search engine, and you'll know everything about your ancestors in a pop. (For a fee, no doubt.)

Your DNA will likely tell another story, but, that, too, you'll be able to uncover in minutes, by licking a stick from a  10.00 Walmart kit, like a modern pregnancy test.

In the interim, there's so much misinformation out there, on the Internet, it can present a peculiar problem.

In my genealogy writing course it is encouraged to include copious footnotes - and, I'm told, beware other people's genealogies posted on those Pay-As-You-Go websites.  They often contain mistakes.

(It is quite possible that many people using the sites are quite as sloppy as I am.)

Now, I looked up Victorian Auctioneers - and it seems that was an OK job, with a chance to make big money, but, also, a job that preyed on misery.

All those Victorian bankruptcies chonicled by the likes of Mr. Charles Dickens.

There's an awful scene in Middlemarch is it? No, in Mill on the Floss. Or maybe in Anna of the Five Towns, where I wish my ancestors were from because it would be romantic.

And Thackery, too, it appears, did not like auctioneers, showing them to be  insensitive.
My Rembrandt vase made in Stoke on Trent - but it comes from my French Canadian side of the family.

Anyway, my Cowan ancestors come from a place called Bishop Auckland and Witton le Wear. Just a Google Earth click away!

My brother told me my father had told him that our Cowen's came from Ireland, originally. (Gee, I only learned today I had Cowen ancestry.)

Well, I looked up a bit about that surname and some Scottish Cowen's did go to Ireland to become Scotch Irish Presbyterians, to be discriminated against.

I also found a theory that some Cowen's were Cohen's, Sephardic Jews.

(And looking all this up took about 1 hour. So beware mistakes.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

All Over the Place about Ancestors

 Reverend John Forster, my great grandfather
And Emma Cowen his (second) wife.


I belong to a monthly genealogy writing class and it's quite a treat.

The stories contributed by my fellow members each meeting are simply brilliant.

They are colourful snapshots of Canadian social history, with quite a few fun stories about eccentric 'maiden' aunts (yes, they really existed); as well as informative tales about resourceful businessmen who made a real contribution to our economy; and, lest we forget, many, many war stories.

In our group, we try to encourage the quirky tale or the mysterious tale. Family myths are fun but family truths are what really interests us.

We don't want to believe the glossy obit, we go deeper.

Oh, and we post these stories, some of them, anyway, on genealogyensemble at Wordpress.

Lately, I have been contributing stories about the Canadian suffragists, a history only obliquely related to my ancestors. I am writing a book, Service and Disservice, about the Canadian suffragists and their involvement in the 1917 Conscription Crisis.

But, today, I discovered my paternal great-grandfather online. He's John Forster, a primitive Methodist minister from Yorkshire, UK and I think I may write him up for a future meeting.

Now, I've written a great deal about my grandmother, his eldest daughter, Dorothy Forster Nixon, who survived WWII at Changi Prison.

Indeed, I've written an entire play about here:  Looking for Mrs. Peel. I used her war diary. It all sounds an awful lot like Tenko, the 1980 BBC series about women prisoners of war in the Far East. I guess they go it right, back then.

I found Dorothy on the 1911 UK Census, but she was at boarding school (Quaker, co-educational) and that didn't tell me anything about who her dad and mom were.

All I knew, from family lore, was that her father was as Methodist minister and that he got Alzheimer's in his later years and woke up one night and said to his wife, "Woman, what are you doing in my bed?"

(His daughter, Nora, also got Alzeimer's and so did his grandson, my father, Peter. Alas.)

Today, I looked up the 1901 UK census to find Dorothy in Middleton-on Teesdale, just 5 years old and her father John and mother, Emma, listed with her.

(John and Emma. Hmm. Looking for Mrs. Peel. LOL)



Then looking up "primitive Methodist minister" and "John Forster" on Google, I found a web page devoted to his memory - and to others like him. My Primitive Methodist Ancestors.

Apparently, great-granddad John was an itinerant minister, son of a farmer, who was extremely well-read but didn't throw that fact in the face of his parishoners.

(Dorothy, before being interned, was librarian at the Kuala Lumpur Book Club.)

John Forster also liked to write essays and poems. I found some titles online: "Heredity in relation to morals." "Primitive Methodism and the Labour Question." "The industrial problem and its solution."

Hmm. I can see where we all get our Windbagism. But, I jest.

His poems are very good apparently. (I wish I could read them.) A book of verse, Pictures of Life in Verse was published in 1922, the year my father, his grandchild, was born. That's also the year T.S. Eliot's the Wasteland as published, ushering in modernism.



As someone who also loves novels and who read How Green Was My Valley in late elementary school, I have long preferred to believe that I come from coal miners.

It's not such a leap: there was lots of coal mining in the North of England.

But, no.

 It seems I come from the commercial class.  Emma Cowen is from a family, whose father, John was an auctioneer on the street below. As far as I can see, his father, Joseph was a grocer in Bishop Auckland. One of his sons worked as a truck driver at a colliery at one time.

Eliot Street in Crook, where my great grandmother, Emma Cowen Forster, was born.

