Category: Historical Nuggets

E. Pauline Johnson

Something new is happening with Canadian bank notes. For the whole of our history the notes have featured the image of the reigning monarch and former prime ministers. Now, the ten dollar bill will feature a famous Canadian woman, other than Queen Elizabeth II.

As part of the process for choosing whose picture would grace the bank note, Canadians were asked to submit suggestions. These were narrowed down to a list of fifteen: artists Emily Carr and Pitseolak Ashoona; authors L.M. Montgomery, E. Pauline Johnson and Gabrielle Roy; pioneering feminists Nellie McClung, Idola Saint-Jean and Therese Casgrain; humanitarian Lotta Hitschmanova; aircraft designer Elsie MacGill; Olympian Bobbie Rosenfeld; and businesswoman Viola Desmond.

My book club decided we’d each choose one of the candidates and read up about her and present our report at our March meeting. I chose E. Pauline Johnson.

Now, I knew she was part First Nations and I knew she was a poet, but that barely touched the surface of this amazing woman.

Born in 1861 on a reserve near Brantford, Ontario,  she took the name of Tekahionwake, and billed herself as a Mohawk Princess.  She was only about one quarter Mohawk, she was not a princess and the Indian name she assigned to herself was made up. Still, she identified strongly with her Mohawk heritage and drew on their legends and history for her own writings.

Her mother, Emily, was a Quaker, without a drop of Native blood in her veins, and some very odd views on marriage.  Emily’s own mother-in-law had objected to the marriage on the grounds that Emily was not Indian.  Her minister refused to perform the ceremony because the groom was not White.  Against this heritage, Emily enforced a social isolation on her children preventing them from being fully native or fully white. They were not to participate in kissing games, popular in Upper Canada at the time, nor to let anyone, male or female touch them, even on the hand. The result was that white neighbours considered them stuck-up and the children on the reserve called them “proudy.”

Against such a background, Pauline wrote poetry and developed a taste for dramatic acting.   She sent her poems to various magazines and a few were published. She made very little money from her writing but she gained some important friends in the literary world. Socially, she was more lonely than ever.  Pauline was popular, witty, charming and full of life. Society matrons welcomed her into their homes as an entertainer but they stood firmly against welcoming her as a prospective daughter-in-law. 

In 1892 Pauline recited at a concert put on by the young Men’s Liberal Club of Toronto.   She was an “instant” success. Her stage career was launched. From there she went on to perform all across Canada, mostly one-night stands in little whistle-stop towns, but also in the cities of Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg and Halifax. Her goal in the beginning had been to raise enough money to travel to London, England in search of a publisher for her book of poetry. Two years later she had saved enough and struck out for England armed with letters of introduction to the Canadian High Commissioner, the Marquis of Lorne and the Marquis of Dufferin, who, with his wife, became her patron. She was soon entertaining audiences in the drawing rooms of Hanover Square, and reciting for the King and Queen.

But her main purpose in visiting London was to find a publisher for her book of poetry. Within a few months she had the necessary introductions and met John Lane, the publisher of Oscar Wilde, John Davidson, Kenneth Grahame, and others. Into this august company, came E. Pauline Johnson with her little book of poetry, The White Wampum. Quite an accomplishment for a “colonial” let alone a woman of mixed blood, and scanty education.

Although her objective of finding a publisher had been accomplished, Pauline soon learned that she needed to continue with her stage career in order to promote the sales of her poetry. For the next sixteen years she undertook a gruelling schedule criss-crossing Canada, with some forays into the United States and another trip to England. She acted as interpreter for a delegation of chiefs from the Vancouver area who sought an audience with King Edward VII to outline their grievances against white settlement that encroached on their reserves.

Wherever she went Pauline inspired admiration and loyalty, but romance eluded her. She was betrothed to Charles Drayton but his socially conscious family objected to the match and he eventually cried off. She fell in love with a swindler, Charles Wurz, who stole her money and then abandoned her. It is a testament to her personality that when she was dying, penniless in Vancouver and too ill to work, her friends took it upon themselves to publish a collection of her poems, and thus provide her with an income. Society matrons, her first manager, stage partners, prominent businessmen, high-ranking politicians, all rallied to help Pauline Johnson.  Flint and Feather was published in 1912 and her champions went on a marketing campaign that secured sufficient funds to care for Pauline until she died. When she passed away of breast cancer at the age of 52 in 1913, mourners lined the street as her cortege made the three-block journey to Christ Church Cathedral. Every flag in the city flew at half-mast. In accordance with her wishes, her ashes are buried in Stanley Park. She did not wish for a memorial but in 1922 the Women’s Canadian Club raised the money and erected a stone to mark her grave.

Pauline Johnson was not the woman chosen to be on Canada’s newest $10.00 bill, but she was a remarkable woman who made her own way and lived her own dreams in an age when “ladies” were expected to bow to male authority and confine themselves to the home. She proclaimed her Indian blood proudly at a time when First Nations people were excluded from many parts of Canadian life. Her most famous poem, The Song My Paddle Sings, was memorized by generations of Canadian school children, including me.

I’m so glad my book club pushed me to read the biography of this remarkable author.

 

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Fiction and History

 

        With the success of dramas such as Downton Abbey, movie makers have turned to history for inspiration. Yay!  I’m all for teaching the modern generation about our past, our triumphs and our tragedies, our successes and our mistakes.  What concerns me is the willingness of film-makers and screen writers to present fiction as historical fact.  Even with the disclaimer at the end or the beginning of the film that the work comes from the writer’s imagination, the viewing public will believe that Queen Victoria or Queen Elizabeth I or Henry VIII really said and thought what the film portrayed.  Historical researchers will spend months or years, poring over personal correspondence, diaries, contemporary writings, newspaper articles and pictures of the day to ensure the accuracy of what they publish to the world about historical characters.  Modern film-makers seem  cavalier about truth.  If the real life of an historical character is dull, they just make up stuff to give it more sex-appeal, attributing thoughts and words to an historical figure that may even contradict what is known about that person’s beliefs.  As a writer and a lover of history, I find this approach disturbing.

 “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – Winston Churchill.  I believe this is true.  How often throughout history have we seen the same forces at work – greed, intolerance, hatred, fear, racism, — leading mankind into war and famine and suffering.  Yet, how can we learn from the past if the past is distorted?  I’m all in favour of a good story, in an historical setting, with real-life characters playing a role, but I think the made-up stuff should only apply to the made-up people.

To that end, I present this brief biography of one of the first women of the Klondike.  It’s as accurate as I can make it.  The tale needs no embellishment to touch the heart.

 

