Seventeen

Whatever Happened to Mary Janeway?: A Home Child Story


 

Seventeen

 

A Wedding and a War

 

“When important news was expected — when war was imminent, when a king or queen was mortally ill, or on election nights — the latest available information would be scrawled across sheets of newsprint and posted in the windows of the newspaper offices. As each fresh bulletin was pasted up, those on the inner perimeter of the crowd would press eagerly forward, and pass back the news to those who swarmed

 

1914

 

People flocked to the beach strip to see the newly built merry-go-round that summer. Mary thought it looked far safer than the Ferris wheel, which had attracted the same kind of attention in the park two years earlier.

     Hamiltonians were busy speculating on whether the world would go to war. Special editions of the Herald and the Spec explained the logistics, threats, and ultimatums being tossed between the major players at the time, Germany and France. Jim was excited about the prospects of Canada going to war.

     “Do you think we will?” Mary asked.

     “If the Germans refuse to leave Belgium, Britain won’t back down. She’ll declare war and so will we.” And that’s exactly what happened at midnight, August 4, two days after Mary turned thirty. Gramophones in parlours across the country played music reflecting this staunch support. “Every able-bodied Canadian male was expected to do his part, to join the colours, to serve king and country. The great majority of the youths and men of military age, at least in English Canada, simply assumed that they would be expected to

     Hamilton witnessed an exuberant crowd on their city streets the night that war was declared. Almost a year to the day they’d come out in droves to celebrate their one hundredth anniversary. Men enlisted on the spot as women cheered them on and the band of the 91st Highlanders played “Oh, Canada” and “God Save the King.”

     Jim went down to the drill hall to volunteer his services. Like most men, he thought the war would be short-lived. The number of Canadians that signed up far exceeded the quota, but unfortunately they lacked military experience. The first to go were a small group of veterans that had participated in the Boer War at the turn of the century. Once the initial excitement died down, life went back to normal. Jim was still hopeful that he would “get the call.”

     By late September there was already a chill in the air. Mary glanced out the window to watch Mona coming down the street. She seemed to like her Senior I (Grade 2) teacher, Miss Iona Clarke. As she drew nearer, her limp was more obvious. Mary wished she’d socialize more, but knew from her own experience what it was like to be different as a child. She remembered all too clearly her first day at Blandford School S.S. No.3.

 

     “Good morning, young lady. I’m Miss McGuire, and what is your name?”

     “Good morning, Ma’am. I’m Mary.”

     “And your family name?”

     Mary paused for a moment. “Jacques,” she replied softly after biting her bottom lip.

     “No, it ain’t,” interjected Billy Skillings, a redheaded freckle-faced boy of about ten. The rest of the children were putting their belongings on their hooks but suddenly became very quiet. “She’s the little orphan who come to stay at the Jacques’s place. She ain’t no real

 

     Mona came through the door, dropped her school bag, and went to the cupboard for a snack. She grabbed a handful of her favourite snack, Triscuits, the large whole-wheat wafers that came in the package with the lightning bolts on it to signify they’d been baked in electric ovens. She managed to eat and take off her coat at the same time. Mary hoped it wouldn’t spoil her appetite for the beef stew simmering on the stove.

     “How was school?”

     “Okay,” she replied with a mouthful of crackers. “Miss Clarke said my penmanship was perfect today so she let me hand out the readers. I like school, but I hate recess.”

     “You know how your dad feels about me writing notes to keep you in, and besides, the fresh air will do you a world of good.” Mary gently patted the side of her face. “It’ll put some colour in those cheeks. You’re too pale.”

     “I can’t keep up with the others. They run too fast,” she complained.

     “Then walk and be happy you’re able to do that.” Mary lifted the lid on the stew, had a peek, and gave it a stir. “It’ll be ready in half an hour and I’m running behind. Be a dear and take the clothes off the line, then go wash for supper.”

     Mona reluctantly got up from the table, grabbed another handful of crackers, picked up the wicker laundry basket, and disappeared. Mary looked around her kitchen, wondering if there was time to do another chore before supper. She decided against it and put the kettle on for a cup of tea.

