Monday, January 31, 2011

Letter 14: I am to be a School Marm!

Flora in a formal grad? picture.

August 5, 1911

Dear Father

Received your letter last night. I think I am a terrible letter writer for not having written to you before but I am going to try and make up for it now by answering this one quickly.

Thanks very much for money enclosed. It will come in very handy. And thanks also for the picture of the 'washer man'; don't become too accomplished in that task because when you come home they might want you to practice it here.

I have been accepted at Macdonald College for a model diploma. So my fate is sealed and I am to become a school marm!

Marion says she thinks there must be something wrong with them when they have decided to allow me to go there.

Macdonald opens Sept 5th. So does Marion's school so we will go in together. I am to room with a girl from Kingsey, Mabel Shaw is her name. Do you know the Shaws from there?

Marion Watters knew her last year, said she was very nice. One thing, she will know all he ropes having been there last year.

In regard to money matters you have to pay a month's board in advance, which is 16.00 and two other deposits. Marion is writing a note in this letter and says she will explain about them.

Have not been out to Kingsbury yet but intend to go out there soon, for a few days.

May Watters has been accepted in the Earl Grey School in Montreal. Do you know where that school is? (Corner of Bellechasse and Christophe Colombe.)

Our Marion has written to Mrs. Ellis to see if May can board there. It would be nice if she could. (Boarding House on Tower.)

Aunt Christie isn't home yet from Boston. She seems to be having a fine time. She is coming home with Annie (cousin from Lynn, Massachusetts) when she has her holidays.

Henry (Dr. Henry of Newton Center, Massachusetts) has decided to go west on a trip. Too bad you couldn't go with him.

Uncle Clayton and Stanley have gone on a trip to Megantic in their auto.

They went for a week but as usual they have stayed two, so Marion and I had to mow the lawn.

I suppose you will be surprised to hear that Jim Smith has left Uncle Dan's .

He is boarding now at Mrs. Chapman's, the one that kept house for Mrs. Carpenter. I wonder what Sissie will do now? Now I must stop as it is near tea time.

Your loving daughter,


So, Flora, just like Edith, liked to gossip. This Jim Smith is apparently a married man, having a not-so-discreet intrigue of some kind.

In the 1910 era, Macdonald College is offering free tuition to rural students. There's a rural problem in education: too few teachers willing to stay in country schools for any length of time. There's also a 'city problem' in education: not enough teachers for the growing immigrant population. That's why May Watters so easily found a post at a new city school, Earl Grey in what is now Villeray in North Central Montreal. It was working class as well as the site of one of the first public baths built in city and became Montreal's Little Italy.

In September 1908, the Montreal Gazette reported that Dufferin School on St. Urbain, which had a student population that was 90 percent Jewish, was beseiged with applicants. "Police had to be called to stop stampede of pupils." The janitor had to let in but a few young ones and their parents at a time. Earl Grey opened the next year, with William Lunn on Anne Street in Griffintown.

It may have been easy for new teachers to find a job in the city, but finding a place to live was much more problematic. There was a shortage of 'respectable' boarding houses for young working women in the era. The Montreal Council of Women wanted to establish a woman's hotel, so that these young women wouldn't be tempted by the many dubious attractions of the big city.

Marion Nicholson had stayed at the YWCA in 1905 while at McGill Normal School (which later, in 1907, moved to Ste. Anne de Bellevue.) But she had despised it. "Too many rules." Her fight to be master of her own life, in an age when a woman's virtue had to be preserved at all cost, is one of the more poignant story arcs of these Nicholson family letters.

Letter 13: The Wild Wild Canadian West

The tale of The Letterhead. Herbert Nicholson was a man on the move in 1911.

Qu'appelle Sask. July 29, 1911

Dear Father,

Your letter of the 19th arrived two or three days ago and was glad to hear from you.

We are not very busy in the office just at present so think I had better answer you now as later on I am to be in charge again while our manager relieves our Wolsley Branch.

I would like if they would make me Manager of some of their Branches as I feel that I could handle one.

Suppose it may come if I can only wait, seems a long time though.

You asked about the crops. In my opinion, well, I never saw anything that looked nearly as fine but as it has rained almost every day for the last two months and is at it again today. The grain has kept growing all the time instead of heading out, and at present there is only parts here and there that are properly headed which means, of course, that unless we get some dry hot weather at once there will not be time before the frost arrives in the fall for it to mature.

The farmers were all smiling for a long time but are now beginning to look less hopeful.

We have not had a bit of warm weather that you could speak about.

Have done considerable automobiling all summer and we have only had one night that you could feel comfortable without an overcoat.

I do not think or rather do not know what to think about an early general election.
Do not think it is or should be necessary to appeal to the country on the question of Reciprocity?

It seems to me that the representatives now in Parliament are sent there just for this purpose. This class of men are far more able to deal with a question like this than about seventy five percent who vote.

Would like to see the thing passed myself and think it will.

There is a lot of opposition here, of course, drawn principally from party feelings, this being a conservative stronghold.

Lake, the man who we heard so much about in the East, is the Member (of Parliament) and will I think be elected quite easily.

There is some talk in the papers of Sir Walter Scott, the Provincial Premier, running against Lake, also Judge Brown, Dr. Moffatt's friend who came from Huntington originally, resigning from the bench to contest this riding but I do not think either would have much show.

Lake did not have a large majority by any means at the last election but Scott does not seem to be very popular and the other man is not well enough known, was practising law in a small Western Town called Mossimin until only a few years ago when he got the appointment of Judge for that district.

Now I wish you would not apologize for advising me as I know that you have had far more experience than I have and what is more, you never advised me very wrong yet, and wish you would remember that I will always be glad to have your advice any time.

You asked me if I thought the chances for making money were any better out here than in the East.

I think they are, but the the 'get rich quick period' has past in any part of the West that I have seen, except for the man with money - and the man with money can make it other places just as well.

Now I would rather buy real estate in Montreal than Winnipeg.

May not be able turn it over quite as quickly but you are always sure of being able to get your money any time you want it.

Our Manager here is an Englishman, and although I am not just exactly struck on him, I can't say that I dislike him and he uses me very well.

Edith has had some fine rides with the Skinners according to the cards she has sent me. Marion will certainly have a fine salary next season, Mother tells me.

I am going to write to Mother today. Hope Flora passed her Exams.

Well, think I will have to stop this time.

Hope this will find you feeling as well as you look in the snap you enclosed.

I showed it to a man in town here and he said I should be ashamed to be so homely when I had such a good looking father.

Glad you have a good Chief and hope as you do that you will have him for a long time as you have to work for these people.

Your son,


In 1910 Sir Wilfrid Laurier went out West by train to promote Reciprocity, Free Trade with the United States to citizens of Canada's newest provinces. That same summer, a group of actors working for Thomas Edison's Film Company, under the direction of American J. Searle Dawley, journeyed out West making silent shorts in promotion of the Canadian Government's Immigration Drive. 13 films were made, ten of which were melodramas.

One of the actors talked about the experience for Western Canada Magazine.

"We had been engaged by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, to go through the Dominion, taking motion pictures to be shown all over the US and Europe to advertise the country. We had a special train in charge of a railway official who made sure we didn't miss any good bets on the good points, and we surely took them all in.

We rode with those champions of the plains, the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. At Regina we assisted in the roundup of 5000 cattle at Brooks, where one girl in the company donned a 'divided skirt' and rode with the rest of the men. We had a fight with the Indians in Calgary and I carried a bruise given to me by one brave for a month. "Ugh, me Kill" he said which made my scalp rise and I got hold of a mounted police to make sure he understood it was only a 'pretend' kill."

Letter 12: Morris Chairs and Motoring

Richmond July 26, 1911

Dear Norman,

Your letter to Edith also one to Marion came in last night's mail. I was glad to see snap shot of you. We all thought you looked very comfortable in a Morris chair.

You seem to have a comfortable looking room and that Mr. McKechnie is quite a nice looking young man.

We were all over at the Skinners as it was raining and he got our mail, so they all had a look at it.

It is just two months today since you left Montreal. Has the time seemed long?

We have been having rather cool weather lately - just as you speak of there. Monday it was so cool in the dining room that we had our meals in the kitchen.

The garden looks well. We have had peas, beans, and beets. The corn looks fine. We have not tasted our potatoes. The Hill's are using theirs. We have plenty of old ones. I like them better.

