Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Beads in a Necklace: Montreal Family Stories

Announcing the publication of
Beads in a Necklace: Family Stories from Genealogy Ensemble

In Beads in a Necklace: Family Stories from Genealogy Ensemble, the nine women who write the family history blog have fleshed out the dashes between the dates on their family trees, chosen their favourite stories about their ancestors and published them in a book.

Inspired by family myths, heirlooms, letters, and vintage photographs, these are historically accurate stories with a huge heart. They describe the lives of merchants and military men, society ladies and filles du roi, reverends, rogues, medical men, restless women, cooks and farmers, each of whom was somehow related to one of the book’s authors. 

These ancestors lived between 1650 and 1970 and hail from Montreal, rural Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, the United States and other places around the world.

Contributors Lucy Anglin, Barb Angus, Marian Bulford, Claire Lindell, Sandra McHugh, Dorothy Nixon and Mary Sutherland, for the most part amateur authors, developed their creative writing skills over a five-year period under the guidance of professional writers Janice Hamilton and Tracey Arial, who also co-authored and edited the collection.

Getting together monthly, they experimented with a variety of narrative techniques to preserve the ever-fading memories of their great uncles and four-times great-grandparents, and to shed light on the times in which these people lived. They publish their stories on, and polished their favourites for the book. The result is a volume of easy-to-read articles, filled with fascinating bits of social history, and with enough footnotes to satisfy the most exacting genealogist or historian.

Fille du roi Anne Thomas, who married master carpenter Claude Jodoin in Montreal way back in 1666;
Felicité Poulin, 18th-century career woman, Ursuline nun and matchmaker;
Stanley Bagg, Massachusetts-born merchant who helped build the Lachine Canal in the 1820s;
Gospel singer Edward McHugh, whose 1910-period debut at the Montreal Hunt Club launched an international career;
William Anglin, respected Victorian-era Kingston, Ontario surgeon and wannabe thought-reader.
and many more.

The authors hope that Beads in a Necklace will serve as a model for people from any country or culture to write up their own family histories. They will be making presentations at Montreal-area libraries to share what they have learned about writing and publishing family history.

If you are a genealogist, a creative writer, or are the kind of person who loves reading about the lives of ordinary people whose real-life actions and relationships were discovered within piles of papers, historical photos and old newspaper clippings, Beads in a Necklace is for you.

A self-published limited edition paperback is on sale for $20 in Montreal at Livres Presque 9/Nearly New Books while supplies last, and an Amazon Kindle edition is available for $3.89.. A pdf with four sample stories from the collection is available upon request.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Parallel Lives

My father, Peter Nixon and his sister, Denise, 1978,  both of whom were born in Kuala Lumpur and then sent to England for schooling at 4 and 5 respectively in 1927.  Mrs. Hague, of whom I write about below, spent her summers with a loving grandmother. She felt sad, back then, for kids like my father and aunt. So, she told me.

I write about their mother in My Bittersweet Expo 67 Summer, a story in Beads in a Necklace: Family Stories from Genealogy Ensemble, availalble on Amazon Kindle as of November 15, 2017.

In April 2008, I received an unsolicited email from a Mrs. Joan Hague of Montreal West with just one word in the subject line: Changi.

She wanted to tell me about her father who had been interned in WWII, like my grandmother.
I visited Mrs. Hague only to discover something extraordinary: Mrs. Hague and my own father had led parallel lives.

My father, Peter, was on October 23, 1922 in Kuala Lumpur, to a Selangor Planter, Robert Nixon and his wife.

Mrs. Hague was born in Kuala Lumpur in early November, 1922, to Thomas Kitching, the Surveyor of Singapore, and his wife Nora.

Mrs. Hague had been sent away at age six to go to school in England, in Lancashire, and then went on to Harrogate Ladies’ College in Yorkshire.

My father had been sent away at age five, to go to a school in Maryport, Cumberland and then on to St. Bees in County Durham.

Hague’s mother filled the void in her life with sports, golf mostly. She also scored cricket for Singapore.

My grandmother became the librarian at the Kuala Lumpur Book Club and, also, Selangor’s official cricket scorer.

In 1939, when the phoney war broke out in England, my father was about to go to Oxford.

Joan Kitching had graduated from her Ladies’ College. 

Her parents brought her back to Singapore because they thought she would be safer.

It wasn’t. The Japanese invaded Malaya on Boxing Day, 1942.

The Japanese planes bombed “the green” at the center of KL, the site of many government buildings.

 My grandmother’s library also got hit. During the bombing my grandmother hid under a desk. Later she helped dig  four dead bodies from out of the rubble.

On that ominous day, Mrs. Hague and her mom were safely in “fortress” Singapore, or so everyone believed. 

They joined up as VADs, tending to the burnt survivors of two navy ships that had been blown up by the Japanese close by in Singapore Harbour.

 Mrs. Hague remembers unfolding the cots,all coated in a thick goo to prevent rusting.

Kuala Lumpur soon fell. My grandmother was commanded to take a noisy, unlit night train to Singapore.

Upon arriving, she immediately joined the ‘resistance’ the Malaya Broadcasting Corporation and after that she, too, worked as a VAD.

To everyone’s surprise, and to Winston Churchill’s embarrassment, “fortress” Singapore soon fell.

Mrs. Hague escaped to England, but her mother drowned trying.

Her father was interned at Changi, like my grandmother, who had refused to escape Singapore when advised to.

Kitching died of throat cancer on April 2, 1943, the day before my grandmother, as Commandant of the Changi Woman’s Camp, was accused of spying in the infamous Double Tenth incident and taken by the Japanese Gestapo to the YMCA to be harshly ‘interrogated’ for 6 months.

With the Americans entering the war, my father, in England, joined the RAF and was posted to the Ferry Command - based in Dorval.

In Montreal he met my mother, a French Canadian, probably at a party at the Mount Royal Hotel.
Mrs. Hague met her future husband, the son of a prominent Westmount banker, when he arrived at her grandmother’s house in Lancashire with a big fat turkey.

And the rest is Montreal history. See, parallel lives!

Too bad I never got the chance to introduce Mrs. Hague to my father. He had died in 2005 of Alzheimer’s but, as you can see, they would have had a lot to talk about!

Indeed, they both sent their sons to Lower Canada College.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Peggy Olson, Montreal Advertising Agencies and Me

I was scanning the Montreal Gazettes for February 1953, on a research project, and I stumbled upon this bit in the want ads section.

