The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Category: Miscellaneous Page 1 of 9

Squeaks don’t come any Narrower!

By Greg Clark, July 7, 1930

“I’d like to see Mr. Denison, please,” I said to the lady at the desk in the hospital corridor.

Yes, hospital. Merrill, whether from the after affects of being jiggled on a horse’s back or from too much golf, was taken from the train at an eastern town and rushed to hospital where he was operated on for appendicitis.

And taking the first train after hearing the bad news, I dashed down to his assistance.

“Mr. Denison?” asked the lady in white. “You mean Dr. Denison.”

“Ha, ha,” said I to myself, “the big scamp is masquerading as a doctor is he! Doctor of what? Doctor of architecture, doctor of horse-back riding, doctor of expense accounts?”

“Very well,” said I to the lady, “Doctor Denison.”

Far be it from me to disrupt any of Merrill’s little schemes.

“You are expected,” said the lady in white. “If you will just come this way, I will hand you over to the nurses.”

It was a nice little hospital, surrounded by beautiful bushy gardens, and its corridors were spotless and shiny. I was glad Merrill had the good fortune, if he must be stricken away from home, to land into such a hospital as this.

The lady in white led me down the corridor into a small white room. On a table lay a quantity of linen. And at one side of the room stood one of those wheeled cots on which the sick are taken for a ride.

“Just undress here,” said the lady in white, and put on that white gown there. When you are ready, ring this bell and the nurse will come for you.”

I looked at her in astonishment.

“Undress?” said I.

“Of course,” said she.

“Why undress?” I demanded.

“You can’t go in your business clothes,” said she.

“Ah,” said I, “for sanitation’s sake?”

“Exactly,” said the lady in white, going out the door.

Well, the last thing in the world I would do would be to carry germs into Merrill, lying there exhausted from his operation. But how wonderful, I said to myself as I unbuttoned my collar, the way science is advancing! Here in a small city hospital you couldn’t even go in to visit a friend without undressing and putting on a sanitary nightgown.

“I suppose,” said I, as I removed my boots, “the next thing they will be doing will be making you take a bath before you can visit a friend in hospital.”

The hospital nightie did not exactly fit me. It was more like a tent than a nightshirt. But I liked its extreme modesty.

I rang the bell.

Two nurses entered the room.

“Will you come this way, sir, for your bath?” said the one with the blue eyes.

“Bath!” said I.

“Yes, sir, you must take a bath.”

“Well, I’ll be jiggered,” said I.

So they led me through an inner corridor and left at the bathroom where I had a real good shower. It was a dandy needle shower. I felt fine. Merrill, said I, will be glad to look at a chap as fresh and rosy as me. After the train journey, this bath is a good idea.

“This Gentleman Pulls a New One”

When I came out of the bathroom, the nurses were sitting waiting for me.

“Now we will go to the ante-room,” said the blue-eyed one, “where the male nurse will prepare you.”

“Prepare me?” said I. “Is anything wrong?”

“No,” said the blue-eyed nurse. “Prepare you means shave you and that sort of thing.”

“But I shaved this morning,” said I, somewhat indignantly, for even on a train I pride myself on giving my chin a good clean scrape.

The blue-eyed nurse laughed prettily.

“He’ll do a much better job,” said the nurse.

“Well,” said I, “your hospital is away ahead of anything in Toronto. I never heard of such precautions as you take. Why, you would think I was the world’s champion germ carrier. But if you don’t mind, nurse, I think we will pass up the shave. I feel perfectly presentable now.”

“Dr. Denison insists on everything,” said the nurse.

“He would be to glad to see me if I was covered with mud.” said I.

“Well,” said the nurse, “I’ll have to see the superintendent. Will you wait here?”

I waited. Presently the two young nurses came back with an elderly lady with a peculiarly cool and determined face.

“Good morning,” said she. “How do you feel?”

“Great,” said I.

“Have you any pain?” said the superintendant.

“Pain,” I snorted. I never felt better in my life.”

“That’s splendid,” said the superintendent. “Now, tell me, did it have a flexible handle?”

“I beg your pardon,” said I.

“Did it have a flexible handle? Or a stiff handle? In other words,” said the superintendent, “will it bend?”

“I certainly beg your pardon,” said I, entirely bewildered.

“The toothbrush,” said the superintendent.

“What toothbrush?” I asked.

The superintendent turned and winked at the two nurses who were smiling shyly.

“The toothbrush,” said the superintendent, “that you swallowed.”

It was like a dream. I have had looney dreams like this often.

“I didn’t swallow any toothbrush,” said I, laughing.

“No?” said the superintendent. “Now, like a good man, you just come with us to the ante-room where the male attendant will prepare you. It’ll all be over in no time.”

“Look here,” said I, “there’s a mistake somewhere. I didn’t swallow any toothbrush. All I came here for was to visit my friend Mr. Denison.”

“Now that is ingenious,” said the superintendent to the two young nurses, talking to them just as if I were not there at all, or as if I were a specimen in a case. “It is not at all uncommon for patients to lose their nerve at the door of the operating room. And they are very clever about it too. But this gentleman pulls a new one. He was coming to visit his friend Mr. Denison. I must tell Dr. Denison that.”

She led on. I stood fast.

“Look here,” said I. “Excuse me. Just be good enough to ask Mr. Denison if he is expecting me.”

“Dr. Denison is expecting you,” said she. “He is changing now. You must be ready in five minutes.”

“But I don’t know any Dr. Denison,” said I, shakily, for I could see no way out of this. “I just got off the train half an hour ago and dashed up here to see my friend Denison, who was operated on for appendicitis yesterday.”

Bound, Gagged and Bathed

“There is no Mr. Denison operated on for appendicitis here,” said the superintendent. “Come, come, sir, pull yourself together. You are in a very dangerous situation.”

“I know it,” said I.

“If that toothbrush gets past a certain point, you are likely to have peritonitis and die.”

“Look here,” I yelled, “I swallowed no toothbrush!”

The superintendent turned to the nurses.

“This is the gentleman?”

“He was handed over to us,” they said.

“Short, medium stout,” said the superintendent, sizing me up. “How was he dressed?”

“In a brown suit,” said the blue-eyed nurse.

“Rather shabby?”

“Well, yes,” said the blue-eyed nurse. Never put your faith in blue-eyed nurses. They look at you with such sweet eyes, but they think your suit is shabby.

“This the man all right,” said the superintendent. “Just call MacWhirtie.”

It was impossible to look dignified in that nightshirt. I knew that. Then the door opened, and in came great giant of a sandy-haired Scotchman in overalls, the kind they have one of in every hospital. His hair grew down almost to his eyebrows, and he had blue, simple eyes.

“Just help this gentleman into the ante-room,” said the superintendent.

“Hand’s off!” I roared as MacWhirtie advanced.