The weeds in the gravel are almost as bad as when you came home last summer. I got Stanley one day, for a little while, but he finds that harder than the lawn and has not come back in a week. And I don't want the girls to try it as they have sewing to do.

I've taken your plan and we are taking turns about the house work.

Marion and I were on duty in the kitchen last week. This week Edith and Flora have charge of the kitchen and they get up and make the fires. I don't dare go down to breakfast until I am called.

I was telling them I would not go away for this was change enough for me.

I am glad you got Herb's letter. Dr. Skinner will be going west in about six weeks. He will try and see him. Sophia Nicholson (brother Gilbert's daughter) is out in Flodden. I hear she is going to Edmonton in a few weeks.

Last Friday Dr. and Miss Skinner took Edith and Marion to Newport VT. Left here at 8 30 and were there for dinner in Sherbrooke for tea, back home at 10. 30 pm. Going a distance of one hundred forty five miles all in one day! Don't you think that was pretty good motoring? They were back very tired, especially Edith.

I am enclosing a letter Mr. Rothney (Principal, St. Francis College?) wrote. If she has passed with such high marks in all other subjects as Mr. Carmichael (teacher?) seems to think she will put in her application to enter Macdonald and will take the French as Mr. Rothney suggests.

She can go with Marion when she starts. They may have to go a day or two earlier. When the final marks are printed, will send them to you.

I am quite busy trying to get Flora's things into shape. She is not looking very well, but seems to have a good appetite. I got her bottle medicine. At least Edith is taking it; it's what Moffat ordered for Edith last fall.

Hope it will do them both good. Marion is looking well. I hope you are feeling well. Write soon.

Yours with much love,

The Nicholson's were in tight with all the education professionals in Richmond. In 1909, when Flora was failing Composition and Latin, Norman told his wife Margaret to speak to the teacher, to make sure he put more emphasis on the subjects she was failing. Hmm. Failing French wasn't such a huge cloud over Flora's head; in 1921 officials at Macdonald Teachers College were still complaining about the poor French skills of the incoming students, especially those from rural areas.

Edith seems to like her medicine. Many cold medicines at the turn of the last century contained alcohol and/or opiates. In the U.S. they cracked down on these ingredients in 1903, with the Pure Foods Act. In Canada, things were more lax; that's why the patent medicine people moved up to Canada in droves and settled in Brockville, Ontario, across the lake from New York State and shilled their snake oil stateside by mail order.

Letter 11: Wedding Bells, but for someone else

Norman in Mason Regalia.

July 17, 1911

Dear Father,

Have just come home from Isabel's wedding and since it seems so nice and easy I think I will follow her example - that is providing I get the chance.

The whole Smith family were there and as soon as they found out who I was and who my relations were they were great friends.

They all said they knew you and Peter said he had stayed at the Gore once with Grandfather.

Isabel and Allan and the McCoys are all going to live together and I think they have one of the nicest flats that I was ever in.

Do you remember me telling me of a Mr. Blair from Three Rivers I had met.

Lately he has taken me to the theatre several times and when I was at the wedding he came up to see me and saw me off on the train this morning.

When I told mother a while ago that I was going to invite two girls out for a while she suggested that I had better ask some men. So we have been bothering her and telling her she is anxious to get rid of us.

I supposed mother has given you most of the news so there will be none left for me.

Lovingly, Marion

Tighsolas, Richmond

Marion Nicholson had a wicked sense of humour and she often joked about marriage and about being 'an old maid.' Her sisters, never. But, then, this Hugh guy looks promising.

The McCoys lived on Hutchison. Near St. Viateur. Marion had boarded when first moving to Montreal in 1908. Theirs likely would have been a newish building, because that area, Mile End was booming.

In 1957, St-Viateur Bagel was founded by Myer Lewkowicz and has since become a Montreal institution. Nothing tastes like a Montreal bagel; well, maybe a New York bagel.

In the 1910 era, Montreal smoked meat was born after Ben Kravitz immigrated to the city and started up a delicatessen on St. Laurent, which would have been called St.Lawrence back then.

The 1911 Census does not have Isabel's new hubby living there yet, and the Census person gets Isabel and her Mom mixed up! (The census taker was clearly Francophone, so this might be the the problem.) Isabel gives her 'ethnicity' as Irish, like her Dad and the Mom says she's Scottish. Oh and the McCoys don't have a live-in maid, but many families living on the street do. On this one Census page, there are 'servants' from the West Indies, France, England, Sweden and Quebec, all girls aged 16 -21. Some other servants enumerated on the same street are as young as 12 and 14, while others are in their 30's and 40's.

An article in an era Macleans asks whether American Negroes would make good chefs for Canadians. The answer: No, they are not used to economizing.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Letter 10: Town Gossip

Flora Nicholson.



July 12, 1911

Dear Norman,

Your letter of July 10th received tonight and as you are not getting your mail regular I thought I'd better write at once.

I had a long letter from Herb last night. He said he was writing you. He had a very pleasant visit with Mr. Neilson he had been acting manager for 15 days while the manager was having holidays so said that was the reason he was so long in writing.

In regard to Flora's exams, you will see that she failed in French. Her name did not come out in the paper and she is feeling pretty badly about it. However, she can enter Macdonald. Had a talk with Mr. Carmichael. So you better make light of it for she did study hard. She just gets nervous at examination time. When I hear about the marks, which will be a few days, will write you.

We had very hot weather just as hot as in Montreal.It is very trying.

I see by your letter that you did not escape. Was in hopes that you'd have it cooler being so far north.

We have been reading the accounts of the dreadful fires at Porcupine and Cochran. There was a sketch of a map in the Witness. Thankful that you were farther East.
Billie Hill cut the hedge when I went to pay him he said Mr. Montgomery settled for the whole thing.

Last Wednesday the Skinners took Flora to Sherbrooke, left at one o'clock returned at 7 pm. Friday they took Edith to Nicollette Lake. They are very kind to this family.
Monday July 17th

Grandma was not feeling well for a few days. She is up at Bella's and Clayton's.

Clayton had the auto painted. Just got it Saturday night. So yesterday they went out to Kingsbury.

Marion went to Miss McCoy's wedding. She returned this morning she had a very nice time. I think now she will settle down.

Mr. Bieber is the talk of the town. Mrs.Bieber has gone down to the seaside with her sisters from Quebec. (Likely Maine.) Dr. and Mrs. Moffatt came up one evening and took us for a ride in his auto. He runs very nicely, not too fast.
Dr. was asking for you.

Sir Wilfrid was given quite a reception at Montreal. (Upon return from Coronation.)

I see where the Government has or is talking of voting seven thousand for a reception to be given this Duke of Connaught the 12th of October. (Governor General)

. Too bad they cannot put the mail in at Cochran. They always save money at the expense of the working class.

I hope you will take good care of yourself. We have all kept well.

Hoping to hear from you soon,
Your loving wife

As Flora failed her final French exam her name was not printed in the Richmond Times Guardian with the names of all the other graduates. There were few secrets in this town of 2,500, as Margaret's letter makes clear.

It is no surprise that Flora's failure did not keep her from entering Macdonald. They were in dire need of teachers in 1911. Flora would go to Macdonald on a scholarship for rural women, who it was hoped would graduate and then go work in rural schools. But the need for teachers in the big city were even greater.

The relentless heat in 1911 caused forest fires in Northern Ontario, not far from where Norman was working. The Gazette for this day blared a headline: North Ontario Swept by Fire. South Porcupine, Cochrane Wiped Out! Fires were always a concern for these workers building the railroad. But railroad work, in general, was very dangerous.

The Reception for Laurier and the Coronation Contingent was in Quebec City. The large crowd on the dock let out three cheers as a band played "O Canada." Laurier returned from this trip a SIR.

Backgrounder # 1: 1900, One Year of Expenses

Ladies Jacket from Eaton's Catalogue 1899. Margaret or Edith bought one just like this (for this price) in 1900.

1900 is just another year in the life of the Nicholson family, but the Century Mark has significance, so I transcribed the entire year's accounts. In 1900, Edith was 17, Herb 16, Marion 14 and Flo 8.

The expenses for ‘hairdressing’ were for Norman and Herbert. Women didn’t get their hair done in those days. They tied it up. But what they didn’t spend in hairdressing, they spent on hats, especially towards the end of this decade.

The older children were in Academy, High School, and as you can see, it was expensive to go to school. Not much milk was purchased, because they kept a cow. Milk was a huge expense.