     Mary and Jim celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary by going to the Savoy to see Charles E. Taylor’s “Tango Girls,” a “merry burlesque promising three laughs a minute throughout the performance,” according to an ad in the Hamilton The days were growing shorter, and by the end of October it was starting to get dark by suppertime. Once the dishes were in the drainer, Mary loved to relax in her cozy blue afghan with a book or magazine while Jim read the paper.

     “Do they really think they’ll stop men from drinking by passing this crazy law?” he asked. He was referring to the War Measures Act, legislation that closed hotel bars and liquor stores. “Why in time of war, that’s when a fellow needs a drink most.” Once he voiced an opinion, he was off on another subject.

     “Remember when I worked for Bain Wagon back in Woodstock?” he asked. Mary nodded absentmindedly. “There were around two hundred of us. That was a big company in those days. Listen to this,” he said, flicking the paper to make it rigid. “Bain Wagon responded to wartime military needs by quickly moving to two shifts, employing 950 men to make artillery shells, special wagons and ambulances for the He peered over the top of the paper. “Ain’t it too bad a guy can’t get a decent job ’til the world goes to war?” Mary wasn’t listening; she was thinking about Emma’s last two letters.

 

October 12

Dear Mary,

 

I have the most exciting news. Harry asked me to marry him and I have accepted. I’ve just got enough time to choose a dress and my dear friend Isabel Stuart will stand up for me. The rector, Charles McKuin is going to marry us at Christ Church in Edmonton in four short weeks. Do wish you could be here. Think of me on Saturday, November 28th. I’ll send you a photo.

 

Lovingly, Emma

 

P.S. My bouquet will be red roses, just like the ones Harry brought me in the hospital.

 

     Mary wondered why Emma didn’t mention Carrie in her letter. A week and a half later, another letter arrived that answered her question.

 

October 23

Dear Mary,

 

Carrie is disappointed in my choice and won’t be at my wedding. She preferred the other fellow that I was seeing. Willy doesn’t want me to get married either because he wants me to go to San Diego with him.

     Even my landlady doesn’t approve of Harry because her own nephew is sweet on me. She said, “Oh Emmy, you’re not for him. He’s not good enough for y’all.” And I told her, “I liked him anyway. That’s all there was to it. I don’t care; I don’t like anybody else better than him. He was a good change for

 

I miss you.

 

Lovingly, Emma

 

     These objections seemed to have made Emma more determined to get married. Mary wondered if Carrie’s feelings had anything to do with the fact that Harry came from the east coast. She’d heard that “a lot of people who came to Canada from England had changed their status on the boat,” claiming to be more prosperous and successful than they actually were and looking down on others.

     “Have you heard anything I said?” Jim asked. Mary nodded, but he wasn’t convinced.

     It wasn’t until the first week in December that she heard from Emma again. Willy must have had a change of heart because he appeared the night before her wedding, having taken the train up from Vancouver. It was a chilly 5 degrees Fahrenheit and he wasn’t even wearing an overcoat. Emma couldn’t help notice that he was rail thin and coughed a lot. He preferred the milder temperatures in British Columbia and headed back to the island a few days later. Mary studied Emma’s wedding portrait. She felt genuine sadness that she’d been at neither of her sister’s weddings nor they at hers. At that moment Mona burst through the door.

 

On the day of her marriage to Harry Touchings, November 28, 1914, Emma wore a crisp, white, high-necked shirtwaist with lace detail on the bodice and sleeves.

Courtesy of Gail Horner.

 

     “I have to make candy to take to school on Monday,” she said breathlessly, “candy for the mite box. Miss Clarke said there are lots of kids who won’t be getting anything from Santa. Isn’t that horrible?” She paused. “That’s why we’re going to make candy for the mite box, the box for the poor, and we get to take it to the police station. I’ve never been in a police station.”

