The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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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.

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.

Medicos Suffer Loss of Prestige as Result of War

Canada’s Soldiers, Forced in the Field to Believe That Nearly All Illness Was Simply a Matter of the Imagination, or at the Worst a No. 9 Pill, Now Have the Idea that They Can Get Along Without Doctors Altogether – What a Change Has Come Over the M.O.’S.

By Greg Clark, February 28, 1920

The war has put a serious crimp in the medical profession.

Not that doctors fell down – far from it. In the pure advancement of the science of medicine and surgery, the war may be said to have speeded the profession up to unparalleled pitch.

But the practice of the profession has certainly suffered in so far as It concerns half a million Canadian soldiers, their wives, dependents and next of kin.

Picture the Medical Officer at war. Ho was merely a doctor in uniform. Yet, oh, what a difference —

You felt sick and sore all over. Your stomach had a far-away, detached feeling. There were shooting pains in your joints and your head was dizzy.

So you went to the Medical Officer, with that old unerring Instinct that, in prettier days, made you telephone for the same gentleman in civies, to call on you in your bed —

Aye, with that mournfullest of bugle calls, the Reveille, blatting in your ears, you rose in the chilly morn, and stumbled, sick, sore and half-clad, down to the Medical Officer’s billet.

You found him sitting, with his cap over one ear, in his raincoat over his pyjamas He glared at you with an undisguised professional eye. A hard, flinty and skeptical eye that seemed to penetrate your tibia, tarsus and medulla oblongata.

“Well!” said he.

“Sir, I’m sick,” you replied. “I’m dizzy and have pains here and here, and a sort of –“.

“Sergeant,” said the Medical Officer, “one ounce of oil and a number nine for this man. And mark him light duty!”

“Next!”

Pfft! All over in a twinkling.

Oil! Number nine! Ugh! Light duty! Ye shades of Caesar and D’Artagnan and General Byng! Was ever a poor soldier so whelmed in ignominy, so bereft of heart! Oh, the swing and the swank and the swagger of the carefree soldier’s life!

Reader, dost know what light duty is? Peeling potatoes for the cook, skimming grease off dixies of mulligan, sweeping out billets, emptying swill.

Somehow, you swallowed the oil and the pill under the marble eye of the Medical Sergeant. Somehow you staggered back to your billet and reported to the orderly corporal for light duty. Somehow the daylight nightmare passed, and at eventide as you laid you in your chicken-wire bunk amid the fumes of charcoal braziers and drying socks, you made a vow never to “parade sick” again, but to die, like a martyr, in your tracks some day, in the heat of battle, the victim of a malignant disease, while bullets passed you harmlessly by.

Yet, never was a healthier army known. Never did men smash all the medical rules with such impunity. Sitting in slush, wallowing in mud, sleeping all the sunny day in deep and damp and foul-aired dugouts and sitting in all night in the damp, chilly, night air. Nine men out of ten should have died of pneumonia or galloping decline. But they didn’t. A marvellous medical corps shot you a pill or a spoon of oil or merely a stern glance, and lo, all ailments vanished.

The soldier came to the conclusion that practically all illness is largely a matter of Imagination or at worst a simple matter of pills.

But the soldier comes home. Back to the soft bed, the steam heated billet, the umbrellas, the rubbers and the regular hours.

One day, he feels sick. Pains in his joints, dizzy of head, and so on.

And an almost forgotten instinct twigs him. With a mysterious smile on his face, he calls on the doctor.

He is ushered into a quiet, solemn little room. Presently a grave, but friendly gentleman enters. He shakes hands and eyes the patient with kindly and solicitous eye.

“Sir,” says the ex-soldier, a faint memory prompting him, “I’m sick. I’m dizzy and have pains here and here; and a sort of –“

“Mmm!” says the doctor, sympathetically.

“Yes,” continues the ex-soldier, “and I can’t eat, and my stomach feels far-away, kind of.”

“Mmm!” repeats the doctor. “Have you been this way long?”

“No, just since this morning.”

“Have you been eating meat?”

“Yes.”

“Mmm! Let me see your tongue.”

Then the doctor takes his pulse and temperature, sounds his chest and back – scares the poor ex-soldier into a fit.

Mmmmm!” says the doctor, “Mmmm! Er – would your business permit you to lay off for a week or so?”

“Yes,” murmurs the awed ex-soldier.

“Very well. Go home,” says the doctor, “and go to bed. I shall call and prescribe certain things.”

So the patient hastens home with wobbly knees and crawls into bed.

The doctor calls twice a day for a week, feels pulse, takes temperature, prescribes dark medicine and Pulls Him Through!

But somewhere in this procedure the ex-soldier comes alive. He startles his poor wife half to death by suddenly bursting into wild laughter as he lies on his sick-bed. He has remembered. The incongruity of the thing has hit him. Again he can hear reveille sadly waking the morn with its flat ta-too, ta-too! The chilly crawl to the M.O.’s billet, the brief, disappointing interview —

“Hurroo!” yells the ex-soldier and leaps out of bed and confounds the doctor, when he calls, with a glance.

As we know now, much of the influenza was due to laymen trying to doctor themselves with various pills and powders and to fear. The best preventive of flu is to wear the hat at a jaunty angle over the ear.

But the returned soldier strikes the happy medium. He remembers that during the war he was unable to dope himself with all manner of pills from the corner drug store and that he was not subjected to any flummery on the part of the Medical Officer. Thus he was healthy.

A Toronto officer visited the booklined studio of his former regimental Medical Officer. The usual jovial and profane greetings over, the officer launched into a harrowing description of his symptoms. The M.O. sounded him, pulled a long face.

“Better lay up for a few days –” he began.

“Mo, you old rascal,” yelled the officer, “do you remember that day on the Lievin front that I was sick and you wouldn’t send me out because the Colonel fancied he was short of officers? Do you remember, I really was ill? Well, to-day’s the anniversary of that day, you old scalawag, and I just thought I’d drop in and celebrate it. There isn’t a thing the matter with me!”

So the M.O. smothered his chagrin, shed his professional manner, and become once again the jovial, cynical, hard-headed and congenial old poker-player he always was.