With all the flours and sugar the Nicholsons purchased you’d think they’d all be overweight. But a lot of family baking was for guests, for charity affairs like St. Andrew’s and for various fairs.

And, as you can see, shoes, boots and rubbers and getting footwear repaired was also a huge expense. No wonder. They walked everywhere, so they wore holes in their shoes and wore off the calories.

And if a woman didn’t walk enough, there was always a corset. Margaret and Edith wore corsets and Marion, no doubt, a kind of pre-corset called a waist. This happened to be the year that Norman became a Mason, at the huge expense of 21.00.

Luckily, this was a good year for health, no doctor bills, which could be considerable. It is clear, few women’s clothes were purchased, just a ladies jacket, likely very much like this one above (From Eaton’s catalogue 1899.)

Maggie’s allowance was for material for clothes, no doubt. In fact, I believe I have some invoices. So, most middle class women did without too many outfits, but the pages of the Eaton's catalogue, filled with women's items, predicted the future: that middle class women would propel the consumer age, now that they were working.

And the kids got lots of spending money. I wondered what they spent it on, sodas, no doubt and candies and ribbons for their dresses and feathers for their hats. Herb even gets 25 cents for passing the year at school.


1/3 of a beef, 106 pounds 6.35
Skating rink 10
6 lbs pork 25
2 beef tongues 20
Marion for Rink 10
Postage 12
79 lbs pork from Bromfield 4.35
Sunday School 04
Church plate 05
Scribbler for Flora 05
1 lbs sulphur 05
Hairdressing 15
Membership Board of Trade 1.00
Treat of cigars 25
Fare to Sherbrooke and return 1.35
Copy book Flora 08
Scribbler Edith 05
Marion skaing rink 10
½ lb Black tea 18
Sunday school 04
1 Ladies Jacket 8.50
1 pair gents overshoes 2.00
¼ lb candies 05
1 lb frosting sugar 08
1 lbs baking soda 04
¼ lbs peppermint 05
Sunday School 04
Church concert 60
Postage 20
1 paper of pins 05
I pocket handkerchief 08
Herbert 05
Postage 25
1 jar molasses 14
Mending Marion’s boots 25
Sunday School 04
Bridge toll 02
¼ pound candies 05
Times for one year 1.00
Maggie 25
½ pound Black tea 18
Marion for rink 10
Sunday School 03
¼ lbs cream of tartar 09
1 lbs currants 10
1 bottle Powell’s medicine 25
Maggie 50
W. Daigle for hauling bark 15
1 writing pad 15
1 pair rubbers Edith 45
1 pair rubbers Marion 45
1 loaf break 05
1 lb crackers 08
1 pint oysters 20
Cough candies 02
Scribbler for Marion 05
Postage 02
Maggie 50
1 loaf bread 05
1 bag fine salt 10
Sunday school 02
Church Collection 10
100 lbs salt 05
1 whisk 15
1 loaf bread 06
¾ pounds walnuts 10
Maggie for Church 2.10
1 lamp chimney 07
1 bottle M. Liniment 25
Maggie 06
½ black tea
1 pair laces 04
4 gallons coal oil 75
10 lbs corn meal 15
10 lbs Graham flour 25
5 gallons Coal Oil 95
1 hockey stick 30
Herbert for Dictionary 15
Maggie 10
½ loaf bread 06
1 lbs ginger snaps 10
¼ pound Ceylon Pepper 10
Postage 06
Flora and Marion 05
1 package Corn Starch 09
¼ lbs cream of tarter
Hair dressing 15
Marion for rink 10
1 jar molasses 12
1 doz eggs 20
Maggie 10
Chinaman for laundry 14
Sunday School 04
Patriotic Fund for Hockey 60
1 pair rubbers Herbert 60
Maggie 40
Marion and Flora 10
Sutherland for Miss Wilson 1.00
Postage 20
Mending tins 05
Missionary meeting 05
Skating rink 05
Maggie 25
¼ pounds cream of tarter 10
Sunday School 03
Maggie for concert 10
1 cake shaving soap 07
1 lbs soda 04
½ lbs Black tea
¼ lbs cream of tarter 09
1 bottle vanilla 10
5 pounds sugar 25
Maggie 25
5 lbs butter Mckee 1.00
Marion 05
Herbert for Sharpening skates 05
Maggie 1.00
5 lbs G Flour 10
6 ½ lbs butter 1.45
Mending Herbert’s boots 25
1 loaf bread 10
Cough candies 05
1 quart milk 05
Skating rink 20
Maggie 22
9 ½ lbs butter 2.00
Flora 05
1 bags fine salt 10
Maggie 50
1 bag flour 2.25
49 pounds oats 49
5 lbs sugar 25
Sunday School 04
½ lbs Black tea
Postage 10
Postal notes 05
Subscription to Herald `1.50
Subscription to Westminster
Pady Jim 25
12 ¾ cords wood 35.25
I scrubbing brush 10
5 lbs sugar 25
Maggie 10
1 pair of rubbers Flora 35
Sunday School 04
½ gal Coal oil 10
1 bottle ammonia 05
1 lamp burner 10
1 doz herrings 25
20 lbs Graham Flour 50
1 bag rolled oats 25
5 Gal Coal Oil 95
20 pounds corn meal 30
Flora 05
Small writing pad 05
1 box crackers 25
½ pound candies 10
Scrubbing floor 25
Herbert for sugar 10
Maggie 20
Hair dressing 15
1 jar molasses 15
½ lbs Black tea 18
2 lbs tapioca 10
Postage 27
Sunday School 07
Herbert for Birthday 25
Maggie 10
1 Gallon syrup 65
3 lbs sugar maple 24
3 pairs shoe laces 08
2 pair stockings 60
5 lbs sugar 25
Sugar scale 40
Maggie 2.60
1 pair rubbers 60
Maggie 35
To Sunday School 03
2 dozen eggs 30
1 package pop corn 05
F Lyster for milk 95
Fir dressing Herbert 15
5 lbs sugar 25
Maggie 1.00
Hauling manure 20
Postage 10
Sunday School 03
Bill of goods bought by Dan 32
1 box crackers 25
1 spool thread 10
1 can corned __beef? 25
3 ¾ lbs steak 47
Sunday school 04
Candies 04
5 lbs sugar 25
½ lbs Black tea 18
¼ pounds ginger 09
1 bag potatoes 45
¼ ream bill paper 05
Daigle for manuring 40
Edith 50
Herbert suit of clothes 4.00
Spading garden 1.00
Mending M and F. Shoes 70
Garden seeds 40
2 pairs shoes Edith and Marion 3.00
1 necktie for funeral 25
Maggie 25
Seeds got by Dr. Cleveland 50
1 package envelopes 07
Post office box 1.00
Sunday School 03
2 scribbers 10
1 bag oatmeal 1.90
1 lb flour 4.50
Mending boots 1.25
Pass Book 10
Postage 09
10 lbs graham flour 30
¼ lbs cream of tarter 25
2 lbs steak 25
3 ½ pounds S. Ham 25
Military dinner 75
3 gallons Maple Syrup 1.95
Flora 05
1 ¾ lbs Grass seed
Sunday school 05
Bridge toll 05
Church Collection 05
Maggie 20
Sawing 6 cords wood 3.90
2 scribblers 10
Hairdressing 15
Postage 10
1 can green paint 25
1 paint brush 10
5 lbs sugar 25
1 pint varnish 25
4 lbs steak 40
1 bunch lettuce 05
2 packages rubarb 10
2 lbs butter 36
½ pound black tea
Mending Edith’s boots 45
Sunday school 04
1 sitting of eggs 25
Box of Royal yeast 05
1 package carrots 05
1 doz screw nails 05
Maggie 5.00
Herbert for Fire Crackers 05
Military demonstration 1.00
Maggie 65
1 package of peas 10
1 package of carrots 05
Fare to Sherbrooke and return 80
Supper at Hoel 40
Initiation fees to Knight_(Masons) 21.00
Waiters at hotel 25
1 can Con. Lye 10
13 lbs veal 18
1 straw hats 12
Postage 20
Carting trees 75
5 lbs sugar 25
Maggie 2.00
Postage and registration 22
Sunday school 04
2 lbs raisins 20
4.1/2 lbs molasses 14
½ pounds cream of tarter 18
1 lbs baking soda 05
1 broom 22
Missionary collection for church 25
Bridge toll 05
1 wash board 25
1 box starch 15
2 lbs steak 25
1 bag fine salt 25
Maggie 1.25
Mending Maggie boots 60
Edith for scribbler 05
1 package powdered borax 10
2 cake cutters 10
To Herbert 05
Sunday school 03