Now, you have to be careful with genealogy. At first I thought the John Cowan who was her father was born in Blaydon, in the manor there.

That would have made him a relation of Joseph Cowen, the radical Liberal MP.

I thought this because that was the only entry for  a John Cowan born in Durham at the right time.

 Then I realized there was another entry, misspelled Cowin, where the father, John, was born in the right place, Holthorpe Mill.

He's the son of the grocer. Grocer, MP, eh...He's my ancestor, if no one cheated.

All these places are only 30 miles apart.

Blaydon had a lead mine at one time, and then the area got a coke facility, coal/coke not Coca Cola.  It was run by Babcock-Wilcox, an American company I know well.

The husband of Kathleen Weller, a member of the executive of the Montreal Suffrage Association, was the Canadian head of that company.

A little before WWI broke out, Mr. Weller went to England (submarines?) and Kathleen tagged along. While in England she hung out with the suffragettes and attended a meeting in London's East End with Sylvia Pankhurst. Then she came home to Montreal and gave a speech supporting Pankhurst's violent methods. Oh, my!

This will be all in Service and Disservice.  I didn't have Mr. Weller going to Blaydon, but I guess I will now!

Funny how things work out.

Anyway, I can see that John was preaching in Helmsley in 1912. That's the town where Dorothy's husband, Robert Nixon, was born. His dad was a delver, a rock digger. (I've also seen their home, an plain brick industrial townhouse.)

So, that explains why I am here, blogging about these dead people.

Robert, who worked as a footman a first, (so Downton Abbey)  went to Malaya in 1912 but returned in 1916, probably to find a British wife. The rubber companies wanted it that way. Women were 'civilizing' influences.

Dorothy followed  him to Malaya, but only in 1921, after spending the WWI years working as a land girl in forestry, leading Clydesdales and their loads of logs  through the forests.

When she got to Malaya, she found he still had an Asian 'mistress.'  Still, she got pregnant immediately with my father. (I did the math.)


James McGill, No Fool She and Suffrage Politics in Canada 1912


James McGill weathers the (very small) storm on the McGill Campus.

A while back, I went to McGill and found what I have been looking for for years.

I found that copy of Margaret Gillett's biography of Carrie Derick, No Fool She, in the engineering library.

I thought No Fool She was Gillett's Master's Thesis from Columbia, but it isn't.

 It is the 26 page text of an important speech Gillett gave in 1989 before the McGill Alumnae Society about employment equity at McGill.

Apparently, the situation vis-a-vis women at McGill in  1989 wasn't a hell of a lot better than in 1912 when Carrie Matilda Derick became the first female full professor in Canada - under messy circumstances.

In fact, in 1989 there was only one female dean at McGill and she was, apparently,  head of a tiny faculty.

This Gillett speech (that has been oft quoted by others) describes Derick's education history and her difficulty getting respect from her academic peers at McGill.

She was trained as a school teacher (McGill Normal School) before returning to college in 1887 where, as a mature student, she got the highest marks in her class.

After attending Harvard and the University of Bonn, and after teaching at McGill as an associate, she eventually was appointed a full-professor at that institution but the appointment was mostly ceremonial .

Derick's salary did not increase, nor did her duties change - and she wasn't allowed to sit on any faculty boards.

Still, Derick was making $2000 a year, a nice salary for anyone at the time. (Marion Nicholson made 650. a year as a 6th year teacher with Model School Diploma. The cook at Royal Victoria Women's college was making 360. a year.)

So no wonder Derick  had the time to take on the duties of the Presidency of the Montreal Suffrage Association in 1913-1919 - and no wonder she had delayed her decision through 1912.

Gillette explains how, in 1912, there was an opening in the Botany Department of McGill  and how an American Professor of Botany with connections at Princeton and 6 years of academic experience at Columbia in N.Y. and business experience with the NY Botanical Gardens was hired over local girl Carrie Derick despite the fact William Van Horne, a prominent McGill governor, wanted her for the job.



I got lost in a Harry Potterish world that day. The Derick book I wanted to read was on the fourth floor of the engineering library. I took the modern elevator up, but when I went to take it down it didn't want to move, so I took this as a sign to take the stairs, but ended up in a Victorian stairwell, with a little sitting room at the side with a fireplace with the inscription PROVE ALL THINGS and ornate oak doors to nowhere. The old library! The old entrance! I finally got out!


I find this following bit of info particularly amusing: Gillett explains how the governors of the McGill were looking for an accomplished scientist to fill a vacancy, a person with loads of publications, excellent people skills, a great personality, great lecturing skills - as well as practical business experience.

 Derick, amazingly enough, had all of the above attributes, except for the  business experience. And not only that,  she had been 'acting' Chair of the department of Botany since 1909 when the previous Chair became ill.

The McGill governors, it appears, were unwilling to exchange Derick's community leadership activities (President of the Montreal Council of Women from 1909-1913, Vice-President of the National Council of Women) for the business experience.

Some McGill leaders wanted Derick to get the post, including Dean Walton of the Law School, her partner in suffrage advocacy. In 1913, Walton  would soon take a position under her at the Montreal Suffrage Association.