Editor’s Note: Not taking illness seriously during World War One became a common joke for soldiers, as men were always needed. The “Number 9 Pill” was a laxative.

Quebec Shows Us How

By Greg Clark, February 12, 1927

Batteries thud out their shots into the night. Rockets fleet up and burst in jewels against the vivid starry sky. The Fete de Nuit has begun, Quebec’s night of celebration of winter.

Up the narrow, steep streets of the ancient city flow the crowds, in colored sashes wrapped about their homely workaday clothes, in gay snowshoe costumes of blanket cloth, in ski costume, in furs. And one crowd – a snowshoe club in hooded coats – are singing as they go.

“Vive la Huronne si fiere

De ses Guerriers, de ses grands bois.”

From the old town, from the hotels, from the shops all closing hurriedly, the crowds swarm up the steep streets to the Citadel. The rockets light the snow. From across the St. Lawrence glow the great bonfires on the Levis shore where the villagers hold their lesser celebrations. On the ramparts of the old Citadel, beacon fires leap and flare. The ancient fortress is limmed in a vast gleam of colored light.

Groups of glee singers in their picturesque costumes sing the old voyageur songs. “A la Claire Fontaine,” “La Huronne,” “Alouette,” “Les Montagnards.” Bands play, the ice is massed with skaters, the bob and toboggan runs are crammed with flashing groups, the snowshoe clubs in their various costumes march past, the ski clubs lead the way to the hills where they perform their little miracles of speed and marvelous control, the entries in the coming dog team races bring their huskies to show them off to the crowds, there is a carnival of confusion and music under the beacon fires and the rockets. Then the batteries fling their tumult into the starry night, the rockets make a final frenzy and the crowd seeks out the dance floor of the city, new and old, to close the Fete de Nuit.

What a professional team of half a dozen players does in sport is news. What a whole city does in sport is too big for news. Some day, the story of what Quebec is doing with winter will be written in a book of the social history of Canada.

Quebec does not set aside a day for winter sports. Her city council does not generously donate piece of park land for the celebration. The old city has been long enough on her mighty cliffs to know when the snow comes and when it departs. And for that time of beauty Quebec writes a new calendar.

Most of the cities of Canada are looking shrewdly at winter sports as a scheme for at attracting tourists. They would like to set up a sort of winter amusement park, with a foxy eye on the investment and the probable turnover.

Quebec celebrates winter for herself. And the tourists, tens of thousands of them, come to her for that very reason.

Quebec has something to show every other city in Canada. Neither the Chateau Frontenac nor the Quebec Winter Sports Association cared to make an estimate of the number of tourists, largely American, from New York and the New England states, who come to the old city in the course of the winter to unbend themselves with winter recreation. The lowest estimate was ten thousand, excluding all commercial visitors. The largest estimate was twenty thousand, from November to March. These were people of means, who had time and money to spend in amusing themselves. They are the sort of visitors Canada wants, not merely for the cash they dispense but for the potentialities of their interest in Canada which are likely to result from their visit.

Where Winter is Holiday Time

How has Quebec done It?

For long, long years, Canada has looked upon her winter as a great handicap. From the economic point of view, a liability, a detriment.

At one time in the history of this dominion, the British government was trying to arrange a trade with the French whereby they would give Canada away for a nice, jungly little Island down in the tropics somewhere.

“Canada,” they said, “is a country covered with snow for a large part of the year.”

Most of us remember the shame and indignation that was roused when Kipling published his poem, “Our Lady of the Snows.”

Just lately, the rest of Canada has been gradually, very gradually, changing her mind about snow. Quebec changed her mind a couple of centuries ago. But, of course, Quebec has been there a long time.

A certain Canadian radio station desired to put on a night of Canadian songs. A patriotic night of native songs. They thought of “Alouette” and “A la Claire Fontaine,” And “En Roulant Ma Boule.”

How about some Canadian songs in English? “O Canada,” there was, of course! But no, it too was French, translated. The project had to be abandoned because there were not enough native songs in English. And there were too many in French to suit the somewhat shrewd taste of the management.

It takes time to develop songs. It also takes time to develop something so essentially native and national as Quebec city’s three month long celebration of winter. Quebec has lived with Its winter long enough to know it and love it. And probably because it is something the rest of the world has not got, because it is distinctive, there gradually grew a desire to celebrate it. It was a time for gay clothes. It was a time for fun. Many of the industries were halted by it. The villages had nothing much else to do in winter but amuse themselves. Over two centuries, there emerged the thing they have to-day – a calendar of sports, with something for everybody to do or see for almost every day of the winter.

It is pretty evident, Quebec does not lay out her winter with an eye on the tourists. But the tourists come. Quebec is now, in the opinion of those whose business it is to tell people where to go for recreation, the greatest winter sport centre in America. It is on the grow. The Chateau Frontenac was filed to capacity Christmas and New Years week. One single party came from Boston consisting of three hundred and fifty – a train load. This was not a convention. It was a party of pleasure seekers which has grown from small beginnings, a few Bostoners meeting at the Chateau, deciding to come again, and so on, until after half a dozen years it makes a gay trainload of families, decked out in the garments not of Boston, but the quaint costumes, of Quebec. Dozens of such cumulative parties now come to the Chateau every winter.

“Way I’m looking at it now,” said a New Yorker who had not only his children but his grandchildren with him – you should have seen the old boy with four grandchildren skyhooting around the steep streets of Quebec in a dog sled behind eight huskies… “the average man in this country should have two weeks holiday in summer and one week in winter.”

But then, he was president of a bank.

Months of Carnival

The Fete de Nuit, with its carnival spirit of assembling in the snow night, is not what it might be in Montreal or Toronto. The weeks and months are laid out in a sort of festive calendar. Certain nights are given over to hockey matches, professional and amateur. Then other nights are given to ski competitions, skating races, snow-shoe hikes under the leadership of the various Quebec snowshoe clubs – despite the way the snowshoe is looked upon in this moment of popularity of skiing, it is by far the more picturesque sport, and lends itself to fun and frolic. Other nights are given to bob sled races. The Quebec dog derby is becoming a classic. And towards the end of the season there to a great masquerade of winter which says goodby to winter with the same regret Ontario bids summer farewell.