Church collection 05
5 pounds sugar 25
½ pound black tea 18
1 loaf of bread 06
Bridge toll 06
1 pair braces 30
Mending Herbert’s boots 10
2 lemons 05
1 ½ lbs bacon 18
½ dozen tomato plans 13
1 ½ pounds steak 18
1 pin holder 05
Sunday school 04
Insoles for boots 20
2 cans paint 30
½ pounds emery powder
5 lbs oatmeal 15
1 bottle sweet oil 10
5 lbs sugar 25
2 lbs steak 25
Cutting H’s hair 15
Bridge Toll 02
Hair dressing 15
Sunday School 03
Sunday School 03
Postage 10
½ pounds Black tea 18
1 ½ pounds bacon 17
Church collection 05
Horse hire (Boast)1.50
Postage 25
5 lbs sugar 28
1 loaf bread 06
Maggie 50
Mending jewellery 05
1 straw hat 25
Present for Dan 1.00
1 ½ lbs bacon 18
2 cakes Sapolio 15
1 cake soap 10
1 bottle ammonia 10
2 lbs steak 25
1 bunch rhubarb 05
Horse hire 1.50
Sunday school 03
Church Collection 05
Fair to Windsor and return 30
Dinner at hotel 35
1 loaf bread 07
1 bottle turpentine 09
½ black tea 18
¼ pounds cream of tarter 09
1 ½ lb steak 18
Knitting yarn 03
Sunday school 03
1 box Royal yeast 05
Postage 08
Postage 51
12 lbs strawberries 1.25
Maggie 25
5 pounds bacon 60
2 lbs steak 25
Herbert for pocket money 23
Sunday school 03
Church collection 05
Hair dressing 15
Edith 10
3 lbs steak 30
2 quarts black currants 16
½ lbs black tea 18
Herbert for passing school 25
Maggie 3.00
20 pounds graham flour 50
20 lbs corn meal 30
Subscription to filling road 50
1 set cuff buttons 20
2 quarts black currants 16
Maggie 50
Mending Herbert’s boots 10
½ dozen pins 05
Sunday schools 02
Maggie 10
1 bottle vanilla 25
Note paper 05
I package envelopes 10
½ lbs Black tea 18
Marion 05
3 ½ lbs lamb 44
1 yd elastic 15
1 bottle perfume 25
Sunday School 04
Church collection 05
5 bars soap 25
¼ pounds cream of tarter 09
1 jar vinegar 14
1 ½ lbs bacon 18
1 pail berries 36
1 ½ pounds steak 18
2 lemmons 0 6
1 lbs currants 10
1 ½ pounds bacon 18
Edith 20
Sunday Schol 03
Church collection 05
1 lbs starch 06
½ black tea 18
Maggie 25
2 ½ pounds steak 30
2 pairs laces 04
Margaret 25
1 can salmon 15
Mrs. Parker’s Centennial 2.00
1 bushel basket 35
1 ½ pounds bacon 15
1 bushel basket 35
Edith 35
½ bushel potatoes 13
3 ½ pounds steak 35
1 bottle vinegar 14
1 lbs soda 05
8 lbs raspberries 30
4 lbs blueberries 25
Church collection 10
Hair dressing 15
4 dozen clothes pins 10
Bridge toll 10
1 lbs nails 05
1 yeast cake 02
2 lbs beef 1 6
1 ½ pounds bacon 18
1 bottle vinegar 10
1 ½ pounds steak 18
Cartage of valises 10
Mending Herbert’s boots 10
I pair pants for Herbert 90
Sunday school 04
5 lbs soap 25
Herbert 15
2 ½ lbs steak 30
½ lbs tea 13
3 lbs lamp chops 30
5 lead pencils 05
1 school scribbler 05
1 ½ pounds steak 15
School book 1.48
Maggie 15
1 can corn beef 25
3 ½ pounds steak 35
½ pounds b tea 18
¼ pound cream of tarter 10
1 package jelly 09
1 pail plums 40
Sunday school 94
Maggie 10
Latin book for edith 50
Postage 10
I scribbler 05
Post cards 10
1 book school edith 85
1 box matches 12
1 peck apples 10
6 ½ lbs steak 65
1 lbs soda 04
50 pounds sugar 2.75
1 bush flour 5.00
5 gallons coal oil 95
1 0 lbs graham flour 35
1 bag rolled oats 25
Scribbler for marion 05
4 fair tickets for children 40
1 membership ticket 1.00 (agricultural fair)
4 cakes bluing 05
1 peck apples 20
½ bushel apples 20
Ticket to fair 25
1 school book Edith 75
1 boot brush 18
1 doz lemons 02
8 preserving jar rubbers 08
Hair dressing 15
1 box boot blacking
Funeral at Gould 3.60
Sunday school 02
Church plate 10
Postage 20
School book Edith 30
2 lbs steak 20
3 ½ pounds steak 35
3 pounds mutton chops 16
1 __jar 10
1 copy book Flora 08
1 scribbler Herbert 05
Bible society 25
Marking at target 15
Missionary society 25
½ lbs Black tea
Postage 02
Subscription to Montreal Witness 2.50
5 ½ lbs steak 55
Football match 1.00
1 felt hat gents 1.00
3 __ packages 30
Maggie for C. B fund 1.00
Sunday school 04
Children for anniversary 20
1 peck apples 10
Church collection 10
Church concert 85
2 baskets grapes 18
Postage 15
2 flower pots 32
6 ½ pounds beef 63
1 ½ lbs lard 15
Sunday school 02
Maggie 05
Papers 02
4 ¾ pounds steak 48
½ doz oranges 15
1 basket grapes 25
Mending 2 pairs boots 1.15
Psotage 04
Edith 06
4 Laurier Buttons (Election year!)
Mending M boots 40
1 ½ lbs bacon 24
2 pints vinegar 15
5 lead pencils 05
4 ½ lbs beef 45
1 lbs butter 20
Post staps 10
Fare to Danville 55
Dinner at Danvile 40
Fare to Sherbrooke and Return 50
Dinner at Hotel 40
Masonic supper 1.00
1 lbs bacon 15
Hair dressing 15
Sunday school 02
Maggie 25
Ticket to S of E supper 50
10 lbs steak 98
2 lbs butter 40
Postage 08
Sunday School 03
1 Latin Book Herbert 40
Postage 07
Bridge toll 02
Postage 05
½ bushel apples 20
School Paper 05
Mending Herbert’s boots 10
5 ½ lbs steak 53
4 lbs butter 72
1 ½ doz eggs 23
1 scribbler 05
3 note books 03
Mending H. Boots 05
Hair dressing Herbert 15
16 lbs oats for hens 16
Lamp chimney 07
Bridge toll 02
Herbert for scribbler 05
Maggie 10
12 lbs steak 1.25
1 package B. Seed 10
1 sacred history Marion 30
15 lbs oats 15
Postage 10
Edith for Miss Lankin 05
6 lbs steak 60
15 lbs oats 15
Herbert 05
Maggie 10
Bridge toll 10
20 lbs oats 30
Foolscap paper 05
2 lbs bacon 23
4 lbs pork and lamb chops 40
Consert in College 25
20 pounds oats 20
½ yard ribbon 04
Postage 10
Postage 10
Pass book 05
Hair dressing 15
5 ½ cheese 65
Aylmers Presentation 50
Marion 10
Flora 05
1 lbs currants 12
7 ¼ lbs steak 72
1 lb suet 10
Sunday school 04
Marion 15
Maggie 5.00
I pair ladies gloves 1.25
Herbert for change 25
Maggie 1.00
1 package tobacoo 10
Peppermints 05
Postage 10
Postage 04
2 tickets to Christmas Tree 20 (event)
Tickest to D and return 55
Flora 05
9 ¾ pounds beef 75
10 lbs salt 10
1 doz eggs 25
1 bottle ammonia 10
Laundry 16
½ pounds candies 10
3 ¼ lbs m. Sugar 28
½ lbs nuts 10
Marion 05
Postage 08
¼ beef 87 pounds 4.78
2 beef tongues 22
Laundry 10
Sunday school 03
Church collection 05
1 yeast cake 02
1 writing pad 06
½ dozen pencils 05
½ doz pins 05
10 lbs oats 10
Scribbler for marion 05
Sunday school 05
Maggie 10
Miss Jessie Kellock 15
Postage 08
Mckee Bill (flour, grain, feed, sugar, salt, oils and provisions) 16.33 (same as on this list but also stove polish, pane of glass, can of beef, cod.)
1 bag flour 2.50
Dentist’s bill 9.75
Children schools fees 11.00
McMorine bill 15.80 (Dry goods, Ready-made clothing, boots, shoes and rubbers)
McRae Bill (groceries, provisions and hardware)6.58
John Bushnel for cie 6.00
Masonic chapter dues 2.00
Municipal tax 18.50
Minister Stipend 5.00
Municipal tax 35.20

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Letter 9: Stealing a Look

Edith and Herbert. The beautiful house in the background is likely the Skinner's home. They appear to be doing extensive renovations n 1911, while living in the house. (Both the letters and 1911 Census confirm.) They also spend a lot of time taking trips in their new auto.

