Whatever Happened to Mary Janeway?: A Home Child Story




Hamilton: A City of Firsts


“Hamilton is a city of firsts and inventions: the flashing turn signal, the center line on highways, the first telephone exchange in the British Empire, the first pay phones in Canada, the first sulphur matches, threshing machines, sewing machines and




Jim got another job, this time in the rail yard down at the docks. It was hard work but with steady hours and a regular pay envelope.

     Hamilton’s waterfront location on one of Canada’s finest natural harbours attracted the attention of the steel industry. Leading steel companies in Montreal and Ontario, including the Hamilton Steel and Iron Company, merged to create the Steel Company of Canada (Stelco). Two years later the Sherman family founded Dominion Foundries, known as Dofasco.

     By 1910, electric streetcars had replaced the horse-drawn trams in most cities. Urban centres were beginning to move at a much faster pace than they had in the first decade of the century. Controller Horatio Hocken’s proposal to build a subway was considered a “harebrained” idea, one that would not be taken seriously for some fifty years, but Eaton’s in Toronto had the first escalator in the country. Mary wished they could have afforded the trip to the big city to have a ride on the “moving staircase.” Shoppers who were willing to try it out could enjoy a five-cent ice cream cone at the top.

     Saving money was viewed less seriously. People were spending more and the number of cars on the road increased dramatically. In some cities there were as many auto agencies as livery stables. More homes began to install electric lights and telephones. The one-horsepower Brunswick refrigerator could make a pound of ice in an hour and the General Electric range had thirty switches and plugs. Movie-going was commonplace, but “talking pictures” were still a topic of gossip. The hottest dance craze, the tango, came all the way from South America and, although viewed as slightly naughty, it was extremely popular. A newfangled contraption called the radio was making its debut, which made it possible to listen to words and music from some faraway place in the comfort of your own home.

     Mary saw Emma whenever her employer gave her time off. She hoped that her sister’s British expressions would confuse Earl if he became inquisitive while delivering her postcards: “Missus gone a fortnight [two weeks], day off cancelled”; “Ran into a bad patch[rough time], sorry to cancel this week”; “Went to pay-box [box-office], got two for Saturday at 1.”

     The girls always met in front of Woolworth’s. They’d go up and down each aisle in the five-and-dime for fear of missing an affordable treasure. Then they walked down to the Right House to admire the high-laced boots, narrow hobble skirts, beautiful chiffons, and satins in the window. Emma thought it would be difficult to walk in the new “vertical line” skirt. Mary was glad bustles were out and brassieres were in but whispered her thoughts for fear someone might overhear her. They usually ended up at Stanley Mill’s millinery department before taking different streetcars to head home.

     However, as the weeks passed by, Mary watched her sister grow weak and listless. “Emma, must you work so hard? You’re not looking a bit well,” she said, “and that cough of yours worries me too.”

     “You sound like Carrie.”

     Although Mary had no nursing training, she knew something was wrong and insisted that Emma go to the doctor. It didn’t take Dr. Storms long to realize that Emma had tuberculosis, commonly referred to as TB. She’d had whooping cough as a young child, and he explained that TB often follows certain diseases, that being one of them.

     “We have an excellent sanatorium that opened four years ago on the mountain. It’s nicely removed from the city’s congestion and air pollution,” the doctor said. “It’s not as bad as it sounds.”

     “I’m perfectly capable of looking after Emma. What can I do to help?”

     The doctor walked her through the daily regime of things she’d need for a full recovery. “The important thing is cleanliness in everything that she touches. It’s difficult to do this at home.” But Mary insisted on looking after her sister.

     Emma gave her notice and moved in with Mary. It meant there were changes that affected the whole family. Mona and Jim no longer had her undivided attention. The dining room became Emma’s bedroom because it was quiet at the back of the house, one of the sunniest rooms, and she wouldn’t have to climb stairs.

     Mary prepared her a careful diet of wholesome, easily digested food, and washed Emma’s plate, knife, fork, and spoon in boiling water and soda separately. She washed the floor in her room with soap and water regularly, boiling the duster after each use and made sure that Emma had lots of fresh air and sunshine. For the first six weeks she kept Mona apart even though the little girl didn’t understand why she couldn’t play with her aunt.