Apparently, a big advertising agency in Montreal was looking for a copywriter and they wanted the person to be a female.

You could ask for that back then.

Now, I am a copywriter living in Montreal, who's been around a long time, but I would have been too young to apply for that job.  I was an embryo in February, 1953.

But, reading this ad, I can't help but think about Peggy Olson on Madmen, the television show. She had to fight so hard to move up from a secretary to copywriter in the 1960's.

Despite her basket of kisses.

Didn't she know all she had to do is move to Montreal for a writing job?

Nah, this must have been a one-off.

When I was just out school, in the late 1970's,  I applied for a copy job at a big agency in Montreal. (They still had English advertising agencies in Montreal in that era.)

This job interview was one of the worst experiences of my life. The woman who interviewed me looked strung out of her mind and she told me, in angry fashion, that I would have to work as a secretary for two years before I could even think of a writing job.

She was evil. Or her place of work was evil.

Good enough. Except,at the time,  I wondered what she told the male applicants.

(Didn't she know that all she had to do was say something nice, and still not hire me, and all would be right with the world? Why interview someone just to abuse them?)

I wonder who got  this bigtime 1953 copywriting job. (Maybe they wanted a woman because a woman understands food.)

In the 1980's, I worked in radio for a new boss who was 55 and she had just been laid off from a big Montreal agency.

In 1953, she would have been in her twenties. Yes, she could have been the one!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

23 and Me, ethnicity and French Canada and Ridiculous Bloomers.

OK. I've run out of DNA tests to take. According to 23 and Me, I'm less Middle Eastern than I had been told on other platforms - and less British.

I've explained here on this blog how being French Canadian makes taking these DNA ancestry tests more of a muddle than usual. French Canadians come out British, Irish, Italian and even Sephardic Jewish from Spain.

I'm at least half French Canadian, with 500 pioneers from the shores of Normandy or Poitou Charentes in the 1600's.

So, the Native American on this bar chart makes sense. The early 1600's is most likely when any Native might have mixed on my mother's side. Early pioneer French Canadians thought nothing of mixing with Native Women, openly.

But, then they sent over the Filles de Roi. I have many of them in my ancestry, too.

The 23 and Me chart shows that I am a real mixed bag of genes, but,  I already knew that.  The nine percent Middle East includes North African, which I know is from my mother's side.

I've done her MT DNA and her ancestors, to the 20 percent mark, Sephardic Jews from Spain.

Anyway, 23 and Me has some wonderful new tools I can play with to discover who among my cousins on ALL the platforms has Middle East with me.

It tells me where these Middle East genes are on my Chromosomes.

(I just discovered, doing this test, that I have a distant cousin who is pure Bulgarian, but who says his ancestors came from Anatolia in the 1700's. I think my branch of these Anatolians went to Greece or Sardinia or Sicily.  I have lots of Mediterranean Islander on other platforms, Cyprus, Sardinia, Malta.

I didn't want to do this particular test, not originally, because I didn't want to know if I had the nasty gene for Late Onset Alzheimer's, like my father and his grandfather and his aunt.  I do not.

I don't have the genes for any of the diseases they are testing for.

My eyes are going to go in my old age, but I already knew that from putting my Ancestry DNA up on another health website.

 The only new thing I learned here is that I am most likely lactose intolerant. News to me.  I have no issues eating cheese and milk.

I also have the gene for muscles of an elite athlete.  That's hysterically funny. I've always been rather weak, and I am very tall.

I have good eye-hand coordination, though.

Maybe, had I known I had this gene early on, I would have particated in more sports and gotten stronger rather than always complained I had cramps so as not to have to go to gym class. (Maybe, had they let us girls wear normal gym clothes and not ridiculous front of the boys.)

But, who knows.

I like playing tennis and apparently I have some Balkan genes.

Those genes are very good for tennis...;)

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Suffragette/Reporter Love Affair - In Montreal of all places.

The Suffragette Movement is a 'romantic' movement, in that we've romanticized these social activists, to a degree.

We forget how much these suffragettes were feared and loathed in 1912/13 by many people, even by those people who wanted women to get the vote.

But I've just uncovered a TRULY romantic Hollywood-Style romance about one  of Mrs. Pankhurst's troops.

And, yea, it's got a Montreal angle!

I've written an ebook, Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British Invasion of Militant Suffragettes to Montreal in 1912/13.It's available on Amazon.

Mrs. Pankhurst visited Canada on two occasions to speak. She made just one visit to Montreal, in late 1911.  She was the guest of the Montreal Council of Women. Carrie Derick, Past-President, had requested that she be invited to the city, 'to hear the other side of the question.'

Barbara Wylie of the WSPU came to Canada in early September, 1912 and stayed until 1913.  In her speeches, Wylie  bragged about having been to jail.

The pretty suffragette traveled all the way to British Columbia, during a winter of record cold.

 Then she returned to England and became the spokesperson for Mrs. Pankhurst for a while - and then she got arrested in a protest in front of His Majesty's Theater in London.  You can read all about her Canadian escapades in Furies Cross the Mersey.

Caroline Kenney, sister of prominent militant Annie Kenney, came to Montreal, Canada in December, 1912 and stayed a few years.

Iconic Image of Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst.

I'm the one who figured this out: no biographer had done so before.

 I write about Caroline in my Furies book, too, and will write more in the follow up, Service and Disservice about the years 1913-19 and the Conscription Crisis of 1917.

Caroline came to stay with her older sister Nell in St. Lambert. I have seen her immigration documentation. She intended to stay in the country and work as a teacher.

While in Montreal, she helped found, in late 1913, the Montreal Equal Suffrage League. It was to be a group made up of militants and non-militants.The ESL didn't get much press. Caroline, herself, gave a couple of talks upon her arrival, to a Jewish Group and to the Women's Temperance Union.

She got bad press for her first talk, about the "Evolution of Militancy." Militancy was a very dirty word in Montreal and Canadian suffrage circles in 1912/13, even though many, many women sympathized with Mrs. Pankhurst's WSPU.

Caroline's sister, Nell, had immigrated to Canada in 1909 and married Frank Randall Clarke, a journalist, late of the Daily Mail of London.

 I figured out that Nell Kenney had acted on behalf of Mrs. Pankhurst's militants in 1908 in England. There are mentions of her meetings in Votes for Women Magazine.

And, just lately, I read an account of that romantic 'suffragette' story I told you about.

