Whatever Happened to Mary Janeway?: A Home Child Story




The Lunch Pail Town


“Thousands of factory workers were the backbone of the city’s economy. The multi-million dollar income of those who carried lunch pails was the foundation on which all other commercial endeavours in the city were built. Enterprises such as stores, banks, restaurants, theatres, car dealerships and real estate agencies could not survive without the city’s labour force to support them. The lunch pail carried by many of Hamilton’s steel workers was a proud symbol of the city’s industrial


November 1904


The temperature began to drop, sometimes as low as twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit at night, but the days were comfortable, often reaching forty on the thermometer. Mary thought things were going smoothly for Jim at work, but suddenly he was let go. He said that he’d had “words with the boss.”

     After reading the classifieds for a couple of weeks with no luck, Jim warmed up to the idea of Mary working part-time. He made it clear it would be temporary, just until they got over the “hump” and he found a decent job. With the morning paper folded under her arm, Mary answered several ads. The first one was for a general servant but turned out to be a full-time position. The next one was looking for a housekeeper four hours a day but the pay was poor, and the last one was for a housemaid. That job paid the most but Mary thought the woman would be hard to please. She went back and accepted the housekeeping position five days a week, eight until noon.

     She did the cleaning, laundry, and ironing without a break and then came home to do more of the same. Mary didn’t complain because she knew Jim felt badly. But she became discouraged when she’d often arrive home to find him asleep on the sofa. When he was out, she suspected he was at the racetrack. As time went on, the situation seemed to bother him less. Mary had no time for herself and hardly ever saw Affie and Vi.

     The weather turned colder as winter was fast approaching. Some evenings if she wasn’t too tired, Jim would suggest that they take a stroll downtown through Gore Park. A light dusting of snow had a calming effect on the hectic city as it draped itself around the trees and covered park benches. Hamilton was a pretty city at night, especially at this time of the year. Lampposts surrounded the fountain, lights from the retail stores reflected on the snowy city streets, and the tall, stately Hamilton Bank Building and Sun Building provided an impressive backdrop. The “Lunch Pail Town” was gearing up for the Christmas season.

     The first week in December Mary got sick. She was rundown and hoped that it was nothing more serious than catarrh, with its weak, flu-like symptoms accompanied by extreme fatigue. After several sleepless nights, she tried the “cayenne pepper sandwich,” another remedy she’d seen on the farm. She put a liberal sprinkling of the red pepper between two generously buttered crackers and ate the spicy concoction before bedtime. Other than a burning sensation in her mouth, which thankfully didn’t last long, she still had trouble sleeping.

     When it lingered on without showing any sign of improvement, she had to find a doctor. Mrs. Tolten recommended Dr. H.D. Storms on Bay Street South. He examined her, did several simple tests, and quickly diagnosed that she was “with child.” Mary didn’t tell him that her husband was out of work and she was the breadwinner. She went home with a heavy heart, afraid that Jim would be upset. They hadn’t planned to have a baby before they’d even been married a year. If the truth were known, the subject had never even been discussed.

     She prepared dinner quietly so she wouldn’t disturb Jim, who was resting in the living room. She waited until after supper before she told him the news.

     “How can we possibly afford another mouth to feed?” he spit the words out angrily. “How did you let yourself get in such a state?”

     “I didn’t do this on purpose nor did I do it alone,” she answered with a calm voice.

     “As if we don’t have enough problems,” he replied. “What next?” he said and stormed out the door.

     Mary cleaned up the kitchen, went to bed, and cried herself to sleep. She never knew what time Jim got home because she was past caring by midnight. She continued to go to work, waking up each day at 6:00 a.m. to face a bout of morning sickness before heading out to catch the streetcar. Jim slept through it all. She never questioned what he did while she was at work and they never discussed the baby.

     In the past she’d always enjoyed the month of December. She found people on the street were friendlier and store clerks more generous. But this year was different. She was also aware that Jim had lost his sister about this time last year. Their first Christmas together wasn’t as special as she’d hoped it would be.

     In late January, an enumerator knocked on their door to gather information for the city directory that came out every summer. Names and street addresses were very important before the telephone became a commodity. Jim Church had his first listing in Vernon’s City of Hamilton Directory for the year 1905. A woman’s name was only listed if she was a widow.

     By the third week in February, Jim’s mood changed drastically. He came home one evening with a smile on his face and a bouquet of yellow roses. He didn’t complain about the weather, the slippery front walk that Mary hadn’t swept, or Jake, the yappy dog who lived next door. Instead he greeted her with open arms and flowers. She hadn’t seen him in good spirits from the time she’d told him about the baby.

     Mary put the flowers in water and they sat down to dinner. “Why are you so happy?”

     “I’m a lucky man,” he replied as he scraped the last of the rice pudding out of his fruit nappy. “What would you say to going out tonight?”

     “Where?” she asked cautiously.

     “I’m taking you to the theatre.”

     “Can we afford it? The rent is due in five days.”

     He opened his wallet and pulled out a wad of bills. “Go and get ready, just leave the dishes and wear something nice!” he said grabbing her hands, practically lifting her out of the chair and gently turning her in the direction of the bedroom. Mary only had one thought: Jim must have won some money at the track. Life would be good as long as the money lasted. Once the cash was gone, she knew that he’d hit rock bottom and start drinking too much.