But, making soothing and clucking noises, MacWhirtie swept me up, smothered me in the colossal nightshirt and laid me down on a table. I struggled. He held me down.

“Careful,” said the superintendent. “He’s got a toothbrush in him. Don’t let him struggle like that.”

So MacWhirtie got one of those crag-climbing strangle holds on me, and pinned me down.

I could see, from under MacWhirtie’s arm, a pallid little man in soiled white overalls approaching me with a shaving mug and an old fashioned razor.

“Get away from me,” I yelled.

The door opened and in walked a tall thin blond man.

“Well, well,” said he.

“Dr. Denison, this the gentleman that swallowed the toothbrush,” said the superintendent, “and he has got a little fright just at the last minute.”

“We’ll soothe him,” said the doctor, “Get off, MacWhirtie.”

I sat up.

“Doctor,” said I, “there will be the devil to pay over this. I just came in on the train half an hour ago…”

“Where do you feel it now?” asked the doctor, sitting down on the edge of the table, and putting a kindly arm around my shoulder.

“I say,” I said stoutly, “I came up here to visit my friend Mr. Merrill Denison who yesterday was operated on for appendicitis. And they have seized me, bound me, gagged me, bathed me, put me into this nightshirt…”

“Well, well,” said Dr. Denison.

“Well, well, nothing!” I shouted. “I warn you I am not the man you think I am.”

“Then why did you accept the nightshirt and take the bath?” asked the doctor, good-humoredly and patiently. “Like a good chap, now, pull yourself together.”

“Listen,” said I, desperately, and probably by this time I did look like a man who had swallowed a toothbrush, “how do I get out of this?”

“Just as soon we get the toothbrush,” said the doctor. “All right, MacWhirtie, just assist the gentleman into the operating room and we’ll do without the shave. I’ll use plenty of alcohol first.”

Blue-Eyed Nurses Should be Forbidden

MacWhirtie assisted me.

He laid me down on a cold marble table with dazzling lights in my face. I lay there wondering what Merrill would have done in such a predicament as this. Merrill would have said something witty. But I couldn’t think of anything witty. MacWhirtie was standing over me, with a great compassionate look on his simple face.

I smelt druggy smells. I heard something making sizzing noises. The nurses were busily dashing about the dazzling room. They rolled a big thing like a tank on a baggage hand truck over beside me. I sat up. MacWhirtie laid me down.

A silence fell on us all. The doctor smiled down on me.

Then the door of the operating room opened.

The lady in white who met me at the door of the hospital, stood there.

“The gentleman who swallowed the toothbrush is waiting downstairs,” said she.

The silence continued.

Nobody moved.

The smile faded from the bending face of the doctor.

MacWhirtie put one hand under me and helped me sit up.

“Well,” said I.

The blue-eyed nurse started to giggle. I think blue-eyed nurses should be forbidden. They have no sense of other people’s dignity.

“Well, sir,” said I, “you nearly had me disembowelled!”

“We were just going to X-ray you for the toothbrush,” said the doctor. “It would have been quite a hunt.”

“Now, how about taking me upstairs to see Mr. Denison,” said I.

“There is no Mr. Denison here,” said the superintendent in a business like voice. She was the sort of lady who takes the offensive especially when she in the wrong.

“I have a telegram in my pants, if I can get them,” said I, “informing me that he is here.”

“Maybe he is at the other hospital,” said the doctor.

“What other hospital?” I asked.

“There are two hospitals here,” said the doctor, “Just go to the phone and ask if there is a Mr. Denison over there.”

The blue-eyed nurse hurried out.

By the time I got my clothes on, which I donned in the same room with scared little man who was hastily undressing, the nurse informed me that Mr. Denison was indeed at the other hospital.

I shook hands with everybody, the doctor, MacWhirtie, the little man who was now wearing the large nightshirt, and even the blue-eyed nurse.

Then I took a taxi over to the other hospital.

“Mr. Denison?” said the lady in white sitting in the corridor of this hospital. “Just come this way.”

She led me down a corridor.

“Just a minute,” said I. She halted.

“I shaved this morning,” said I. “I’ve had a bath, this suit was French-cleaned only the day before yesterday, and I’m in highly sanitary condition.”

“Yes, sir,” said the lady in white, stiffly.

She opened door.

And there, pale, weary, but with one eye shut in silent greeting, lay Merrill.


Editor’s Note: This is one of the early “pre-Greg-Jim” stories that Greg wrote co-starring fellow writer Merrill Denison, from the Star Weekly. He also worked as a playwright and would later move to New York and still contribute occasionally to the Star Weekly. Jim would often illustrate these stories.

Toronto Star Ad – 07/02/32

July 2, 1932

Toronto Star Ad – 6/27/31

June 27, 1931

Flappers Floppers & Fleepers

June 16, 1922

By Greg Clark, June 16, 1922

“I don’t understand all this business about flappers,” said Aunt Melinda. “What is a flapper? I thought it was one of those absurd girls who wear their galoshes unbuckled and flapping about their calves.”

“Flappers! Flappers?” exclaimed Aunt Agg, who sets herself up as an authority on everything modern and effete. “Why, my dear, isn’t a flapper a girl”- (she pronounced it gyerl) – “whose skirts flap about her knees? I’m sure that is the derivation of the word.”

Grandma, who was listening with unconcealed astonishment to this conversation, I dropped her knitting and her hands into her lap and gasped:

“Why, I thought a flapper was one of these deaf and dumb persons who converse by means of flapping their hands!”

“Mother!” said Aunt Agg with scorn. “If you aren’t the old-fashionedest–“

“Well,” continued Aunt ‘Linda, who was one of those persevering conversationalists, “I can’t see what there is to make such a fuss over these innocent little girls. We scandalized you, didn’t we, mother, when we were girls…”

“Not you, my dears,” replied Grandma, “but some of our neighbors children…”

“I think we should pay less attention to these pretty, harmless children, and try to do something for these bold, golfing, motoring, horseracing women of mature years,” said Aunt ‘Linda. “They are the ones who are undermining the foundations of society, to use the minister’s words. Look at these photographs of the fashionable crowds at the races. Not a female there under forty.”

“No,” interrupted Aunt Agg, pointing to the picture, “there are several flappers.”

Aunt ‘Linda examined the picture.

“You are wrong. Agg. All the flappers have their backs turned to the camera, and all the women of forty are facing it. It simply means that they look like flappers from behind, but are all over forty.”

“Tee, hee!” giggled Grandma. “That’s what we used to say about crinolines, that they made all women the same age from the back.”

“What is the sense,” went on Aunt ‘Linda. “of criticizing the youngsters when the gaudiest women we see downtown on our shopping trips are dowagers of near fifty? Who was it we saw smoking cigaret in the dining room of the Prince Edward last New Year’s but a fat woman on the verge of sixty? Think of our neighbor who goes off dragging her golf implements with her two friends every afternoon, all women of mature years, and I doubt not that out at the golf club they indulge in cigarets between every bout.”