 Lyndsey Jenkins, an Oxford scholar, soon to release a new biography of prominent British Suffragette Lady Constance Lytton (and now researching the Kenney Family) sent me a certain biographical document saying that Frank Randall Clarke met Nell at an election rally for Lord Asquith, one she disrupted on behalf of the suffragettes.

The police fell on Nell hard, apparently. (Naturally!)  And who came to her rescue? A young reporter covering the Asquith speech, one Frank Randall Clarke.

Clarke fell in love with the suffering suffragette, followed her to her 'safe haven' in England and ...well... the document says he married her in England.. but, that's not right.

I have seen their marriage certificate. They came to Canada in 1909 and married here in Montreal.

It seems that they had to get out of England quickly.

Now, isn't that romantic? Reeealllly  romantic? Hollywood-style romantic?

I'd say so.

I see nothing in the newspapers to indicate Nell worked for the suffrage cause while in Montreal, but by 1913 she had two infants.

Frank Randall Clarke's new place of work, the Montreal Witness Newspaper, was for woman suffrage, but covered the British Suffragettes in the most sensational way! See the pic at top.

Still, I can see from the membership list of the Montreal Suffrage Association that St. Lambert, a community of Anglos south of Montreal Island, was an enclave of suffragists. The MSA had lots of members from that place. (The MSA, upon launch in 1913, promised to be peaceful and reasonabland to go about a quiet education of the people.)

 That seemed weird to me at first.  Why St. Lambert, of all places?

Now, I know why. A dyed-in-the-wool militant suffragette moved there in 1912-13, at the height of the movement, at the height of all the controversy.

Anyway, Frank Randall Clarke became a prominent social activist in Montreal, lobbying for better labour conditions, and the author of the biographical document assumes that Nell helped him along.

His fonds are at the McCord Museum in Montreal. They include photos of the Royal Princes on their Montreal visits, wearing suits so sleek, so finely threaded, they shimmer, and also pictures of homeless men during the Depression sleeping in their rags on park benches.

Whatever, Frank Randall Clarke appeared to adore his wife all through their time together. They had more children.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Good and Bad of DNA and French Canadian Ancestors

Sarah Marion Mclean of Coll, Scotland and Richmond Quebec, my husband's great great grandmother. This is a tintype I found and cleaned up a bit in Photoshop. Sarah was born in 1824 and lived to 1912, (speaking  only Gaelic)  but her genes were passed down because my sister-in-law, born 1944, her daughter, born around 1970 and her daughter born about 2000, look like her. 

But, the scientific evidence says otherwise. My husband has only 60 centimorgans of DNA from this woman and her husband, John Mcleod of Isle of Lewis, Scotland and his first cousin has almost 200 centimorgans. This first cousin is the one who  should look like Sarah! You can read all about the family here, The Nicholson Family Letters on Kindle.

The best thing about being a French Canadian genealogist is that family trees are relatively easy to do,  that is if you can read French and decipher messy handwriting.

The Drouin Collection online lists most of the French Canadian Catholic marriages and by consulting that wonderful resource you can trace your family going backwards in time.

Every church marriage notice gave the names of the parents of the bride and groom, with the mother's maiden name.

Ok. These records can be hard to read, even the ones written in stylish cursive.

 Also, French Canadians of the past arbitarily changed their names.  On my tree Michel Hubou became Michel Hubou dites Tourville and his daughter only Charlotte Tourville, and I'm not sure, but I think that name changed to Courville when a branch of the clan went to Massachusetts.

(I say this because I have a number of 'close cousin' 4th to 6th generation matches on Ancestry with Courville, a name I do not have on my tree.)

Anyway, I know my tree is OK is large part because I have 80 plus hints or places where the dna evidence is backed up by tree evidence.

That's where it can be fun, all right!

 Then there's the downside of having French Canadian ancestors. We're all intertwined. Everyone came from the same 5000 people, 10 generations back.

 I read that three Gagnons came to Quebec and spawned the bazillions out there.

Being from Quebec, I can easily spot a French Canadian name. That's a plus when sleuthing out Quebecois ancestry.

 And the same names come up all the time - and then these ancestors move to the US and their names become anglicized, Thibeault to Tibo, Laurendeau to Lorando.

Yes, French Canadians were a diaspora long before 1976.  On the Ancestry database there's a stronger concentration of French Canadians in Massachusetts than in Quebec :) Also Michigan, Rhode Island, Vermont and, yes, Maine. Remember that infamous "Canuck Letter." If you don't watch All the President's Men again.

I see that Tremblay is the most common French Canadian name.( J.C Tremblay, one of the first Canadian hockey players to wear a helmet.) Fine, I don't have that name on my tree, not yet. But the next two are Gagnon and Roy and, guess what, my grandmother was a Maria Roy and her mom was a Melina Gagnon.

This fact really mucks up the works for me.

Oy! According to another tree, a sister and brother from the Crepeau family (my grandfather) married another sister and brother from the Forget Depatis family in the 1800's. Or maybe not. This is my good-looking side. How does that screw up shared DNA??

As for those fancy centimorgan estimates, iffy tools at best, they are fairly useless  for French Canadians. I think, anyway.

A man I share 10 centimorgans with has four people on his tree that match with people on my tree . This man is 100 percent French Canadian and has a complete tree.  I am half French Canadian and have about 100 of say 500 (for 10 generations) done.

And, he matches in four places, all in the 7th to 8th cousin range.

His 10 centimorgan DNA match is one one thread, so the genes have been passed down only from one of these ancestors or one yet to be identified. DNA is darned capricious.

My other 80 or so Quebecois 'hint' matches are mostly 7th to 8th generation, while the centimorgans shared usually indicates a closer match. Why? Is this because I share DNA elsewhere (as a French Canadian) or are centimorgan estimates useless for assessing individual relationships on anyone's tree, because they are averages, only good over many, many people?

I went onto my husband's Ancestry account, to see how DNA worked with no known French Canadians in the mix. (My hubby and I share 7 centimorgans, over two places, though.)

As it happens,  he has a first cousin there, a person he knows, of course, his mother's brother's daughter.

Another relation is there, with whom he shares 60 centimorgans, correct for a third cousin and, yes, she is a third cousin, descended from John McLeod and Marion Mclean (above) of  Scotland and Richmond, Quebec.  We asked. (Read all about my husband's Richmond, Quebec family on this blog.)