Quebec has an incomparable lead on the rest of Canada not because she has more or a better winter, but because the recognition of the spirit of winter is rooted right in the people. Not just a few of the people but all the people make definite obeisance to winter. The ice sculpture in front of al the stores is only an indication. The gay red and green sleighs of the merchants and the corporation, the sashes worn by the men over their coate-quaint, woolen sashes of bright color, some of which are old and worth as much as two hundred dollars. Of course you couldn’t live in Quebec without having a spirited and humorous respect for winter. Quebec’s streets run up and down more than north and south or east and west. You have to equipped with humor to walk either up or down one of those streets. For at any moment you are likely to go on your ear.

Can other Canadian cities welcome winter in the same highly profitable fashion Quebec does?

Can Toronto, with her queer scabby, dirty, slushy winter do anything better than scowl at winter?

The Great Lakes cities are rather unfortunate. They are placed against warm bowls which melt winter away. Those old boys who talk of winter not being what it used to be are men born and brought up in towns and cities set in a few miles from the lakes, and who remember their winters of old. The winters in Newmarket, Stratford, Peterborough are just as good as they ever were. Toronto’s winter is pretty much as it always was. Go back a few miles from the lake and you find winter.

Toronto can have winter in all its glory little way up the Metropolitan railway. Hundreds, thousands of people who have summer cottages on Lake Simcoe are already taking annual parties of winter sports enthusiasts up to Lake Simcoe in the winter. The solution of the winter recreation problem for Toronto will undoubtedly be a series of resorts set back from forty to a hundred miles, where there are the trees, hills and snow.

Would Toronto Wear a Sash?

Some of the small towns sleeping away over that ridge that rises a few miles back of Toronto could make a fortune if they undertook to amuse Toronto people with snow. Toronto is no less a sport and recreation city than the average city in America. When winter comes, golf, motoring, tennis, all the familiar sports are ended. There is a leisure class which then goes into sort of steamy hibernation, dancing, playing bridge, going to shows, yet unhappy and restless because the exercise in which they are accustomed in winter id left out of their scheme of things.

They go to Quebec now. They even go to Lake Placid, which is down south. A few are discovering the one or two resorts in Muskoka which have everything Lake Placid has, except the loud voice.

But Toronto is so convinced that winter – in her world, anyway – is a matter of slush, alternating with furious grips of zero weather which hardens the slush for a day or two and then collapses into another flu week, that it will be slow work waking Toronto to the fact that there is beauty only fifty miles away.

If Toronto people were to put on a blanket coat or sash, to which they are as fully entitled as the people of Quebec, there would at once be rumors of a circus in town. The most Toronto will do in the way of releasing the spirit in dress is to wear a small bit of colored feather sticking up in the back of the hat band.

“That’s a beautiful sash,” We remarked to a young man beside us watching the bob sleds racing at tremendous pace down the old Quebec wall.

“Yes,” he said. “Ceinture fleche: my grandmother wove this when she was a girl. It is mine now.”

He has winter-burned the color of leather. He had a hard, lean look, and his eyes were aflame with interest in the fleeting sleds.

“Do you bob?”

“No. Skis,” he said. “After banking hours, skis.”

“Do you jump?”

“Yes. I can do ninety, a hundred. But it’s the ski running that is sport. We picked up fox back six or seven miles in the Laureation the other day. New stuff. A grand sport.”

“More fun even than the summer, eh?”

“Summer! Man, I spend the summer just yearning for winter to come again!”

Ho told us of the fox hunt on skis, the hours working along the ridges, sliding and pawing along the sides of those purple Laurentian hills that rise back of the old city and at last, towards evening, the picking up of a fox on the high ridge, the shouting and view hallo, and the party sweeping and racing over ridge and valley in pursuit of the astounded tox.

“Did you kill him?”

“Kill him! Not he; we drove him to his hole in a rock slide, and left him for another day. We have sent for English hunting horns for the chase, to sound the view hallo.”

This is something Toronto could do. Quebec does a hundred things Ontario could do.

But perhaps the sash would be beyond Toronto.

And in the sash may be the whole appeal.


Editor’s Notes: French songs mentioned include À la claire fontaine, La Huronne, Alouette, and En Roulant Ma Boule.

Our Lady of the Snows is a poem by Rudyard Kipling in 1897. Apparently it caused immigrants to reconsider going to Canada because of the weather.

Skyhoot, also means “scoot”, or to go quickly.

View Halloo” is the term given to the shout when a hunter spots his target.

Taxes! Taxes! Who Pays the Taxes?

By Greg Clark, February 2, 1924

It Pays to Marry. But It Doesn’t Pay to Spend Money. Build a House or Have a Stake in the Community – The Floater Keeps Himself Liquid and Escapes Heavy Taxation.

When old John Doe died his estate amounted to only ten thousand five hundred dollars, and as he left it to his two sons in equal shares, no succession duty tax had to be paid on the estate to the Ontario government.

After the funeral’ expenses, debts and probate changes had been paid, there were exactly five thousand dollars left to each of the sons, John H. and Harry J. Doe.

Harry was the cute member of the family, always had been. He was married, but had no children. He was a traveler for a textile concern and lived in a fashionable apartment and had a good car.

Harry took his five thousand and put it at once into Ontario six per cent bonds, which he got at par on issue.

John Junior, was married and had five children, three of them over sixteen, but going to college.

John was bothered what to do with his five thousand. Should he pay off a bunch of debts, or should he get the new big touring car the boys wanted, or should he invest it?

He finally decided to build a house.

So he selected a good lot on a north end street, and went ahead with a house that cost him, in the end, twelve thousand dollars, house and land.

The five thousand cash went into materials for the house. He gave a mortgage for the remaining seven, which covered land and labor.

At the end of the year this is what had happened to the five thousand dollars of the two men.

Harry, that foxy lad, received from his $5,000 bond interest at 6 per cent., or $300.

John Junior first paid a transfer tax to the Ontario government on his $4,000 lot of $8.

He paid the workmen’s compensation tax of the minimum of $4 when the contractor put it in the bill.