“Indeed, I am told,” said Aunt Agg, “that the women have bottles full of cocktails in their cupboards out at these golf clubs.”

“I recall,” remarked Grandma in an absent manner, “when cocktails were first invented.”

“Mother!”

Grandma started guiltily and dropped a stitch. Her face flushed a little, and the shiny look that came into her eyes when she was about to become difficult now appeared. She hitched her rocking chair to face her two daughters.

“Girls” said she, “I have no patience with you middle-aged people. Young folk and old people have some redeeming qualities; youth has the charm of innocence, age the charm of sophistication.”

“I have just invented a new classification of the unfair sex: flappers, floppers and fleepers. The flappers are the young girls, whose skirts flap, whose galoshes flap, whose brains flap airily, bless them, in the lightest breeze that blows. The floppers are the middle-aged girls who flop about the lawns of society like large, sleek seals, who flop about the golf courses, flop about hotels and tea rooms, or whose tongues flop continually about the follies and frailties of their sisters old and young. We old ones are the fleepers, who fleep and cheep und wheeze our last few paces down the easy slope.”

“And of the three, the most disagreeable are the floppers.”

As usual when Grandma has one of her difficult spells, her knitting got into an awful tangle.

Now Aunt ‘Linda silently moved over and commenced unravelling the mess. Aunt Agg rose coldly and said-

“I think I’ll go and make a tray of tea.”

“Then, Agnes,” said Grandma, “would you bring up off the mantel that big box of candled cherries that grandson Eddie sent me?”


Editor’s Notes: This is another article from the early 1920s, that shows society’s confusion over the transformation of women’s roles. The characters focus scorn on flappers, young women who smoke, drink, and publicly enjoy themselves, the complete opposite of Victorian or Edwardian manners. Even in this article, it is unsure where the term “Flapper” came from.

“Grandma” mentions crinolines, the hoop-skirt type of fashion popular in the 1860s, presumably when she was young.

Grape Nuts Ad – 6/13/36

Jun 13, 1936

Another in the series of advertisements for Grape Nuts cereal featuring “Ernie Energy”.

The Light of Other Days Shines on The Dumbells

By Greg Clark, June 6, 1925

It was a full house.

The curtain was up. The theatre was filled with the music of a clever orchestra. It was a performance of the “Dumbells,” in their sixty-second week in Toronto.

A smartly-dressed chorus came out and then Marjorie appeared, long, lissome, with the old

remembered stride, so queenly, so graceful. And all of a sudden the scene faded. The solid walls of the Royal Alexandra melted away. The strains to orchestra grew fainter, fainter.

And by all that is queer we were all at once in a dirty old grey marquee, its side walls drooping sadly, and tall poles staggering into the gloom above, and a stage before us lighted with oil lamps shaded with home-made tin reflectors.

We were in the midst of a strange audience. It smelt strongly of wool and sweat and tobacco. It was bent forward tensely on its benches. It made not a sound.

Yet on this little ill-lighted stage before us, as on that Royal Alex stage which had so mysteriously disappeared a moment ago, on this narrow, shallow stage, there stood Marjorie!

In the shadows of one corner of the stage was a piano, and the pianist’s back was to us. A candle in a whiskey bottle gave light to his fingers.

What was he playing? “Hello, My Dearie!”

And there was Marjorie, swaying and leaning towards us, singing,

“… I’m lonesome for you;

I want you near me –

 Yes, honest, I do…”

Not as gorgeous a Marjorie as we had a moment before on the stage that faded. Not such stylish clothes. Not so lighted up with footlights to show the delicate blossom on her cheeks and the lovely red bow of her lips. A big picture hat, a pink dress to set off her blonde beauty. And a parasol.

But a lovelier Marjorie than the one that the Royal Alexandra had been showing. Look how this audience cats her up, drinks her in! Did ever an artist have such an audience? Pipes and cigarets are held suspended. Heads are hunched forward. Eyes stare hungrily at this vision in the half light. She sings to the end in a clear soprano with a delicious break in it. She backs bowing to the burlap wings. The grey old tent trembles and bellies to the tumult of applause that crashes out. The khaki audience yells and claps and whistles and stands up.

Beauty They Craved For

The soldier at the piano strikes a chord. Strikes it again for silence. And from the wings steps jaunty Al Plunkett, wearing an opera hat and a stylish mackintosh. He is the picture of civil elegance. Ah, how sweet to the byes of men doomed forever, it seems to sweating brown wool! Al is smiling his ineffable smile. He twirls his cane at us. He raises his voice in an odd, laughing, suggestive tone and commences his song, “The Wild, Wild Women.”

The audience in lilting and chuckling with him on their benches of hard, narrow wood. The chuckle in Al’s voice increases. The words of the song have the boys leaning forward and nudging their neighbors.

” … ferocious women,

Are making a wild man of me!”

The troops shout and laugh. “Encore! Encore!” Al obliges. Ho sing the last verse and the chorus. He is more elegant and urbane than ever. He is the spirit of all that is free and Independent, and never a bugle nor voice can make a difference in his life, this dark, opera-coated swell.

A brass band hunched down under the front of the tiny little creaky stage plays an entr’acte and the audience lights up and smokes and chatters. Out in the night, far, far away, sounds the bumble and mutter of the distant guns. But in this marquee, the “Dumbells” are making pretense, for a regiment down from the line for a few days, that there is no war, that there is a world of reality, full of beautiful, attractive women and dark, alluring men in high hats, somewhere only around the corner. And the audience talks loud and laughs for fear they might not believe that that far rumble is only the traffic of the streets.

Marjorie comes on again. Amid a riotous cheer. Who could believe that the hard integuments of Ross Hamilton are concealed under those fair garments? Marjorie is not a female impersonator in this old marquee. She is a very real and very great artist. An artist depends so much on his environment, on his locale. Well, this Marjorie, I assure you, this Marjorie, posing and swaying before the starved eyes of a thousand soldiers who have seen nothing beautiful, but only mud and destruction and death for months on end – this tall, beautiful girl parading before them in the lamplight, is a very true artist indeed. For she is touching those nerves in the spirits of men which only artists can touch. She is making them live outside themselves. They are not amused by a female impersonator. They are looking at a beautiful girl with eyes that have seen no beauty in many day.

“Songs My Mother Sang”

Marjorie departs amidst a tumult. A singer whose name we have forgotten, which is a deep shame, comes forth clad in a quaint old-fashioned costume, with a tall wand, and sings for us “The Cornish Floral Dance.” A delicate, fine, artistic song, but the brown, tangled audience drinks it in. It is beautifully rendered. And the hard-boiled audience knows it. They demand an encore. With greater fervor, the fine baritone pictures again the little street and the dancing figures that kiss as they dance along.