The weird thing, this woman shares 194 centimorgans of DNA with the my husband's first cousin. How can this be? 194 centimorgans is just on the outer rim of what is possible for 3rd cousins, I read online. (Maybe it's true.) It's as common as, say, having only 2 centimorgans at 3rd cousin.

I contemplate this puzzle and then I think of my intermixed, messy French Canadian side, and wonder, "How in the heck can I find my ancestors?" chromosome browser or no chromosome browser. (Is this 194 centimorgans on the Mcleod/Mclean ancestor shared between the mother's and father's side of this first cousin's tree? That's a possibility.)

Sometimes I think it's just as well to look at family photos, to see resemblances, and guess from there.  I find myself dividing my ancestors into 'good-looking side' and not so good-looking side to make sense of it all. Rather shallow of me, but hey.

Go to Genealogy Ensemble for advice on how to make the most of Drouin and other resources to track your French Canadian ancestors.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Jewish French Canadians and DNA and Me.

I have complicated heritage for a typical half French Canadian half Yorkshire kind of gal. Why? This is Gedmatch's Eurogenes algorithm.

There is a lot more to your ancestry than your maternal and paternal lines, although geneticists seem fixated for some reason on the paternal lines, that can only be determined through male lineage.

Family trees have many branches, If I go back 10 generations to France on my maternal tree I get over 500 people and 7 filles de roi, minimum.

On top of that, I've had my DNA done on, which has brought up more questions than it answered, as per usual.

I'm half French Canadian and half British -right outta Yorkshire - and Cumberland and Northumberland.

As expected, I have a huge number of French Canadian cousins on Ancestry, including 86 people who match with my dna and my tree.  Most are American. Yes, I can see that many, many people in Massachusetts and Michigan have French roots, never mind Louisiana.

I expected to find a fair bit of Native America, but I've come out with quite a lot of European Jewish on my chart, a surprise, until I examined my mother's French Canadian heritage in more depth.

Her dad's a Crepeau and her Mom's a Roy.

A few surprise words on my  MT lineage test, going back to Fille de Roi Eva Perron from Normandy.

My mother always said that Crepeau meant "curly-haired" which seemed appropriate as she had curly hair and her father had curly hair and my brother has curly hair.

I couldn't see why Crepeau meant curly-haired - it sounded more like 'grey skin' to me, but after doing my tree on Ancestry, I can see that the first Crepeau to land in Quebec was a Crespeau from Poitou Charentes, Loire.

My mother had curly hair, which she hated.

Crespeau, apparently means curly-haired. I found  info on the Net that suggests Crespo may be a Spanish Jewish name.

 Crispo, apparently, is from Sicily and that makes more sense when I see my Ancestry Ethnicty chart which gives me lots of Italian, Caucasus and Middle East, the stamp of many Sicilians.

(At first, I attributed this to the Normans, who held Sicily and a part of Turkey in 1100 AD. Most French Canadians are from Poitou Charentes or Normandy and Brittany.)

I can't do my mother's paternal Y lineage, only her brother could and he's been dead for 60 years.

Oh, well.

But, I have done my mother's maternal line, already knowing that her furthest ancestor in Normandy is a Lily Rodrigue, (daughter of fille de roi Eva Perron) if I've done it right from the Drouin collection and other Ancestry charts.

Rodrigue is certainly of Spanish extraction.. and my MT trail is very Sephardic as well as Azkenazi.

The truth is, French Canadians have Jewish roots. I'm not unique.

Jules Crepeau had curly hair which he tamped down apparently, in 1913 at the time of his first civic scandal. Jules was Director of City Services in Montreal in the 1920's.

From Nos Origines website.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Border Reivers and the Sarmatians

My Eurogenes 36 wheel from Gedmatch above and my husband's below. I always knew I was a more complex person ;) but as for him being more French, pas de chance!

Although I learned about Hadrian's Wall back in elementary school, I never heard of the Sarmations, whose Cavalry guarded the wall back 2,000 years ago.

I knew my father spent his childhood in Carlisle, Cumberland, with relations, and I remember asking him why he didn't steal a piece of the wall as a keep-sake.

Today, I've learned more about my DNA and realize the Sarmations (and the Wall) probably play a part in it.

When I first had my autosomal DNA done on Ancestry, I was stunned to see 20 percent Caucasus in the ethnicity.

I realized it was all a soft-science and very speculative, but, still, none of the so-called cousins on the French Canadian side had any Caucasus to speak of,  and there I couldn't find my Yorkshire side among the cousins with any certainty.

I had my husband do his DNA, he's half Scottish half English, and he had little Caucasus.  So, I had my brother do his DNA to prove I was indeed a Nixon from Cumberland by way of Yorkshire. (The results aren't in.)

Today, my brother emailed to ask me if his spit had arrived at Ancestry (not as yet) and I did a little digging and stumbled upon some evidence that I am a Nixon, a descendant of Border Reivers of Cumberland.

It's on a  Border Reiver DNA website mounted in 2009 and last updated in 2014, and it discusses how some Border Reiving families are perhaps descended from the Sarmations.

I had assumed form a while that my Italian was from the Romans soldiers who built the wall, but apparently they didn't mix with the locals, believing them to be sub-human or something. Ha Ha.


And I wasted 100 dollars on my brother's test. Oh, well.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Country Fairs 1910-2017

A sumptous prize-winning quilt at the Williamstown Country Fair (August 11-13, 2017) 

Moose, beaver, poutine, maple syrup and Mr. Dressup. This is supposed to be a joke, but the display at the Canada pavilion at the 1900 Paris Exhibition wasn't all that different. It included Pelee Island wine, tho.

"Won many prizes for her baking and crafts." So reads the line after Margaret McLeod Nicholson's name in the seven page McLeod family genealogy.

Margaret (1854-1942) was indeed a very fine baker and cook, who never gave out her recipes without leaving out an ingredient, but there was much more to her.

She was a fiercely protective mother, a devoted wife through thick and thin, a new woman, a feminist and a suffragette sympathizer.

She also had a bit of the olden ways about her, taking an interest in what her dreams told her.

I discovered all this when I found the 1000 Nicholson family letters. I have published the letters and a number of quasi fictional books based on them, two about the Canadian Suffrage Movement.

But, today, it was her baking and crafts I was thinking about.  You see, I visited a Country Fair in Williamstown, Ontario. Although the place is near where I live and nearer where I take my pets to the vet, I have never been in the lovely LITTLE town.

And I can't recall attending a country fair, anywhere. I think that back in 1970 I went to a fake 'Country Fair' in the Chomedey section of Montreal, where I saw an enormous bull sitting in a pen. A city girl, I had no idea how big bulls could be.

