Whatever Happened to Mary Janeway?: A Home Child Story




The Roaring Twenties


“In the ‘Roaring Twenties’ the City of Hamilton suffered a series of blows that left her hanging on the ropes. In 1922, an epidemic of 747 cases of diphtheria claimed 32 lives and weakened others. The City’s debenture debt skyrocketed from ten million dollars in 1919 to seventeen million dollars in 1924. The wheels of progress began to ride rough shod over Hamilton life. The familiar electric radial cars were scrapped, in favour of the upstart motor




In early January, they moved to 167 Ottawa Street North (Laidlaw Memorial Church today) just in time for Jim to get his usual listing in the city directory as a “painter” along with their new address. Emma didn’t write as often since she’d had her second child, Lois Eileen, but it was just as well — Mary was busy with her own family. Since Mona hadn’t been at school for over a year she decided to keep her home. Mary was happy to be moving to the east end of the city, but had concerns that they’d only be a few blocks from the Hamilton Jockey Club track. She feared Jim’s weakness: “In the early years of the twentieth century horse racing was blatantly, often almost comically, corrupt. In 1910 the Canadian parliament ruled bookies off the tracks and substituted pari-mutuel betting, administered by the jockey clubs.” [2]

     Mary didn’t approve of Jim’s gambling. Sometimes he’d split his winnings with her in an attempt to appease her. She took the money reluctantly and salted it away in a shoebox at the back of her closet. Occasionally, when he was unemployed, it had helped to buy groceries. She still had a fair bit saved, hopefully enough for an electric sewing machine some day.

     Unfortunately, the re-location to Ottawa Street didn’t help Jim’s decorating business. The city was in political chaos. In last year’s election he’d supported the Independent Labour Party headed by Walter Rollo, a broom-maker who became the first workingman in Ontario to hold a cabinet position. They joined in coalition with the United Farmers to form the government, but there were too many split beliefs in fundamentals such as tariffs and prohibition.


Fourteen-year-old Mona Church had inherited her father’s dark, mysterious eyes.

Courtesy of Gail Horner.


     Following the First World War, inflation was blamed for the labour unrest. Who would have thought that unemployment would reach an all-time high at 15 percent in the city and that the housing situation would be so bad that ex-servicemen and their families would be living in tents?

     The fashion industry was also changing dramatically. One style magazine claimed that a women’s hair and skin colour should be matched to her clothing. Women grew more conscious of their figures and weight became a popular subject. They were encouraged to exercise and avoid eating certain foods such as white bread, cream sauces, small fruits and berries, and anything with sugar in it. Mary had been watching her weight since she’d turned twenty. It was difficult to hide a few extra pounds when you’re only five feet, two inches tall. Her weakness was “pudding,” as Emma would say, the British expression for desserts.

     Advertising promoted the idea that beauty was more important than brains. Everything from face creams to fashionable clothing was available to help women catch and keep a man. Mary was shocked to read that one of the latest trends was for a woman to swell her lips with bee stings for fuller lips. However, even she’d started to wear a little eye make-up and a pale lipstick for special occasions. Mary loved going to the beauty parlour, but it was a luxury she couldn’t afford more than once every three months. She’d heard about the new apparatus for permanent waves in Eaton’s beauty salon and was anxious to try it. Unfortunately, they didn’t have an Eaton’s in Hamilton.

     That summer, Jim’s mood changed. He was optimistic about everything from the weather to his business. When he started to bring gifts home for “his girls,” Mary knew that it could only mean one thing — he’d fallen into a winning streak at the track. She was tempted to remind him that his luck could change as suddenly as the wind from the lake effects surrounding their city. Instead she decided to enjoy his good fortune.

     Sunday became a family day. They took the ferry across the bay to Wabasso Park (later renamed La Salle Park), owned by the city of Hamilton but situated in Burlington along the harbour shoreline. Mona was thrilled with the amusement park. Regular outings included a trip to the beach strip, a picnic on the mountain, or a streetcar ride downtown to the drug store’s soda shop. Nothing was more enjoyable than some homemade ice cream, a fountain-mixed soda, or a chocolate milkshake on a hot summer day. Mary would look back on that summer with fondness.

     Their anniversary fell on a Wednesday that year, her lucky day of the week. At dusk they took a stroll along the shoreline down at the lake. Jim asked a passer-by to take their picture with his brand new camera.


Strong winds caused by the lake effects would often appear and change the temperature dramatically without warning.

Courtesy of Gail Horner.


     Mary waited until after Christmas before buying a sewing machine. Her new Singer came with a customer satisfaction guarantee and she couldn’t wait to make her first scoop-necked chemise, which was all the rage that spring. She made Mona several outfits, but knew she’d want something store-bought for her sixteenth birthday.

     She went back to the jeweller where she’d bought Mona’s gold ring eight years earlier. Mary thought there was nothing more beautiful than fine gold jewellery. She wished someone had felt that way when she’d turned sixteen.


Mary gave Mona an eighteen-carat gold brooch, monogrammed with her name, in May 1921.

The Pettit Collection.


     It was no surprise when Jim started talking about buying another car. Prices had come down considerably and the idea of buying on credit was catching on. The auto industry boasted that there was one car for every twenty-two Canadians that year. People were enamoured with the new motorized vehicle and impressed with how quickly they could get downtown, head to the lake for a picnic, or take a scenic tour of the countryside. Some of them still had to be hand-cranked to start and had no heaters. Luxuries such as foot pedals for acceleration, adjustable seats, and brake lights were a thing of the future.

     A loud squawking noise alerted Mary to peek through the lace curtains in the front room. Her husband was sitting in a dark brown 1919 McLaughlin Buick. Wiping her floured hands on her apron, she ran out outside. Jim was grinning like a little boy who’d just been given a chocolate-fudge, double-decker ice-cream cone.

     “I got the deal of a life time. You won’t believe it. The salesman practically gave it away.”