Anyway, this American, an Alabaman named Lloyd, got hired and his first act was to plunk his menial Miss Derick back in the lab as a demonstrator. She protested that the work was beneath her and almost quit but things were eventually worked out between them.

As far as I can see, Gillett does not mention Derick's suffrage advocacy at all in No Fool She, but does say Derick had an impressive C.V.

I wonder if Derick purposely left her suffrage advocacy out of her  1912 C.V. (I wonder if her support of woman suffrage got in the way of her appointment.)

(Some McGill people, like Walton were for Woman Suffrage, others most opposed. It was a very controversial topic at the time.


Gillett does mention Derick's interest in eugenics, and not in a critical way.  McGill, I read somewhere else, was eugenics central in Canada in the 1910 era.

But, someone has underlined the eugenics paragraph in the Engineering Library copy of No Fool She. 

These days eugenics is THE controversial issue re: Carrie Derick's legacy and not the suffrage business. (The suffrage is so uncontroversial it is almost too boring,)

The eugenics advocacy is what people have focused on lately when disparaging Derick's many considerable accomplishments. (I have not shied away from it on this blog.)

  Still, Miss Carrie Matilda Derick has a street named after her in Verdun.

No statue on the campus though ;)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Famous Canadian Suffrage Leader of 1917 was a Pacfist who got to Vote in the 1917 election


Here's an item  revealing that in 1917 Mrs. Chapman Catt, American Suffrage leader, used  Flora MacDonald Denison of Toronto to help promote the Votes For Women cause in New York State.

Right spank in the middle of the very messy Canadian conscription crisis!

Poor Flora. She had been kicked upstairs by Canadian Suffragists in 1914, who did not like her feminist, free-love ways.

That year, in Canada, the social reform suffragists, led by Constance Hamilton, from the wealthy Rosedale section of Toronto, took over from the Equal Rights suffragists, led by Augusta Stowe Gullen, a doctor and Flora MacD, a mere seamstress and lowly journalista.

It is all in my book Service and Disservice, the follow up to Furies Cross the Mersey, the story of the British Invasion of militant suffragettes to Canada in 1912/13.


Thanks to this misspelling of Denison's last name, I found an interesting tidbit online in a Pittsburg newspaper.



The report is from 1913 and mentions the Washington Suffrage Parade and the the Canadian delegation, led by Denison.

This is the straw that broke the camel's back, as far as I can see. (And I've already put it in the first draft of my  book.)

Here, Denison is described as the Great Canadian Suffrage Leader in that enormous 1913 American parade and Mrs. Hamilton of Toronto's Equal Suffrage League probably thought she was the one who should lead the Canadian movement, being a much more sensible women, British born, and very well-married to boot.

So, in March 1914, Hamilton mounted a successful coup and started her own National Equal Franchise Union that did little to promote Canadian woman suffrage during WWI except when backing the Wartime Elections Act of 1917 that gave the vote only to women with men dead or active at the Front.

Some thought the Wartime Elections Act to be  'affront to democracy' or shameless gerrymandering. I think it is an embarrassing bit of feminist history largely ignored by historians.

Ironically, pacifist Denison was eligible to vote in the 1917 election: her son, Merrill, had signed up and was an ambulance driver at the Front.




So, these Ontario suffragists wore red hats! Now this picture from the Toronto Sunday World is clearer. This is the ONLY picture of Canadian suffragists marching that you will ever see.




Sunday, January 24, 2016

Who Shares the Cost of War? Says the Montreal Suffrage Association

My facsimile of a poster in the MSA archives.

BEFORE VERDUN

By Frances Fenwick Williams

No prayer can help, no agony atone,
As I came into life I go  - alone!

Another man is lying by my side,
Another, caught in death's fast-brimming tide.

Mine was the hand that struck his life away,
And his the hand that laid me low today.

Yet now, as nearer draws the dreadful end,
He seems to me a brother and a friend.

What is he thinking as his life ebbs fast?
(How lonely each poor soul is at the last!)

If I could hear him speak before he dies I should not feel so desolate,  but he lies,
Silent and spent.

His lips grow slowly white.

I hate to look upon the piteous sight!

I have some water here. If I could crawl
Close to his death-place he should have it all.

Ah, I have reached him " but he shrinks.
Poor friend! My wish is but to share your bitter end.

He smiles , he drinks! Ah, me, how eagerly
He laps the water and leans back to die.

Oh, while the death-guns shriek, the madmen fight,
Speak to me, brother!
Darker grows the night,
And I am friendless, and my life ebbs fast ,
(How lonely each poor soul is at the last!)

He smiles. He speaks.
Oh, brother, louder pray! I'm growing deaf.
(That means death's near, they say.)
No war where we are going?
Friend, your hand! Together let us seek that longed-for land.
No war!. How white he is, how cold a thing!
But his dead face has robbed death of her sting.


Cabinet of the Prime Minister
Ottawa, the 13th of September, 1917.

Madam,
I am in receipt of your telegram of the 11th of this month regarding the War Time Elections Act.

It is clear that you don’t appreciate my position and what the government has to deal with.  I herewith include a letter that I addressed to another correspondent on this subject.