This Williamstown fair, the oldest annual fair in Canada, was sprawling, and full of fun and good things, even a bull or two.  It was a beautiful day, too.  While my husband watched a tug of war between 10 teams of burly men, I looked at the shiny antique cars on display (more throwback to the 60's)and visited the large crafts section to see the prize winning fair fare circa 2017.

Prize winning baked goods. I hope they don't go to waste.

 A Model T Ford from 1924. Probably not too different  from the ones from 1911.

Model T Interior.  Bare-bones. 

A Ford circa 1911, a model that might have cost as much as a nice house, say 2,000 dollars. And they didn't have credit back then. My Nicholson letters reveal that the 'motorcar'  were a big deal in the 1910 era in Richmond, Quebec. The Nicholsons couldn't begin to afford one, but Mr. Montgomery, next door, bought one in 1909 and even upgraded in 1911.

1960's T-bird interior.  

The lure of the sound of bagpipes led my Highlander husband  (with me following) to the dance competitions. My knees ached just watching. The Nicholsons and McLeods are his family. 

How now curly-haired cow. Heritage variety. I could have bought some chickens or turkeys ....or a Shetland pony!

Norman Nicholson (1850-1921) was not a farmer. He was a merchant in hemlock bark in 1899 when he signed this certificate. The hemlock industry would soon collapse and he'd work at various jobs, inspecting ties on the Transcontinental Railway and overseeing the building of the Richmond, Quebec Post Office, until his death in 1921. He never had the money to buy a car, even a Model T!

Margaret McLeod Nicholson 1910. She did not like the new-fangled automobile. She thought her neighbour foolish to buy one, but she happily went on car rides with anyone who had an auto. (The one exception being in 1921 when she went to vote for the very first time. She couldn't wait for her ride, so she walked to the polls.) Perhaps she protested about autos in her letters to make her husband feel better about not being able to afford an auto like his many friends and family members.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Paris 1928, McGill and Boiled Dishes

Edith Nicholson, 1913 with sister Flora.

Ah, Paris, 1928.   The center of the artistic universe.   Sigh. Paris between the wars. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein. Henry Miller and the down-and-out George Orwell.

And let's not forget Edith Sophia Nicholson.

Yes, my husband’s great Aunt Edie, born in 1884 in Richmond, Quebec to Norman Nicholson and Margaret McLeod,, spent half of July and all of August 1928  in City of Lights  -and I have two of her letters to prove it.

Alas, Edith never passed into Gertrude Stein’s legendary salon to rub shoulders with future art legends. Her visit to Paris was of the more conservative kind, but interesting in its own way. She was on a student tour, acting as a chaperone.

Aunt Edie was no boho artist. She was a teacher, the “wise and sympathetic” Tutor-in- Residence at The Hostel at McGill University, a place where the female physical education students boarded.
Aunt Edie was a culture-vulture, all right, but of the prim and proper variety.  In a letter she writes “I try to go into the Louvre as often as I can. It is so wonderful to see the original pictures we have always loved. A French artist took ten of us on a tour of the Italian paintings.”

(See no mention of the Impressionists .)

Edie in the 1920's,  I assume from hair-do and Mrs. Ethel Hurlbatt, the Warden of Royal Victoria Women's College at McGill from 1911 to 1928.  Hurlbatt was ill in 1928 and that may be why Edith got to go to Europe, taking her place.  They look alike. Scots.

As a chaperone, Edith had to attend three hours of morning  lectures with her students. She also ate meals, speaking only French, with them.  “Well, one must make an effort.”

There were many guided tours, to Versailles, for instance, “We were  lucky to see the fountains playing.” and to a Chateau in Chantille, “A wonderful place filled with treasures.” The group attended a ceremony at the tomb of the unknown soldier, in the presence of the British Ambassador. Edith had the honour of placing the wreath.

Edith and two other teacher-chaperones were guests at a luncheon hosted by a Monsieur and Madame  Roy, “such lovely people” where she has two long talks with a Mrs. Lapointe, the wife of the Chief Justice of Canada.

As one might expect the food was very good.  “At luncheon we had cabbage and sausages, a boiled dish that was delicious, with crusty bread (no butter except for breakfast and then only one little pat) then veal chops and green peas and for dessert stewed peaches. The French take such care with every dish. The way they cook the food seems to bring out the best in it.”

(It’s hardly likely Edith would have been treated so well at the Stein salon, which was famous for its casual informality.)

Paris, in the summer of 1928, was hot. Edith remarks upon it in both of her letters. “I am staying in today. The heat has been intense.  Some people are quite played out.”

Luckily, her digs at 33 Boulevard des Invalides were cool and comfortable. “This is quite an interesting place we are staying at. The LycĂ©e (means school) is surrounded by a high wall which encloses this building and a beautiful garden with flowers, trees and walks. And adjacent the grounds of the Rodin Museum.”

From what I can see on Google Earth,  the white stone building at 33 Boulevard des Invalides is still there, and it still houses a school.  I checked, and the building is just a 20 minute walk away from 27 rue Fleurus,  where Gertude Stein lived!

In fact, back then, had Edith taken a walk with her student charges to Le Jardin de Luxenbourg, and that’s pretty likely, (she does mention a walk to Champ de Mars, 20 minutes in the other direction) she might have passed right by the famed salon, and, maybe, even bumped shoulders with a  bohemian artist or wine-soaked patron.

Then again, if she had, it wouldn’t have been anything to write home about, right? Pablo Who?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Cannibalism, Conscription and Mme Defarge-like Clicks

Toronto Suffragists March in Washington in 1913. 
Constance Hamilton, the leader of a provincial assocation, walked behind Mrs. Flora Macdonald Denison and Dr. Stowe-Gullen of the Canadian Suffrage Association.  Hamilton soon mounted a coup against Denison and started her own National Equal Franchise Union, that didn't do much during the War, but in 1917 she used her position to act as a spokesperson for Canadian women.

Well, in 1916, a year before he was forced to call the infamous Conscription Election, Premier Borden of Canada called for 500,000 new recruits.

The population of Canada in 1917 was 8,000,000.

I did the math, looking at the Census figures, and, yes, 500,000 men would have meant about every able-bodied man from 14 to 35 living in the country.

And if you figure they weren't allowing foreign born or people of colour into the forces, well...