Lay figures come out from the drab wings of the stage and set up a sentry box and a brazier. It is not a fake brazier, a stage effect. It is a real brazier, And the coke in it stinks through the marquee. And Al Plunkett, not in his stage clothes, but in his real, everyday clothes, his khaki uniform, comes out in the gloom, with only the brazier fire glowing on his downcast face, and he brings that big marquee full of soldiers to tears. For he sings a sad song: “The Songs My Mother Sang To Me.”

You may have heard sad songs in your life and shed furtive tears. But Al Plunkett, in his homely uniform, bent lonely over that brazier in so familiar an attitude, with his mobile voice breaking pathetically as he hums such old sweet songs as all our mothers sang – the songs of the southland, Alice Ben Bolt, the lullabies, the baby songs – oh, soldiers in the gloom, so still, so still, what Mills bombs are these stuck in your throats, what unmanly wet is this smearing your cheeks, while Al Plunkett wrings your heart to shreds with his tender and crooning voice?

These were mighty artists, I tell you, who could fill a night with such tears and such laughter. For there is a black face comedian, and Mert Plunkett, Captain Plunkett, the stout manager of all this fun in a dirty old tent out in some turnip field of Flanders, Captain Plunkett is the interlocutor of the black men. Then there is an orderly room scene in which ridiculous officers strut and comic lead-swingers cringe in cartoon of the real thing this audience will be facing on the morrow. The pianist with the candle in the bottle shows what he can do besides accompany. He plays a bit of Chopin and the latest hit from London. The fine baritone sings “Roses Are Shining in Picardy,” and here we are in Picardy, and such roses as shine are red, red.

The grand finale: Marjorie and Al, a chorus of girls and men, and that was the “Dumbells” as they were in the beginning, away back in grey, dirty old villages of northern France, before they had the money or the artists of other concert parties to make up the show of today. A night full of tears and laughter, of dim lights and such incense as a soldier can send up to his high gods.

They were all great artists those days. They will have to toil hard ever to be a great again.


Editor’s Notes: The “Dumbells” were a vaudeville group formed by soldiers during the first World War. Since it was made up of soldiers, all female roles had to be played by men in drag. They were extremely popular, and launched a Canadian show-business phenomenon that was to last through 12 cross-Canada tours until 1932. As indicated in the article, they engaged in standard vaudeville acts of skits, comedy, singing, and dancing, which also included minstrel black-face acts since those were still acceptable in the early 20th century. Their popularity could also be the result of nostalgia on the part of old soldiers, such as Greg. Their act fizzled out as people grew tired of old war acts, the advent of “talkies” (movies with sound), and the Depression.

The Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto was built in 1907, and still exists today.

Massey and His Job

May, 28, 1927

This is an illustration that Jim made for an article on Vincent Massey, who at the time of the article was recently appointed as the first Canadian Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States for His Majesty’s Government in Canada, making him Canada’s first ever envoy with full diplomatic credentials to a foreign capital. He would later become the first ever Canadian born Governor-General in 1952.

Looking for the “Prince of Whales”

May 19, 1928

By Greg Clark, May 19, 1928

American Tourists Have Quaint Notions About Canada

The lanky, well-dressed stranger strolled up to the bell captain of the King Edward.

“I’m from the States,” he said. “I want to take a run around your city and see the points of interest – the state house and that sort of thing. Whereabouts is the residence of the Prince of Whales?”

The bell captain informed him that the Prince of Whales did not live in Toronto.

“Ah, he’s in Montreal, eh? Or is it Que-bec?”

No, the Prince of Whales, the bell boy regretted to inform the American visitor, lived in London, England, and only visited Canada on rare occasions, spending most of his visit aboard Pullman cars.

“But he’s got a ranch here somewhere,” said the American.

He doubted the bell captain’s knowledge and inquired elsewhere, with the result that a most curious and interesting conversation developed.

“I had it firmly fixed in my mind,” confessed the American during this discussion, that the Prince of Whales lived in Canada the way the King lives in England. I thought you had princes instead of governors, you know, state governors.

“But tell me, it’s a fact, is it not, that you have British regiments quartered here in Canada?”

“No. We have one permanent infantry regiment in Canada – but it’s Canadian.”

“But you pay taxes to the King of England don’t you?” asked the American, shrewdly.

“No. We pay no taxes and we put a duty on nearly everything that comes from Britain.”

“No!” said the American, entirely out of his depth. “Well, I declare. Still, all your officials in your government at Quee-bec are sent out from England, aren’t they?”

“No, the only official sent out to this country from Britain to the governor general, and even at that we choose the one we want out of a number suggested by the King’s advisers. A matter of fact, there is a discussion under way just now regarding the appointment of a Canadian as governor general in future.”

“Then you’re turning?’ suggested the American.

“Turning?”

“Turning away from England,” added the American.

“England has nothing to do with it,” explained his Canadian Baedecker. “Canada is more British, in the sense of empire, than England. Canada is peopled by English, Scotch and Irish who have done something for the British Empire besides stay at home. The King, as far as we are concerned, is a Canadian. It may hurt a Californian to know that your president is a New Englander. But it doesn’t bother us Canadians to know that our King is an Englishman. We still think he would be better if he were a Canadian, just as your Californian thinks the President would be better if he were a Native Son.”

It’s Hard to Beat the Movies

“Well, sir, yesterday,” said the American, “I saw lot of cavalry riding out near your Sunnyside park and I thought you were a hundred and fifty years behind the rest of America.”

“We are a little backward,” said his Canadian adviser, “in some respects; for instance, it worries us Canadians that we can’t seem to put on quite as much of a celebration for the Prince of Wales whenever he comes to America as New York can.”

All of which is a quaint and comic but by no means rare instance of the extraordinary point of view entertained by countless numbers of our American visitors.

At the Niagara Falls office of the Toronto Convention and Tourist Association, a party of ladies and gentlemen drew up in a costly car and came in to get information about crossing the border.

They stood in the office, glancing about. Then one of the ladies said under her breath to her husband:

“Why, they’ve got everything printed in English.”

They made no move to ask for anything. 50 the young lady who is manager of the office step ped forward.

“Is there anything I can do for you?”

“I knew you were an American!” cried the lady enthusiastically.

“I’m proud to tell you I’m a Canadian,” said the girl.

“But you’ve been educated in the States?”

“No, I was educated in Toronto, Canada.”

“Well, what in the world language do they speak over there anyway?” cried the American.