R. Borden.

WHO SHARES THE COST OF WAR?

Who faces death in order to give life to men? WOMEN.

Who loves and works to raise the sons who are killed in battle? WOMEN

Who keeps shops and schools and works in factories while the men are in the trenches. WOMEN

WWI poster of the Montreal Suffrage Association



This is the first few paragraphs of Service and Disservice, in editing,  about the Canadian suffragists and their iffy involvement in the Conscription Crisis. It's the follow up to Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British Invasion of militant suffragettes to Canada in 1912/13.


Flora Macdonald Denison

So you want to talk to me, about what exactly? You want me to explain my position on Woman Suffrage back in the day, 1913-1918.

Well, you must know of my position. I wanted woman to have the vote. All women. Women equal with men.

You want me to focus on the you-know-what, the Great Deception of 1917, (or the Disenfranchise Act as Dr. Margaret Gordon, my successor as President of the Canadian Suffrage Association, aptly described it in an angry letter to the newspapers back in the day).

“It would be more direct and at the same time more honest, if it simply stated that all who did not pledge themselves to vote Conservative would be disenfranchised,” she wrote.

Peculiar laws you moderns have, allowing you to bring back from the dead people, to grill them on an historical point of interest. Not that I am a bit surprised.

To what end all of this?   To promote democracy by shedding light on a shady chapter in Canadian history, you say. Ah.

Well, then, let’s get started.

Am I on trial? Or am I here to testify against the other ones, the truly culpable parties, those suffragists among us who were guilty of crimes against democracy?

Either way, I have nothing to hide.

Never did. I wasn’t like the others. I always wore my heart on my sleeve.  But you’ve already figured that out, haven’t you?

I can tell by that half-smile on your lips.

You want me to start when? In June, 1913.  As  good a place as any, I guess,  a full year into my Presidency of the Canadians Suffrage Association, and  about one year before I was deposed, kicked upstairs, if you will and given that title of Honorary President, with Dr. Gordon taking my place.

And all because of  Mrs. L.A. Hamilton.

(If I could let out a giant sigh, right now, I would, but, of course, that is not possible.)

Let me start, then, by painting you a pretty little word picture. 

After all, that is what I do – or did – best, back in the day.

Ontario Suffragists, including Denison and Hamilton, march in the 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade.

I was a wonderful wordsmith, you know, a journalist, as well as a capable seamstress; a creative person, first, I think, but also a very practical person, whatever my detractors liked to say.

I was a woman who was used to supporting herself and who, at times, had to support her entire family.

 If I wasn’t perfect with council meetings and agendas and minute books, well, that’s not such a terrible thing, is it?

So, imagine this, if you will:  Union Station in Toronto, one bright morning in May, 1913.  The departure platform.

A handsome full-figured woman in her middle years (that’s me)  with a fine, strong profile full of character, is participating in a little ceremony in front of her compartment.

 She is embarking on a trip, first to Boston, then New York, by train, and then to Europe by steamer, to attend an important international conference on the woman  suffrage issue.

Her strapping college-age son, by her side, is accompanying her on the trip.

Two little darling brown haired children clutching bright bunches of yellow daisies proudly strut up and  hand each of the people a bouquet.

This is a families-friendly touch I thought up myself.

It is something to allow the cub reporter sent by the Toronto World, to show what he can do words, to liven up this otherwise dull assignment.

It’s also a little bit of political damage control,  as I’ll explain a little later.

After the children have done their bit,  Augusta Stowe-Gullen, that is Dr. Stowe Gullen, the first female graduate of a Canadian medical school, and daughter of Emily Howard Stowe, the first female doctor in Canada, steps up to present me, just me this time, with a giant bouquet of red roses, this time.

This is yet another carefully-curated scene and we are trusting that the young reporter gets it right in the newspaper the next day.

The woman (me) is Flora Macdonald Denison, President of the Canadian Suffrage Association, an organization started by Emily Howard Stowe when Victoria was still on the throne, and she is off to Budapest to attend the Conference of the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance and to report on it for the Toronto World in her newspaper column, Stray Leaves from a Suffragette.

But, first, she makes this little speech for the benefit of the small group gathered, especially the reporter. “I go to Europe,” she says, “as a representative of Canadian women who have pledged themselves to the suffrage cause. Failure is impossible.”

The people  around her clap and she climbs up the stairs onto the train.

From Toronto she will go to Paris, to report on the latest French fashions. She is, after all, a couturier by trade,  once was in charge of the custom dress department at Robert Simpson’s, and then it’s off to England, to survey the suffrage situation there, as a guest of Pankhurst’s WSPU.

The name of Mrs. Pankhurst is like a red flag to a bull and the Suffragists of Canada in this era work harder to prove that they aren’t militant suffragettes than they ever do to fight for the vote.
Such is the sad situation.

I, myself,  had entertained Mrs. Pankhurst in my home in Toronto on two occasions, in 1909 and 1911.

For this trip, Mrs. Pankhurst  is not in any position to reciprocate, being on the run from the police, so I will stay with Barbara Wylie, a suffragette who is most familiar with the Canadian suffrage scene.