     The police at the East End Station believed that many kids living east of Sherman Avenue wouldn’t likely be getting anything for Christmas. They had a “Santa Claus” box at the station to receive donations. “It is the intention,” said the “to supply each kiddie on the list with a pair of new stockings well filled with nuts and candies. Toys will also be handed the boys, with dolls for the girls, while the whole will be rounded out by the distribution of a large, well-filled basket of food to each

     “What kind of candy do you want to make?”

     “Peanut brittle!” she said enthusiastically.

     Mona’s class delivered their homemade candy, individually wrapped and ready to be put in the children’s stockings. Mary thought it was the best lesson that her daughter could be taught to explain the “true meaning of Christmas.” A plea went out to the public asking for help in delivering the goodies to the poor. Cars, wagons, lorries, and handcarts lined up on Sherman Avenue waiting for baskets of food, toys, and old clothes. It was one time that Mary wished Jim still had a car.

     In late February, Emma sent photos of their modest two-bedroom bungalow on 120th Street. Mary was envious that they could afford to buy. Although she’d never met Harry, she felt she knew him. Emma told her that he was hard working, very determined, liked to eat fish, and didn’t believe in going to church. He knew the Bible well and would often quote it. Harry lived by the motto, “Your home is your cathedral, make it so and you will be happy with life.” Emma, who’d been raised differently, continued to go to church every Sunday.

     She wrote Mary that summer after her son Gordon was born. Along with her good news she was concerned about Harry. His job was contracted and the government was taking his men and sending them overseas. He didn’t think he owed England a damn thing and wasn’t going. He’d decided to sell his business and file on a homestead. It didn’t sound like Emma was happy about leaving Edmonton. She was a city girl who was accustomed to being a nanny in a proper English home and serving afternoon tea with crumpets. Mary suspected that the prospect of living in a log house in dense woods was not what little one-hundred-pound Emma had envisioned.

     Mona’s health had deteriorated and she struggled through August but was much stronger when the cooler September temperatures arrived. She was in Junior II (Grade 3) with Miss Stephenson who’d already taught her in Junior I. Mona liked her and didn’t mind having the same teacher again.

     Fires were a common occurrence in Hamilton and it was a familiar sight to see the horse-drawn wagons pull out of the Sophia Fire Hall on Sophia Street, originally called Princess Street. The Royal Hamilton Yacht Club, considered one of the most prestigious structures on the Great Lakes, burned to the ground less than a week after it had been closed for the season. It happened just after midnight on September 18th. A short circuit in the wiring was blamed for the $25,000 damage. Huge fireballs lit up the night sky as the curious got out of bed and rushed to the bay front. Dark clouds of smoke tangled with the orange flames to further blacken the sky in the harbour. In no time, the lake was dotted with rowboats, skiffs, and yachts so onlookers could have a better vantage point. Jim went down to watch but Mary stayed home. Her fear of fires was not unlike her fear of storms, another example of Mother Nature out of control.

     Unable to sleep, she sat at the table and waited patiently for the kettle to boil. She reminisced about the times that they used to take the trolley down to the docks to sit and look across the canal. Colourful flags and bunting fluttered in the summer breeze on the magnificent balconies that wrapped themselves around the three-tier building. Only the rich could afford a membership but anyone could enjoy the music that wafted across the water from the second floor ballroom.

     “Someday we’ll be the ones dancing in the ballroom,” Jim had said, squeezing her hand. The whistling teakettle brought her back to her tiny kitchen in their walk-up on John Street. Her husband was such a dreamer. Mary had never believed that they’d be dancing at the Yacht Club.

     That fall the Arcade department store was enlarged. An additional storey was added to make it level with what had once been the Griffin Theatre. Along with numerous others, Mary and Jim were curious to see how a huge auditorium full of theatre seats could possibly be transformed into one of the largest shopping palaces in this part of the country. It was nicknamed the “Daylight Shopping Palace” because of the huge plate-glass windows across the front of the store.