On his materials, which cost $5,000, he paid the 6 per cent sales tax which, though paid at the point of production by the manufacturer, was nevertheless included in the cost of the material. So right there, John paid the dominion government a tax of $300.

The city assessment department assessed his new property at $9,000, and John was presented in due time with a tax bill of $300.

So, while Harry’s $5,000 brings him in $300 interest from the government, poor John’s five thousand gets him into a position where the various authorities tax him a total of $612.

Now, both Harry and John earn salaries of $5,000 per annum.

Harry, with this bonds, thus earns $5,300 a year. Being married, he is exempt $2,000.

John earns $5,000 and is exempt $2,000 as being married, and the dominion exempts him $300 for each child under sixteen. This only exempts him $2,600, as three of his children are over sixteen and going to college. But the city exempts him for the whole five children.

Foxy Harry’s Plan

But of his salary Harry saves $2,000 cold cash a year. He does it this way: With his five thousand bond from his father’s legacy as security, he goes to the bank and has the bank buy him $2,000 six per cent industrial bond at par. Then he pays $166.66 a month to the bank, purchasing one bond in one year. The bank charges him interest on the loan, but Harry gets interest on the bond. It works out very nicely at six months’ interest exactly. So Harry pays the bank $60 for the transaction, and gets $120 interest from the new purchase of bonds.

Now, the dominion income tax allows Harry to deduct the $60 he paid in bank interest for the purchase of the bond amongst his exemptions. The city assessor does not.

Harry, who is a traveler, uses his fine new big car in his business. The dominion income fax allows him 25 per cent, depreciation the first year plus his upkeep and repairs. This comes in Harry’s case to no less than $1,200. He keeps an itemized account of the cost of gas, oil and repairs.

So Harry pays income tax as follows: To the dominion, $5,000; salary, plus $300 bond interest, plus $120 new bond interest, less $2,000 married exemption, less $1,200 car expenses, less $60 carrying charges on the new industrial bond, or $2,160 taxable income, which at 4 per cent. makes a tax bill of $86.40. To the city income tax he is not exempt the $60 interest, and he is allowed only 20 per cent. depreciation on his car, plus upkeep and repairs. So Harry pays the city on taxable income of $2,330 at 33 1-3 mills, which renders bill of $69.60.

Now we come to poor old John.

John’s $5,000 salary is exempt $2,000 for being married plus $300 per child under sixteen by the dominion. He is therefore exempt $2,600. He pays the Dominion government # tax bill of $96. For while John has a car, he cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, describe it as an essential to the carrying on of his business. It is a family car. It is for the pleasure of his family of five children.

To the city, John pays a bill of $60. He gets no deduction for the money he has soaked into the building of his house, to the benefit and improvement of the city. He cannot deduct the $300 taxes on his new property.

“Why should he?” asks Harry.

On that cursed mortgage of $7,000, at 7 ½ per cent., poor John pays Interest of $525 per annum, not to mention reduction of principal.

Does he get exemption on that interest? Certainly NOT!

So while Harry, with an income of $5,420, on which to support a wife, a car and pays rent, expends a total in taxes of $156, John Junior, on total income of $5,000, on which to support a family of seven, a car, but owning his own house, a stake in the community, pays taxes totaling no less than $456.

Poor Old House-Owner

It is a wonder poor John hasn’t committed suicide on me before this. I will be glad to get this story written. It is positively pitiful the pickle we are getting John into.

For we are not through with him yet.

What is left of John’s income after he has paid all these taxes and charges on his new property and mortgage, he uses to the last nickel in keeping his family clothed and fed.

And on everything he buys for the use of his family, save only such food as is a direct product of the farm (not all food, remember), on such items as clothing, boots, tobacco, pies, cakes, hair nets, books, furniture, utensils, gas, oil, every mortal thing a family of seven buys from day to day, he is taxed another six per cent, by the Dominion government.

Of course, the tax law says this tax shall be paid at the point of production, but of course again, the people at the point of production are only the collectors of the tax for the dominion.

The tax is paid by the consumer of the goods. It is passed on. It isn’t the famous “turnover” tax they are talking about, but it is turned over, just the same. It is turned over and over until It reaches John.

“I wish,” says John, “they would invent a non turnover tax.”

So suppose John spends $3,000 of his salary (for he spends every cent of it) on manufactured goods which are taxed six per cent: then John pays the dominion another lump of cash – to wit, $180.

We have said nothing whatever about the biggest tax burglar of all, that lays for both John and Harry, but which gets to them only insofar as they are spenders of money. And that is the tariff.

The tariff, ranging from 15 to 35 per cent., is a tax not merely on what comes over the border – in which case the government gets the money again – but also on all things that don’t come over the border, for clothes made right in town, for example, cost what they cost plus what they would cost if they came over the border. That is, lest the American clothes which have to pay 35 per cent. duty on crossing the line, be put at an unfair disadvantage in the stern world of business competition, the Canadian manufacturers of clothing add on thirty-five per cent. too, to do the sporting thing. This Is one way of looking at it, as John says.

The Tariff Burglar

How much out of his $5,000 salary John pays the government through the tariff, through the extra money he has to pay resulting from the tariff, cannot be arrived at. But it is a hefty amount. For it involves not any piker 4 per cent or six per cent., like sales and income taxes, but 35 per cent…

It is so vague and veiled a thing, this tariff burglar, that John can’t visualize him, can’t feel personal about him. So John vents most of his feelings on the two or three taxes he can visualize.

This one year, in which that five thousand dollar legacy came like a blight into his life, John pays out: $300 sales tax on the building of the house, $300 property tax to the city. $156 income taxes, $180 sales tax on the things he buys to keep house. In addition he pays $525 interest on his mortgage. John is so hard up. he tries to borrow a few hundred from Harry. But Harry quite justifiably takes the view that John is in such circumstances it would not be safe to lend money to him.

So John borrows a little from a bank, at 7 ½ per cent.

What about Harry? He saves $2,000 out of his salary, so there is no sales tax on that. It isn’t spent. Having only his wife and himself to keep he doesn’t spend much on food and raiment. He spends some on golf fees and other club fees, which aren’t sales. He spends other sums, having a good time. Say he spends $2,000 on living the year.