I am trying to sound strong and purposeful with this short speech in the sun at Union Station.

As it happens, there are a number of women in my suffrage organization, perhaps half of the 2,000 total, who do not like me as their leader.

They are whispers and grumblings behind my back and these women will surely take advantage of  my long absence  to hatch a plot to oust me. 

Well, they have already hatched a plan to force me out of the movement.  I can almost feel their daggers in my side as I turn to climb onto the train, but, wait, it’s only my dear Merrill’s hand protectively guiding me to my appointed duties.

When I ascended to the Presidency of the CSA, just a year before, appointed, some say anointed, by the former President, Augusta Stowe-Gullen, I knew I had some built-in enemies.

Many high up in the Canadian suffrage movement, particularly Mrs. Constance Hamilton, President of  Toronto Equal Franchise League, did not think it was  ‘natural’ that I was selected as successor to Stowe-Gullen ‘due to my experience and gifted ability as a writer and a speaker,” as was explained at the National Council of Women’s AGM in 1912.

Somehow, because she was British and high-born, Mrs. Hamilton felt that she was better suited to the leadership of the Canadian suffrage movement, despite having adopted the suffrage cause only one year before.

But, she had many friends out in the Canadian West, because she had lived in Vancouver and Winnipeg, including that tea-totalling schemer Nelly McClung  in Manitoba.

And that fact helped her  cause against me.

And also it helped her in 1917 when she conspired with Premier Borden to fashion the War Times Election Act.  She had studied the immigrant ‘problem’ while out West. Her much older husband, a town planner, was a legend in Winnipeg and Vancouver, and so her words were steeped in authority.

Well, I’m just guessing here.  Dr. Gordon liked to blame the Great McClung, herself, but I chose to blame Mrs. Constance Hamilton.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Montreal slums, New York Slums, 1900

Art Deco entrance to the Bains Genereux on Amherst built in 1927 to wash the masses. Montreal had at least 16 of these places at the time. Public baths were one response to the poor living conditions for many in Montreal at the turn of the last century.  Milk stations for mothers were another.

"Upon a narrow and unfrequented street in the vicinity of McCord Street, and adjoining the Lachine Canal, stands a row of tenement houses. To the passer-by, their neat and clean appearance without would attract attention in so squalid and poor a district. One thing in deed was more than noticeable : even in summer no open blinds gave the inquiring eyes of outsiders the satisfaction they craved. In winter thick curtains behind the double windows shut out the occupants of the outside world. What secret is hidden behind those brick walls? What scenes are enacted on the other side of the curtains?

Come with me and see.

Upon the ground-floor of No. 127, the first in the row, live in three rooms two families. Eleven human beings—created in the image of their Maker—eat, drink, sleep, and perhaps wash in these three rooms.

In a Christian city is this right?"

This is a bit from a 1899 book called Montreal by gaslight, showing the evils of the city, pre-mass immigration of the early part of the 20th century.

About the same year, Herbert Ames, an alderman and social reformer. wrote a landmark study, The City Below the Hill, using more statistics than this literary non-fiction book.

A pious Protestant, Ames book really got the social reform movement going in Montreal by pointing out that Montreal had the highest infant mortality rate outside of Calcutta. (Calcutta, a heathen city!)

This is the background to my ebooks, Threshold Girl and Diary of a Confirmed Spinster and helps explain much of what unfolds in  Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British Invasion of Suffragettes to Montreal in 1911/12. These militants got nowhere, largely because the Canadian suffrage movement wasn't about equal rights for women, it was about social reform and especially  'saving babies.'

Julie Parker Drummond came right out and said it: "Woman Suffrage equals healthier babies." She was the Honorary VP of the Montreal Suffrage Association launched in 1913.

In November, I visited the Tenement Museum in Soho, New York City and took an interesting tour. The guide revealed how many in the tenements, often new immigrants, were meticulous in their housekeeping, despite what some 'superior' people liked to think.  One apartment had dozens and dozens of coats of paint, revealing that the apartment was decorated afresh with each new family coming in.

  Montreal by Gaslight makes a point of saying Montreal slums are every bit as bad as the ones in New York City, so I guess New York slums had a terrible reputation at the time.

The 1910 Technical World magazine contained an article showing NY citizens living in windowless apartments. Montreal had the same issue - although it was technically illegal to rent out a room without a window.

Some people in Montreal in 1900 still used privies, outdoor toilets, or just holes in the ground.

Herbert Ames, went on to be an MP in Ottawa and then work with the League of Nations in New York has gone down in history as the Privy Man, for exposing this fact in his 1899 book.

In October, 1912, a coalition of French and English Social Reformers held a two week Child Welfare Exhibit. (It's all in Furies Cross the Mersey.) It was designed after similar exhibits in Chicago and New York and even guided by an American, Dr. Anna Strong. From what I could see, Montreal's exhibit was the only one of the three to have a 'eugenics' board.

The Guaranteed PURE Milk Bottle, a heritage site, now, ironically, crammed in between billionaire condos near the Molson Center.  Tainted milk was an issue in Montreal in the early 1900s, typhoid, and PURITY was a much valued quality for everything and everybody, especially young women.