Qu'appelle Sask.

July 10, 1911

Dear Father,

You may have some trouble getting any sense of this letter as this is a new typewriter for me and I have to go so slow that before I finish a sentence I have forgotten how I started it.

Sorry I have not been able to write you before

I have tried every day for the last three weeks but for 15 days I was managing the branch and was short a man all the time.

I had to work Saturday afternoon and Sunday as well as work on Coronation Day and Dominion Day.

The manager only got back from his holidays two or three days before the end of the month. It was the end of our half year and with so many balances and reports to send away, I only finished the last of them Thursday.

I do not like this place and hope they will not keep me here much longer.

I have just been stealing a look through the Manager's correspondence and in reply to a letter from head office asking if he had found things in order upon his return after spending his holidays, he replied that he had found everything in perfect order.

I had a visit from William Neilson about two weeks ago. He is taking a fine trip and said he is enjoying himself fine and was sorry you were not with him.

He had his whiskers cut off and when he spoke to me at first I did not know him.

Now I have not any more news so will have to close. I was at church with the Masons a week ago today.

Will remember what you said about staying where I am.I am writing Mother today.

Do not want you to ever think that you should not advise me what to do. Any time that you want me to do anything or suggest anything just tell me without making any bones about it.

Your son,

This was the Wheat Boom Era, with 'a town a day' being built out in the Canadian West, if you believe an article from a 1910 Technical World Magazine. If fact the Canadian Immigration people published a very flashy Western Canada Magazine to promote life in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta and to a lesser extent, British Columbia. Rural Britishers, Americans (but not Black Americans) and Northern Europeans were invited to apply, but not those swarthy southern European types.

Letter 8: Buggy Dreams and Heatwaves

Bills bills bills. The Nicholsons left behind household accounts from 1883 to 1921 and well as a number of invoices from the turn of the last century and the First World War. Their averge yearly expenditures: $350. to $500.

July 9 1911

Dear Norman,

Your letter dated July 2nd with cheque for $20.00 received. I will attend to the bills. Thanks for the same.

I just got a bag of flour (2.90) and I am owing my grocery bill at Mc Rae's. The wood is holding out fine.The garden looks very good, everything doing well.I have been having Stanley Hill cutting the lawn. He does it very well. I pay him 50 cts a week.

I put the Paris Green on the potatoes twice. Mrs. Montgomery came over to tell me that the bugs were eating up my potatoes.

I was waiting to get someone to do it for me, as that was one thing I never attempted.

But when she interfered thought we would try if. So one dark night, Flora got the lantern and we went out when the bugs were asleep and gave them their dose. We dressed ourselves in the shed. You ought to have seen us. When we got through left our clothes there. Went to bed and dreamed all night that the bugs were crawling over us.

We have had dreadful hot weather. Just fancy, one night we slept out on the veranda. Took our mattresses down. The Skinners were sleeping in theirs so that we were not afraid and we had Flossie (Dalmation)with us but yesterday afternoon it rained so last night was cool.

We all had a good sleep and today is fine. We feel like working. I hope you did not have this extreme heat. We had quite a cold wave about the 24th but no frost.

Mrs. Beiber is improving but not able to be dressed yet. Majory Sutherland keeps about the same.

I have not heard about Flora's exams yet.

We have seen not May Watters since she came home.

I mailed you papers Gilbert (Norman's brother in Alberta) sent you. I wonder why he sent them? Is it that you might see Borden's speech? (Head of Federal Conservatives.)

I have not heard from Herb since the one I mailed you.I was hoping he had mailed you. Yours with much love

I think you better save the little personal. They are apt to get into other people's hands. M

...The postscript to this letter says it all: Be careful what you write, you never know who will read the letter. This is something to remember as you read the Nicholson letters. They were edited as they poured out of the pen. At the same time, these letters are much like phone calls (they were substitutes for phone calls as Long Distance was far too costly to use, despite A T and T's efforts in their advertising to get era mothers to use the phone to keep in contact with wayward children.

$2.90 for a barrel of flour. Nicholson 'store accounts' reveal that figure to be a bargain. The usual cost of wheat flour was around $4.50 to 5.00 a barrel and stayed stable throughout the Wheat Boom Era. However, Margaret writes bag, so perhaps it was half a barrel.

There was a heatwave in Montreal in the summer of 1911. There was a heatwave in the UK as well, which precipated an exodus out of London and a number of strikes. According to the Gazette, for those Montrealers who want to escape the heat, the Princess Theatre was hosting a travel show, "ideal location as the theatre is always cool" with 'scenes' of the South Pole with penguins and ice floes and polar bears(sic).

The Nicholson's home town was a seat of Protestant education in Quebec; the first protestant school in Quebec was established in Richmond in__.

Letter 7: So Bloomingly Poor

June 28, 1911
Richmond Quebec

Dear Father,

Your will see by the heading where I am. I only got here Monday evening for I went to Hudson with the Fields' and had a fine time. They have a cottage by the lakeside and they also have a motor boat where I spent most of my time.

Then one of the men there had a yacht and he took us for a sail from Hudson to Ste. Anne's and back and after all I find Richmond quite a nice place although it looks queer without a station.

Did I tell you that we really have got an increase of salary for next year so that I will be getting $650 next year and they have given me the next class on my way to the top so that my work I hope will be easier.

The next time you see me you will find me sporting a pair of glasses. I had Dr. Byers examine my eyes and he said that I should wear them all the time but I find that very hard to do and a great deal of the time they stay in their case.

Mother, Edith and Flora have gone to our opera house to hear the famous Lorne Elwyn and I am keeping house with Floss for protection from the tramps. Last night Dr. Skinner took us for a ride from Corris nearly to Trenholmville. It was great and the first time I have been cool for a week.

Since I have not been here very long I have not any Richmond news so will close for this time.



Hudson is a picturesque town on the Lake of Two Mountains, 20 miles off the western tip of the island of Montreal. In 1910 the place would have been a rather remote vacation site. Ste Anne de Bellevue is a town right at the Western tip of the island. In 1911 the site of Macdonald Agricultural College and School of Domestic Science as well as Macdonald Teachers School. The campus now houses John Abbott CEGEP (Junior and Technical College) as well as McGill Faculty of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.

On May 1, 1911, while still at work at her school in Montreal, Marion sent this important letter to her Mother.

Tower Street,
May 1, 1911
Dear Mother,

This is just to let you know that I am still alive and as homely as ever. Got your letter with news of the dance in it and had it not been that I was so bloomingly poor, I might have called on you and perhaps stayed over night. Edith will soon be going home - in about two weeks I think.

There is not much doing now but the Horse Show which as I have not a beau I am not going. Mrs. Ellis (boarding house matron)had two tickets sent to her for tonight so she is taking Edith with her.

I was up at the Cleveland's Wednesday evening to play bridge and last Friday Mrs. Wylie phoned and asked me to tea to meet a nice man. Of course, I went on the jump. The man turned out to be a Mr. Blair from Three Rivers, a brother of Margaret McLeod's husband.

I have had my white coat cleaned and am getting a new skirt to go with it and last Saturday I got busy and washed and ironed my linen one. It is time for me to go out and eat so will say adieu for the present.

Lovingly, M A Nicholson ESQ (Men only wrote esquire after their name so this is a joke)

The Horse Show was a yearly event. A special multi-page feature in the 1910 Montreal Star about the year's Horse Show lead with this rather ironic statement:"The automobile shall never replace the horse in man's affections." Whoops!