In very early August, 1917, the P.M. Borden's Government  held a rowdy Win-the-War meeting in Toronto,  where the key women's societies were invited, but with only two days notice, apparently.

The newspaper accounts of the event make it sound very much like a religious-revival meeting, with testimonials and tears and no shortage of hysteria. Did you know Prussians were cannibals?

Torontonian Constance Hamilton, of the National Equal Franchise Union, a national suffrage organization she started just before the war and which never really got going, used her position to give a keynote speech, saying she didn't want an election.

But, she was all for conscription.  All the women of Canada were for conscription she said, perhaps overstating her authority to say so.

According to the Toronto Star report, you could hear the Mme Defarge-like sound of knitting needles clicking all through the meeting. (Women knitted socks for the men at the Front.)

I used this scene in  Service and Disservice,  my ebook about the iffy involvement of the Canadian Suffragists in the Conscription election of 1917.

It's the follow up to Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British Invasion of Suffagettes to Canada in 1912/13.

The fact is, the female leadership of Canada demanded Conscription even before P. M. Borden and the Canadian Government.

Constance Hamilton

They gathered some 2,000 ladies at this Toronto Win-the-War meeting, some accompanied by their limbless husbands and sons, to make a point: we (Protestants) have suffered enough. Forget recruiting: conscript other people's sons.

Oddly, at the very same time, the Premier of Ontario took out a half page ad in the newspapers saying he needed 100,000 men to bring in the crop in Ontario.

(A little problem, here, obviously.)

Constance Hamilton tried to figure it all out by starting a women's agriculture committee on the National Council of Women.

She had previously been head of the Immigration Committee, a subject she got interested in when she lived in BC and in Winnipeg with her husband, L.A. Hamilton, a legendary surveyor who had a street in Vancouver named after him.

They had no children together. She had no one fighting in the war.

I have to wonder what Mrs. Hamilton thought about the 'cannibal' accusation. She was a from a wealthy Yorkshire family and had spent time in Leipzig studying music and piano.

She even started a Bach Society in Toronto.

The day before thisWin-the-War meeting, Premier Borden sent a telegram to Mrs. Hamilton and to the leaders of I.O.D.E. and the National Council of Women asking them to poll their national memberships to this out: if women were allowed to vote, would his coalition party win an election.

At the August 2 meeting, Mrs. Hamilton met held a powwow with the ladies in the company (perhaps) of Arthur Meighen, Borden's right hand man, to seal this rather undemocratic deal.

Telegrams were sent out and the answer came back: "NO, You would not win the election if all women had the vote." So, in the 1917 election, Borden ended up giving the vote only women with close relatives fighting in the War,  with his highly-controversial War Time Elections Act.

Constance Hamilton loudly and proudly defended the War Time Elections Act in the Press. The President of the other (more legitimate) Canadian Suffrage Organization, Dr Margaret Gordon, called it a "Disenfranchise Act" in the press.

Gordon wondered in the Press why women with men in the war were so keen on seeing other women send their men to die in war.

It was a good question, and it was answered by a mother of soldiers giving a speech at the Win-the- War meeting.

"If more men went to war it would improve the chances of our own men coming back," she said.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

What are the Ties Between Skating Superstar Barbara Ann Scott and Louis Riel?

1900 Canadian Who's Who

I've written a lot about John Naismith Greenshields, of Danville  Quebec,  who successfully defended both Louis Riel and the Megantic Outlaw Donald Morrison.

Greenshields was a graduate of St. Francis College in Richmond, Quebec where  all the children of Norman Nicholson went to high school in the 1880's, or Academy as high school was called back then.

Before 1900 St. Francis was affiliated with McGill University. Norman Nicholson was on the Board of St. Francis at that time.

As I've written here and elsewhere, Norman Nicholson, my husband's great grandfather, was very invested in the 1889 murder trial of  Donald Morrison, perhaps managing his defence fund.  Did Greenshields enlist him or was it the other way around? Hmm.

 I have some documents related to this infamous E.T. event. I wrote about it here on Matthew Farfan's Eastern Townships Heritage website.

Here's a link to my own earlier post all about Mr. Greenshields.

I even put a fictional bit about the man  in my novel Threshold Girl, based on the Nicholson Family Letters from 1908-1913. I have Greenshields flirting as a very young man with Margaret McLeod, my husband's great grandmother from Kingsbury, Quebec, who was very, very pretty and who worked as a youth as the first telegraph operator in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.

Young Margaret McLeod of Kingsbury, Quebec.

Why not?

Lately, inspired by these Nicholson letters and the books I wrote about them, Threshold Girl, Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, Furies Cross the Mersey and Serivce and Disservice, I've grown my own family tree and even taken an Ancestry DNA test.

Edith Nicholson, circa 1914 (when she was a teacher at St Francis College in Richmond) possibly posing at the college with some profs.

I'm half French Canadian, with no relations in th E.T that I've found as of yet.

And, lately, poking about other people's trees on  for more info about my husband's tree, I fell upon the famous Canadian figure skater, Barbara Ann Scott of Toronto, born 1928, to see that her paternal grandmother was an Agnes Schuyler Greenshields of Danville, Quebec.

Danville is near Richmond.

I checked and, yes, it appears that Agnes is John Naismith's sister and that makes her the sister of the more illustrious RAE Greenshields (see below).

So, it follows that Barbara Ann Scott, Canada's figure-skating sweetheart, was (very likely) the great niece of this illustrious English Quebec QC and industralist and newspaper publisher, now all but forgotten except here on my blog and in my e-books, available on Amazon Kindle

I wonder if this is common knowledge. Let me check the Internet ::::time passing:::::Nope. When you enter the search terms Barbara Ann Scott and Greenshields, all that comes up is other people's family trees.I haven't been able to find a biography of the famous Canadian athlete anywhere, which is odd. She was the Gretzsky of her era, a super-celebrity, talented and beautiful.

John Naismith Greenshields doesn't have a Wikipedia page, but he is written up in French here, as an illustrious Quebecker of the past.  His brother and partner RAE Greenshields, who rose to be Chief Justice of Quebec and Chancellor of Bishops, and Dean of the Faculty of Law at McGill, does have a Wikipedia page.  Donald Morrison and of course Louis Riel do have Wikipedia pages.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

DNA, Adoption and Sleuthing out Heritage

Canadian Heritage, the Mountie at Mosaic Canada 150 in Gatineau. The exhibits were beautiful, perhaps thanks to the heavy rains. 