     The newly completed Arcade had a checking room in the basement — a place to leave parcels while shopping in the store. The packages could be sent anywhere in the city or to the terminal in time to be picked up before catching a streetcar. Telephones had been installed on every floor for public use, free of charge. The Arcade would do well until it closed its doors in 1927 and the first Eaton’s in Hamilton took over the same location. As far as Mary was concerned, it would always be called the Arcade.

     Emma’s Christmas letter arrived, explaining that Harry had gone ahead to build their new home in Elbridge. Since there were no roads or transportation, he went by foot to clear and break their land as required by the Homestead Act. With the help of three local Norwegians who’d already filed, he built a modest log cabin. Emma had fond memories of their honeymoon home in Edmonton and was sad to be leaving.

     The war was starting to affect the economy and Jim’s business slowed down. But in many ways life went on as normal. Occasionally an incident would be reported that acted as a reminder that war was more than a series of battles and lists of casualties. A photo of a local boy who wasn’t coming home, a story about a soldier in the trenches, or a widow and her fatherless children brought the reality of war into people’s homes:

 

A father of three from Hamilton, Ontario, a man who had never been lucky enough to have a steady job in civilian life, dug trenches in a cold, relentless rain. Every now and then he had to cut through the decomposing body of a weeks-dead French soldier. He vomited the first time it happened, but after a while he came to accept the fact that corpses were part of life on the western front; in fact they were easier to shovel than the thick, clinging

 

     Mary thought about the young man. Did his family live across town or the next street over? Would he be lucky enough to come home? And if he did, would he be right in the head? She could never understand why a man would volunteer to go to war for a dollar a day. And if he didn’t return, his widow would get a mere thirty cents a day, a little more if she had children.

     Yet war still remained remote and distant for Canadians at home and affected them little in their daily lives. Prohibition was a different matter. When the government passed the Ontario Temperance Act, it was mainly folks in the country and the middle class that supported the new law:

 

Hamilton, with its large working class and non-Anglo-Saxon population, was a centre of opposition to the legislation. Soon, there was a thriving illegal trade in liquor and beer, much of it centred in the North End of the city. A number of “blind pigs” (illegal drinking houses) were established close to the factories in the East End. At the “House of Nonsense,” on Ferguson Avenue North, workers could drink, play cards, and shoot craps. The most notorious Hamilton bootlegger was Rocco Perri. He and his wife owned a grocery store on Hess Street North and sold whiskey for 50 cents a

 

     Jim bemoaned the new drinking law and openly ignored it. Mary began to worry as she watched him spend more time drinking and gambling than working. But when Emma’s letter arrived, it made her realize that her sister’s life wasn’t easy either.

 

Harry Touchings spent several years clearing the land by hand after his family moved into the log cabin at Thorhild, Alberta.

Courtesy of Gail Horner.

 

March 13

Dear Mary,

 

Our log house is small but well built. Harry put down a vinyl floor with big red poppies. I could have wept I hated it so much, but when I saw the look on his face, I didn’t have the heart to tell him.

     Yesterday he walked eight miles to the Anton Lake Store and returned with a hundred pounds of flour on his back. There are days when I long to be any place else but I’m afraid to loose sight of the log house for fear of getting lost. I’ve thought about running away but there’s no place to go. Dense trees surround us and the only sky I can see is straight up above the house.

     Our closest neighbours, the Lindsays, live a mile and a half cross-country through heavy bush. I hope to meet them some day. I’m told that winters are bad with heavy snowfalls. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

 

Lovingly, Emma

 

P.S. We hear the wild coyotes at night.

 

     Her next letter was more cheerful since she’d had an unexpected visit from Willy. He had no idea that there’d be so many miles to cover on foot. Emma thought his coughing seemed worse. He didn’t stay long and headed back to Edmonton to catch the train to British Columbia.

     On Saturday, April 8, Mary received a special delivery in the mail. It was a registration of death notice. Willy had died of tuberculosis in an Edmonton hospital at the age of thirty-three. She was listed as his next of kin and asked to sign and return the document. Mary remembered Jimmy Chesney, a boy back on the farm who’d died of the same disease twenty years ago.