Young women in 1910 in the city, especially, were still introduced to eligible men through mutual friends and not through chance meetings.

Letter 6: Car Accident!

Sunday June 25
Dear Norman,

Your letter with enclosed photo of my old chum received was very glad to see you looking so well and comfortable. You seem very stylish with curtains on your windows. I suppose that is for the flies.

Your letters are not long on the way so makes it better for us all. I am glad you are having an easy time.

Marion is not here yet. She wrote that she would be with us Monday at 7 PM.

Miss McCoy's wedding is the 12 of July so I hope she won't think of going to it.

Mr. Bieber had quite a bad accident with the auto on the 22nd. Mrs. Beiber's brother, Mr. Henry, was here about 11 o'clock in the morning. They started for Windsor Mr. Bieben running the car, John Harkensen sitting in front with him. In the back Mrs. Bieber,Mr Henry and the three children. Coming home he was running fast as usual, he struck the sand. There was something wrong with the steering gear they say, however, the car turned over, some were thrown out, but Mrs. Bieber and the 6 year old Marjorie were pinned under. Marjorie crawled out when they lifted the car but Mrs. Bieber was unconscious for some time. .

They brought her back in an express wagon and had the doctor waiting at the house. She has no bones broken, only badly bruised about the chest side and back. She is in bed - I think for a good while. I was in to see her last night . She does not complain. Is so thankful that she or some of the others were not killed. All the others escaped without any injury.

Mr. Henry is still here. The car was sent to Danville by express the next morning, badly wrecked. Mrs. Bieber told me Mr. would not listen to anyone about his fast running, but she thinks he has had a lesson. He makes light of the accident, says Mrs. Bieber will be out in a couple of days. I have my doubts.

Later 26th, Monday.

Edith went to Lake Avril (Vermont) Saturday afternoon with the Skinners. Took Miss Sparrow, too. They returned this morning at 10 o'clock.

Had the time of their lives. Stayed one night at Lake Avril, which is four miles from Norton Mills.

The Montgomerys took Flora and me for a little run around the town yesterday evening.

Dr. Villard's daughter came this morning to make Edith a visit. Will stay until Saturday. Dr. Skinner met her at the train with the auto. They certainly have been very kind to us.

Edith is with them all the time. I have not heard from Herb since the one I enclosed to you.I got notice of Flora's school fees.

I am keeping the other things straight, only have not paid McRae's grovery bill since you left. It is not much.

I mailed the Times and the Sherbrooke Record. Mrs. Moffatt was up. I have not seen the Dr. to speak to. People think he has lost all he invested with White.

Marion has just arrived. With much love

Your wife Margaret.

It was an Age of Anxiety as well as an of Age of Excitement. Here, in one letter we have a graphic account of a serious auto accident and also tales of delightful car trips, short and long.
Automobiles in those days of rugged roads had to function more like all terrain vehicles than modern autos. The speed limit in Montreal was 8 miles an hour; in the country it was 15 miles an hour. With the automobile being a brand new invention, a 'fad' in many people's minds, traffic Regulations were in embryo and a topic of much debate.
There's a subtext in these letters with respect to the auto.
All the Nicholson's friends had automobiles, but they, themselves, could not begin to afford one.
Mr. Bieber is Herbert Bieber, banker at the Molson's Bank, who claims on the 1911 Census to have earned 2250. the previous year.

Dr. Moffat's loss may be the talk of the town, but it has negative reprocussions on the Nicholsons, too. Moffatt is one of son Herb's many creditors, and although a close family friend, he soon presses the family to pay up.

Letter 5: Fire!

June 21, 1911
Richmond Quebec

Dear Father,

Just a few lines to give you a little of the news. The station was burned to the ground this afternoon ! It started about half past four. Flora went down to see it with Paul. And at six Dr. Skinner took Mrs. S, Mother,Flora and myself down in the car. All that is left are the tall chimneys so I guess we shall have a new station at last.
I have been up for breakfast every morning since I came home. That is quite a record, don't you think. Monday we had a large washing, got up early and had it all finished and out at a quarter to eleven. And finished the ironing today. We are still busy with the sewing.

Marion's school (Royal Arthur in Little Burgundy) finishes today so she will be home soon. I saw by the paper last night that Isabel McCoy (teacher and family friend) was to be married July 12th.

I had a splendid trip home to Montreal with the Skinners. It was a beautiful day going out. I will name the places we passed through: Melbourne, Flodden, Racine, Sawyerville, Warden, Waterloo, Granby, Abbotsford, St Cesar, Rougemont, Marieville, Chambly, Longueil, St. Lambert, Pointe St Charles. In Montreal, we went shopping in the morning,to the theatre in the afternoon and to tea at Dr.Cleveland's. Then Dr. Skinner took us for a ride, from 8 to 10 at night.It is beautiful riding on paved streets.

Don't you think I was a very fortunate girl to have such a trip? Tomorrow the 22nd I am going to North Hatley with the Skinners. Will be back that evening. They are very kind to us.

Flora is feeling better since the exams are over. (Results would be posted in the local paper later on.)

Yvonne Villard (daughter of Principal Paul Villard of Ecole Methodiste) is coming out next week for a few days. Miss Wilson's barn is not yet finished, Walker is still working. They have the foundation very well along at the Montgomery's.

Another Bryant preached last Sunday evening. He was through the General Assembly. I cannot think of any more news so will close. Hope you are well and that the fly season will soon pass.

We are all well. Write soon.

Flora got your letter With much love, Your affectionate Edith
....Richmond exists because of the Grant Trunk Railway, which in 1910 was still one of the two major employers in the town. Richmond was a railway hub, poised between Quebec City and Portland, Maine.
Norman Nicholson used the GTR to get his loads of hemlock bark to the tanning businesses in New England (mostly New Hampshire) and in Montreal, all by the Lachine Canal, near Marion's Royal Arthur School. He left his reciept books behind showing that a great deal of money was flowing, at least in the 1880's, through his bark business.
This is the year they get a big new station, which stills stands (vacant) today. Richmond was already in decline in 1910 (as the letters clearly reveal) but by the 1930's the railroad had little business.
According to the 1911 census, Mademoiselle Villard lives with her parents at 1095 Greene, in Westmount, the same address Edith stays at during the school year.
It is likely the site of Ecole Methodiste. Today, 1095 Greene is a site of a more modern post war school.
Edith says she enjoys every minute of a 6 and 3/4 hour drive over 94 miles. But if you crunch the numbers, it is clear that the Skinner's automobile went an average of 14 miles an hour to make that trip.(15 miles an hour was the speed limit in the country, 8 miles an hour in the city). If you consider that the E.T. is very hilly, the drive was probably more fun than the roller-coaster at Dominion Park, the amusement park opened in 1906, on Notre Dame on the eastern side of the island. Imagine how fast the car went down the hills!

Letter 4: A census, a funeral, a graduation and a Coronation

June 15, 1911,

Dear Norman,

Right now, Edith is at the Skinner’s playing cards. Flora is looking over her lessons, so I thought I would write to my best fellow.

Edith and the Skinners had a delightful return trip from the city, no breaks or stops and arrived home at 7 o’clock safe and very hungry. We had every one come in for a cup of tea and I had just baked bread so they thought that was fine.

Flora will finish her exams tomorrow. She has kept well. The weather has been cool, so that made it pleasant.

Well, the Census man was around. I gave him your age as 60. Was I right? You know I always save a few years for myself. He did not take Herb’s or Marion’s names. So that is over.

Edith had Lulu Stevens sewing for a few days, so I got her to do same for me. I had my muslin dress made also one from the print you bought me. And my white skirt. So we won’t be sewing all summer as we used to do.

Kenneth got your letters. Big Kenneth said he thought you were taking Laurier’s place while he was away at the Coronation.

He told me to tell you he said so.

Happy to hear McKechnie the Scotchman Supervisor is all right. He will be because he is Canadian. If he is a Liberal and a Mason he will be better! Is the handcar safe? It will be easier than the walking.

Uncle Dan says you are all right on the railroad. He was often out in the woods, he says. Still I think 63 miles a long distance. Is it all woods from Cochran? Will the work last long there?

I am sorry you are having such a hard time with flies. Well, their season soon will be past.

Old Mr. Hill died yesterday at, the 14th. Funeral Saturday, the 17th. Masonic. I went up for a while this evening.