Entertaining ourselves to death. That's what Neil Postman, I think, said about modern life. That's what I have been doing lately.

Well, it is summer and a very, very wet one at that here in Quebec.

I'm not writing much, as I await the launch of a book in November, but I am reading a lot.  The Museum of Innocence right now.  It's a wonderful novel, using a spoiled rich man's romantic obsession to describe Turkey in the 1970's.

It's not a page-turner. I'm going slowly.  I wait for the sun to appear (which is not often) and go out into the yard to read. I move my little spectator's chair around the yard to change my point of view.

My yard is lovely, all right, but the rain is making the trees grow too leafy.

If there's anything wrong with the Museum of Innocence, it's that hearing someone go on and on about his lost love is a bit boring, just like in real life, even if the sad-sack narrator here is inadvertently pithy.

I've also been cooking a lot of new recipes from the New York Times cooking section, trying not to spend too much. Yikes, the price of veggies this wet season!

Small pleasures, when you are not working for pay.

I've also gone back to my recent hobby of fiddling with DNA online.  I had my DNA done in January and was freaked for a few months because the results came in 20% Caucasian (as in Caucasus - Iran) when I'm half French Canadian and half North of England.

On top of that, ALLof  my seven thousand DNA cousins on appeared to be of  French Canadian heritage.

For a few months I went berzerk, using bits of DNA on Gedmatch to FINALLY figure out that I am very probably a descendant of Yorkshiremen and people from Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland.

These people don't have much of a presence on Ancestry.  They didn't emigrate to North America and they didn't have many children. (Well, the World Wars certainly didn't help.)

The story is all here on this blog. What a history lesson for me.

View from Rye House in Yorkshire, where, supposedly, an ancestor of mine lived.  Most of my Yorkshire ancestors were farmers, the nasty fellows who gave those Vets in All Creatures Great and Small such a hard time.

Being bored, I decided to fiddle with my cousin's DNA, using my new found sleuthing skills. She's adopted.

I think I've figured out who one pair of her great grandparents are, at least.  Irish Catholic. Lots of kids.

My husband's DNA trail is boring. Two first cousins, one on each side, turned up immediately when the results came in. My adopted cousin would have loved to see something like that. I can go through his fourth to sixth cousins, the ones with trees, anyway,  and immediately see where they fit into his tree.

Most are from the Hardy line, the one he shares with General Douglas MacArthur.  This family has been in North Carolina a long time.

My DNA trail on Ancestry, even with a few thousand more people added over the months, continues to confuse me. For instance, I found a DNA  cousin with a Hartley from Colne, Lancashire and a Neesham from Yorkshire, just like I have in my tree. Hooray!

You would think this was proof of my English heritage, but no. Not at all. This person also had an Audet from St-Jean, Quebec, and yes, we share an ancestor, Nicolas Audet, pioneer off the boat in 1600's New France, married to Madeleine Despres, yet another Fille de Roi to add to my collection.  (It's easy to trace French Canadian ancestry as I've written here on this blog. The English tree is likely filled with errors - and, ah, those irksome non-parental events.)

So, I sent an Ancestry DNA kit to my older brother in Denmark to get this confusion over with.

Meanwhile, I continue to play with my cousin's DNA. She is half French Canadian like me, but we share no DNA.

We do share a few cousin matches, though.  One such match, with whom we both share 25 or so centimorgans of DNA, is a guy who is 3/4 German with one French Canadian line.

That French Canadian line is easily traced, of course.  I immediately discovered my cousin's connection to him by using Gedmatch, but mine, that's taking more time.

I'm wondering if it's a WW1 non-parental event. No doubt, those happened.

This DNA stuff is very complicated.

I share a lot of DNA with people with Boyes from  North Yorkshire in their tree.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

WWI and the Canadian Suffragettes: A Murky Tale

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

Service and Disservice 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 British invasion of militant suffragettes to Canada.

And it's all so very complicated. I don't think even the few scholarly accounts of the event get it one hundred 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.

When I was writing up the first chapter of Service and Disservice, where Carrie Derick, President of the Montreal Suffrage Association, tells her side of the story, I realized I was missing some critical information, 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 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, a lawyer, was the man who had an angry confrontation with militant suffragette and WSPU memeber Barbara Wylie, when she spoke in Montreal in November, 1912.

 Miss Wylie made fun of him from the speaker's platform. A year later, in 1913,  Holt was on the executive board of the newly-minted 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.

Indeed, Mrs. Hamilton, in her press statement for that July meeting, made a point to say the Montreal Suffrage Association represented all the women of Quebec, which couldn't have been farther from the truth.

 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 against limited suffrage and sent it to the PM.  Some members of the MSA Board dissented.

Premier Borden, clearly exasperated by this resolution, replied to the MSA explaining 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 Votes for Women movement, were clear about their contempt for 'unpatriotic' Quebeckers. It was written all over the National Council of Women Magazine, The New Century.

Derick, living and working in two solitudes Quebec, couldn't be so blunt.

The quote from John McCrae's In Flanders Fields is all very tell-tale.  It was Professor Andrew MacPhail of McGill who reportedly found the unsigned poem in  Europe in 1915, recognized it as McCrae's by the style, and then sent it  on his own to be published. (The story around this is all very sketchy, I think. File under Wartime Propaganda.)

Francis Fenwick Williams, a writer on the Board of the Montreal Suffrage Association, and a woman who would soon speak in favour of Conscription at an August 1917 Win-the-War rally in Montreal, had been MacPhail's secretary for a while, working with him on a McGill Journal.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Jazz, eBooks and Cashmere Handbags

Yesterday afternoon, my husband and I went in to take it the atmosphere, and some music, at the Montreal Jazz Festival, downtown.

We saw these surreal gals on the street.  Where's the Friendly Giant?

After eating a couple of Lafleur hotdogs, we sat on the steps of Place Des Arts and listened to a small Dixieland band play all the standards, like Sweet Georgia Brown. Then a youth band played on the large Rio Tinto Stage. All very good.

It was hot, but not JULY hot yet. And there was a breeze. 

I people watched, looking out for interesting outfits.

I saw one wealthy-looking older woman, in beige Audrey Hepburn style culottes and a sleek black sweater, carrying a a turquoise cloth hand-bag I just loved.  Cloth? Probably cashmere. The purse had bone handles. It was very simple and very chic and very, very expensive, I bet.

Everyone comes out for the Jazz Festival.