Harry slips the government only $120 via the sales tax.

What is the moral of this sad story?

It is pretty clear.

Marry by all means: it exempts you $2,000. But don’t have any children, and don’t spend money, don’t build a house, don’t go and do that most foolish of all things, from a financial standpoint – don’t go and get yourself stake in the community.

Keep liquid. Buy bonds. Rent your flat. Then when times are hard, you can move to the States.

And when times are good, you can move back home.

Keep yourself liquid. Taxes say so.


Editor’s Note: I think the point of this article is that the taxes are too high, or at least not distributed in an appropriate manner, but the examples used do not make the point very well. Of course if John has five kids with 3 in college, he is going to have it tougher that Harry with no kids. Plus John is working towards home ownership which has value, compared to a renter.

Some Doctors Look Upon Whiskey as a Cure-All

January 26, 1924

This illustration by Jim accompanied an article on how Prohibition made some unscrupulous doctors money as they could give “prescriptions” for alcohol for “medicinal purposes”. The text indicated that one doctor issued 2005 prescriptions in one month. This abuse resulted in limits on how many prescriptions doctors could issue.

The Younger Brothers

By Greg Clark, January 12, 1929

The other day, at the height of the festive season, two of us who had cemented our friendship twelve years ago in a town called Villers au Boil, saw on Yonge St. three young chaps walking along slightly tipsy.

It was an uncommon enough sight, though we two belong to a generation that can remember the long bars of Yonge St. They were young fellows about twenty-three or four, obviously belonging to the best class, with the ex-Varsity look. They had just had enough to drink to be noticeable. Their passage up Yonge St. created a mild sensation and there was much turning of heads and pausing to look back at them.

We followed slowly behind them, because one of us was a clergyman and the other a newspaper man and this human spectacle in the midst of the city was our proper meat.

The faces of the people who passed them showed mixed sentiments. Some ranged from disapproval to disgust. Others smiled or were merely interested. With laughter and a kind of arrogance, the three young men swaggered up Yonge St.

They paused to look in a store window and we had a better look at them. The padre and I both exclaimed together:

“Why, that’s young Blank – Dick’s kid brother!”

And the detached human spectacle at once lost its detachment and became a personal matter. For the middle one of the three mildly hilarious members of the younger generation was the younger brother of a man who, but for a stray shell one lazy misty morning of an August far back, might have been walking up Yonge St. with us too.

“Jove, he looks like Dick!” whispered the padre. We had stopped.

“Shall we speak to him?”

“No, no,” exclaimed the padre. “Not just now.”

“Look at the walk of him! Isn’t he Dick to the life? This is uncanny, padre.”

“The younger generation,” said the clergyman

“Yet within our memory, padre, was the time Yonge St. would have dozens, yes scores of sights like this any afternoon.”

“I wonder should I speak to him?” whispered the padre. “Tell him I knew Dick? Maybe that would get him off the street like this.”

“He’s all right. He’s not tight. Just merry.”

“Yes, but it’s different now. Times have changed. Dick wouldn’t like to see this.”

“Dick? Padre, have you forgotten Dick and you and me …”

And the padre turned fiercely.

“But these are only kids!”

“They are as old or older than you were in France!”

A Challenging Human Riddle

“By Jove!” breathed the padre. We lost the three young chaps. We stood in the traffic current, looking at each other for a long and curious moment.

“Let’s go in here somewhere. Let’s think about this.” said the padre. And we climbed a stairs to a tea room. A candle was lighted between us on the table. We saw each other’s faces in a soft familiar light that helped more than anything to restore us to those already distant years when we were more than blood brothers together. The candle in the whiskey bottle-neck on the dugout table. The pipe smoke clouding between us.

And with the incident of the three young men, the three unwise young men on Yonge St. for his text, the clergyman worked out a sermon that probably he never will excel for insight and charity. It should be said here that in the days of our highest friendship he was not a clergyman nor was there in his or any of our minds the faintest dream that he ever would be one. He was just a gay rollicking lieutenant distinguished by an overwhelming kindliness that made him a good deal braver than the next.

“Don’t blame the war,” said the padre, “for the younger generation. I think it would still have been the younger generation even if there had been no war. The motor car, the immense Increase in the sensual entertainments such as movies, radio, and so forth, would have had a speeding up effect without any war. Just plain prosperity, which gives young people jobs and makes them free, would have effected a great change since 1914, if there had been only peace.

“But seeing Dick’s kid brother out there has given me a great idea. Maybe it will help us to understand the younger generation a little better. And, if we understand them, it will make us better men, never mind them.”

And this was the padre’s idea:

Into the middle of a marvellously commercialized and industrialized world came a great and spectacular war.

For drama and color, there had never been anything like it in the history of man. Millions of men set loose to kill. Majestic legions marching in incredible numbers on the highways of the world. The wars with which we stir the imagination of youth paled into petty fights before this awful and lordly war. The statesmen of the world used their oratory to rouse their nations. The poets sang of blood. The brains and wealth of the world were poured out to serve. And the men of the world of every degree and station went forth to give their lives.

Romance beyond the splendid dreams of the story-tellers of the past, air fighting. millions gloriously dead, millions smashed, gigantic guns, combat unbroken across hundreds of miles, combat in different continents, war magnificent beyond the vision of the school books and the mighty songs of old.

Now while some of us may have known war to be filthy and futile, to be not gallant but terribly dreary, to be not picturesque and splendid but grimy and encompassed by a few square yards of earth, there were others who could not know these things.

When the Splendor Vanished

They heard the bugles and the drums. They saw the swinging legions through the dreaming eyes of childhood. They read the mighty headlines and saw the stern pride of their elders and the bitter tears. They were the younger generation, sensitive and aglow, who found themselves in a world dedicated to glory and sacrifice, to mighty deeds, to manhood. And above all things, to action.