Dr. Moffat’s loss is the talk of the town. Dr. Skinner said he has heard they will not be able to pay him for than 15 cents on the dollar.

I hope you have already received my letter with Herb’s enclosed.

As you can see by Herb’s letter, he feels lonesome to think of you being so far away, but if we all keep well, we will all be together for the summer months.

We will manage everything here all right until then. Only it does seem ages since you left. We have not got used to staying alone.

Christina Watters went into Montreal to May’s (daughter's) graduation from Macdonald Teacher's College, which is today. Dr. Henry is coming up from Boston if he can get away.

I have mailed you your check book. Take good care of yourself. I will write again soon.

With much Love,

Ps.Charlie Moore came up and told me he could not do the lawn, so I will have to look for someone else tomorrow.

Marion Nicholson never did get enumerated for this 1911 Census. How do I know? Grace Cross lives in Montreal at 5 Tower, with her mom. They are former Richmondites. A Mrs. Ellis owns the house next door and takes in boarders because that's where Marion lives during the school year. Only 2 boarders are listed at that address, a nurse-in-training and a stenographer.

Census Page for Nicholsons. The Skinners are Frank and Ruby, son Floyd.

May Watters, Norman and Margaret's niece, is graduating from Macdonald Teachers College.

According to the Census Records, her family lived in Kingsbury in 1911. (The Census has them as Waters!) May stayed with the Margaret and Flora 1908-1910, likely to attend St. Francis.

She is the same age as Flora but one year ahead at school. Henry is her older brother (born 1880) and, from all accounts an exemplary young man, indeed, everything Herbert Nicholson is not. Henry is hard-working, kind, generous and devoted to kin. In the summer of 1909, he takes his dad on a visit to the homeland. Norman remarked on it in a letter. "Dr. Henry and his father are sailing by this time. When they get back you will get a whole new set of stories when he calls. It's nice of Henry to take his father on that trip. Every boy is not so thoughtful. Some if they have the means would prefer to go alone or with friends "

May and Flora visit him in 1908 (and ride in his Stanley Steamer to the Wellesley Campus)and Edith and Marion visit him in 1912 and are taken to Norumbega Park. Henry is unmarried and lives with his sister Christina, who is a few years older than May. But his clapboard Colonial house on Commonwealth Avenue is equipped with all the latest gadgets, Flora says.

"Big Kenneth"... These Scots tended to rotate but a few names, Malcolm, Norman, Kenneth, John.. so they needed ways to distinguish one from the other.

Isabel McCoy is the daughter of family friends in Montreal. They live on Hutchison and in the 1911 Census Isabel is listed as 'professeur' earning 700. a year. Marion earns 650. in 1912. May, if she gets a job on the Montreal Board, can expect to earn 550. to start. Were she a male graduate, she would earn 800. to start.

The pencil has faded on the 1911 Census form, but Norman puts his salary at 1,200. That's 100 a month. Unfortunately, it gets halved in 1912.

Margaret is worried for Norman. She senses railroad work is dangerous, and it is. A highly publicized book has just come out to that effect. And then there's the mud and the blackflies and extreme heat and the extreme cold. But it's the loneliness and boredom that gets to Norman the most. At 60, he is too old to play on the Residency hockey team. As a Presbyterian who has signed a temperance pledge he does not drink or gamble.

Letter 3: Visitors, Visitors

Magical Mystery Tours. Marion, seated in front in of what is most likely Clayton Hill's car. (A boy and a girl can be seen in the original picture.

Sunday, June 11, 1911

Dear Norman,

Your letter to Edith received Friday morning. As she was not here I opened it.

She had left an hour before with Dr. and Mrs. Skinner in the auto going to Montreal. Her letter said they had a delightful ride. Left here 10 am. Arrived in Waterloo at 12.30. Had dinner. Left at 2 o'clock. Arrived safely in the city at 6 without any any stops.

They said when leaving that they would be home Tuesday.

I had a letter from Herb from Qu'Appelle. Said the bank's manager was going to have his holidays and that he was to be Manager for two weeks. Says he does not like the town one bit and if he does not get transferred he will leave. I hope you will write him to stay until he is sure of something better.

I hope William Neilson will visit him.

Mrs. Neilson was down for three days. She stayed with us and attended the church sale.

Friday night the Ladies' Aid met here in the evening. There were 16 ladies! So that that is over for another year. Just when we were preparing, Aunt Christie and Malcolm arrived from a visit to Lingwick. They did not send any word that they were coming.

Saturday morning Malcolm walked home to Kingsbury. Uncle Alex (Watters)came down about 5 o'clock to take Christie home.

So Flora and I are finally having a quiet time. We did not get up until quarter to nine and we both went to Sunday school. It will be a rest for her as her exams begin tomorrow morning.

Moore cut the lawn for us, took him three evenings.

We put our tomato plants out and beans in. Taylor said he would put the plants in Tuesday.

I will enclose you a clipping from the paper about Dr. Moffatt's loss. Mrs. Montgomery was telling me that they had offered him 50 cents on the dollar, that is a loss of 4,000. I suppose he made it on stocks so he need not feel it so much. Mrs. Moffatt was working at the church sale but did not mention it to me. Only she was rather short in the temper. They have sold all their horses.

Uncle Alex had a great many questions to ask about you. He knows more about that part of the country than I could tell him. Had to come up to the office to look at the map, of course. Cochrane was not on it. I was trying to tell him it was quite civilized around there.

I will tell Alex all the good points, he always wants to know your business before you know it yourself.

Uncle Dan and Grandma are well.

Let me know if you feel any of the indigestion.

With Much Love,

Your Loving Wife

Visitors, visitors. They could be welcome and unwelcome in 1911, but you still harboured them, because in turn they harboured you. Alas, with no maids, visitors were a lot of work.

Dr. Moffatt was the Nicholson's GP and he also was related to them by marriage. He was a victim of an Eastern Townships stock market swindle, the Nicholsons cut out a newspaper clipping. Like so many other Nicholson relations and neighbours, he would soon move out West.

Linguick was nearby farm country, where many of the the Isle of Lewis Scots of Quebec landed in the mid 1800's. Norman's people were originally from Flodden(The Gore). His sister Christie Watters lived in Kingsbury in 1911, according to the Census. Kingsbury is Margaret's natal village.

These immigrants were empoverished crofters (tenant farmers) cleared from the land to make way for sheep. Margaret's people, the story goes, had to be thrown on the boats at Uig Carnish to come to Canada, they were so reluctant to leave their barren but beautiful homeland.
These were Gaelic speakers. Margaret's mother spoke only Gaelic and Margaret was bilingual, but clearly not 'tri-lingual'.
Both Flodden and Kingsbury are marked on the modern day Google Maps despite the fact these places hardly exist as destinations consisting of crossroads, farm houses and fields.

Norman is plagued with indigestion. According to an article in The Canadian Magazine "Driving Steel Through Wilderness": the food on the railway was excellent:"One may wonder at the plenty and variety that is placed before him at mealtime, but it must be regarded largely in the light of a bribe. He must be fed well to hold him and this the contractor recognizes. That is why one finds these hard worked navvies feasting abundantly on roast beef and port, steak and potatoes, beans, cabbage, tomatoes, corn, bread and rolls, pudding and pie, cookies and cakes, jam and preserves, crackers and cheese. All of these items of food are within the limits of the bill of fare at one meal. "

In 1908, Margaret had visited Norman near La Tuque and described 'dinner on the line':They had tomato soup, then roast lamb and roast pork with potatoes and dessert cake with peach preserves.

Letter 2: Mangling the Lawn

Margaret and Flora Nicholson 1910

Dufferin Street,

June 6, 1911

Dear Norman, Your letter with your address just recd this evening so I thought I must write at once.

Seems such a long time since you went away.

I also recd a letter from North Bay and one also from Cochrane. You certainly have done very well about writing.

I have figured the distance.. over seven hundred miles. Still, I see this letter recd tonight is stamped Cochrane the 5th. It was not long in coming that distance.

I came home the Sunday after you left, on the late train. Edith and Flora had retired but they were not long in coming to the door. Came up on the bus. It had been a very hot day in Montreal but when I got here it had rained and was quite cool which was a pleasant change.

I stayed with Marion at her boarding house all the time in Montreal and only stayed at the Cleveland's the day you left. Dr. C. said he had not seen you for such a long time.


