Google Earth, Rue York and Prince Arthur
Imagine this street in 1917, full of people out spading their wartime gardens. Some people know what they are doing and some are deskilled city slickers turning the earth for the first time.
There are more horse drawn carriages than automobiles on the street, as all delivery vehicles, milk, bread, wood, are powered by horses. It takes another decade for this to change-over.
And although some more well to do city citizens, even in the lower part of Westmount, own a 'motor' there is really no need for one, what with the trams.
I say "wartime gardens" because I have it right from the horse's mouth, in a June 1917 letter from Marion Nicholson to her Dad, Norman, who is away from the family home in Richmond, Quebec working at a dam in La Loutre.
Marion is 6 months pregnant with my mother in law, who she will also name Marion, but that doesn't stop her from working very hard on a recent move from one house in Lower Westmount to another.
(Her sister, Flo, lives with Marion and Marion's husband Hugh and says as much in a letter she writes her mother in Richmond the day of the move. She wants her mother to tell Marion to 'slow down'. She would tell her dear sister herself but she can't do it, because being a maiden, an unmarried woman, she is not supposed to know about the pregnancy. Imagine!)
It seems people did not advertise their pregnancies in the "Old Days" - not these middle class Presbyterians anyway. Not even to their own grown up sisters.
Women's issues were a topic of conversation only among married women and matrons, a form of false propriety that probably ended up causing a lot of unwanted pregnancies or shot-gun marriages.
I imagine many pregnancies ended in miscarriage, too. That must be another reason they didn't want to advertise a pregnancy.
But I'm also wondering this: if women kept their pregnancies hush hush, then a person could, ostensibly hush up an unmarried daughter's pregnancy and then say the child was a married sister's or the Moms. Think about it!
Marion as a younger woman of 20 or so, Norman's Conscription Registration. He was almost 70 but had to sign up.
Anyway, I was interested in this letter for its war time provenance. I have been investigating the 1917 conscription election in Canada and wanted to see if any mention was made in the Nicholson letters. Yes, often. But so far no mention of the War Elections Act, giving women who had relations in battle the right to vote, but no other women, not even tireless volunteers.
The Nicholson women had been suffragists and even suffragette sympathizers before the war... and to have this insult thrown at them..
39 York Avenue,
June 17th, 1917
Your letter came last Friday and I was glad to hear from you, for though my letters are very few I think very often of you and would be glad if you were not quite so far away. However, we can't always choose just where we would like to be, can we?
And so, I suppose, must make the best of it.
I hope that you will keep well and not meet with any accident. These big undertakings are usually so dangerous.
As you know, I sent Margaret (3 year old daughter) home (to Richmond) for a while during our moving and then went after her and had a little visit there myself.
Everything is so very late this season that everything did not look as nice as they ordinarily do, but it was nice to be out of the city.
About a week after I got back, Margaret took a bad cold which developed into bronchitis and for a while was very sick but is better now only I have to be careful of her in case she takes cold again and the weather is so very miserable that the poor child seldom gets out. She is as lively as a cricket and says that her "Bobby has gone to La Loutre on a very big boat in the big river.)
We have a very nice yard at the back of our "new house" as Margaret says, which is all fenced in so that when we get good weather, if we ever do, I will be able to let her out there to play. We took one corner of it for a small bit of farming, and put in beets, onions, carrots, lettuce and radishes. I do not know that they will be a great success, at any rate we made the trial.
Every vacant lot around the city has been utilized for gardens and I think it is more common to see people out digging and planting in these gardens than in a small town like Richmond.
Surely all these gardens producing it ought to makes some difference in the cost of certain products that is, if they all amount to anything. Some I think are making their first attempt.
You were asking where York Avenue is? Well, it is a short street that runs West of Victoria Avenue and is just below Western ave. In fact you could almost say it is a continuation of St. Catherine as St. Catherine ends at Victoria Ave and York starts just a little bit north of it in the same direction.
We all like the house and location very much, it seems to be so much nearer the city perhaps because of better car service, for the St. Catherine cars and the Windsor Cars go past our corner.
Flora's school closes Thursday and she will be going home then. I am trying to persuade Mother to come in for a visit then and leave Edith and Flora to look after things at home. I don't know that she will for she seems to think that when you are away that she must be right there or things would not get properly looked after.
Last Sunday, Benny Woodburn and his wife and little boy came in to call. I am quite near to the Mead's and Irene Field and Hugh's Aunts live on this street only a few doors away, so I have quite a little company.
There is a lot of talk here about conscription and the French are more than excited about it. I am not well enough versed in the political affairs right now to form an opinion but it seems to me that it is only a scheme of Borden's part to keep the party in power, for a great many will be afraid to oppose it.
Whether it is for the best or not, I do not know, but personally, I hope it will not go through. It seems so different when you know that it will take some of your own people.
Now I have written quite a long letter for me and I do not think there is much news in it but I send it with my love and I hope it will find you feeling well and not having to work so hard.
Edie and little Margaret and unknown woman in Richmond in September 1917. Margaret grew up to be active in the war effort in WWII, in Yugoslavia.