Too young to have any sense of the proportions of life, old enough to gather to the full those impressions of splendor that really did exist and were played to their fullest pitch in the midst of the war. At the most sensitive age, the age of the schoolboy, they were taught by that surest of teachers, example, the virtues of sacrifice, courage, and the manhood Homer extolled. Life to them was filled with promise. The promise of action of excitement, of gallantry, of death. And how would any boy of fourteen die better than on the quarter-deck of his flag-ship or on the field of battle amidst the corpses of his enemies, or in the far sky, like a hero?

I would like to know, asked the padre, the dreams that the young men of to-day dreamed when they were boys.

And suddenly, all the promise was ended.

All the splendor vanished. The world went back to bookkeeping.

Home came the elder brothers and threw aside their swords and took up the workaday world. Laughed about the war. Smiled for their gallant dead comrades. Threw aside the royal robes of romance and stuck pens behind their ears.

Now do you begin to see, asked the padre, what I am getting at?

We who were old enough to go to war were old enough to know what the world was like before we went, and we came back to it gladly. We had lived. Well, let us live on. The tumult and the shouting dies. The captains and the kings depart.

But what of those kids? The tumult and the shouting that filled their ears, the captains and the kings who marched before their growing vision? Those virtues that are called manly inspired in them as it has been inspired in no other generation, and they come to their manhood to find life a business of alarm clocks rather than alarms, of routine not route marches. Not courage and audacity but a kind of colorless diligence is the virtue that the world expects of them now.

What the elder brothers did, the younger brothers will never be free to do.

And at this point the padre set the candle in Its brass candlestick to one side and stared crestfallen across the table.

“Dick and you and I,” said he, “could take a drink. But Dick’s kid brother cannot. I mean he cannot. There was an excuse for us. What hard fellows we were, eh? Masters of our fate. By that I mean ready to give our lives when called for. Masters of the lives of many men. Strong. responsible men at twenty-four. At twenty-four, the average man of to-day is not much more than an apprentice. And despite what I have been saying. I say now that these young fellows have no right to take a drink. Isn’t that odd?”

Seeking Outlet for High Spirits

It is odd. But the padre’s ethical confusion was his own. It does not need to be shared.

The main thing is that he seems to have uncovered an angle of view on the young men and women of to-day that might help a good deal in understanding them. They were born to action, and action is denied them. When they show audacity, it is because they were nurtured in the sight of audacity that was splendid. When they show boldness, maybe it is the boldness of a Billy Bishop sky-shooting through a Hun formation and taking his pair. If they want to swagger, perhaps it is in emulation of the elder brothers who swaggered not in the homely streets of Toronto but down the Strand or through l’avenue de la Paix. When they burst out and raise the devil, where is the trench for them to take, where the disputed barricade at which to keep their rendezvous? Their spirits are colored not with the strict spectrum of school and a safely industrialized life all about them, but with the red and steel-gray memories of the promise of their elder brothers.

“How does that explain the girls, padre?”

“Girls are only women not yet grown. And it is the nature of women to give the men what they want. It the men want action, very well, the girls will try their pretty pathetic best to give it to them. Bob their hair, throw their old-fashioned modesty to the winds, create a sort of jazz excitement that will respond in however small degree to the brooding desires of a war-bred race of boys who are asked to pay their elder brothers’ debt by close application to a desk.”

“Really, padre, that young edition of Dick out there on Yonge St. was a pathetic sort of a sight?”

“Yes. Sorry for him,” said the padre. “I was just remembering Dick that night at Roclincourt, when it was that chap What’s-his-name’s turn to take a raid. And Dick disappeared, you remember? Went over himself in command of the party. And when he was before the colonel, he said he went because he was worried about the men. But Dick thought the world of that poor, scared What’s-his-name. Did you ever see a stranger friendship? Would that young Dick we saw out there be capable of a thing like that?”

“We wouldn’t, but maybe that younger brother would.”

“Or would he be as game as Dick was in that court-martial at Bruay?”

“Maybe he would.”

“Or would he be where Dick was the morning he was killed?” demanded the padre, tapping out his pipe.

“Possibly he would.”

“The point is,” said the padre, “he will never get the chance.”


Editor’s Notes: This story reflects some of the older generation’s trepidation with the rapid changes in society during the 1920s. There is also a change of attitude in old World War One soldiers in the attitude toward the war. It was not uncommon to display disgust with the war, and anger at the loss of life. However, there was also a remembrance of the camaraderie, and friendships. Looking back at the war as glorious would be unusual, and Greg expressed all of these emotions when writing about it over the years.

Agnes, Where Art Thou Going?

By Greg Clark, December 31, 1932

Agnes Macphail is not pale. Her pictures somehow give the impression of a severe, pallid lady with horn rim spectacles, who might have a pointer in one hand and a stick of chalk in the other.

But the lady who sat feeing Tom Wilson, the camera man, and me in her little red brick house in Ceylon, Ont., bore no resemblance to her pictures. Her color is almost ruddy, her brows black and her eyes bright gray-blue.

They are notable eyes. You see them in Scottish faces. They are bold, fastening eyes; a cool look comes easily into them; they often flicker with irony. And as she sat in her own home facing us two newspapermen in search of a curious story it was not I she watched most narrowly; it was Tom, the camera man.

Because Agnes Macphail, M.P., hates cameras. They do her dirt.

The curious story we were after was this:

“We’re not going to talk politics, Miss Macphail. With a crash like the fruit shell giving way in the cellar you stepped back Into the front pages the other day. And now you are interesting to tens of thousands of people who never before gave you much more than a passing glance. They want to know about you.

“How do you get this way?” we asked. “How does country girl, born and raised in the real country, on a farm, far from cities, how does a little country girl come to be Canada’s first and only woman member of Parliament?

“What were the moves in your life, as if you were a billiard ball shot around the table, what were the things that you bumped against, one from the other, that directed your life so that here you are a kind of stormy petrel of politics, one of the few passionate personalities in public life today?”

“Do you mean when I joined the U. F. O.?” she asked, doubtfully.

“No, no, far before that! Have you any pictures of yourself as a kid? What kind of little girl were you? Were you a number one pupil, a bright, serious, little teacher’s pet? Did you shine in spelling matches and school debates?”