I have not heard from Herb since you left. I am looking for a letter in two days as he would likely write Sunday. You better write him and send him your add. Anything I get will mail to you.

Flora is keeping very well. She comes home every afternoon at 3 o'clock and studies. Stays out on the veranda, for a change. The vines have filled in so we can sit there the whole afternoon. Edith is feeling well and is getting with the housework all right. Our Church sale is tomorrow and Thursday, so they will be by about that.

I got the cheque for 10.95 from your man. Edith took it to the ET Bank and had it cashed so we will be all right for a while.

The weather has been cool here just as you have it there. Evenings we are glad to sit in the kitchen. The days are fine to wash so we have got our washing and ironing done. We could not get a man to cut the lawn last week so on a nice cool day Edith, Flora and myself thought we would try it. We mangled the front but did not attempt the back. We really were too tired.

Charlie Moore did the back lawn Saturday and is to do the front tomorrow night. He has promised to do it once a week in the evening as he works in the Boston and Last Factory. (With Grand Trunk Railway the major employer in Richmond.)

Tonight Flora and I went up to Bella's (sister Isabella Hill around the corner)and Clayton (Hill) took us down to the mail in his auto. It is running fine now. He was out in Kingsbury, Saturday. The Skinners next door are having the same pleasure in their auto. They are going all the time.

Mr. Montgomery on the other side is working at his garage. Says he has all the men he wants now. .

William Neilson left Monday on his trip out West. He came down to bid us goodbye> Did not know you had gone till he came to the house. Seemed disappointed. He really seemed so lonesome going. I told I wish you were going with him. He is going by CPR. He said he would visit Herb.

Now, I am glad that you are particular about your diet and that you are feeling well. I trust you will take good care of yourself around and about the trains. Tell me how you like this work.

...Later…. I thought Edith would finish this letter and send it on. Sorry it was delayed. Miss Denton called me to go down to the hall at 9 am. The great crowd that was expected did not turn out. We are going back this afternoon. Will tell you how much we make. Hoping to hear from you again very soon, With much love Margaret.

Town life for women in Richmond, Quebec, in the 1910 era, consists of walks to the mail, afternoon teas, both given and received, and a long list of daily household chores, if you weren't lucky enough to have a servant. (Margaret was a gifted homemaker who won prizes for her baking and crafts at the local fairs. Indeed, the family genealogy has this fact written after her name.)

There are also card parties and church socials. And church, of course. A person could go twice a day if she wished.

Daughter Edith, 27, is back at home, from her teaching job in the city. She has been employed, for two years at French Methodist Institute in elegant Westmount. Edith has no diploma and works for a small wage of $250 a year, but at least she can board at the school, in a pleasant neighbourhood.

Flora, the youngest daughter at 19, is in the crunch year at St. Francis College, a distinguished local institution, which, until 1900, had been affiliated with McGill University. Flora must pass her exams if she is to be accepted at Macdonald Teachers College and earn a diploma and a decent living as a teacher. The problem, she freezes from nerves at exam time.

The Nicholsons live in a posh area of town, which explains why both neighbours - as well as the brother in law - have brand new automobiles. Motorcars in 1911 could cost as much as a house ($2,000 range) and you couldn't get them on credit. But they were definitely, the "in" thing, especially in towns like Richmond, especially with middle class men. Mr. Montgomery is on his second auto. He bought his first in 1909 which provoked Margaret to write in a letter: "Mr. Montgomery is going to buy an auto. Nothing will satisfy now. He is going to sell his horse. Mrs. Montgomery does not want to buy one. Too bad he is so foolish, don't you think?"

And in 1910 he bought a larger auto and now feels he needs a garage to park it! And everyone seemed to enjoy car rides, men and women alike. The Nicholsons, however, are in no position to buy an automobile.

The Clevelands are family friends who live on Lorne, a few blocks east of McGill University. Mr. is a dentist so referred to as Dr. C. The Clevelands are are the descendants of a handful of pioneering families in Richmond County of the Eastern Townships.

Without well-established family "friends" like these in the city, life would be very lonely and difficult for Edith and especially, Marion, who is having a great deal of trouble finding a suitable rooming house in which to live.

These Clevelands are wealthy enough to have a live in maid, a young English woman, newly arrived from the UK. The 1911 census reveals that most people on Lorne had maids. Still, there was a serious servant problem in 1910 in Canada, which was worrying the upper crust and forcing the middle class to increasingly make-do.

The 1911 Census reveals that only two families living in the Nicholson's Richmond neighbourhood have a live-in maid. (Not the Hills or Montgomerys or Skinners. And certainly not the Nicholsons.) But in 1901, according to that Census, virtually everyone on the street had a live-in domestic, including the Nicholsons. (Maggie Mclean, age 58)

Something changed between 1901 and 1911 - and it is affecting the lives of everyone.

Toothpick and a Silver Bowl : Letter 1, May 27, 1911

Margaret Nicholson, Edith and Flora and Neighbour. Home alone.

North Bay,

May 27, 1911

Dear Margaret,

You will see by heading of this letter where I am today. This is a town of about 8 thousand situated at the end of Lake Tamiskaming. Flora can look it up for you on the map in the secretary.

I left Ottawa at 12 50 PM last night. Arrived here this morning at 9 am. They gave me a ticket over the CPR for here, also a berth ticket which I enjoyed very much. The porter made me a nice bed in one of the lower berths. I got up this morning at 7 o'clock.

Went into the diner and had breakfast which comprised 3 eggs, one baked potato, 3 rolls, and a glass of milk. And a toothpick served on a silver tray for my entree where I washed my fingers in a silver bowl.

All at the expense of the Transcontinental Ry. On arriving here I went and saw the transport engineer and he sends me to Cochrane where the Tamiskamming and the Northern Ontario intersects--with the orders for my destination about 50 miles east of Cochran on Division D. But I will be on the rails and I will be pleased not to have to walk. I leave here tomorrow at 5:20 am.

Will stop at Cobalt for three hours then proceed to Cochrane.

I am supposed to get to Cochrane at eight tomorrow morning. Now the distance from Ottawa to here is 123 miles and from here to Cochrane is 252 miles, from Montreal to Ottawa is about 120 miles with 76 from Montreal. Will give you some idea of how far I am from home. When I arrive at destination I will try and give you a better idea of where I am. I can cover the distance quicker then when I was in La Tuque, only it will be more expensive to go home when I do.

I only saw Parent for a few minutes, he had arrived from Chicago and was busy in his office. He said he thought I would be suited with my change. Will tell later. Hope you had a pleasant time in Montreal with Marion. And will try and write you tomorrow from Cochrane and send you my address. I am taking things cool and intend to do so, do not worry about me. So far they are treating me fine and the Commission is paying the bill as I go so I am not worrying about it in the least.

I cannot think of any news so I will close for this time. You will have quite a time to read this letter as I am writing in a hurry along with being a poor writer.

Love to Edith and Flora also to yourself.

Your affectionate husband, Norman. ...

In May 1911, Norman Nicholson, 60, former hemlock bark salesman and leading citizen of Richmond, Quebec, leaves for work as a concrete inspector for the Canadian Transcontinental Railroad at end-of-steel near Cochrane, Ontario. This is Norman's second stint working on the building of this railway line.

In May of 1910 he had been fired from his first assignment near La Tuque, Quebec, for going absent without leave.

At that time he had been overcome with anxiety for his family. His eldest daughter, Edith, has lost her 'great love' in an infamous Cornwall, Ontario hotel fire and his only son, Herbert, had been caught with his hand in the till at the Eastern Townships bank where he worked as a clerk.

According to records he kept, Norman started working in the Quebec bush as an inspector of railway ties on September 13th, 1907.

Back in June 1907, with his once thriving bank account bottomed out, Norman had applied for work with the CTR, a desperation move, as railroad work, even for a man in his prime, was known to be difficult and dangerous.

Despite having area Liberal M.P. E.W. Tobin as a pro-active patron, Norman was informed by a letter in July that the CTR had its full complement of inspectors.

Then, on August 19th, came the infamous bridge disaster that made headlines around the world. According to Technical World Magazine, the bridge was "one of the great engineering undertakings of the century" ..."a topic of universal discussion." Close to 100 men perished, most of them employees of the US contractor and Mohawk labourers from Caugnawaga, south of Montreal. (Kanewake). The bridge was a component of the Canadian Transcontinental Railway. Suddenly,it seems, there was a need for inspectors at 'end of steel'.