We walked the 2 kilometers back to Papineau and Rene Levesque, where we had parked the car, looking at the hodgpodge of architecture: old buildings, new buildings, ugly buildings, pretty buildings, gentrified buildings, derelict buildings. 

This building at St. Laurent seemed interesting. I gauged it at around 1905. (I didn't see a date on the building, as is usual.)

I noticed La Patrie was embossed over the door. La Patrie, the tabloid that hated my Grandfather, Jules Crepeau. My grandfather lived two blocks up at Sherbrooke and St. Laurent.

My husband asked when the newspaper was founded. 

"I don't know, " I said. "I know it was around in 1927, a tabloid with more photos than print. The paper covered the 1924 Coderre Commission into Police Impropriety word-for-word and included sketches of the men and women testifying."

 They also had this pic of my grandfather from 1913. Grandpapa was involved in a scandal back then, his first, or maybe second, and certainly not his last. Read Milk and Water, my ebook about my grandfather, here.

"So they've been around at least since 1913, but this building looks around 1905." 

Anyway, today I checked online and the building is from 1905. I'm getting good at this. 15 years of research into Montreal's history has made me quite savvy.

So, I now know where La Patrie was, and the Herald, (down by Atwater).. and I've always known since childhood where the Gazette was... St James Street, right?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Lightsabers and Banana Splits and Virtual Reality Family Stories.

My living room, 1964. The marble bust of three kids on the right was the only 'art' in our plain duplex apartment,  if you don't count ashtrays.  My mom had inherited it from her parents, who had been wealthy -or at least wealthier. She later sold it to a friend. Our TV was a 20 inch black and white Westinghouse.

The other day I had my very first virtual reality experience at a place called ColonyVR in Ottawa. My son took me and my husband.

While my hubby played with lightsabers, I immersed myself in Night Cafe, a tribute to Van Gogh, an experience that was simply mesmerizing.

This week, I was inspired to create my own work, by placing a picture of the 10 year old me  in the living room of the upper duplex apartment where we lived  in 1965. (It's for sale). As you can see, I'm no Van Gogh.

The living-room window above looked out on a sunny maple-lined street in the Snowdon area of Montreal.

Our white polyester curtains were always greyish, though, from the lead-laced exhaust of the pink Thunderbirds and red Mustangs idling below.

In the afternoon, you could see a thick cloud of dust in the sun's buttery rays.

(Remember, air in the big cities was very polluted in the 1960's, although there was still plenty of fish in the oceans back then and you couldn't walk from Newfoundland to the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, balancing on plastic water bottles.)

Thanks to the late day sun, there was always an  African violet, purchased from the Woolworth's on Queen Mary Road, on the sill over the radiator.

It was a five room upper duplex, built in the 1930's, with super thick walls that couldn't take a nail, so no pretty pictures graced our messy over-crowded  family home.

(Well, maybe there was a Turner - also from Woolworth's - in the living room.) We had lots of ashtrays, though, of all shapes, colours and all sizes.

I wrote about it in my book Looking for Mrs. Peel.

Most of the duplexes along this stretch of  Coolbrook in the 1960's had brown doors and grey porches, because the same penny-pinching man owned them all and purchased the paint in big industrial batches.

Only a few homes had flowers, let alone gardens, in the front. Indeed, one home, up near Queen Mary had a beautiful, abundant garden that stood in startling contrast to the other homes on the street.

I admired it everytime I passed on the sidewalk, on my way to the Woolworth's, where I wished I had the 39 cents to buy a Banana Split.

The Italian family, a few doors down from us, also put out a few potted plants he likely planted and nurtured himself. No wonder he was furious when my brother knocked one over with a soccer ball.

There was no Costco to buy Frankenflowers back then in the 1960's.

Our one-way street, even back then in 1965, was multi-cultural. My school textbooks may have been all "Dick and Jane" and whitebread but my neighbours were originally from Jamaica, Venezuela, India, Greece, Poland, etc.

Today, these same duplex apartments on it go for half a million dollars - despite the fact they back onto the filthy, loud Decarie Expressway, built in 1965/66.

My old duplex apartment is going for a bit less. It hasn't been renovated like the others.

Despite the lack of beauty in my childhood, or perhaps because of it, I'm a huge fan of the Impressionists (and Post-Impressionists).

I visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam about one year ago, where they do not let you snap pictures of the works.  Still, it's a great museum, that tells Van Gogh's story with clarity and  panache.

Right now, I'm also listening to Zola's Oeuvre on  Oeuvre, or Masterpiece, is based on the author's relationship with the artist Cezanne.

Of course, Cezanne, the father of modern art and  a manic-depressive, struggled to get his artwork recognized. He even had problems getting his paintings into the "Salon of the Rejected."

This makes me wonder, "What's the equivalent, today?" What great art of the future is being downplayed by the Bourg..ious..oeus, (I can't EVER spell that word.)

The middle class.

Video games? My son, of course, loves his video games and I, of course, have always found them too violent - and silly and a waste of time.

Last year, though, I asked my boy to dig me out a few non-violent ones so that I could try them out on the PlayStation. I no longer wanted to be a smug Philistine. I also was in in search of some brain-sersize.

He lent me Rayman and Assassin's Creed and Christine and Dark Rain.

It is difficult developing this video game 'literacy' when you are much older. I was all fumble-fingered - so I gave up.

But, now, after this wonderful VR experience in Ottawa, one that made me realize that this medium is supposed to be pleasurable, I can see the future of video games and VR and I want to be prepared for it.

I pulled out my son's video games, which are still in my home, and tried again. And I was a little bit better at it.

No, I don't want to be like those short-sighted Paris critics, who said Cezanne's paintings looked as if a monkey had thrown poop at a canvas.

(Hey, aren't monkeys throwing poop BIG on YouTube? That's what my son tells me.)

 OK. I clearly deserve kudos for being so open-minded ;) I'm also a typical older person who is into genealogy. I belong to a genealogical writing group that meets once a month to write down our family stories.

We've compiled our best stories in a book, Beads in a Necklace: family stories from Genealogy Ensemble, to be published in autumn, 1917.

I was re-reading some of these stories today. If I say so myself, they are pretty amazing, a genuine chronicle of Canadian social history, with a focus on Montreal history.

These family stories are in essay form, combining fiction and non-fiction techniques - as well as photos.

This makes me  wonder whether future genealogists will be taking their family photos and films and videos and turning them into, yes, virtual reality presentations!

OK. Slow down, Dorothy.  One step at a time.