Monday, June 12, 2017

1920's Montreal, McGill Women and the Cross on Mount Royal


The Hostel was the residence of the female Phys Ed students at McGill University in the 1920's.

I know because I have before me their 'novel experiment' for the 1928-29 school year, Hostelights, a 'small magazine' they published for the first and only time.

I have the copy that once belonged to Edith Nicholson, my husband's Great Aunt Dedee. Edith wasn't a student at McGill back then, she was the Tutor-in-Residence - and the little magazine is dedicated to her in thanks for her 'sympathy and wise-guidance."

(I've written a lot about Edith on this blog and in books on Amazon Kindle, Threshold Girl, Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, and more, available here.)

I pulled out  my copy of Hostelights because I am embarking on yet another Nicholson project, about Montreal in 1928, that will also be about Montreal City Hall, where my French Canadian grandfather, Jules Crepeau, was Director of Municipal Services, a huge post.

So, my book will explain Montreal from two very different points of view, English Protestant and French Catholic. The Prince of Wales will be involved. The Laurier Palace Fire, a real game-changer in Quebec, will figure large.  Oh, yes, and American Prohibition will be front and center.

Montreal was one of the few 'wet' cities in North America in 1928, but the New York Times was working hard to prove that Quebec's liquor laws were sensible and very good for the public purse. After all, the song Hello, Montreal was about New Yorkers coming to Montreal in droves to drink, cavort, and spend their money...

Yes, Montreal was sin city back in the 1920's  ("Vice spreads its tentacles in every aspect of city life," explained Juge Coderre who oversaw a 1925 inquiry into police corruption) and the female students at McGill's Royal Victoria College were allowed to frequent only four venues in the city: Morgan's Department Store down the hill, the Windsor Grill  Restaurant, The Ritz Carleton Hotel and Mount Royal. (I assume Mount Royal means the mountain. French and English were fighting over the Mountain in the twenties. The famous cross on Montreal's Central Park was put there in 1924.)


Reading the Editorial in this Hostelights Magazine, written by a certain Mavis Mitchell and her Board, I have to smile.

The recent UK election, where Labour did much better than expected, is being widely touted as reflecting a fight between young and old, new values and old values.

The  more things change, the more things stay the same.

Here's the 1928 editorial that, I think, will provide the underlying theme of my book.


"Nine years ago, a Hostel was opened as a residence for students of Physical Education. Since that time there have been many changes, not  only in the Hostel but also in the government. Perhaps the most important change is in the girls themselves, whose ideas and acts are but a sincere expression of the trend of modern thinking.

The growth of the new age, which has brought with it active participation of women in business and the professional fields, demands of these participants absolute capability and self-reliance, as well as a definite combination of  self-assertion and individual thinking.

The girls today admit the necessity of traditions, as they existed for their predecessors, but realized that these same traditions are inadequate to meet their own problems.

At the present time, girls are making a sincere effort to find themselves to adjust themselves to this new age. In so doing, they are inclined to lose sight of the benefits to be derived from traditions. The older generation, on the other hand, feeling their ideals unappreciated, becomes antagonistic. In order to correct this condition, it is necessary that there be a recognition of the struggle of modern girls to adjust themselves to the new world, and that there be an appreciation of the experienced woman's traditions, which have protected the present girls until they have gained suffience strength to stand alone."

 Edith Nicholson, Assistant Principal at Royal Victoria College in the 1930's and Ethel Hurlbatt, Principal of Royal Victorial College from about 1911 to until around 1930. (The two women look a lot alike. Scots!)

Below, a 1928 letter from Edith, Tutor-in-Residence at the Hostel at McGill at that time, as well as Secretary for the Registrar at the same university, explaining how she has taken over the duties of her ailing superior.