It takes a lot of propaganda to defeat the movies, for example. And what little of Canada has ever been in the movies has been mounted police, French-Canadians coureur de bois, Eskimos and dogs. When Canada gets into the news in a big way in the States, it is when trans-atlantic fliers pass over the Labrador wastes or land on our coasts so that it takes weeks to get them off even by flying machines. Or when balloonists land in Canada, they nearly die of it. The news reels that show glimpses of Canada are not views of our tall cities but shots of the arrival of the governor-general surrounded by protective soldiering or perhaps a bit from the Calgary stampede which is a circus mostly made up of troupers and trick performers from over the border.

Since 1926 the Toronto Convention and Tourist Association has been striving to defeat the movies and the sensational reports as part of its propaganda.

“But Toronto still remains,” states E. R. Powell, managing director of the association, “the poorest-known big city on the North American continent.”

“They Speak the Same Language”

There are three restaurants in Toronto that belong to a well-known chain of American restaurants and these are eagerly seized upon by the American tourists as a little bit of home.

“Why!” declare those who have motored right through from the border, as they pay for their meal at the cash desk, “your money looks exactly like ours! Yes, one dollar bills, sure as you live. And dimes and nickels!”

The manager tells of countless curious angles.

“You eat practically the same as we do in the States,” said one shrewd visitor. “Why, when I was in France, I could hardly get a single bit of what you might call civilized cooking.”

“I’m glad your restaurants are over in this country. I’ve read a good deal of Canadian literature in the magazines, and the one thing I was scared about coming over here was the things I’d have to eat -pemmican and bannock and pea soup and those things, and I’ve delicate stomach.”

Ex-Mayor Webb of Winnipeg describes a trip he made last winter to Florida. At one stop they overheard the children, in disappointed voices, saying: “They wear the same kind of clothes we do!” “They speak the same language we do.”

At the Niagara Falls office one elderly woman asked if she could see the boat that sails for Europe If she walked across the bridge. Three young men were in this office getting information and they argued the question whether to have lunch in Niagara Falls or wait until they got to Montreal.

Montreal and Toronto are not merely close together in the minds of a large proportion of the tourists, but they are readily interchangeable. Montreal is where Toronto is and Toronto is somewhere else. Canada to them is a little colony on the northern border, back of which is the arctic circle.

Even when they see Toronto they cannot realize that their previous conception is shot. A party came into The Star office last summer to ask if we knew of a man named Billings, an American living somewhere in Ontario.

“In Toronto? We’ll look him up in the directory.”

“No, he don’t live in Toronto, but somewhere here in Ontario. He’s an American. We thought probably you’d know of him. An American, named Billings.”

And they meant it.

It is generally believed by Toronto people that our fine big policemen are a source of wonder and admiration to the American visitors. We print stories about what the tourists any regarding the force.

But there are other angles. We asked an American what he thought of our police, as compared with the general type of stick-swinging, lamp-post leaning cop.

“I guess you’ve got to have good big police men over here, with all those outlaws and lumberjacks riding into town every once in a while,” said the American seriously.

May 19, 1928

But Let’s Not Be Snooty

School book history was doubtless responsible for another remark about the Toronto police.

“Mostly old soldiers, aren’t they?” asked the American.

“A good many are.”

“The police are kept up by the English, I suppose.”

Won’t somebody please write the Great Canadian Novel – all about Canada us it really is today – with enough eternal triangle and it in it to make it a best seller in the States? We’ve got to do something soon to counteract Sir Gilbert Parker and James Oliver Curwood, not to mention school histories that cease to refer to Canada after the War of 1812.

Of course, the best possible educational work is being done now, regardless of any effort. The Americans are coming to Canada as a playground in annual tidal waves that seem to double in volume every year. The tourist traffic is now one of the greatest commercial assets of the province of Ontario and within a very few years may be the greatest asset, regardless of mines, agriculture and everything else. Because there is no credit in the tourist business. It is all cash.

A flood of cash business bursting on Ontario’s shore every summer. And the more the Americans are astonished and enlightened the more they will talk when they get home. And the more they talk about Canada the bigger will be the tidal wave next summer. They are coming from far and near. And no other kind of propaganda could do what word-of-mouth is doing to enlighten the huge population to the south with regard to the facts about Canada.

There is a certain kind of Canadian who is snooty with all Americans. There are various reasons for this attitude. Part of it originates in the natural jealousy of a small country for a powerful neighbor. Part of it is the same ignorance that makes the American imagine “England” rules Canada as a colony, a sentimental hang-over from a century and a half ago.

But there is one ready-to-wear attitude that Canadians can wear in their relations with Americans. One thing every American speaks about in Canadians is the “manners” of Canadians. We are supposed to be a graceful and well-bred race.

If we are well-bred, good-mannered and courteous to our visitors, and if we use our humor and imagination in promoting the disillusionment that is progressing rapidly every moment that they are in the country, we will build up a tradition that will be even more valuable than the legend of the mounties and the whiskered Pierre and the canoe sliding down a mighty torrent.

Because that movie legend has not been without value.

It has advertised Canada as a land of vast natural resources, water power, minerals, unlimited forests.

And that is what the tourists are coming over to see.


Editor’s Notes: At the time of writing, the Governor-General of Canada was still British, though as indicated, there had been public discussion of the post being given to a Canadian.

Baedeker was a publisher of travel guides.

I don’t understand what is trying to be said with the line that mentions “eternal triangle”. Eternal Triangle was a term that meant “love triangle”, so maybe it was a disdain against the kind of books that were popular?

Sir Gilbert Parker and James Oliver Curwood were popular writers, the first on historical French Canada, and the second on the wilderness of Alaska and Yukon.

Smokes Screen Battles Gloom

By Greg Clark, May 10, 1941

In a fighting man’s life, there are never enough cigarettes.

There may not be enough ammunition, or enough bombs or even enough food. But if there are enough smokes, everything is jake.

In fact, every old soldier will agree with this: that though there be boxes of ammunition enough to build a barricade and bombs and shells and food enough to stand a siege, if there are no smokes, the battle looks gloomy indeed.

Every soldier’s family knows this. If you listen to the troop broadcasts from Britain, you will hear about every fifth man laughingly but not too laughingly exclaim…”and don’t forget the cigarettes.”

But there are thousands of our men in the army, the air force. the merchant marine who either have no family contacts to keep them supplied with smokes or whose families are living so strictly within the narrow confines of a soldier’s pay and allowances that a dollar for cigarettes is not a little gay gift but a sacrifice, even a heavy sacrifice.

And since there are so many millions of us in Canada with no warmer wish in our hearts than to do some little gracious act towards some unknown man in army, navy, air force or merchant marine, here is the way.

Send a donation of a dollar up – or a dollar down if you like – to the Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund, 225 Bay St., Toronto.

For every dollar you send, 400 cigarettes go to a Canadian fighting man in Britain, on the sea, in the air in Newfoundland, West Indies, Iceland, and wherever Canadians are these days.

