Whispers I

I’ve been in the archives. This truly is my happy place. There are few things as exciting for historians as the thrill of searching and finding. And this week I have found some amazing things. You may have to wait for the formal publications to understand the academic implications of this quest but here on my blog I’ll exhale the emotional reaction.

The strongest reaction I’ve been having is that I feel burdened by the sheer number of untold stories. Of course, not everyone wants their story to be told. I understand that. I’m well aware (frustratingly so as an historian at times!) by the lengths people will go to in order to bury their past. I have to respect those choices and those historical instructions. (It’s hard, but I try!) But for others, their stories sit silently waiting. This week I have encountered so many of those stories. They aren’t the stories that are likely to show up in what I’m supposed to be writing about these days but I feel a responsibility to share. I’m not sure yet how many will make it onto here but here goes.

Whispers I

Here is the story of five men: two white soldiers, two black soldiers, and police officer. It’s a story in which we almost sigh with relief that justice was served. Except then the whole context of the story floods in and we realize that the “insignificant” fine at the end was the very least of the life-long punishments these two men received. Most likely members of a segregated battalion, these two men knew that every day was a battle with injustice. I’ve taken it directly as it was reported in the Chelsea News and General Advertiser. 

Blacks v. Whites: Fracas in Elizabeth Street, Friday 22 November 1918

Two negro soldiers in the Canadian Army, William Robinson and Nathaniel Young, were charged at Westminster Police Court, on Monday, with unlawfully wounding John Duncan McLean, of the Canadian Engineers on Saturday, November 9th in Elizabeth street. At a previous hearing evidence of an assault on another Canadian soldier named Gray, at the same time and place, had been given.

McLean, a wounded soldier, said that on the afternoon of November 9th he was outside the Maple Leaf Club, in Elizabeth street, when the prisoners attacked his comrade Gray. They had had a squabble in a public house a short time before about a drink. Witness went to Gray’s assistance, whereupon Robinson drew out a jack-knife and Young a razor and attacked Gray. Witness tackled Young who slashed at him with the razor, cutting his tunic, his pay book, and his left hand. Witness was taken away by other soldiers. He and Gray were sober, but Robinson was drunk.

Robinson said the row started in the King’s Head. Gray commenced fighting Young and he (prisoner) joined in. He could see that Gray and McLean were both “soused up pretty bad” and he and Young went away to get rid of them. They were staying at the Maple Leaf Club, but he (Robinson) and his companion Young decided to pack up and go elsewhere, as they could not get on with the other occupants. When they got outside they were attacked by about forty soldiers and he admitted pulling out the knife but denied using it.

Detective-sergeant Henry Purkiss, B division, said that he was at the corner of Gerald road and Elizabeth street when he heard a lot of shouting and he saw thirty or forty Canadian soldiers outside the Maple Leaf Club, fighting four coloured men, including the prisoners. He saw one of the four knocked down on the pavement and bleeding from the head, and as he went towards the crowd the prisoners were backing away from the Canadians, but facing them. They got into a florist’s shop and witness got in the doorway and prevented the soldiers following. P.C. Hearne came up and they saw Gray outside, bleeding from both hands. He said, “These men have used a knife on me.” Witness arrested the men. Robinson denied using the knife and said “Some guy punched me in the mouth. I’ve not used my knife since I came to this European city.” Both prisoners were sober but Gray had been drinking. Gray’s injuries were quite superficial.

In reply to the magistrate, Sergeant Purkiss said that Robinson had been three years and Young two years in the Army. He had not been able to trace the third negro, who was injured.

Mr. Chapman said it was clear that the prisoners were defending themselves against a superior number of men and, although they had no right to use the knife, he thought the injuries were inflicted in self-defence and with no malice or intent to injure. He thought the circumstances would be met be binding each prisoner over to keep the peace and ordering each to pay 40s compensation to Gray and McLean.

Number 2 Construction Battalion

No. 2 Construction Battalion, 1917, Veterans Affairs Canada

Recovery, 7 August 1907

He was a hockey player for the Montreal Victorias, winner of multiple Stanley Cups. She was a writer, her book of stories ready for publication. He was a Protestant. She was a Roman Catholic. They both were beautiful and they were in love.

On August 5, 1907, the sweethearts went for a sail together at Varennes. They never returned.

Speculation, rumours, and many tears erupted when their bodies were recovered two days later.