Sherbrooke Street in 1900. Many of the prominent social reformers of Montreal lived along this elegant boulevard, including Julia Parker Drummond. I noticed last week that a tiny park in Little Burgundy "below the hill" is named after her. Herbert Ames, too, has a bit of green named after him, near Atwater Market, I think.


Here's more from Montreal by Gaslight.


"Here sorrow, poverty, and hunger speak in tongues that all may hear and understand. This man, until lately a stonemason upon the works for the new Canal, was seriously injured by the falling upon him of some heavy stones. At first he deemed his injuries trifling, and was glad to accept a paltry hundred dollars from his employer in full of all claims for injuries received while in his employ. But the days

moved on, the obstinate flesh refused to heal, days became months, and he was compelled to sell his furniture and move to his present dwel ling. His wife earns an occasional dollar, which always goes the way of the corner saloon, and his three young sons sell papers.

In this way they exist. 

The second family who occupy this tenement are in even a worse plight. They are husband and wife with no children, but they are always drunk. When they cannot buy the liquor they steal it. In the third room, which is used for bed room, kitchen, and occasionally as a washroom, four unfortunates sleep as best they can.

They are the young children of a man who deserted his family, and of a woman driven to death by drink. The kind-hearted neighbors once in a while give them food and drink, and the eldest boy makes enough from odd jobs to pay two dollars a month for rent of his den. Here is squalor and misery ; in a room reeking with vile odors and foul with dirt, he and three sisters lie out upon the floor and sleep as best they can. 

Do you still doubt Montreal has no tenements where cleanliness and health are unknown? Come with me to the second story, and read another lesson from the Book of Sorrow.

In three rooms whose condition is fouler, if possible, than the apartments downstairs live a husband and wife and nine children. Again eleven persons, where there should be but five. The water turned off, the sink long ago choked up, the floors thick with dirt and a swarm of children almost naked roll upon the floor, gathering more dirt as they play. Upon a bed in the corner, a drunken man in a broken chair, a woman sobbing. It is enough. Upon the top floor tho partitions dividing the rooms have been torn down, and the floor is pile 1 with rags—foul-looking and ill-smelling. The holes in the roof have been patched up with paper and anything handy. But the room is deserted. Does no one occupy this flat or is it untenanted ? Go there at night, when the horrors of the place are made more horrible by shadows dark and forbidding. 

Upon this floor, scarce twenty-four feet long and nine broad, are stretched fourteen men and boys. Fourteen, did you say ?

Aye, fourteen and sometimes more, for this room is let to a harpy in humnn form, who in turn sublets it to any man willing to pay ten cents a night. The lowest in this poverty stricken district congregate there : disease-rid den, loathsome, and drunken lie down side by side, and snatch as best they can a few hours of heavy and unrefreshing sleep. What need to go farther ?"

Friday, January 22, 2016

Montreal 1900


Montreal was an important North American in the Victorian Era and if you go onto archive.org you will find quite a few 'travel' brochures from the era about the city.

There are pictures in these brochures, naturally, but mostly of buildings. No one thought to record the images of poor people in the era in Montreal. Pretty typical of the time.

I found these interesting pics. The top one is of Sherbrooke Street from 1900 and the bottom is of Stanley Street. Elegant places in those days.
 St



This is of Drummond Street. A fancy address.

Park Avenue... way out in Mile End.



Saturday, January 16, 2016

Food Nostalgia and Rant over Cost of Food in Montreal

Montreal, Place Ville Marie, with Basha's just up the street. You can smell the cumin from here :)


I was remembering today how I used to eat dog biscuits as a child; not any old dog biscuit, the black ones in the big bag under the kitchen sink.

My mother was a great cook and she liked to bake so she made a lot of mint chocolate cakes and peanut butter cookies, allowing me to lick the beaters after the batter had been poured out, but there wasn't a lot of snack food in the house.

It was  the 1960's.

I recall my favorite snack foods were my mother's semi-sweet baker's chocolate on the top shelf of the pantry; red cabbage; and raw oatmeal eaten out of a tumbler.

Also, any mushrooms in the chili in the fridge.

All food now deemed very good for you.

Yes, when I got my allowance I would high tail it to the Decarie Handy store for Lick-a-Maid (seems wrong.) Lick a Made...:) and  chocolate bars, the teeth-tweeking toffee, my fave.  I recall lusting over the HUGE fruit and nut bar that cost 39 cents, so too expensive.

Just to say, I snacked healthy back then, except for the dog biscuits and toffee. Can't imagine what was in those dog biscuits - or, more precisely, what was in the "licorice"black ones  that made me crave them.

Today, I have a poodle that loves fruit, apples, oranges, you name it. Also, squirrel shit.

These days, I  eat sweet potato fries while watching Tennis on my Samsung Note.

My neighbours were Polish, so they had all kinds of cool foods. I was friends with the daughter, a year younger than I, and most afternoons I would snack on their sweet sesame and honey crackers,  La Vache Qui Rit cheese and, of course, KOOBASSA (kielbassa?) by the yard.