His majesty the King is patron of the Overseas League, also the Earl of Athlone, representing his majesty in Canada. Every lieutenant-governor in Canada is a patron. Hon. Ernest Lapointe, Air Marshal Bishop, and Sir William Mulock are patrons. Chief justices of provinces, presidents of universities and namely men all over Canada are patrons. The Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund is a reputable organization if ever there was one.

You personally can send 300 cigarettes to a friend in the army for a dollar. The Overseas League sends 400. Because of their mass purchases. They have so far sent 4,000,000 cigarettes. They have, in past months, on an income that never yet exceeded $2,000 a month, tried to give one package of cigarettes per man per week to 80,000 Canadians. They need $20,000 a month to supply every Canadian soldier, airman, sailor or merchant marine a packet of cigarettes a week. And they think that if The Star Weekly tells all those people who have the warm wish in their hearts about their program, the $20,000 will roll in. And the league will then give at least one packet a week to every one of the 80,000 Canadians, and in each package will be a postcard bearing the giver’s name and address for the soldier or the sailor or the airman to send his thanks.

The league will also personally acknowledge your donation.

Never Enough Smokes

Now that is the simple and direct process by which you can touch with your own hand some Canadian fighting man somewhere in the far, battled world.

Simply mail your money to the Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund, 225 Bay St., Toronto.

By return you will get an acknowledgment from the league.

Supplies from home are of tremendous value to the boys. Under the present system, you can go to any reputable tobacco dealer and send 1,000 cigarettes to your soldier overseas for only $2.50. Imagine 1,000 cigarettes arriving in one gob to your lad sitting in some stuffy hut in a coastal village in England!

Besides, in these perilous times, so many plans go agley.

Ships go down, and with them cigarettes and socks and many a treasured gift. So the more we keep flowing across, the more will get there.

Speaking of ships going down. Our main supply of cigarettes in the old war came via the Expeditionary Force Canteen. The supplies were brought over from England and distributed to our battalion canteens via the big wholesale canteen. But a channel boat loaded with a week’s supply of smokes was sunk. And before another boat could be loaded, a tobacco famine had struck.

And were we ever conscious of what a smoke means to a man! What little stores of smokes we had each treasured up, from our parcels from home, were soon exhausted. And there, mile after mile along the front, were some millions of men all going through the business of “giving up smoking” at the same time. And we got a little on each other’s nerves.

In the dugout in which I lived there was a small wooden box which had come up with the rations. It was a familiar little box. It came to each company of our battalion once a month from a ladies’ auxiliary of our unit back here in Toronto. One month it would contain tooth brushes. The next month, washcloths. Another month, dear little icky-dicky tubes of toothpaste or fairies’ own soap. Now, mind you, these little gifts are welcome. They marked the fact that we were remembered back home by somebody else.

But we never opened these boxes up the line. We carried them back out of the mud and filth, and opened them and distributed their contents when we got back to billets.

However, I adopted this box as my chair or stool in the dugout. And there I sat, during the six-day tobacco famine, on that small box. And such was the state of my nerves that while the company commander just drummed his fingers on the table and the other lieutenants acted queerly according to their natures, I took the old three-cornered French bayonet that we used as a poker for our brazier, and with it sat moodily picking at the small box which protruded between my shins.

And I accidentally split off a bit of the wood. I looked within. I saw a sheet of thick, dark brown waxed paper.

H’m, said I; funny packing for bath salts or something. And I stood up and picked up the box and let out a great and mighty yell. For the box contained one gross of plugs of vicious black chewing tobacco.

Chewing tobacco. As black and fat and pungent as tar. But the note inside explained that the ladies’ auxiliary had been too busy to pack the gifts this month and had left it to a committee of three husbands. And the three husbands had secretly agreed together to be rid of this icky-dicky soap and paste stuff, and send us, for once, the he-mannest thing they could think of – eatin’ tobacco!

God bless those three husbands. It was awful stuff. We cut it up into finest dust and rolled cigarettes with it. We used it in pipes. The bravest of us chewed it. But it broke the famine. And cheered us beyond all belief.

I have seen men in the last outposts of despair, cut off from all help, no food, no water, no ammunition – and because they could steal a smoke, they looked one another in the eye and grinned. And came through.

I have seen men deathly wounded, who, when the stretcher bearer stuck a cigarette in their lips, seemed, at any rate, to lose their pain for a time. Seen men dying who, by the grace of a cigarette, could relax and smile.

There be grim-hearted people who will look askance at this panegyric of tobacco. They think it mean of a human being to bear so heavy upon a wisp of paper and twist of a weed. But on the sea, in far seas, on land, in remote worlds far beyond anything our lads ever dreamed to see, are tens of thousands of our boys who give the lie to the grim-hearted who think of mankind as something to be improved upon what it is, by denial.

Send your dollar, your less than a dollar, your five or your collected $50 to the Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund. 225 Bay street, Toronto.

Readers who wish to contribute to the fund are requested NOT to send money to The Star Weekly. Donations should be addressed to: The Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund, 225 Bay St., Toronto. This is the Canadian headquarters. Your gift will be acknowledged by return mail – and later, some grateful soldier in Britain will doubtless write you a note of thanks.


Editor’s Notes: I’ve labelled this article as an advertisement, for understandable reasons. 225 Bay Street no longer exists in Toronto, it is now just part of a block containing the Commerce Court West Office tower.

The Earl of Athlone was the Governor-General of Canada at the time of the article. Ernest Lapointe was Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s “Quebec Lieutenant” in Cabinet, Billy Bishop was a World War One Flying Ace, and Air Marshal in World War Two, and Sir William Mulock was involved in so many things, you will have to read his Wikipedia article to see why he was referred to as the “Grand Old Man” of Canada. At the time of the article, he was the Chair of the Canadian Committee of the International YMCA, and 98 years old.

Greg so liked the story about the unexpected tobacco received during the First World War, he would repeat it on many other occasions with various embellishments.

Five Little Birthday Cakes

By Greg Clark, May 4, 1935

Before the crack of dawn, and that’s four-fifteen in the morning, Marie wakes and starts singing.

She sings loud and clear. Like a robin. It is not cooing, or da-da-ing, or whining. It is straight, gay, and uncomplaining singing.

This wakes Annette first. And Annette, who is the trickiest of the quintuplets, generally manages to get one small bare foot out and stick it through the bars of her crib and push the bedside table. She knows a bedside table makes a grand bump. It does not fall. It just goes bump, bump.

The race for waking, Yvonne, Emilie and Cecile run neck and neck, though Cecile, “the pretty one”, is also the sleepiest one, who loves to open her eyes wide, suddenly, and then slowly close them again, the while finding her thumb and clamping on to it for a good comfortable smoke, a process involving much sudden wide opening of the big dark eyes, and much slow, lazy closing of them.