 Kate Carmack          

Sometime around 1886, Shaaw Tlaa, the daughter of a Tagish woman and a Tlingit man married, “in the custom of the country”, George Carmack, an American prospector and had a daughter with him.  Upon her marriage, Shaaw Tlaa became known as Kate Carmack.      Kate was skilled in the art of survival in the harsh climate of the Yukon.  She kept house for her husband, raised their daughter, Graphie Grace, sewed moccasins and warm winter clothing to sell to other miners, picked berries and snared game for food and even took in laundry to keep the family going until the mining claims began to pay.  Then on Aug, 16, 1896, George, along with Kate’s brothers, Skookum Jim and Dawson Charlie, discovered gold on Rabbit Creek   The three men hurried to Forty Mile on the Yukon River to register their claim and the Klondike Gold Rush was underway.  By default, Kate became the first woman on the Klondike.     For the first year after their strike, Kate’s life didn’t change much, but in 1898 George decided to take a trip “outside” to enjoy his new wealth.  Taking Kate and Graphie Grace with him, George headed south to visit his sister Rose Watson, in California..  In Seattle, George  signed Kate into hotels as Mrs. Carmack and showed off his wealth by draping her with gold-nugget necklaces.   He even told the newspaper reporters that he had a mind to take his family to the Paris Exposition in 1900 and he would be glad to have Jim and Charlie along.     Sadly for Kate, the city proved her undoing.  She was unhappy and bewildered in these strange surroundings.  She and her brothers drank too much.  Once she was arrested and spent a night in jail.  The newspapers of the time delighted in portraying Kate and her brothers as wild savages.  George doesn’t appear to have done anything to ease her way into southern society.     After a few weeks in Seattle, the Carmacks moved on to California to stay with George’s sister, Rose.  Rose was delighted to see her brother, but had scant regard for Kate.  She must have felt enormous relief in the spring of 1899 when George took her home to the Klondike.  The only fly in her ointment was that Graphie Grace stayed behind with her Aunt Rose to be “civilized”.     On a second trip South in the summer of 1899, Kate was again sport for the newspapers and George complained bitterly to his sister about her, saying he’d like to send her home to Dyea right away.  Instead of acting on that reasonable impulse,  George returned to the Yukon alone, leaving Kate with his sister in California.  In the winter of 1899-1900, George met Marguerite Laimee in Dawson and proposed at once.  Marguerite accepted on the spot.     Hurt and confused, Kate charged George with adultery, but although they had lived together as man and wife for thirteen years, she could not produce any legal documentation to support her claims.  George married Marguerite in Seattle.  Kate returned to the Klondike where.  Skookum Jim build her a cabin in Carcross.   She earned a small income from selling her needlework to tourists and occasionally posing for photographs.  George sent not a single dollar to support her or their daughter.     Instead, when Graphie Grace was sixteen, George arranged for her to leave the mission school in Whitehorse and join him in Seattle.  It was the greatest betrayal Kate could have endured.  In the  Tagish traditions children belonged with their mother’s clan.  A year later Graphie married her step-mother’s brother and severed all ties with her mother.   Kate died of influenza on March 29, 1920.

 

 

 

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Piper James Richardson

 

images-4With Remembrance Day just past there have been plenty of stories for a history buff such as myself to read and contemplate. One of those stories involves James Richardson of British Columbia.

Young Jimmy was just 19 when he enlisted in the 72 Seaforth Higlanders of Canada. He went overseas with the 16th (Canadian Scottish) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, During the Battle of the Ancre Heights on 8 October 1916 at Regina TrenchSommeFrance, the company was held up by very strong wire and came under intense fire.  Young Jimmy asked permission, then jumped out of his trench and played the pipes in full view of the enemy. Fired by his example, the Battalion forced its way through the wire and made it to their objective. Amazingly, Piper Richardson survived the battle. When the fighting paused, he acted as a stretcher bearer, bringing wounded comrades off the field. At the end of the day, he realized he’d lost his pipes. He returned to the battlefield to recover them and that was the last anyone saw of him. Jimmy download-1Richardson  disappeared into the mists of battle.  He was awarded the Victoria Cross, Canada’s highest military honour, posthumously for “conspicuous bravery.”
It was believed his bagpipes had been lost in the mud but in 2002 they were discovered in Scotland. A British Army chaplain had found them and brought them home where they remained on display in a school where he taught.  The pipes were then returned to the Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s).download-2

I first learned this story when our Victoria Symphony presented a Lest We Forget concert at the Bay Street Armoury in Victoria in 1914. “The Piper” composed by Tobin Stokes commemorates Richardson’s exploits and his tragic end. The presentation included film and readings as well as music and stands as one of the most moving Act of Remembrance services I have ever attended.

At this sombre time of year, Canada is once again preparing to send troops into troubled places around the world. They take with them an inspiring history of service and bravery. They also take with them the love and prayers of the citizens of the country they serve.  We wish them God speed, safe passage and the knowledge that they bring light and goodness into places of horror and evil.download-3

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Fashion Authenticity

In my continuing quest for authenticity, I’ve been looking at photos from the late nineteenth century in British Columbia.    Here is a sampling.

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This is a photo of Mrs. Friend of Atlin. B.C. taken near the turn of the twentieth century. High necked blouses and flared skirts were the order of the day.  Note the detail in the lace of the blouse shown on the right, and the decoration on the skirt on the left.  There is an almost “mannish” appearance to these two women, but the feminine touches are there if you look.

 

This photo of the Esquimalt Ladies Cricket team is in the B.C. Archives and dated 1890. Can you imagine playing cricket laced up that tight?ladies-cricket-team-1890

 

 

 

 

 

This one of women gold seekers in the Yukon in 1898 shows more work-a-day clothes than the cricketers, but those long skirts would be caked with mud and heavy.gold-rush-1965-2

 

Cecelia Spofford had her picture taken in 1890. Notice the puffs at the shoulders.  Of course, these professional photographs would show women in their best attire, not what they wore in the kitchen or the field.  Also, only persons of wealth and standing were likely to have a formal portrait taken.cecilia-spofford-hastings

 

This one of Windimere Pioneers is dated 1890. I find it useful because Windimere is off the beaten track – not a leader in ladies fashions.  Still, the women are well-dressed and out numbered.  When writing of this era in the interior of British Columbia it is well to remember that men grossly out-numbered women.  If a girl had a yen to marry, she’windimere-pioneersd not be short of proposals if she headed for the hinterland.

 

Finally, here is a page from the Eaton’s catalogue of 1897. Since women in even remote situations could order from a catalogue and expect the goods to be delivered, even if it took weeks to reach them, those with enough money could dress like this.  Note that Eaton’s is now selling attire for more active young women like those who rode a bicycle. 

imagesStill laced tightly at the waist, but those puffed sleeves would allow for a little more movement than the narrow ones of a few years previously.

Ginger Rogers is famously believed to have said, “I do everything a man does only backwards and in high heels.” Well, in the Canadian west, women did everything men did, only they did it in corsets and long skirts!

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The Not-So-Wild West

       wilds-to-riches-22   Writing historical fiction requires lots and lots of research. Since I love history, research is actually a treat and not a chore. However, writing about the Canadian West in the nineteenth century presents some unique challenges. If I do research under “Victorian,” I’ll get lots of references to Victorian England. If I try “Western” I’ll get reams of information on the American West. Thanks to Hollywood, most people perceive “Western” from the American perspective, i.e. lawlessness, range wars, famous outlaws, dangerous Indians. Those qualities make great fiction, but they do not hold true for the Canadian west. Oh, we had our share of criminals, but the westward expansion of white settlement in this country followed a different pattern that our southern neighbours. In Canada, the law and government, preceded the settlers.
           The fur trade that brought the first whites into the hinterland of British North America was governed by the Hudson’s Bay Company. These “gentlemen adventurers” were obsessive record keepers. They established forts, wages, trade routes, and their own form of law and order. Factors and clerks and agents brought with them the same standards of conduct that held sway in London, England. There were no glittering salons or evening parties, but respect for order and allegiance to the Queen were part of their make-up.
      Early attempts at settlement, such as the Red River Colony  were organized and controlled by the Hudson’s Bay Company and interested parties in England.  Although the Selkirk experiment failed, the method or organization was ingrained in the Canadian landscape.
      When the gold rush brought the next wave of immigrants to what is now British Columbia, there was already a functioning government in place. Sir James Douglas, chief factor for the HBC and Governor of Vancouver Island and British Columbia, took steps to prevent an American takeover of British territory there. He lobbied the British crown and used a garrison of soldiers and engineers to establish British sovereignty and the rule of law throughout the territory. Miners expecting a repeat of the California experience, found instead a court system staffed by itinerant judges, a police corps and a tax man waiting for them.download
      Barkerville, popularly viewed as a rough and tumble mining camp filled with saloons and brothels, quickly became a civilized town with all of the amenities. Gold was discovered in 1862, by 1863 the miners had built a hospital and raised the money to run it. Within a few years there were seven doctors practicing there. The Roman Catholic church was already established a few miles down stream in Richfield. By 1863 the Anglicans and Methodists had built churches, joined by the Presbyterians in 1864.
      Also in 1864, a Library was established with 70 books brought to the town by its first librarian, Miss Florence Wilson. In the next few years Governor Seymour donated 100’s more books. There were evening classes for the miners to study Greek and Latin and History and English and band and chess among other subjects. Music was highly prized. Miners formed choirs within the community and sponsored visiting troupes from Victoria, the U.S. and Europe. There was a Debating Club, Glee Club, Masonic Lodge, Cariboo Benevolent Society and a Literary Society, as well as a Miners Association that acted like a municipal government.
      This is not the popular image of a gold rush town, but it is an historically accurate one. As an author I see it as my responsibility to present historical truth in an entertaining, yet accurate manner.  Writing about the Canadian West means I have to overcome certain stereotypes in the reader’s mind, but that means I get to talk about a place and time that fascinates me.  As a commenter on this page once said, “what fun!”
 