I was very tall and skinny, so they thought I starved at home.

It was my big brother, 3 years older, who brought the 'crap' into the home: he was always on the cutting edge of everything, music, literature, food.

He lived on Instant Breakfasts and Philip K. Dick.

Funny what you remember. Today, it's spirulina and Kombacha and blueberries and the last remaining Pacific salmon in the world, worth its weight in gold, and tumeric, which is in curry, so I could eat that all day long.

My mother probably made a curry or two. Don't recall. It's her 'southern friend chicken' that attracted the neighbourhood kids to our house.

My other neighbours were from India by way of the UK, and they eat "tea" after school and it consisted of foul tasting things, because it was genuine Indian food, not the dishes with added sugar to appeal to Westerners.

Or maybe I just wasn't used to the exotic flavours.

I am now. I live on cardomon, coriander and cumin.

Cumin..ah.

The first time I tasted that delightful spice was in a falafel in, say 1975, when Basha's, the Lebanese food place, opened its first store on Ste. Catherine in Montreal.

I was vegetarian that year and I instantly fell in love with  their delicious and cheap falafels.

Still, love 'em.

Montreal back then. I used to watch the Italian widows pick dandelion greens from the side of the Decarie Expressway.  Oo, lead poisoning and detox at the same time. But I bet they knew how to cook them.

Expo67 had lots of nice 'new' food, sushi and such, but I didn't get taken to any of their restaurants. I brought my own sandwiches to the fair.Probably peanut butter.

Well, with the falling loonie, the cost of food in Montreal is skyrocketing. The CBC claims that for every cent the loonie drops, the cost of food goes up 1 percent. (I think that's what they said.)

The price of food here in the city has been rising for a  few years. Costco, Costco, Costco. Maybe I should try eating dog food again. It's supposed to be as healthy as human food (although the industry is unregulated.)

I sometimes make my own pizzas. Those packaged ones are getting smaller and smaller and more and more expensive - and they don't taste good anyway.  How hard is it to make your own pizza?

 Anyway, I also live on lentils these days, with lots of tumeric, coriander and cumin, for health. I fully expect that's all I'll be able to afford in my old age, but, hey, I've had a good run.

My nails and a dessert at the Modern in Moma in New York, this year. A decadent meal, for sure. I had duck, sea-bass...tasted a sumptuous foie gras...all delicious.

Someone else paid, for my  birthday. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Canadian women first got the vote in 1917 - but only women with men at the WWI Front.



You know that movie It's Complicated? Well, I think my next ebook should be titled that instead of Service and Disservice.

My book is about the  1917 Canadian Conscription Crisis and the 'iffy' involvement of  the Canadian suffragists,  a follow up to the e-book Furies Cross the Mersey, about the 1912/13 Bristish invasion of militant suffragettes to Canada.

It's all so complicated.

I don't think even the few scholarly accounts of the event get it 100 percent correct.

It's complicated, because even back then in 1917 people didn't know what was going on.

Lots of people involved lied, too.

I was writing up the first draft of the final chapter, the chapter where Carrie Derick, President of the Montreal Suffrage Association, tells her side of the story, when I realized I was missing some critical info.

That is, info from the summer of 1917, when Mrs. Constance Hamilton, President of the National Equal Franchise Union, held an emergency meeting of the NEFU in her home to ask Borden NOT to hold an election, because if he did, 'slackers from out West and Quebec would get to vote.'

In the Toronto press report the Montreal Suffrage Association (a member of the NEFU) sent a statement of support for Conscription, a somewhat hysterical one, quoting from John McRae's famous war poem.

"Is Canada going to fail? Never. If ye break faith with those who die, they shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders Fields. Canada's honor is at stake. She will not, cannot fail to carry on and keep her word to our brave fighting men and to our glorious dead."


Above, Emmeline Pankhurst, Carrie Derick; below,  Toronto "Canadian' suffragists march in Washington DC, 1913, Constance Hamilton among them as President of the Toronto Equal Suffage League. She would soon start her own 'national' organization.

This struck me as very uncharacteristic of the MSA. Miss Derick was always very careful about what she said to the Press.

For instance, the MSA executive supported Conscription, but called it 'Mandatory Overseas Service', a euphemism. (Later, Derick would say they never supported Conscription, per se.)

So I went over to the Montreal City Hall archives and took a look at the 1917 minutes to learn, as I had suspected, that Derick didn't have anything to do with the bizarre pro-conscription resolution.

 A Mr. Holt and Mrs.Scott received Hamilton's telegram back then and replied on their own, without holding an executive meeting.

Mr. Holt was a lawyer, I believe. He was the man who confronted militant suffragette Barbara Wylie, when she spoke in Montreal in November, 1912.  Wylie made fun of him. A year later, Holt was on the Executive of the newly formed Montreal Suffrage Association. (Quite a few men, many clergymen, were on the executive of the MSA. No young unmarried women, though. Too 'excitable'.)

The importance of all this: well, that 'bogus' statement probably made Premier Borden think that Quebec suffragists would be on-board with a limited suffrage option for women voters if the PM was forced to hold a federal election to get his Conscription Bill through parliament.