The ironic look came into Miss Macphail’s eyes. What dizzy kind of interview was this? She wanted to let loose on the aims and objects of the new Commonwealth party.

“Well,” said she, “I’ve got a poor memory. I never can remember people or events. Why do you want to know about those things?”

“Because, we said, “the most interesting thing about politicians is how they became politicians. Then you can understand their polities. One time I went down to Kemptville and traced back Howard Ferguson. I found he spent his childhood and youth in home filled with politics, politics for breakfast, speeches at lunch, political meetings for dinner. Every day, every day. Only a little boy in houseful of big politicians. But what you want to be when you are a little boy you often become, with vengeance, when you grow up. All right, Miss Macphail, how about you?”

And the answer is a romance.

The romance of a little girl of fourteen battling with sarcastic tongue and red-faced indignation against the superiority of the big city pupils of Owen Sound toward the little country boarders in their poor clothes and with their shy, awkward manners.

The romance of a young schoolma’am, crazy about dancing, so crazy she often, up at Black Horse, Bruce county, used to dance till daylight and then go straight to school to teach all day, filled with the wholesome ambition of a clannish countryside, to marry like her sisters and cousins, but who heard a call, a real call, one of those Presbyterian, Highland Scots, “second sight” calls…”

The Country Kids’ Champion

Agnes Macphail told us the story with not a little wonderment. She had never looked back over her life before. She thought things just came. But they didn’t.

If she had not gone certain places as a girl and a young woman, if she had not met certain people who said certain things, Agnes Macphail would be to-day a good farmer’s wife, competently running her household and, perhaps, as she humorously admitted, the affairs of a few of her neighbors.

But here are the things that happened.

First her blood. She is pure Scot. The Macphails and the Campbells were part of one of those Scottish bands who came to Ontario in the middle of the last century and settled some of the most desperate townships in the province. The Macphails and Campbells that united to create Agnes Macphail settled in Proton township. Proton is famous for its black swamps. It is in the core of that high country that looks down on all the rest of Ontario and in whose swamps rise six rivers, the Humber, Credit, Grand, Saugeen, Beaver, Nottawasaga.

Agnes Macphail put us in her little car and drove us out to look at the farm of her childhood and youth.

As we sped along the country roads, she explained that they had sold the farm after her father’s death because Agnes was already in public life. She pointed out the farms we passed, the Muirs, the Fletchers, all part of the clan.

We went into a sideroad and passed a farm where a group of men were standing under a shed. The men waved a full arm salute, like a railroader’s highball. It was a hail from the Muirs to the Macphails.

We came out on a hill and there below us spread the far flat fields to the edge of the distant black swamps of Proton, and in the midst, red brick farmhouse and barns. Nothing fancy or imposing, no trees about it, just a plain Ontario farm, on dark fields wrested from the swamps where six rivers rise.

When she was fourteen Agnes Macphail left this farm to go and board in Owen Sound in order to attend high school. A lot of Muirs and Fletchers and other children of the Scottish clan from Proton went with her.

They were poor. They wore plain clothes. Except amongst their own, they were shy and maybe a little awkward.

Now Agnes’ father was not only a farmer. Having a certain forcefulness of character, a shrewd tongue and willingness to talk, he had come forward in the community as an auctioneer at those sales of stock, implements and household goods which are a picturesque and vital part of country life.

Dougald Macphail was the local man to take charge of auction sales amongst those dour, speechless Scots of Proton. He was witty. He could be sarcastic.

“To tell you the truth,” said Agnes Macphail, “my father’s was the only tongue I have ever been afraid of in my life!”

Many a time had the little girl Agnes admired the power her red-moustached father had with his tongue. She saw the fear it bred. Like all the rest of us she imitated the qualities that most impressed her in her admired elders.

And this was the small fourteen-year-old who landed with a colony of other country children to attend high school in Owen Sound, to board from September to July.

Instantly the attitude of the big city pupils of Owen Sound toward the country kids maddened her. Their air of superiority, their good clothes, their snickers at the shyness and clumsiness in the classroom roused in her the sensitive pride of the Scot and loosened the satiric and bitter tongue of Dougald Macphail she had in her mouth. From the drop of the hat, at fourteen years of age, Agnes Macphail, the little country girl who didn’t believe anybody in the world was any better than the Muirs, the Fletchers and the Macphails, was using her wits and her waking dreams and schemes to champion her country friends against the city slickers. And there was a dramatic climax very shortly when Agnes had a public scene with the schoolmaster who was making fun of the shyness of another of the country girls.

“I haven’t remembered that for years!” exclaimed the member of parliament, as she flushed up with recollection of her school days.

Indignant About Life

“Well, we’re getting at it,” said we. “What did you dream about as a girl?”

Agnes Macphail went away on a journey of memory before our eyes. She spoke slowly and hesitantly.

“I was the oldest of the family. There were no boys. I had to be the boy. I brought home the cows across those fields. It was I that had to catch the horse and harness it. Maybe that has something to do with it. I remember now the book I read. The one book we all had. Sarah K. Bolton’s ‘Lives of Famous Men and Women’. I remember being so impatient with the famous women. The most a woman could do was have sons who would do great things like Lord Salisbury. Or have daughters that would have sons. I remember that now distinctly. I can remember going around those fields, bringing home the cows, and dreaming of doing something great. I suppose all girls dream like that.”

But those dreams were the start of that call, that strange elusive disturbance that would enter into her affairs every time Agnes Macphail appeared to be shaping her life toward the regular, routine life of a woman.

She got through high school to her junior matriculation in two years. So she was a smart pupil whether she admits it or not. She went to Stratford normal school and became a teacher. All this time she was a lively, free-wheeling girl, sharp witted and popular like her father Dougald, and full of affection for her own neighbors, like her mother, the Campbell.

Then at nineteen she got a school at Black Horse, as the village of Kinloss is called by all Bruce county folk.

She was three years there. It was there she used to dance till morning. It was there she lived with zest and might have married any sweetheart and settled down to the life thousands of country schoolma’ams are electing at this very moment.

But she lived at the house of Samuel Braden. And Sam Braden, the merchant, was another of those Scots, liberal, advanced, conversational far into the night, whom you meet in Bruce county.