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Rules for Teachers

p1020586On my recent reunion trip, one of the stops of interest was the local museum.  Tacked to the wall, I found these following rules for teacher.  I’ve seen variations of these before and some dismiss them as urban myth, probably because they are not written into the contract.  The teacher didn’t have to agree to them, he/she simply had to follow them!

1872  Rules for Teachers

  1. Teachers each day will fill lamps and clean chimneys. (I think that means lamp chimneys, not the stove.)
  2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the days session.
  3. Make your pens carefully.  You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of each student.
  4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes or two evenings each week if they go to church regularly.
  5. After 10 hours in school, teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.
  6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed. (Marriage is unseemly???)
  7. Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.
  8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, gets shaved in a barbershop will give reason to inspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty.

  I understand about the pool hall — well known as a den of iniquity — but I’m curious about the barbershop.  Surely a male teacher was expected to be well-groomed.  Was a shave in the barbershop unthrifty and therefore might contravene rule number 7?  Did men gossip at the barbershop?  Maybe it was the fear of barbershop singing!

1915 Rules for Teachers

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  1. 1. You will NOT marry during the term of your contract.
  2. 2. You are NOT to keep company with men.
  3. 3.  You MUSt be home between the hours of 8pm and 6am unless attending a school function.
  4.  4. You MAY NOT loiter downtown in ice cream stores.
  5.  You MAY NOT travel beyond the city limits without the permission of the Chairman of the Board.
  6.  You MAY NOT ride in a carriage or an automobile with any man unless he is your father or brother.
  7. You MAY NOT smoke cigarettes.
  8. You MAY NOT dress in bright colours.
  9. You may, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, dye your hair.
  10. You MUST wear at least two petticoats.
  11. Your dress MSUT NOT be any shorter than 2 inches above the ankle
  12. To keep the schoolroom clean you MUST                                                                                                                   
  • sweep the floor at least twice day.        
  • scrub the floor with hot soapy water at least once a week 
  • clean the blackboard at least once a day 
  • start the fire at 7am so that the room will be warm at 8am

 So now the ice cream store is as unsavoury as the barbershop.

I find these two lists interesting in that the first seems aimed primarily at men, while the second clearly has women in its sights.  No doubt the lists reflect the increasing number of women employed as school teachers, but  I wonder if it is also is a result of the presence of women on the school board.  What all male school board would mention women’s petticoats, let alone dictate the number of them?  In the 1890’s Manitoba became the first jurisdiction in Canada to allow women to vote in municipal elections and to hold office on the school board.  In 1895 Helen Mary “Marie” Grant was appointed the first female school trustee in Canada.

I confess to a certain romantic attachment to the 1890’s but I’d hate to wear two petticoats in the summer, I’d hate to have a male trustee dictate if I could visit outside the city and I’d certainly hate not going to the ice cream store.  Something to remember with we sigh for “the good old days.”

 

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Author Intrusion

images (2)I recently read a book that contained such egregious examples of what not to do with research that I had to laugh. Anyone who has taken even the most basic writing course knows that author intrusion into the story is something to be avoided. When that intrusion takes place as a mini-lecture on facts the author learned while writing the story, it is particularly disastrous.
In this case, the story was a murder set in the South Pacific. Immediately after the discovery of the body, the writer stuck in two pages of text explaining the geology, topography and meteorology or the area – without a single reference to the plot. Needless to say, I was thrown out of the story in an instant.  I closed the book and haven’t opened it since.

More importantly, from the author’s point of view, I’ve  marked her as a rank novice who should have hired an editor.  She is now on my “do not buy” list.  That’s the downside of self-publishing.  Fresh new authors, eager to release their creations into the world don’t have to pass any gatekeepers to see their work in print.  But authors need editors.  Just ask any successful writer today about their first novels and you’ll find nearly all are grateful that an editor or agent somewhere had the good sense to reject their first efforts.

Writing fiction is a learned skill.  It takes practice.  It takes hard work.  It takes teachers and coaches (not your mom or your sister) to read your work with a critical eye, before it ever leaves your desk.  Just because Amazon has a “publish” button, doesn’t mean you should click it before your work is ready.  Jack Bickham wrote a great book for aspiring authors,  The 38 most common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them.)  He has a chapter titled “Don’t Lecture Your Reader.”  He suggests that a writer who lectures is including information because she wants it in the story, not because the viewpoint character is thinking about it.  If the characters in your story don’t care about the geology of an island, neither does the reader.

Because I write historical fiction, I’m often tempted to dump in a paragraph or two of research that is relevant to the time period but irrelevant to the story I’m telling.   Recently, I’ve come across a character named Wellington D. Moses.  I’m going to tell you about him here, so I won’t be tempted to put my research into an unrelated story.

Wellington D. Moses was a Black barber in Barkerville in the 1860’s.   One day, Moses was cutting the hair of a gambler, James Barry,  from Texas, when he noticed the gambler had a gold nugget stick pin that looked familiar.  Sleepless in his cot on that hot evening, held awake by the raucous dance hall next door, Moses finally remembered where he’d seen the pin.  It had been owned by one Charles Blessing.  In the spring of 1866, after spending the winter in Victoria, Moses had met up with Blessing on his way back to Barkerville.  The two men decided to travel together.   A few days later, James Barry joined them and they three men enjoyed an evening together.  The next morning, Moses stayed behind on personal business while Barry and Moses set out ahead.

When Moses arrived in Barkerville, he looked for his friend Blessing, but no one had seen him.  Weeks later, when Barry came into Moses’ shop, the barber inquired of him what had happened to Charles Blessing, but Barry claimed ignorance.  After investigating on his own, Moses took his story to the police.  On the same day a body was discovered.  It was Charles Blessing.

Barry was hunted by the police and eventually brought to trial.  The final piece of evidence against the gambler was the identification of the nugget pin by Wellington D. Moses.  When Barry claimed there were many such pins in the country, the barber was able to point to the unique quality of this one.  Looked at from a certain angle, the nugget showed the profile of a man’s face.  When judge and jury inspected the pin, they saw the telltale face.  Barry was found guilty and hanged.

Later Wellington Moses spearheaded a subscription to give his friend, Charles Blessing a decent burial.  Over a hundred dollars was raised.  Enough to place a headboard at the grave and a fence around it.  If you travel to Barkerville, you can still see it. download

 

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Law on the Frontier

images (1)As part of my research, I’m reading real life stories of the Northwest Mounted Police.  Our public conscience sees the Mounties as glamorous, romantic figures, the essence of heroic, stoic, dogged, upright, committed and brave.  The truth is, the myth and the reality aren’t that far apart.  In the late nineteenth century one man was often assigned to bring law and order to vast areas of wilderness, to deal with murderers, thieves, drunks and claim-jumpers over hundreds of square miles.  It wasn’t uncommon for a single policeman to travel 1000 miles by horse and canoe to bring a prisoner to stand trial in a courtroom.

