Saturday, January 29, 2011

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.

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