     It was evident that Emma was getting better when she started to take an interest in food. One morning she asked for “buttered eggs,” the ones that Carrie used to make. Mary looked confused. “It’s very simple, she put two eggs in a bowl with a little water, beat them with a fork, and cooked them in a pan,” explained Emma.

     “Oh, you mean scrambled.”

     “Scrambled?” she repeated slowly. Mary laughed.

     Emma flourished under her sister’s care. They took short walks in the open air and ventured farther as she grew stronger. Mary took her temperature every few days and insisted she wear warm woollen underclothing and night garments to bed to help keep her comfortable as sweating was a common symptom in the later stages of the disease. Dr. Storms was pleased with her progress and the sanatorium was never mentioned again. All the time she was recuperating, Carrie had been asking her to come out west. By Christmas Emma was ready to go back to work and found a live-in nanny position with a family on Aberdeen Avenue.

     That spring Carrie and Frank filed for a homestead in a small community near Waskatenau, sixty miles northeast of Edmonton. The Dominion was offering grants to land companies who sold land to homesteaders in an attempt to eliminate speculators, which meant they only had to pay a ten-dollar fee per quarter section.

     The snowdrops and purple crocuses were popping out of the ground when Mary registered Mona for Kindergarten at King Edward School the first week of May. It cost twenty cents for two months, the remainder of the school year. Her teacher was Miss Allie Small, a spinster, or as some would say an “unclaimed treasure.” At that time the board didn’t hire married women.

     Mona was supposed to return to school in September but came down with a severe cold that left her listless and lethargic for weeks. Mary didn’t bother registering her that fall. Jim left his job at the rail yard to try earning a living as a painter and paperhanger once again. He struggled but wouldn’t admit it. It didn’t help that he missed getting a listing in the 1911 city directory. They were having difficulty paying the rent and had to move.

     Their new home was an apartment in Treble Hall, a three-storey building at 8½ John Street North, where professionals, labourers, and merchants occupied space. Shops occupied the first floor, offices took up space on the second, and apartments were on the third, which previously had housed a large assembly hall. There was a fourth floor, barely detectable from the street. Mary noticed the tiny windows set into dormers peeking out above the roofline and hoped that no one had to live there.

     During their eight-year occupancy, tenants came and went and businesses changed hands. When they first moved in, they lived above job printer J.A. Cox and Joyce & Wilson real estate. At one time they lived above the Capital Life Association Company, J.J. McAuliffe real estate, and the City Dental Laboratory. Jim loved to make jokes about his neighbours. “Just think, we can get insurance, a house, or a set of choppers practically without leaving our apartment.”


The Pettit Collection.


In 1879, James Balfour, in depicting Renaissance Revival architecture, designed the flat brick walls of Treble Hall to complement the ornate sculptures of pressed metal decorating the window openings. In this contemporary photograph, the decorative ball finials that originally topped each window are no longer there and the road is paved.


     Jim liked being downtown because it was easier for him to find a card game or share a pint in one of the local bars. Mary found it hard to give up her house on a quiet street but at least she had a small back porch to hang out her clothes. And there had been no choice; they simply couldn’t afford the rent on Railway Street.

     Mary hardly ever heard from Carrie anymore. She realized that homesteading was hard work with little time or light left over at the end of the day for letter writing. That fall Carrie did post a letter with a picture of her youngest son, describing him as “quite the little man.” Three-year-old Harvey, wearing a crisp white sailor suit and black high top boots, sat quietly for a studio photograph.

     “They’ll be all grown up before you know it,” said Emma sadly. “They’ll not remember me rocking them to sleep at night or how they clung to me during the passage over. I miss the boys and I miss Carrie too.” Mary knew what was coming.

     Emma headed west a month later with the hope of finding a job in Edmonton. Mary stood on the station platform and never shed a tear until she could no longer see her sister waving and the train was out of sight. A grey-haired, elderly gentlemen sitting on a bench nearby, looked up from his paper and asked if there was anything he could do to help. She shook her head and turned away.

     Emma had become such an important part of her life and that was abruptly coming to a halt. Once again Mary found herself saying goodbye to someone that she loved, clinging to what was left — a collage of beautiful memories. At least this time she wasn’t alone; she had a family of her own.