In 1858, when the Fraser gold rush brought tens of thousands of prospectors, many of them heavily armed, into the British Columbia interior, the miners outnumbered the police by over one thousand to one, the rule of law reigned.  What the Mounties couldn’t do by superior numbers, they accomplished with personal courage, reputation, skill and good will.  One of the reasons for the red coat, was that it symbolized the crown.  At that time Queen Victoria was held in high esteem, especially by the native population.  The Mounties, by fair dealing, established good relations with the aboriginal population.  Even when they had to arrest a native, his people believed he would receive a fair trial.  There are many instances where natives have worked with the police to track a criminal and bring him to justice.

Men in the field (it was all men at that time.  Women were first admitted to the RCMP in 1974) took short cuts that wouldn’t be permitted today, like searching a cabin without a warrant, but given the magnitude of their task, they must be forgiven a few technical leniencies.  If the search produced evidence of wrongdoing – like a murdered man’s wallet – the culprit was arrested.  If no evidence came to light, there was no arrest.

Since many of the men who volunteered for Sam Steele’s police force were scions of noble families in England, it is hard to imagine the loneliness and isolation they must have felt being the only lawman in a vast territory.  Yet they persevered and did their duty.  When the Colonial Secretary visited the Wild Horse Creek mines in 1882 he remarked that “I found the Birish Columbia mining laws in full force, all customs duties paid, no pistols to be seen and everything as quiet and orderly as it could possibly be in the most civilized district of the colony . . . much to the surprise and admiration of many who remembered the early days of the state of California.”

In our cynical age, it is popular to scoff at Duddly DoRight, but I’d rather trust my safety to a determined, methodical, dogged servant of the law, intent on doing the right thing, than on some wise-cracking talk-show host, bent on raising his ratings.

Mounties and other police are still dying to” Maintiens le Droit” (hold the right).  We owe them our thanks and admiration.

 

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Working Hands

13307406_10153789463354296_3231375144010294449_n Continuing my theme of the hard-working pioneer, the lady pictured here is baking bread — at the age of 90.  Once the habit of hard work is established it cannot be broken.
Family lore holds that in the early years, she’d lay her baby in the shade of a tree with an older child standing guard while she picked blueberries.  Then she’d carry  the baby and the berries a half-mile to the house and set about making pies.  As the years passed and the family grew, she routinely put up ninety quarts of wild strawberries every summer.  Note, those are wild strawberries, tiny little things no bigger than the tip of your baby finger.  Picking ninety quarts is a mind-boggling task, never mind preserving them in jars sterilized and processed on a wood-burning stove in summer.
Of course, picking and preserving fruit were extra chores.  Her regular days consisted of baking bread, churning butter, washing clothes on a scrub-board, scrubbing pine floors with lye soap.  Then, when the children were in bed, getting out her sewing machine and making the children’s clothes.  She also spun the wool from her own sheep and knitted mitts and socks for her brood.
So many of the tasks we look on now as hobbies or crafts, were necessities of life to the pioneer woman and she did it all without electricity or running water, or store-bought aids, like soap.

There is another story of her husband being annoyed because she’d been put to extra labour to entertain some visiting men while she herself was still recovering from a bout of pleurisy.  In her words “I was recovering because I was in active service.  There was no one to take my place.”
While her offspring like me are aghast at the mountains of work she accomplished, she didn’t complain or sigh.  In fact her memoirs are filled with descriptions of happy times, like the annual Fall Fair, and her pride and excitement when a horse or cow from their farm came home with a blue ribbon.

Her life revolved around her family, her faith and the farm.  She nursed her children through whooping cough and scarlet fever and ‘flu.  She sent one boy to the Great War in 1914 and another to WWII in 1939, then welcomed them home when the conflicts ended.  She lived a very long life, saw the world go from horse and buggy to a man on the moon.  Through all these momentous changes, she kept her focus — family, faith, farm.

Not a bad recipe for a good life.
Here is her recipe for hand soap.

Have grease rendered.
Take 9 cups of grease and put in crock. Heat to lukewarm.
Put 1 can Gillette’s lye in 6 cups soft cold water.  Stir until thoroughly mixed.  Lye will heat the water.  Put 1/2 cup borax, two table spoons ammonia and stir, leave it to cool until lukewarm.  Pour lye in with grease and beat (by hand!)for 10 minutes or until it looks like honey.  Bake in layers.

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Romance or Drudgery

P1020575I’m currently working on the third book in my Prospect series. Like The Man for Her and Her One and Only, it is set in the mythical gold rush town of Prospect in the Rocky Mountains. The time is 1890. The railway has come through the town so travel is easier, the population is growing and the town is taking on some of the trappings of a city of the time. Still, there is a sense of the wilderness on the doorstep. Rogues masquerade as upstanding citizens, upstanding citizens will risk all for a chance to strike it rich on the gold creeks. It is a wonderful setting for a romance, bold men and daring women, a rugged landscape, and a sense of wildness and freedom.
I’m having fun writing the story and researching the times. Of course, I’ve explored this setting before, but there is always more to learn, some little nugget of information that fires the imagination.
But the life of the pioneer was not all romance. There was work, hard, unremitting, necessary work. If a man didn’t work his fields and grow a successful crop, his family went hungry. If a woman could not preserve the bounty of harvest, the winter months were lean. Storm, drought, fire, were a constant threat.
I’ve found a little of that in my own family history. This is an excerpt from a toast written by one of my relatives to celebrate our pioneer ancestors.
“Thou cruel days, those lonely nights,
How can I the picture paint
Of endless toil and lonesome frights
In that land of the Northern Lights?

With Pioneer John to the lumber camps gone
Where the tote-road became his highway
His steadfast wife sustained all life
At home, in Temperance Valley.
. . .
The father came home, when the camps closed down
His sleigh-bells rang a jubilant message
They were heard from afar, the door was ajar
his winter of labour was over.
. . .
The dog chased his tail, he was only a pup
The cats and their kittens gamboled in glee,
In Temperance Valley happy days had begun
Pioneer John was his own man again.”

It’s that line “his own man again,” that resonates with me. There may have been easier paths than that of the pioneer, but those paths depended on the good will of some other man. For men like my grandfather, and the men I write about in my books, to “be his own man,” is worth all the sacrifice, all the toil, all the hardship.
I hope, in some way, that my stories pay homage to those brave men and women who trekked into the unknown, faced the fury of nature, and came through to peace and plenty at the end of the day.

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In the Company of Adventurers

HBCThe Hudson’s Bay Company, long a staple of Canadian shopping centres and a significant part of our history, was officially termed, “The Company of Gentlemen Adventurers.”  Formed in 1668 by edict of Charles II of England, the company received exclusive trading rights to all of the waters in North America that drained into Hudson’s Bay. It became the longest, continually operating commercial venture in Western history.

Saturday, I spent time with another company of adventurers, VIRA, the Vancouver Island Romance Authors. We have no relation to the Hudson’s Bay Company, there’s not a gentleman among us. Men are not prohibited from membership, but at the moment we’re a company of Lady Adventurers.
Why adventurers? For starters we’re all exploring the dangerous waters around writing and publishing romance novels. Some through traditional methods, others, bravely launching their work into the self-publishing stream.
We write about adventurous women. Some involved in derring-do, like steam punk heroines or secret agents, others in the shark-infested waters of families and small towns.  Some of our heroines look the part, with super-powers and enough gadgets to make James Bond envious.  Others, appear demure, conforming and obedient, but beneath the crinolines and behind the fans they are every bit as adventurous as their fantasy counterparts.

We “ladies of the company” trade in information.  We share data and strategies for finding an editor or an agent.  We discuss the tools of self-publishing where fellow-travellers are more important than ever.   We need to know how to utilize facebook, twitter, algorithms, blogs, websites, cover artists, formatting tools . . .  the list goes on and on.  Alone, in front of the computer, the task is daunting.

On a Saturday afternoon with other lady-adventurers it’s fun.  We laugh, we commiserate, we encourage, we read and edit each other’s work.   We go home energized and filled with hope.  Thanks VIRA.  I enjoyed your company.