Thus morning comes to the Dionne hospital at Callander.

I spent a day with them to write this story in honor of their first birthday, which is fast approaching. I saw them sleeping and playing; being fed and being bathed. I saw them doing their first crawling, which at the moment consists of rolling over. Not a very precise mode of progression, but, when you see your sister – at least, one of them – whanging a large melodious pink rattle up against the play-pen bars, and you want to take it from her, certainly a slick trick that Clancy or Red Horner ought to know about is to roll over three times, roll right on top of your sister’s legs, pin her down, and then, amidst astonished protests from the victim, slowly, unsurely but inevitably, take the rattle from her.

The quints are at this moment flowering out of their first helpless Infancy. They have smiled, that shy crooked smile of babyhood, for a long time now. But now they laugh. They crow. In the big white bathtub, with its four inches of water in it, I saw them, two at a time, swimming magnificently, their fat little creased legs and arms flailing: and with those bright dark eyes, all aglitter with smiles, they watched each other. Then the nurses turned them over, and feet to feet, heads at opposite ends of the tub, they put on a splashing match, eyes screwed up, gasping at the splashes, and laughing – clear, crowing laughter.

And when they were lifted out, they complained in both French and English. They are bi-lingual, the quints.

So much has been written, in minute detail, about the famous Dionnes that it hard for a mere amateur daddy to know where to start a birthday party story about them. The thing that most arrested me was their color. The color of their eyes. Madame de Kiriline says they are hazel. But Nurse Yvonne Leroux says they are brown, gray and blue. They are remarkable eyes, very large and melting, and their expression veiled. As a matter of fact, when little mischievous and table-tipping Anette, lying on her stomach, rolls her head around to look up at you when you tap on the sight-seeing window of their nursery, there is an expression of almost amused condescension in her gaze. But they are certainly neither light eyes nor dark, because when you put them in a red-flowered dress, the eyes are quite dark. Yet when you put them in a blue dress, you see blue and gray in their eyes. They will be lucky when they are eighteen. They can wear both brown and blue.

The Big Drinker

They are dark babies, with a suffused flush in their color. There is nothing pearly and fragile about them, as in a blonde baby. They are very real indeed.

Another exciting thing is that they are off the bottle. Often you will see big chunky babies skilfully swizzling a nursing bottle. But at ten months precisely, all bottles went up to the hospital attic. For every one of them drinks from the glass. Cecile, “the pretty one”, is the big drinker. She drinks till she busts. She drinks until she has to come up for air with a great gasp, but with her wide eyes, she holds, she commands, the cup to remain. And then deep she dives into it again.

The race as to weight and size, the number of ounces, the number of inches, goes on week by week, but leaves me cold. For me it was exciting only for being the reason the two thirteen-pounders, Marie, and Emilie, were safeguarded in one play pen, while the three fifteen-pounders, Yvonne, Annette and Cecile, scrambled gaily about the other play pen. They are matched according to weight. It is a wrestling match, in those pens.

The routine of the babies starts at five o’clock in the morning. Fifteen minutes to three-quarters of an hour after little Marie, the robin, the alarm clock, has chanticleered the morning with her songs (and perhaps disturbed one of the big policemen sleeping in the very room with her – he’ll get used to it in time!), the whole place is alive and abustle. At that witching hour, eight ounces of whole milk and one ounce of tomato juice go down the five little red lanes. That is just an eye-opener, a hair off the dog that bit them and keeps on biting them all day long. They are changed and left to greet the swiftly rising sun.

“Daylight saving?” I asked Dr. Dafoe.

“We’ll stick to standard time hereabouts,” said he.

At 7 a.m., the day is away. Two small glasses of orange juice apiece – equal to one whole orange. And a teaspoonful of cod liver oil. I suspect those two glasses mean – one before and one after!

All this is done while the clock rushes around to 8 a.m., at which time they all, Annette usually leading, are shouting in plain bi-lingual baby talk: “Let’s eat! How about a little chow!”

And with 8 a.m. comes chow, to wit, one coddled egg, one glass of milk, and a kind of sticky-wicky made of arrowroot biscuit softened, mud-pied with water.

“How much of that there?” I asked Madame Kiriline.

“As much as they want,” said she. “They usually consume a couple of bikkies each.”

“The Pretty One”

This is an end to eating until 1 o’clock. For now at 9 a.m. they are all dressed in their little dresses and coats and out they go in their prams, rain or shine, to mumble awhile and listen to the first robins and the first song sparrows that have come, proudly, to lay their quintuplet eggs in nests nearby the hospital. Listening and crowing, there are curious small calls exchanged for maybe twenty minutes, until the last of them has rolled her eyes for the last time. And if you tiptoe across that veranda and look in each pram, you will see only five little heads, five little snubby noses, five sets of round red cheeks and, strangely, beautifully stirring, five little down-flung sets of eyelashes, the soft silken bars of sleep.

This is the hour of quiet, and the great big blue-clad police step softly on the hardwood floors, and the nurses whisk about, and the housekeeper hums to herself; Laurence, the housekeeper who is to be married the sixth of May – the Dionne hospital’s first romance, because Laurence, Madame Clusieux, is to marry the electrician she met when he came from “the Bay” to wire the new hospital.

In this time of quiet, Madame de Kiriline and Nurse Leroux showed me the works. The clothes closet where hang the rows of coats, dresses, dressing gowns, ad infinitum; where on the shelves lie the fives of bootees, and the fives of stockings and fives of this and that. Most of the gifts are from the makers of things, but there are a great many private gifts from individuals, mostly women. The things I liked best are bright red corduroy overalls, with braces and all. And on each bib of the overalls is worked the name of the wearer. It will be a big help when, in another four months or so, by the end of summer, the quints are staggering to their feet and making their first steps around the resounding nursery. We who peep through the wide observation window into that spectacular nursery will be able to know which is which.

“Do most of the gifts come from the United States?” I asked.

“It is about fifty-fifty between Canada and the States,” Madame de Kiriline thought. “There are none from overseas.”

The most curious gift was a set of five tiny white leather cases each containing a miniature set of false teeth, about the size of your thumb nail, the whole thing. Somebody in California thought of this whimsy for a toothless babe. Another odd gift was a stork made of a great southern pine cone, with pipe-cleaner neck and legs. They sent this stork across the road to the Dionne house.

Knowing which is which is problem. The nurses say they know them apart, not quite unerringly, by their expressions. Cecile, “the pretty one”, though they all looked pretty to my eyes, is rather reserved and quiet. Yvonne has a great crooked smile. Annette is, as I said before, slightly amused and tolerant in her gaze. Marie is the little one, the singer. And Emilie is the one with the rather still, slightly sly and mischievous expression.

Who are the favorites?