Aileen Hingston

Aileen Hingston, daughter of Sir William and Margaret Macdonald Hingston. 1904


The Montreal Victorias, 1896, Winners of the Stanley Cup

Joseph Griffin

Joe was born in 1921, in Kenilworth, Ontario.  He filled many days with his love of living. These days ended this morning, 13 March 2015. 

Joe knew everyone. And I think he pretty much liked everyone too. He also loved good food and good stories. He loved having coffee with his friends and watching the people go about their lives at the mall. He loved serving his co-congregants at the Church of Our Lady. Joe loved to play bid euchre and shuffleboard. Joe was so very kindhearted and generous. 

Joe loved his family. Fiercely. Proudly. Gently. Without judgment. 

Joe delivered milk and the mail. He was a dancer (Oh did he love to dance!) and a gardener. Joe was a good neighbour. During war he enlisted, during peace he listened. He was a son, a husband, a father, a grandfather and a great grandfather. 

Joe loved life and he did a damn good job at living it. 

Joe, you will be missed. 

How Suburbia (Almost) Makes Me Love Winter

For ten years we lived downtown Montreal. Not on the outskirts, not tucked away in a quiet neighbourhood. We lived at one of the city’s biggest, messiest intersections. In a spot like that, winter is about slush and wind tunnels and snow banks and the beeping of snow removal vehicles all night long. I loved living in the city and I miss it in many, many ways. But when I lived in the city I didn’t love winter – I abhorred it. I dreaded the frozen brown of November. I detested the deep freeze of February. I hated never knowing what footwear to put on. I avoided things like…well, anything outdoors I suppose. I felt primitively designed to hibernate – from the first sub-zero temperature until the last. In Montreal that generally means from the first of November until the middle of April…in a good year. It got to the point that even the anticipation of winter sent me to a miserable place so that by the time the leaves started changing colour, I was already bracing myself for winter. It was like I was losing the joy of two seasons. In our last year or so of downtown living, we added a vehicle to our household. A street-parked vehicle downtown in winter…this misery has no name.

When we moved out to suburbia I anticipated feeling isolated, I worried about never walking anywhere anymore, I was sure I’d never eat good food again…And while some of that happened (I did feel isolated for a long while), it didn’t feel like I thought it would. It took about a year for me to realize how much I loved the quiet. It took me another year to realize I was probably walking even more than I had downtown. And it took five years for me to realize that I’ve grown to love (some parts of) winter. It’s been a fierce winter over here on the Eastern side of the continent. It’s been cold and windy and snowy. But it’s also been a winter of showing off. Here in suburbia, our street stays white and snow-covered all winter.  Here in suburbia, someone cleans out my driveway for me every single time it snows. Here in suburbia, I walk down the block and out onto the lake almost every morning. Here in suburbia I watch the sun rise against the white plain of Lac St. Louis and I hold my breath for fear of breaking the spell.

Here in suburbia, I have children. And so here in suburbia we toboggan and build snow forts. We make snow angels and have snowball fights. Here in suburbia we skate on the outdoor rink across the street from our house and here in suburbia Kate discovered ice-fishing. Here in suburbia we start the day by jumping in the sled while Mom pulls the kids to the bus stop. Here in suburbia we still get cold. We still use heating pads to warm up our beds. We still flirt a bit too much with the wind.

But here in suburbia, winter is a lot more charming than it is downtown. It might just be winning me over.

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The Hangover (Birthday) Part 37

My birthday is exactly ten days after Christmas. Which makes it three days after New Year’s. And often enough, the first day back at school or work. Every year these holidays cast a long shadow over my birthday – so long that I’ve taken to calling it My Hangover Birthday.

All the energy and excitement and financial investment that goes into celebrating Christmas and then New Year’s Eve is spent and over and done by January 4. Add to that the general suckiness of January weather and it’s a really hard sell to party hard on the 4th. My closest family members loyally rally their energy to wish me a happy birthday but the truth is, no one, perhaps even me, has the wherewithal to ramp it up again for yet another round of festivities.

I think maybe, instead, I’ll adopt my half-birthday as the day of celebration. Heck, the entire United States of America is already celebrating on July 4th, maybe they’ll let me join the party. I’ll pretend all those parades and fireworks are for me. And then I’ll have the best birthday celebrations ever!

Watch out Fourth of July, I’m joining in!

Plus, since I found out that Ryan Gosling got all dressed up to wish me Happy Birthday, the hangover isn’t quite so bad!