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The Women’s Institute

WII’ve been talking on this blog about the fight for women’s rights in Canada.  One of the agents of that struggle is the Women’s Institute.  Founded in 1897 in Stoney Creek, Ontario, the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada has championed women, particularly rural women from its very beginnings up to the present time.

 

The inception of the Federated Women’s Institute of Canada (FWIC ) grew from a personal tragedy.  Adelaide Hoodless, a young wife and mother, lost her fourth son to “summer milk fever,” an infection carried in unpasteurized milk.  The bereft mother turned her attention to educating women, particularly rural women, on proper hygiene and the safe handling of food.

“A nation cannot rise above the level of its homes, we women must work and study together to raise our homes to the highest level possible.”  Adelaide Hoodless.

After that first meeting in Stoney Creek, the WI flourished.  By 1913 there were institutes in every province. In 1919 at a meeting in Winnipeg the FWIC was formed to co-ordinate and support local chapters.  In 1958 a national office was established in Ottawa.

Rural women banded together to educate and support each other as a parallel organization to the Farmer’s Union, but they weren’t content with just putting healthy food on the table. The phrase “think globally, act locally,” was  a watchword for the Institute.  They were instrumental in the establishment of Macdonald Institute at the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph, Ontario and in the creation of Macdonald College in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, P.Q.

They aided the cause of women in the political field, rallying around Emily Murphy in the “person’s case.”  They lobbied for counselling for farm families during hard times.  They worked for facilities to benefit their communities.  The WI Hall is a common sight in rural Canada.  They manned food tents at the Fall Fair and Ploughing Match. They offered courses in safe canning methods, first aid, farm ownership succession and estate planning.

During WWI and WWII they knit socks, rolled bandages, fund-raised and worked to increase food production and decrease waste.

They volunteered and fund-raised for rural clinics to improve infant health.  They operated book-mobiles to bring information and education to rural homes.  In the 1940’s the brought hot meals and school milk days to the local school.  They lobbied for the establishment of Brock University in Ontario.  They wrote “Tweedsmuir Histories,” a valuable documentation of community life throughout the country.

The motto “For Home and Country” reflects FWIC aims: to promote an appreciation of rural living, to develop informed citizens  and to initiate national programs to achieve common goals. Today, true to its roots, The WI is focussed on rural child care, farm safety, legal rights, fair pay, literacy, health, stress on farm families and financial planning.

Internationally, the WI assists craft programs in developing countries, helping rural women to increase their family income and to educate their daughters.  They also contribute to efforts for clean water, literacy and women’s rights.

My mother was a proud member of the Women’s Institute.  Despite the complaints of her family about a cold supper, she attended a meeting one afternoon a month where she and her cohorts worked for the common goal of healthy families, informed citizens and the recognition of the farm family as the foundation stone of our community.  I miss my Mom.  Kudos to her and all the other Institute Women.  They persevered in the face of hardship, criticism and selfish children, and created a better home and community.

 

 

 

 

 

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Women as Persons

imagesFollowing last week’s light hearted look at marriage proposals, I found myself exploring the whole question of property, wages, suffrage and marriage in Canada.  I got mad!  Then, this morning the CBC news announced that women’s income compared to their male counterparts is, in fact, going backward.  In 2015 women earned 72¢ for every $1.00 earned by men.  In 2009 the number was 75¢.

Why?  Because “women’s work” is paid on a lower scale than “men’s work” and because women provide the majority of unpaid labour in our society.   For centuries women have petitioned, marched, struck, gone to jail and appealed to the courts to redress the unequal treatment of the sexes.  A few months ago Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed a gender-balanced Cabinet because, he famously announced, “it’s 2015.”

Yet, here we are in 2016 and the problem of  disparity persists.  Hardly surprising since,  for centuries the subservient position of women was legislated in the law of the land.

For example, a married woman in  pre-Confederation Canada in 1859 could own property, but she could not sell it without her husband’s consent.  In 1871 Manitoba passed a law “allowing” a woman to keep her property, but her wages belonged to her husband.

Perhaps the most ludicrous example of this type of thinking was the question of whether women were “persons under the law.”

In 1876 a British common law ruling stated that “women are persons in matters of pains and penalties, but are not persons in matters of rights and privileges.”  Nice eh?  Women can go to jail but they can’t go to parliament.  Since Canada’s law is founded on English law, the ruling applied here too.

1883 Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald introduced a bill into parliament to grant the right to vote to unmarried women and widows provided they owned property.  The bill failed.

In 1885 The Dominion Franchise Act defined an eligible voter as a male person.  It also included the proviso that ,  “a man can vote if he or his wife own property; she is responsible for the property tax.”  Here we go again.  She pays the penalties (taxes) he gets the privileges.

During the decade 1890-1900, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, and Quebec all introduced bills giving women the vote in provincial elections.  The bills were all defeated.

The situation came to a head in 1917 when Emily Murphy, a qualified lawyer, was denied a position on the bench because her opposition claimed she was not a “legally defined person.”  It is this moment that galvanizes Murphy and her supporters into ultimately forming  the “famous five.”

In August, 1927 Emily Murphy, invited four women, Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards and Louise Crummy McKinney, to her house to consider petitioning the Supreme Court for a decision on the question of whether women are persons according to the British North America Act of (1867).

When they brought their case, the government petitioned the Supreme Court of Canada to answer the question, “Does the word ‘persons’ in Section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867, include female persons?”  The case was argued on March 14, 1928, Emily Murphy’s 60th birthday.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a woman is not a “qualified person.”

In 1929 , Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards and Louise Crummy McKinney , took their case to The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England (Canada’s final Court of Appeal at the time).  The Privy Council overturned the decision of the Canadian Supreme Court and recognized Canadian women as “persons” under the law.

Finally, we got the “rights and privileges” of a citizen, not just the “pains and penalties!”

But women must keep vigilant.  As one court rules in our favour, another may rule against.  Given that we have centuries of a patriarchal system as our heritage, women’s rights is “new” in our culture.  It is fragile and must be nourished.  Yesterday was International Women’s Day.  It is telling that we still need a “day.”

Let us honour our foremothers by keeping vigilant, by shining a light on inequality, and by performing our civic duties with diligence and gratitude.

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Leap Year

81532_womannet_lgMonday was leap day, that special time that comes around every four years when the usual rules for marriage proposals — men do the asking — don’t apply.

No one knows for sure where the idea came from but it is sometimes attributed to St. Bridget, who lived in C5th Ireland. The story is that she complained to St. Patrick that women had to wait and wait and wait for their suitors to propose.  In response, St. Patrick designated leap day as the day women could seize the initiative.

Another story holds that Queen Margaret of Scotland imposed fines on recalcitrant beaux.  There are various versions of the penalties.    One said the unresponsive suitor had to buy his lady twelve pairs of gloves, one for each month of the year.  The gloves would cover her shame of having no wedding ring.  Other penalties included a silk dress, enough fabric to make a skirt, or a red rose.

The tradition may have arisen from the fact that February 29 was not recognised by English law. Since the day had no legal status, it was acceptable to break with convention.   Also, February 29 corrected the discrepancy between the calendar year and the actual time taken for the Earth to orbit the sun.  What better time for women to correct a tradition of marriage proposals that was one-sided and unjust?    

The problem of foot-dragging suitors did not exist in early Canada.  Women were in short supply and much sought after for marriage.  During the 1650’s, New France desperately needed settlers to increase the population of the colony.  Most particularly they needed women.  Enter Les Filles du Roi, an early version of government sponsored immigration.  Females were selected from the poor and orphaned women of Paris and the provinces of France.  They received training in the household arts from the nuns  of the Hôpital-Général, in Paris.  In the countryside, peasant daughters who were  of “robust health and accustomed to farmwork,” were selected by the parish priest for inclusion among the nearly 800 women who were shipped off to the colony.  Women of noble rank, destined to be wives for military officers, also travelled under the king’s protection.   Each woman received 30 livres worth of clothes  before leaving France.  When she signed the marriage contract, in Canada (New France)she was given the remainder of her dowry, including money and provisions.  Life in the New World was hard, but compared to life on the streets of Paris, many chose it as the better option.