Annette is Madame de Kiriline’s favorite. Yvonne is Nurse Yvonne Leroux’s. Nurse Pat Mullen favors Marie. Mrs. Clusieux, the housekeeper, goes for Emilie, and Father McNally, “chaplain of the hospital,” sees something in Cecile that cannot be denied. Maybe it is a certain piety in Cecile.

Hard to Pick a Favorite

I tried to pick a favorite. I first and impulsively chose Annette, because Annette, on seeing my bulbous brow above the window sill of the observation tower, burst into a mighty toothless grin and quite accidentally succeeded in making a certain gesture up at me that was both disconcerting and extraordinarily diverting. I tried to hold her in my memory, so that I could tell her apart. But within five minutes another perfectly charming Annette gave me that same grin.

“Ah, Annette,” I cried. “Hello, there!”

“That’s Yvonne,” said Miss Leroux.

An hour later, I was again quite certain that it was Yvonne who was my favorite because there she was clapping two tiny hands together and looking at the miracle with her eyes slightly crossed – you know the way. So I praised her as Yvonne.

“That,” said Madame de Kiriline, “is Cecile.”

So I gave up. They are all my favorites.

“I would like to have them all on my knee,” I exclaimed. “The whole seventy-five pounds of them!”

“Unless,” remarked one of the policemen, leaning interminably on the window sill with me, watching them, “unless they all got the same idea at the same time!”

At one o’clock, noon, Marie sings a song about eating. It sounded about eating to me. Maybe it was only that she was cawing back at a crow, or warbling at a meadow lark. But by one o’clock, all the little prams were waggling and jiggling and there was a certain hollowness, like out of a tiny empty barrel, to the music.

The 1 p.m. meal is vegetables galore. Sometimes it is a kind of soup or puree of vegetables, carrots, green beans, spinach, beets. Sometimes it is mashed or strained. They are getting their vegetables a little more solid lately. After the feed of vegetables, they get either a baked apple, or bananas, prunes, apricots or apple sauce. Then a glass of milk.

“Who is fed first?” I asked jealously, because at this time I had my eye on Yvonne.

“Whoever is shouting the loudest,” said Madame de Kiriline. “There is no regular order.

So while Cecile was stretching out her little chin and eagerly gulping the spoonfuls, the other four yelled murder. Annette even had tears. But one by one they were fed their big meal of the day, and one by one they were dumped into the play pens, and there they rolled and kicked and humped themselves up like weight-lifters on their heels and the crowns of their heads.

And so came the rest hour, which is until three o’clock, and consists of about as much rest as you’ll see about beehive on a July noon when the clover is blooming. For this was the period of wrestling and of banging rattles, of Cecile lying serenely on her tummy, all uninterested in Yvonne and Annette who staged rolling match to see who could get on top and have the big pink rattle.

“Do they pull each other’s hair?” I asked anxiously.

“Not intentionally,” said Miss Leroux.

“H’m,” said I. For only that moment, one of them had deliberately pulled the hair of my then reigning favorite, Cecile.

“That one,” I accused, “pulled Cecile’s hair.”

“That one,” said Miss Leroux, “IS Cecile, and the one whose hair was pulled was Yvonne.”

“H’m,” said I.

At 3 p.m. they get a glass of pineapple juice to cover up another teaspoonful of cod liver oil.

Then Comes the Bath Hour

Thus they kick and sing and roll and sometimes snooze drowsy-eyed until five, when comes the bath. The bath is magnificent. They go two at a time. One odd one coming last. No order is kept. Sometimes it is Marie’s turn to be left. But they give them all an even break at playing the splashing game. They know about the splashing game. It is no accident. They lie feet to feet and slam their little legs as hard as they can, heaving up and gasping every time the adversary slashes theme good one.

Finally comes the last meal of the day, 5 p.m. Cereal, fine wheat cereal. And a glass of milk. And a big sigh. And a nightie. And no more people peering through the window. And quiet comes creeping. And away they go all five, like a flight of doves, into the Never Never Land. The nurses change. The policemen hitch up their belts and go out into the dusk.

But one policeman must modestly unveil and take off his belts and harnesses, his pistol and ammunition pouch, and when all is still, creep into the room to sleep on a couch set strategically amidst these tiny room-mates of a policeman … At his hand, in this sweet white chamber where five wee princesses, wards of the King, lie softly sleeping, stands a loaded rifle.

“Do you snore?” I asked Constable McCord, as he prepared himself for his incongruous vigil.

“I don’t know,” he confessed in a hushed and shocked voice.

So ends the day in this house of miracle. Far and lonely amidst a rocky land where patches of little fields lie sparsely scattered, this pretty bungalow is the centre of the eye of the world. And the heart. About a year ago, all science on earth would have gambled a thousand to one against this incomparable consummation. A million to one. Premature, like little raw nestlings in wild bird’s nest, all flung into the world within three quarters of an hour. Down this new highway that was then a rocky back road of the north came a motor car swaying through the bird-filled dawn of May 28. Between 4.30 and 5 o’clock in the morning, when the mosquitoes were just taking wing, these five were born before the astonished eyes of a country doctor and a huddle of neighbors.

“Not a chance,” said science in Chicago and Bombay and Vienna

But here is a fresh road. And here are telegraph wires and a special telephone line. And here, in this remote country is a hospital staffed with nurses and every aid to science, standing as a new monument to the ever-widening beam of heavenly light that shines on the babyhood of the world.

They live. Lovely and alive and gay, Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Emilie and Marie, they live.

And for the heart as well as the mind of the world, they are guarded and watched and tended, the King has made them his wards, the fences are of steel, policemen armed with high-power rifles and wearing bedroom slippers slumber in a nursery, and the medical science of the whole world is at their command.

So strangely sleeping, we leave them.


Editor’s Notes: I debating including this story, since to modern readers, the sugary-sweet tone is appalling to anyone who knows the history of the Dionne Quintuplets. Aspects of the story treated matter-of-factly, like the armed policeman who stays in their room while they sleep, and no mention of their parents like they don’t exist.

They were the first known quintuplets to survive birth, and became a news sensation during the Great Depression. They were taken away from their parents by the government “to prevent exploitation”, but were in turn, put in a human zoo, and exploited by the government charged with protecting them. Admission was charged to see “Quintland”. Quintland constituted Canada’s highest grossing tourist attraction between 1934 and 1943, earning $1 million in its first year and as much as $500 million for the province of Ontario in total. In those nine years, approximately three million tourists paid admission to catch a glimpse of the Dionne sisters.

How could this have happened? For more information on this tragic story, I would strongly recommend Pierre Berton’s The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama. Another highly recommended source is the episode The Infantorium by the podcast 99% Invisible, which explains the history of premature babies, incubators, and their ties to side-show carnivals. This really provides some context around babies on display, and specifically speaks of the Dionne Quintuplets at the end.

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