     She was sorry that Willy had never married or had children. It was a reminder to her of how fortunate she was. She deeply regretted not seeing her brother after she’d found him. Looking at Willy’s picture only made it worse. She tucked it away in a drawer, hoping that time would make her feel differently. Mary wrote her sisters the same day, finding it difficult to put her thoughts into words. She wished she could have afforded a headstone to mark his grave.

     The war orders had come into the factories and there was a serious shortage of labour. Women were being hired to work in the steel mills and factories, jobs that had previously been for men only. It was not uncommon to see a woman drive a streetcar. It didn’t hit home until Mary saw her first female bank teller. Although Jim’s business was in a slump, he didn’t want her to work.

     Mary decided to volunteer several mornings a week, folding bandages and packing parcels to be sent to the troops overseas. Getting out of the apartment made her aware of how women’s roles were changing. Skirts were shorter, modestly falling just below the knee, and more women were wearing lipstick and cosmetics. She was shocked by a couple of ladies actually smoking in public.

     The city was getting a facelift as well. While the Arcade was being renovated, the Waldorf Hotel was torn down to make room for a new one. The million-dollar hotel, the Royal Connaught, got its name from a young boy who entered his suggestion in a school contest. The Duke of Connaught, Canada’s Governor General, happened to be on tour at the time.

     The official opening of the Royal Connaught Hotel was one of the great social events that year. On June 5 at 3:00 p.m., the doors were open to the public. According to a Times reporter, who observed the event, “until five, a continual stream of people, several thousand in all, roamed through the spacious corridors, lounging rotunda, bedrooms, kitchen, everywhere. No restrictions were placed on their movements, though plain clothes men and detectives were present to see that nothing out of the way took

     Mary and Jim were among the curious. As they were being ushered down one of the grand halls from the impressive main foyer, Jim bumped into his cousin Walter Church. Walter told him that his brother Arnold had died two years earlier in a drowning accident and that he’d recently married. Mary thought it was a strange place for a family reunion but it was brief, as the men seemed more interested in seeing the new hotel than re-kindling family ties.

     A letter was waiting for Mary when she arrived home. Emma was excited that Harry had raised the ceiling in their log house, even though it meant losing the stairs and having to climb a ladder outside to reach the bedroom. It sounded strange to Mary who had just seen the inside of a million dollar hotel. She was convinced that her sister was no longer a city girl.

     That spring Mona only attended fifty-four school days out of ninety-three. She missed the entire month of May. The doctor said it was a respiratory illness, which left her weak and without much of an appetite. Mary worried that she wasn’t getting enough milk, fruits, and vegetables … the “protective” foods. She’d read in her cookbook that exercising teeth increases circulation and helps to distribute nutrients, so she encouraged Mona to nibble on carrot sticks.

     Mary prepared her daughter’s favourites: moulded steamed rice, toast points, and brown hash, which was basically shepherd’s pie fried like an omelette and served with hot tomato sauce. Strangely enough, Mona wouldn’t eat shepherd’s pie. She’d have been content to live on caramel junket and fruit roly poly, a tea biscuit dough covered in jam, rolled, dredged in flour, steamed, and served with sugar and cream. Mona still couldn’t resist her mother’s apple charlotte when it came out of the oven, piled high with toasted buttered crumbs.

     By September she seemed better and went back to school. At first she didn’t take to her Senior II (Grade 4) teacher, Miss Nellie Stuart. “Would you believe I have another teacher with an S name?” she asked. But Miss Stuart quickly won her over and she never missed a day of school that fall.

     On Christmas Eve Mona put out a bottle of Coca-Cola with her cookies for Santa. She’d been taken with the shape of the new bottle that had come out earlier that year. It was curvy to resemble the shape of a cola nut, one of the secret ingredients in the popular fizzy drink. At eleven-and-a-half, Mona no longer believed in Santa Claus, but pretended she did because it made her mother happy.