When these women and girls arrived in New France, they were cared for by the nuns or by officials in the towns.  There were plenty of men to choose from and it was the females who did the choosing.  If a woman changed her mind before the marriage, she could opt out and choose another groom, or, in some cases, avoid marriage altogether and go out as a servant.  Most of the women married, however and raised large families.  After all, the main purpose of the program was to increase the European settlement in New France.

The government encouraged large families by offering a pension of 300 livres a year to those with ten living childrenIf the number of children rose to twelve, the pension rose to 400 livres.  That was the carrot.  The other part of the equation was the stick.  If a young Canadien had not married by the age of twenty the family was fined 150 livres.  The penalty applied to daughters who didn’t marry by their 16th birthday.  Even more onerous was the revocation of hunting and fishing licences for single men! Much more punitive than a dozen pairs of gloves.

As romance writers, our stories are about the heart.  Couples fall in love, they overcome obstacles, they marry and live happily ever after.  In real life, for centuries, marriage was  more about the head, society’s needs rather than the individual’s wishes.  Yet, I hope that among those girls of New France, there were some who found a compatible husband, that they fell in love and grew to a ripe old age together, and were happy.

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Photograph

Alice Valdal Headshots-0005I had a new portrait taken this week.  I like the photos I’ve been using, but they are ten years old and I felt like a liar when I looked at them.  So, now you can see the truth.

The whole experience got me thinking about cameras and photographs.   With photo apps on cell phones our age is awash in pictures.  What we eat, where we travel, who we meet, our pets, our children, our messy kitchens — all show up in a photo and posted to social media for all the world to see.

It was not always so.  Many indigenous people, including those in Canada, believed that if someone took your picture, he stole your soul.   I use that bit of lore In my book Her One and Only

 I’ve been studying photography and cameras for my work-in-progress since the heroine is a photographer in the late nineteenth century.  I grew up with the notion that “the camera never lies.”  Nowadays we know the camera lies all the time.  Photoshop has put editing tools in the hands of everyone who owns a computer, but I’ve learned that from the beginning, the camera “lied.”  Hannah Maynard, a famous photographer in Victoria, B.C. created many odd effects by cutting up her photos, rearranging them and then photographing the results.  Thus she was able to create a picture of herself having tea with herself in the guise of five guests.  She also created what she called “gems.”  These were faces of children cut out and rearranged so that they formed fantastical shapes, like a fountain or a house plant .

While Hannah Maynard was experimenting with photographic effects in Victoria, George Eastman was experimenting with the technology of cameras in New York.  By 1885 he had developed a box camera loaded with enough film for 100 photos.  Previously, images were captured on glass plates making photography cumbersome and awkward.  Eastman’s “Kodak” camera used thin celluloid film and a fast shutter speed  allowing the user to hold the camera in her hand rather than setting it on a tripod.  Photography as a hobby burgeoned.  Women especially were caught up in the new vogue.

Once the one hundred photos were taken the whole camera was shipped back to New York where the Kodak company unpacked the film, developed it, reloaded the camera for 100 more pictures and returned the whole lot to the customer.  In our day of instant everything, it’s  hard to believe such a cumbersome process was considered the height of convenience!

 

 

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Dogs and Writers

P1020049Writing at a coffee shop the other day — one of my favourite activities — I glanced out the window at the collection of dogs tied up outside while their owners were inside.  Without exception, the dogs were worried. How could I tell?  Dogs don’t have the same facial expressions as humans.  They can’t frown or smile as we do, yet I had no trouble reading their emotions.  Right in front of my eyes, was an object lesson on body language.

To indicate their distress, the dogs strained to the end of the leash, eyes fixed on the door through which their particular human had disappeared.  Sometimes they ran in a little circle before resuming the tense pull toward the door.  They shifted their feet.  They glanced over a shoulder, then back to the door.  When a well-meaning passer-by stopped to pat them, they’d give a half-hearted lick to the friendly hand or a single tail-wag, but their concentration never wavered from the door.

When the longed for human finally returned some dogs stood on their hind legs, some shook their heads so vigourously their ears flew out like wings.  Tongues administered doggie kisses everywhere.   Canines ran a happy circle about the owner’s legs.  Tails wagged fast and furious.    Shoulders relaxed, heads up, eyes glued to the human, the dog’s body language told the story of a long (maybe three minutes) wait, a presage of disaster and a final resolution of intense joy.

When I returned to my editing, I kept a sharp eye out for overuse of common body language in my prose.  My characters smile, frown and sometimes run their hands through their hair.  Pretty unimaginative!  As I worked, I considered the lesson from the dogs.  Perhaps my anxious heroine should shift her weight frequently, look toward the object of desire, then away, then back again.  Perhaps my happy hero should sprawl in a chair, relaxed and content while he gazes at the heroine.  Perhaps a child could lean against his mother’s knees in utter joy.

In The Man for Her, I used a dog as a foil for one of the characters and to propel the story at a critical point.  In an early draft of the book, I had the dog get old and sick.  Lottie shot him to end his pain.  I used that scene to show her strength of character.  When a beta reader read it she was horrified.  How could I kill the dog?!!  She loved the dog.  She didn’t care that I wrote fiction.  Save the dog was her vehement advice. In the end, I didn’t kill the dog.  I couldn’t bring myself to inflict that sorrow on my readers.

But sometimes life is cruel.  In that same book I make reference to the Remittance Men, young, well-born, well-educated English gentlemen, who emigrated by the boatload to the colonies of the British Empire.  Between 1875 and 1900, 45,000 of these ‘gentlemen’ came to Canada.  The emigrants were generally younger sons who, for various economic and social causes, suddenly found themselves superfluous  at home.  They eagerly flocked to the Canadian west, convinced they could continue to live the life of an English squire, owning hundreds of acres, a stable full of fine horses, and a pack of dogs.  As a group, these men were ill-suited and ill-prepared for the rigours of earning a living in Canada’s west, where they were expected to do the work themselves and not rely on servants and tenants.  Most of them failed.  Instead of an income from their labour, they relied on an allowance from home.

With some exceptions, the majority  were misfits in a land of hard-working farmers, miners and loggers.  The remittance man, so named for his oft repeated promise to pay his tab “when the remittance comes in,” gained a reputation for running up debts, drinking to excess, and looking down his nose at his “colonial” neighbours.  In short, the term “remittance man” was a label of scorn.

For all the disappointment of their new lives, most of these gentlemen remained true to their ideals of sportsmanship, fair play, public duty and patriotism.  When the call for volunteers came at the start of WWI, remittance men flocked to the recruiting offices, ready to defend the mother country.  In a sad post script to a sad interlude, they had to dispose of their animals before marching off to war.   There is a story of one group of men who arranged with their fellows to lessen the pain.  The last act of a man going off to war, was to ride to his neighbour’s home and, in friendship, shoot the dogs.

Looking at the eager faces of the dogs outside my coffee shop, I can well believe the story.  Even in kindness it would be impossible to draw a gun on your own dog.  Even more unthinkable to abandon it.  For all their faults, I feel a pang of sympathy for the unloved remittance man.

 

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We’re All Immigrants

SPRIGI spent Sunday afternoon attending a fund-raising concert for Syrian immigrants.  Lovely concert, but the cause was most important.  The plight of refugees from the Middle East, especially Syria, has been well-documented in the media and Canada has opened its heart and its homes to those fleeing war.

This is not new in my country.  From 1979 to 1980, Canada accepted 50,000 Boat People, so desperate to escape Viet Nam they took to flimsy boats, paying outrageous fees to exploiters who promised them passage to the West.   Then, as now, refugees were sponsored by church groups, community groups, clubs, office groups and government.  As a nation, we were proud of our compassion.