 In September, 1917,  Borden gave the vote to women only with male relations at the war front.

The Montreal Suffrage Association, led by Miss Derick,  passed a resolution in protest.



 Borden had to reply to this resolution and explain his position. "You don't realize the difficult position I am in. Would you want unpatriotic foreign women out West to vote just because they married a Canadian?"

Borden didn't mention Quebeckers in his reply to the MSA, as if they were irrelevant. Toronto suffragists, who liked to think of themselves as the leaders in the Canadian movement, were clear about their contempt for 'unpatriotic' Quebeckers. It was written all over the National Council of Women Magazine, The New Century.

Derick couldn't be so blunt.

As it happens, I discovered something else while poring over the minutes. Derick and the MSA tried to take over the National Suffrage Movement in the spring of 1917.

They told Mrs. Hamilton that since Ontario women had just won the vote, the headquarters of the NEFU should be moved to Quebec. They were upset tht the NEFU was doing little  to promote woman suffrage while the war was on.

Hamilton replied that the headquarters should be in a province where women had the vote, so, until Quebec women won the vote, no dice.

In 1915, just one year after launching the National Equal Franchise League (bringing on Carrie Derick and Julia Parker Drummond  as VP's for credibility) Hamilton very publically gave up the suffrage fight for 'patriotic' work.

But, in 1917, when her position as President would prove useful to Borden's Win-the -War efforts, she held that emergency meeting of the NEFU in her home in July and soon helped Borden ascertain, with some carefully placed telegrams,  whether he'd win the election if he gave all Canadian women the vote. (The answer was NO.)

That's why I believe Mrs. Constance Hamilton was largely responsible for the Wartime Elections Act of 1917, the very undemocratic and highly cynical election ploy by Borden, that Dr. Ritchie England, President of the Montreal Local Council of Women, called 'a piece of unsurpassed effrontery'.

Mr. Holt in Montreal helped her.

Nellie McClung is usually given credit. Or Arthur Meighen.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Pioneering Women Tennis Players of Montreal

The Royal Victoria Tennis team. McGill website.  Lawn tennis was the first group set up by women at McGill. Dr. Grace Ritchie England, in the first graduating class in 1888, mentioned it in her valedictory speech. She also demanded that women be allowed into McGill Med School, defying Principal Dawson. When militant suffragette Barbara Wylie spoke in Montreal in November, 1912 she also mentioned tennis as in 'If women are now playing tennis, why shouldn't they be allowed to vote.'

Donaldas with their hair down in their nighties, from the Old McGill Yearbook, 1900... from McGill website. This picture must have proven, ah, interesting, to the male students.


When the first women were accepted as students at McGill University in Montreal,  no one worried about them falling in love with their male counterparts, only the other way around. They worried that the young men might fall in love with the young women.

In Victorian times, I guess, it was considered improbable that a young woman would find a young man attractive: after all, women were looking for men to protect them. (Something like that.)

Middle class women, it seems to follow, were supposed to fall in love ONLY with men Mummy approved of, men who had established themselves in life and who could take care for a wife.

Seems funny, nowadays.

I imagine the males at McGill were a bit afraid of the Donaldas, who were boffo pioneers after all.

The two genders did mix, however.

Here's a bit from Old McGill 1900, about the Women's Lawn Tennis Club. McGill women had their own tennis club from 1889 onwards.


Thirty Donaldas played tennis on the 'very good courts.' I wish I knew where these courts were located. I had to make it up for my story Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British invasion of militant suffragettes to Montreal in 1912/13 that has two characters who are Donaldas, one of whom loves tennis!


Furies Cross the Mersey: A Story of 1912 (School Marms and Suffragettes Book 6)

Two young women in crisp white duck middy blouses over long ankle length skirts, black kerchiefs at their necks, white laced sneakers on their feet and large wooden tennis racquets on their laps, sit on a bench and await their turn on the court.

“Warm up!” orders a lady coach from the back of the court.

“Yes, Miss Cartwright,” the girls answer in tandem.

They stand and begin stretching out their legs. 

One girl is tall and slim-boned, the other shorter, with a trim muscular build and broad coat hanger shoulders that make her waist, uninhibited by stays for the time being, seem smaller than it is.

The tall girl has medium dark brown hair with few highlights tied up in a bun and pale skin, because she is an indoor, studious type and the shorter girl has long strawberry-blond hair laced with golden threads and because she is an outdoor type her hair is tied back in a ponytail.  She also has applied a liberal amount of Hains Skin Balm to her face to protect her skin from the sun and wind.

The shorter girl has blue eyes, an upturned nose and a pink rosebud mouth; the tall girl has hazel eyes, on the greenish side, a broad face with prominent cheekbones, a long tapered nose and a wide mouth with thinnish lips and beautiful straight teeth as white as milk.

The tall, serious girl is Mathilda Jenkins; the shorter golden girl is Penelope Day.


They are strangers to each other. They have just been slapped together for the first time, in the very first P. E. class of the year, an absolutely random act that will have serious implications for the future.  I promise.