“Aha,” we said to Miss Macphail, “he started you toward a public career!”

“No, but he kept alive the thoughts to which I was accustomed in my own home, and I remember in my early twenties having restless thoughts about life, of being still indignant about life, of feeling hot and cold over any injustice….”

At the Bible class at Black Horse they were studying the Book of Job. And after one rather enthusiastic go at that record of human woe the minister, Rev. Mr. Robinson, happened to remark to the young schoolma’am that she had very bright mind and ought to go to the university.

“I remember that remark,” says Miss Macphail. “Just a. passing remark, innocent and flattering. Everybody meets such things. That remark hit me very hard. It made me intensely proud. For the first time I began to think about doing something about the things that disturbed me.”

She was twenty-three. She had beaux. She was lively, full of life, into everything. And the Rev. Mr. Robinson, considering the Book of Job with the young ladies and gentlemen of Black Horse, thought she had a bright mind. With fresh attention she turned to conversations with Mr. Samuel Braden, who could oblige at a moment’s notice on any subject having to do with the emancipation of mankind.

And then Agnes Macphail was laid out with an illness and spent a whole year at home on the farm painfully recovering, and thinking about having a mind and wondering what she could do with it. Those were the pre-war days of farm distress, of emerging skyscrapers, the development of the motor car and the highway, before they had yet meant anything to the farmer. It was time to foment indignation in a young mind laid up at home.

This was doubtless the Y in the road of Agnes Macphail. Look at the pictures we have of the serious, clever-faced girl in the plain black blouse and the dark hair ribbons and spectacles. Look at the quaint and beautiful old pioneer stone cottage with Grandma Campbell, aged 92, standing sweetly before it. You can see the course the ship had to take, even if the ship couldn’t see it.

On recovering from her illness Agnes Macphail got a school out west, in Alberta, chiefly as a means of recovering her health. A poor prairie school at Oyen, Alberta, Agnes did not know she was just fifteen miles from Bob Gardiner, nor did she know who Bob Gardiner was. But the paths of these two, so strangely to cross politically in a few years, came within a twenty-minute ride across prairie trails…

Then full of health, but still without any sense of direction in regard to the impatient urge to get into action in some way, she came back east and took a school at Sharon in York county. Up Yonge street. A much better school than she had had. It might have been just so good a school that any country schoolma’am’s destiny might have been satisfied.

But without knowing it she was now in up to her waist in the hotbed of the U.F.O.

One day she saw in the Farmer’s Sun a letter signed by a schoolma’am saying that any school teacher that had to live at a farmer’s house was to be pitied.

The Touchstone of Her Life

With a cool joy and headful of withering phrases, Agnes Macphail sat down at her boarding house at Sharon and proceeded to write a letter to the editor that would scorch the presses. She did a little more than answer the other letter. She expressed several generalities in defence of farm life. She had no idea this letter was the touchstone of her life.

John C. Ross, the editor of the Farmer’s Sun, immediately wrote her and said he had read her letter with great interest, and the next time she was in Toronto he would be delighted to meet her.

Agnes Macphail kept that letter in her pocket and thought about it every day until she got away one Saturday and called on John C. Ross. She met Burnaby. She met several pioneers of the farmers’ movement.

It was all as if prearranged by fate. Nothing new or startling in the fact that within few weeks she was helping organize farmers’ clubs, speaking at farm women institute meetings, and when 1918 came along she WAS in the thick of the U.F. O. business and was electioneering in a fashion new to North York, a kind of electioneering for which she is since famous.

And then in 1921 she was elected herself.

That’s the story. Just the story of girl with a lot of strong Scot blood, inheriting a temper and gift of speech. She says herself that she would be a clever speaker if it weren’t that seriousness were always breaking in. And with that background and a series of events that shaped her, even as child, into the indignant champion of her own folk, and a series of meetings with people who had disturbing ideas that kept up the pressure on her power of indignation, she was swept, in current, past the rocks and anchorage of marriage and of settling down which would have clipped her neatly, as hundreds of other women must have been clipped, out of public life.

“Oh, I know,” said Agnes Macphail, as we sat in her little home in Ceylon, after we had been boring and probing back into the almost forgotten memories of her childhood and youth, “if I had lived hundred years ago I know exactly the kind of woman I would have been. I would have been one of those pioneer women, with a great big family and concerned about the affairs of nearly everybody in the township!

“And I know, too, that when I am sixty I shall probably look back at this life I have chosen and regret every bit of it, dust and ashes, because I will wish I had married and had children and been a happy country woman. Sure I will!”

She lives with her dear old mother, the Campbell. Her home is not the most pretentious one in Ceylon. It is just a pleasant little pale red brick house. They have a housekeeper. There is a pump at the backdoor. Mostly they eat in the kitchen. Seven men were coming in for a meeting of some farm group as soon as we got out. There was a package of steak, about five pounds of it, for dinner.

They would sit in the living room, where we had done the interviewing, a small, white room decorated in white, with photographs of Dougald Macphail, and mother, and the grandmothers on both sides, and sisters, with their babies.

“I wish the twins were here. I have three nieces, all seven,” said Agnes Macphail. “I’d love you to see me with them.”

A wistful touch, this member of parliament, stuffing back into a corrugated box the old photographs we had asked her to unearth for us in our examination as to how she got this way.

But anyway, you know now that there is a reason why she sits on Parliament Hill, and it has little to do with politics.


Editor’s Notes: This news article looks back at the early life of Agnes Macphail, Canada’s first female Member of Parliament, mid-way through her career.

The U.F.O. is the United Farmers of Ontario, a political party with power an influence in the 1910s and 1920s.

The new “Commonwealth” party mentioned is the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) which was founded at this time, and was the precursor of the current New Democratic Party of Canada.

Howard Ferguson was the Ontario Premier at the time of the article.

Sarah K. Bolton was an American author.

Bob (Robert) Gardiner was a fellow Member of Parliament for the United Farmers of Alberta. He was a member of the Ginger Group along with Agnes Macphail, a group of politicians who split from the Progressive Party to advocate for socialism under the leadership of J. S. Woodsworth, the future leader of the CCF.

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