It was not always so.  There are black marks in our history, like when we turned away German Jews in 1939.  They were forced to return to Europe, where most ended in  concentration camps.

But, by and large, Canada, and all of North America for that matter, is the story of immigration.  My own Irish ancestors arrived here in the wake of the potato famine of the 1840’s.   On my German side, there is a tale of a wicked stepmother.  The story is that she managed to disinherit the oldest son of her husband by his first wife so that their land would go to her son.  The disinherited man, my forebear, emigrated rather than be a tenant on what he considered his own land.  They came to Canada and the promise of free land.

Each wave of immigrants has been met with a mixed welcome.  Irish, Polish, Hungarians, Chinese have all experienced discrimination.  Remember the pictures of “Irish Need Not Apply” in our history books?  At the same time, prairie women set up welcoming centres to help the flood of European immigrants pouring into Canada’s west in the late nineteenth century.

I tend to think of North America as the destination for immigrants, but history shows that people have migrated all over the world since earliest times.  Our own First Nations probably came to this part of the world from Asia at the time when it was possible to walk across the Bering Sea from Asia to present-day Alaska.  Pre-historic migration out of Africa populated continental Europe and the British Isles.

While it is common for an established population to fear immigrants, “the other,” those others bring huge benefits.  Migrants to Ireland and Cornwall brought their knowledge of tin and copper, signalling the beginning of the Bronze Age in Britain. Modern migrants in Canada  settled the Prairies, joined the army, contributed to our universities, ran for parliament, raised families, paid taxes, trained as doctors and nurses and teachers and cooks.  Those Boat People?  They are in the forefront of sponsorship drives for Syrian refugees.

There will be clashes as Canadian society tries to absorb 25,000 refugees in a short time, refugees from a  different culture, a different religion and a different clime.  But the goodwill exemplified by S.P.R.I.G. and thousands of similar groups across the country is reason for hope.

My immigrant ancestors helped make this country.  Today’s immigrants will do likewise.

 

 

 

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The Kitchen Stove

In a previous version of my website, I wrote an article about wood-burning stoves.  That text has long disappeared from here, but search engines continue to direct seekers to my website in response to the word “stove.”  So, here once again, is my tribute to the heart of the home.

 

The Humble Kitchen Stove
     When woman first began cooking inside the cave, she used an open fire and a stick to sizzle the venison.  Man liked the results and over the centuries applied his ingenuity to improving the techniques used to render the result of his hunt into palatable victuals.
In medieval castles and hovels the size and decoration of the cooking fire  varied, but the science was the same.  Build a big fire to produce heat, build a chimney to vent the smoke, hang pots over the fire for cooking.  Western civilization continued with this basic concept right up until the eighteenth century when, in 1735 a French architect by the name of Franççois Cuvilliéés, designed a completely enclosed fire with fireholes covered by perforated iron plates.  This Castrol stove was much more fuel-efficient and allowed the cook to simmer her soups and stews in relative safety without fear of embers from the fireplace shooting out and burning her.  Toward the end of the century the Castrol stove was refined by hanging the pots through the fireholes, allowing for heating on three sides instead of just one.
One of the biggest leaps in the technology of home heating came with the invention of the Franklin stove, named after its inventor, Benjamin Franklin.   Intended primarily for home heat the Franklin stove used a labyrinth system of baffles and plates to circulate the air through the stove giving us both radiant and convection heat.  The front of the stove was still open, like the conventional fireplace, but the top of the heater was flat and allowed for cooking with flat-bottomed pots and pans.  Another step in the evolution of the kitchen.  Previous to this, cooking was done in round bottomed cauldrons.

As an aside, did you know that Benjamin Franklin put all of his inventions into the public domain, refusing to file patents or to collect royalties?

    In North America, where winters were long and severe, foundries everywhere turned out variations on Franklin’s stove.  Pot-bellied stoves, Quebec heaters, box stoves and dumb stoves proliferated in every home, taking the place of the inefficient fireplace.  Although a round-bellied stove glowing red with heat wasn’t as romantic as a blazing open fire it was essential for warding off freezing temperatures inside as well as out. Martha Louise Black, a veteran of many Yukon winters vowed she’d never been so cold as when trying to keep warm over a grate fire in England during World War One.  The fire barely took the chill off the room and “was a criminal waste of fuel, too, as most of the heat went up the chimney.  Our little Klondyke stoves could have warmed the rooms with half the fuel. ” Below is pictured a Quebec heater such as Mrs. Black might have used in her own home.

Quebec Stove

Quebec Stove



Nineteenth century ingenuity resulted in some odd  forms of heating. In 1888 the US Patent Office issued a patent for a corn-cob burning stove.  Since it was considered inappropriate to place stoves in meeting houses during the early 1800’s, preachers carried a little foot stove with them as they travelled from service to service.  The box, about 12″ x 12″ by 8″ high was filled with burning embers, fitted with a handle and used to keep the preacher’s feet warm both in the pulpit and in the sleigh as he travelled on to the next service.  Portable tin ovens were used by the military in the field and by prospectors rushing to the latest gold strike.
But, back to the harried homemaker bending over the hot stove.  At the turn of the nineteenth century, Benjamin Thompson produced one of the first metal kitchen stoves, called the Rumford.  Pots were still hung inside the firebox through the fireholes and the heat on each pot could be regulated..  Sadly for the humble housewife, the Rumford stove was designed for castle kitchens only.  It wasn’t until 1834 that Steward Oberlin patented a compact iron stove and revolutionized the North American kitchen.  Refinements on Oberlin’s basic design added cooking ovens, water heaters and warming ovens, bringing us to the beauties that sat in our grandmother’s kitchen and for which I pine on long days when the electricity goes off.

Antique stoves for sale

Klondyke Stove

             Note the ornate chrome work.  The stove was a work of art as well as an essential element to comfort.

Modern refinements on the wood stove have added catalytic converters to reduce emissions and improve the efficiency of combustion.  Construction materials include soapstone, ceramics and glass as well as iron and steel and those of us who’ve endured a loss of power on a cold winter’s day are leading the charge to resurrect the humble kitchen stove – even if it lives in a forgotten corner of the basement most of the time.

Sources:  Black, Martha Louise  My Ninety Years  Alaska Northwest Publishing Co. Anchorage, Alaska, 1976
Curtis, Will and Jane, Antique Woodstoves, Artistry in Iron, Star Press, Kenebeck Maine, 1975
http://collectionscanada.ca

http://www.canadian-antique-stoves.com/Z-kootenay1910.htm

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The Gold Trail

Miners_climb_Chilkoot

Miners and prospectors climb the Chilkoot Trail during the Klondike Gold Rush. From the Canadian National Archives.

We are so used to fast, scheduled, reliable means of transport that it is easy to forget that only a generation or so has passed since travellers relied on horses and boats, were subject to the vagaries of weather, rough trails — or no trails at all — and a guide.  We look at the maps of the gold rush towns and forget that those towns didn’t exist when hopeful prospectors left home and comfort to brave the unknown in the hope of a lucky strike.

In my research into the various gold rushes in Canada, I came across this list of helpful hints for the trail.

  1. Don’t waste a single ounce of anything, even if you don’t like it.  Put it away and it will come in handy when you do like it.
  2. Don’t eat ice or snow.  Go thirsty until you can melt it.
  3. No man can continuously drag more than his own weight.  Remember that this is a fact.
  4. Keep your sleeping bag clean.  If it becomes inhabited, freeze the inhabitants out.
  5. A little dry grass or hay in the inside of your mitts, next to your hands, will promote great heat.
  6. When your nose is bitterly cold, stuff both nostrils with fur, cotton, or wool.
  7. Don’t catch hold of your gun barrel when 30 F. degrees below zero is registered.  Watch out or getting snow in the barrel.  If you do, don’t shoot it out.

Some of these hints are obvious.  Touch metal at minus 30 F degrees and it will freeze your skin to the metal.