     “Where did you get that money?” her voice carried from the bedroom to the front room.

     “I robbed a bank, my pet …what do you think?” he said sarcastically.

     “You’ve been at the track, haven’t you?”

     “Why do you insist on spoiling everything? I have a surprise and I know it’ll please you. Never mind the chatter. Get dressed before I change my mind and find another lady to take out on the town.”

     Mary put on her Sunday dress, a rose-coloured floral print shirtwaist. It was a fitted style and obviously a bit snug around the middle. Four months of pregnancy was becoming difficult to ignore, even though it hadn’t been discussed. Jim took her to the Grand Opera House on James Street where they sat in the second row of the gallery holding hands, watching Ethel Barrymore. It was after ten o’clock by the time they got home. While Mary took her coat off, Jim went to the liquor cabinet and poured two glasses of sherry.

     “Jim I can’t drink. Have you forgotten?”

     “You don’t have to, just pretend,” he said, handing her the glass and at the same time raising his own. “I have a job, which means you can quit yours,” and clinked her glass. She quickly touched it to her lips and set it down, eager to hear more about his good news.

     “It’s in the shipping yard down at the dock. It’ll be steady work, five days a week.”

     “How did you hear about it?”

     “Through a friend who owed me a favour from a long way back. I tell you, what goes around, comes around,” he said, smiling that boyish grin that had won her heart.

     “Maybe I shouldn’t give my notice just yet,” she said cautiously. She knew how difficult it would be to get another position if for some reason his job didn’t work out.

     “My darling … my little wife, you have so little faith,” he said, gulping down his drink. “Keep your job for now if you want but once our baby’s born, I want you to stay home with He laughed at his joke but wanted her to know that he hoped it would be a boy. “I want my child to be raised proper, by his own mother, not somebody else’s.”

     Mary couldn’t have asked for sweeter words. What she heard was Jim’s acceptance of the baby and his concern for its well being. She ignored the comment about wanting a son, hoping that a daughter would please him just the same.

     Jim grew more attentive as the weeks went by. They had conversations well into the evening about the baby and how their lives would change. Mary’s concern was that it would be healthy.

     “Let’s worry about important things, like who he’ll look like,” he’d say. Mary would laugh, her way of handling this constant reference to the baby being a “he” rather than a “she.”

     “What do you think about calling him James?”

     “I like that but what if James turns out to be a girl?”

     “Then we’ll try again until we have an heir to carry on my name,” Jim replied. Mary never knew if he was kidding but it didn’t really matter. She believed that only God could determine what the baby would be and that was that. She was determined to raise her child, whether it was a boy or a girl, in a loving Christian family … something that she’d never had. She didn’t know much about Jim’s childhood since he never talked about it, but suspected that it hadn’t been very good.

     By early April Mary was finding it difficult to get up and go to work so she gave her notice. Along with her last pay, she was given a tiny, pale-yellow flannel nightgown for her new baby. It had little blue flowers the colour of morning glories hand embroidered around the neck. She hurried home, anxious to show Jim the gift.

     “I can’t see a boy wearing that.”

     “For heaven’s sake, a baby’s a baby. He or she can wear anything. The point is, they didn’t have to give us anything.”

     “They’re rich, Mary. Coming from rich people, it doesn’t mean much.”

     “Well, it means something to me,” she said, tucking the tiny nightgown in the bottom drawer of her dresser.

     Two weeks later she had a surprise visit from Ethel, who was moving to the States. She brought her several receiving blankets and some cloth diapers. Ethel expressed her disappointment in not being around when the baby was born but insisted on reading Mary’s tea leaves. She was absolutely convinced that the baby would be a girl.


This 1913 photo of the Hamilton Jockey Club track was an impressive site extending from Ottawa Street to Kenilworth, north of Barton. The site provided a social outing as well as an opportunity for Hamiltonians to bet on their favourite racehorse.


Hamilton Public Library, Local History and Archives. Image donated by Robert Gardner per CHCH-TV, August 16, 1963.


As time went on, it started bothering Mary that Jim met his buddies at the Royal Hotel to have a drink and play cards several nights a week. He was also going to the racetrack every Saturday. Mary had no idea that Jim had become obsessed with track betting at the age of sixteen and was a well-known regular in the crowd. Mary hoped that this would all change once the baby came.

     When they first moved into their house, she’d salvaged a child’s cot that the previous tenants had left behind. Besides the cot, the only other thing in the baby’s room was a small vase perched on top of a wooden crate turned end to end, which she’d covered in a remnant of pale yellow cotton. Mary had picked up the multi-coloured vase made out of “end-of-day” glass at the market in a moment of weakness. It had cost eighteen cents. She knew all about that particular kind of glass. Back in Innerkip Mr. Jacques had explained that at the end of each day the glass blower threw all the remaining colours into the pot and made one last piece. It was always unique and could never be duplicated. However, at that time it was considered the “dregs,” much like the last cup of coffee on the stove, slightly bitter with age. It wasn’t until many years later that end-of-day glassware came to be considered a rarity and was in great demand.

     The baby’s due date was July 7. There was still time to sew blankets and knit bonnets, but Mary was reluctant. She’d heard that it was bad luck to make things before a baby’s arrival, or as some would say before “the blessed event.”