I have a snapshot of Montreal Mayor Mederic Martin and Jules and aldermen on a camping trip in the 20s. My grandfather, Jules Crepeau, the then Director of City Services is seated beside him, looking bored stiff, surrounded by a handful of city Aldermen. Five aldermen are holding rifles, one fishing rod as is my grandfather. The Mayor leans on a cane. The Mayor and three others are wearing the same kind of light coloured cap (probably a name for it). One alderman is wearing a TAM, I think it is called. Another a Mountie Hat. My grandfather is wearing his business man's hat (I know there's a name for it, but can't remember.)
Before I found the Nicholson Family letters, back in 2005, I probably could not have given you the exact dates of WWI, 1914-18.
And before I saw the recent PBS documentary, Prohibition, I didn’t know that Prohibition in the US spanned an entire decade.
I mean, these were the Roarin’ Twenties. I thought that people, especially young people, went wild that decade.
I’d read the great novels of the era, including The Great Gatsby.
Well, as it happens they did, indeed, go wild. And in the US they did it in part because of Prohibition.
The Grown Ups dared to tell young people, who’d just suffered through a war, that theycouldn’t have fun anymore.
So they rebelled, big time. They went overboard. That’s what kids do when you try to control them. It’s called Convent Syndrome.
Anyway, finding out the dates of Prohibition in the US made me wonder about a certain photo I have hanging on my wall in the living room. A photo of my maternal grandparents and aunt and mother in Atlantic City around 1926.
I wondered if my grandfather, who was the Director of City a Services of Montreal, a city
that was not dry, but wet, maybe was on some kind of ‘work-vacation’ all things considered.
I had read somewhere that that during the Prohibition era was when many of Montreal’s crime families, came up to the city.
Then I stumbled upon a bit on Google Books, a report about hearings held by the US Congress on Prohibition in 1926, where someone mentioned my grandfather, saying that he had too much power, even over the Chief of Police. Bingo!
But I couldn’t see the entire document. Just those irksome snippets.
So, I did some Internet sleuthing.
Many many people gave depositions at these particlar hearing, mostly American. Three Canadians though. One person described the Canadian liquor laws, another the Quebec liquor laws. And another, W.E. Raney, a former Attorney General of Ontario, talked about, well, Montreal as Sin City. He says (and I paraphrase) that at first public drunkenness was tolerated as a kind of post-war blast, but then it just got out of hand. He seems to blame all the evils of society on drink. (Very Protestant of him.)
Although some depositions have been transcribed and are available online, including those two Canadian ones, Mr. Raney’s is not.
So it’s a puzzle, as I can only get those bits and pieces of his forty page deposition from Google books.
Raney was an anal Protestant Ontarian, who seemed anxious to have Montreal, and especially Montreal City Hall cleaned up.. and by the Americans.
I guess no one back home will listen to him.
Montreal, he tells Congress, attracts many crooks, who run their American operations from that city.
City Hall is corrupt and mismanaged he further claims. He actually gives a rather detailed description of the Power Structure at City Hall, most useful to me.
He says it makes no sense that my grandfather, a mere civil servant, has the power to veto decisions by the Chief of Police. And the Chief of Police is just a Constable who has worked his way up, so he has no guts.
And then he gives a concrete example: He says my grandfather allows theatre chains who have broken the law to stay open, even when Police have made reports. Some of these chains let in children of a tender age without a guardian.
Raney says my grandfather fired a constable who contradicted him.
Hmm. This has nothing to do with liquor, per se, but I guess he feels it speaks to the immorality of Quebec in general.
My grandfather’s brother, Isadore, was President of United Theatre Amusements. I think it was called.
Mr. Raney does not know this or he’d have brought it up, for sure.
As it happens, a few months later in 1927, there was a fire in an Outremont Movie Theatre where many children died.
My grandfather was the first to give testimony at the inquest. He passed the buck.The Gazette claims the proceedings attracted little interest.
But the kids' funerals did.
So, the Roman Catholic Church got on the ‘morality’ bandwagon and since they had more clout than the Presbyterians in Quebec, a law was passed in the National Assembly for 40 years children under 14 were not allowed to go to movies in Quebec.
I couldn’t see those Disney movies during my childhood. (I guess this law passed because the Catholic Church wasn't lumping this under-age theatre issue in with all the other sin city issues, as was the Protestant lobby.)
My grandfather got pushed out of City Hall in 1930, over a scandal to do with the purchase of Montreal Water and Power where millions went missing. He was a scape-goat here for only the Industrial Elite benefitted this sale.
Camilien Houde, the new Mayor, is quoted in one paper as saying “He wants to clear City Hall of cliques.”
My grandfather got run over by a police constable in 1937, while he was collected a HUGE life pension from City Hall. He died of complications the next year.
Mon Oncle Isadore, I recently found out checking out newspaper archives, died in 1932, falling out of his office window on St. James. Hmmm. My mother never told me that. Did she know?
Anyway, this is interesting background for my book Milk and Water about Montreal in 1927.