Freezing the lice or fleas or bed bugs that might have taken up residence in your sleeping bag makes sense.  It also indicates that fleas and lice and bed bugs were to be expected in trail conditions.  Yuck!

The prohibition against drinking snow is because the extreme cold would lower body temperature and could lead to hypothermia.

I wouldn’t want to try to drag more than my own weight for one hour, let alone 12 hours on a rough trail but gold seekers were often mad with gold fever and needed reminding of common sense rules.  As to the weight of the packs, prospectors were required to carry one ton of goods before they could pass the NWMP post that marked the entrance into Canada.  The requirement was put in place to protect the miners who would have faced starvation in the harsh winter months if they were inadequately supplied.  The Chilkoot Pass, one of the most popular trails into the Klondike was too steep for pack animals, so the men had to carry their supplies themselves, necessitating several trips up the 1500 steps carved into the ice of the pass.

Considering the hardship prospectors faced in their quest for gold, the “trail hints” seem far too gentle.

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Voted!

images (1)Monday was election day in Canada and I happily took myself off to the polling station and exercised my right to vote for my member of parliament.  As I did so, I remembered my grandmother, one of the first generation of Canadian women to win the vote.  Imagine, she’d taught school, personally known Sir John A. MacDonald,, helped her husband pioneer on a farm in Northern Ontario, born ten children, sent a son to fight in Flanders Fields and she was deemed unfit to chose her government.  In our modern age such a situation seems incredible.  Roughly 30% of eligible voters didn’t bother to mark a ballot this time around.  My grandmother would shake her finger at them and say, “shame on you.”

My grandmother got the right to vote partially through the efforts of the Famous Five, a group of five women who took their demand to be considered “persons” under the law all the way to the Privy Council in Britain.  They had been denied by the Supreme Court of Canada, but the Privy Council agreed that women were in fact, persons, and as such must be treated equally with men under the law.famousfive

Apart from the right to vote, and the right to run for parliament,  this change in the understanding of the BNA Act had far reaching effects on women’s rights of ownership, finances, family, children, divorce and education.  The famous five didn’t end their activism with suffrage.  After they were declared “persons” they worked on many causes including mother’s allowances,  better education for their children,  free medical and dental care for school children, and equal pay for equal work.

One of the Famous Five was Nellie Mooney McLung.  My grandmother claimed kinship with Nellie because of the shared Mooney name.  I have a cousin who has done extensive work on our family tree and even she has been unable to unearth a connection between our family and Nellie’s but Grandmother claimed there was a spiritual connection even if she couldn’t find one by blood.

So, as I cast my vote I say thanks to Nellie and her compatriots who campaigned so tirelessly for the rights of women and I say thanks to my grandmother who instilled in all her many descendants the privileges and duties of citizenship.  This one’s for you, Gramma.images

 

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Tombstones

native of     I have a fascination with old graveyards, the older and more isolated the better.  When I was researching my Prospect stories, I spent considerable time wandering through ghost towns and old graveyards.  The tale of human triumph and tragedy was there, written on the stones.  I could tell when an epidemic has passed through the area by the number of children who died within weeks of each other.   One heartrending epitaph gave a child’s age as 27 hours. One stone gave a brief epitaph of a man’s life and concluded with the words, “shot” and the date.  

Some grave markers are stone, others are wooden, one notable one was a varnished tree branch.  Some are nearly impossible to read with moss and lichen covering the face and weather dimming the letters.  At Fort Steele, in British Columbia, there is a very well tended corner of the historic graveyard, surrounded by a wrought iron railing, (the original white pickets  rotted), it contains the memorial of five members of the NorthWest Mounted Police, who died there.

On older gravestones the place of birth was often noted.  As though the deceased wanted future passersby to know where he came from as well as where he was buried.  Perhaps they had a sense of history and knew family members might one day come looking for them. 

Here are two examples:  Native of Milton Abbot, Devonshire, England. Aged 32 years, who met with his death on the 15th of June 1864 by accident while working in the Prairie Flower Ore Claim

Native of Sweden. Born in the year of our Lord [date removed]. Died in the R.C. Hospital the 10th of October, 1883 from the effect of a fall in a shaft by which he broke his back and died afterwards within six hours.

 I also have a penchant for reading the obituaries.  There are some interesting stories told in those columns too, although more and more I see “no service by request,” and “ashes were scattered . . .”  In contrast to previous generations, our age seems less inclined to leave a monument to mark their passing through this world.  Perhaps they wish to spare their families expense.  Perhaps their ideology opposes cemeteries.  Whatever the reason, future generations will be unable to wander through a graveyard and read the history on its stones.   We’ll all be poorer for it. 

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Peter O’Reilly

— The Queen’s Man

     In real life people who know they are “right” can be mightily irritating, but in history, people of strong convictions shape events. Such a man was Peter O’Reilly, gold commissioner of Fisherville, British Columbia, in 1865.

The discovery of gold in the Kootenays launched a rush of hopeful miners, many American, up every river and creek of the colony. (British Columbia was still “British” at that time. It joined Canadian Confederation in 1871) These men brought an anti-British attitude and a rowdy, lawless life-style from the American mining camps. Saloons, gambling, fist-fights and shootings accompanied the flood of fortune-seekers, who rejected any curb on their actions, legal or otherwise. They particularly objected to paying government licence fees for their claims and for goods brought across the line.

     Into this atmosphere waded Peter O’Reilly, a feisty Irishman and former member of the Irish Revenue Police. Backed up by Governor James Douglas, O’Reilly was determined to impose British rule over all of British Columbia, especially the gold camp of Fisherville. On a Sunday morning he called his first meeting with the miners, jumped onto a bench under a flagpole carrying the Union Jack and declared, “Boys, I’m here to keep order and to administer the law. Those that don’t want law and order can get out, but those who stay with the camp, remember what side of the line the camp is on. If there is a shooting in Kootenay, there will be a hanging in Kootenay!”*

     His oratory didn’t bring about immediate civility in the gold camp, there were still grumblings about fees and duties, but there were no shootings.

     In later years, roads, railroads and the NorthWest Mounted Police ensured the rule of law in British Columbia, but in the early days, it took men like Peter O’Reilly, men of courage and conviction, to face down a rowdy mob and impose order in the wilderness.

     O’Reilly went on to serve as a county court judge, in the Legislative Council of BC and as Indian Reserve Commissioner. His home in Victoria,  Point Ellice House,  is now a heritage site.

* pg. 16 Fort Steele – Gold Rush to Boom Town, by Naomi Miller, Heritage House Publishing Co. Ltd. 2002.

Other Sources:

Federal and Provincial Collections of Minutes of Decision, Correspondence and Sketches

 

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Book Club

    Anyone here belong to a book club?   Fifteen years ago, my friend and I decided we needed to read more broadly, so we started a book club.  the idea was to create a book list from various genres.  My default reading is romance and hers was mystery, so we included those categories, but we added children’s literature, Canadiana, historical fiction, biography, classics and many others.  The result was a very eclectic reading experience.

     We’ve read some wonderful and less well-known books Parallel Lives by Phyllis Rose, for example documented the private lives of five Victorian men of letters.  Fascinating stuff.  I’ll never look at the work of Dickens in the same light again.  Old Square Toes and His Lady, by John Adams is a biography of Sir James Douglas, the first Governor of British Columbia.  Since the author is local, we invited him to our meeting.  That evening was a highlight for our club.  God’s Secretaries, by Adam Nicolson is an account of the creation of the King James Version of the Bible.  Another fascinating read.  Being Canadian, we have a large dollop of Canadiana in our reading including More than a Rose by Heather Robertson

    None of the books I’ve mentioned here are best sellers or new, yet we’ve found we have the best discussions around these lesser known works.  Perhaps Best Sellers hone in on a popular theme of the day but become irrelevant soon after.  Whatever the reason, the books we still remember over fifteen years of reading are the ones that took us by surprise with their charm, information and strength of writing.

    If you have a book to recommend to my club, please leave a comment.

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