Monday, February 7, 2011

Letter 43: Not Sent Home Yet?

Margaret Nicholson 1912.

Monday December 18th of 1911

Dear Norman,

Yours rec'd. I thought I would write you again if you are not coming until the cheap rates. I see the half fare does not last long, and you will take return.

I think most of the people wonder why you have not been sent home before. Mr. Campbell was asking for you. I told him you were coming for Christmas.

I am busy with going out and I think you will be here before I am ready.

Dan was not feeling well yesterday. Grandma, I think looks better, but has not come downstairs yet.

Flora I expect will be homeThursday night. Edith and Marion Friday night.

I don't remember whether I told you that Dr. Moffatt was going to Victoria. Expects to be settle there about May. I was down for tea one night. He told me, he said "The Conservatives have not sent Mr. Nicholson home yet?" I said "No."

He thinks they will all have to go. Said Campbell would get the post office if he wanted it.

We have sleighing today. Snowed Saturday night, but quite soft, looks more like Xmas that snow is here.

I have not heard from Herb since I wrote last. Only wish he could come home with you.

All my love,

Your loving wife, Margaret

...There is very little to let us know how the Nicholsons spend Christmas. They were always together, so no letters. Traditional spices like cinnamon and candied orange peel, currants and nuts are purchased in early December. A turkey is usually purchased for the day. Gifts are modest, books, and gloves and 'ribbons' which would be adornments for hats and dresses, in so many fabrics, widths and lengths they take up pages of the Eaton's catalogue.

Many women adorned their own hats to save money: feathers and wings and flowers were also used to dress up a hat.

No doubt it was a social time. It's hard to imagine how things could get more social between Christmas and New Years than they were between New Years and Christmas.

Letter 42: Trouble and Sorrow All Around

Flora and Friends.

December 10, 1911

Cochran Ontario

Dear Margaret,

Yours of the 5 received yesterday and was pleased to get same and to learn by it that you were well. I was sorry to hear of John Peppler's mother's death. There seems to be trouble and sorrow all around us. And we should be thankful that we are spared a little longer.

Hope Florence will soon be well again. I supposed her mother's death hasn't helped her case.

I also note what you said about Edith not being happy where she is. I am of the opinion of yourself. If she is not suited to leave it. But I think if her health is not impaired with too much work she had best try and stay the term out.

In the meantime she may be looking about for something else.

I also note again what you say about J R McLeod. I saw a paragraph in the paper that he was leaving Three Rivers and had accepted a call from the Scottstown Congregation and was to be transferred there immediately. I thought Three Rivers was a better charge then Scottstown.

I also see that Kingsbury and Flodden were unanimous for Church Union. Are they taking a vote on it in Richmond? Have they chosen a minister yet for Kingsbury?

You asked me about Herb coming come. In one of his letters to me since the elections he said "If they dismiss you from your job just go home and stay for the winter. I may be home sometime between now and spring and we will see what we could do."

This is about the words he used. Since then he hasn't said anything to me about coming.

I was anxious to hear from you to know if the cheque I sent you was honored at the bank, as I wanted to send one to Mr. Proulx for the wood but did not want to send his until I knew there were funds in the bank to meet it.

This week has been very mild here and its raining here today. Haven't heard anything yet about our Xmas holidays.

I see by the papers that there is lots of slaughtering at Ottawa in Government positions .

Trust Grandma and Dan are keeping their usual. . Trusting you may be enjoying good health. This leaves me well.

Yours with lots of love your affectionate husband Norman

...The Canadian Transcontinental Railway was a Laurier Government Initiative.

Letter41: The Conservative Axe of Power


December 8th, 1911

Dear Norman,

Your letter of the 5th received. I went to the bank this morning asked if your cheque was there. Said came to hand on the 4th of December so I presented mine and got the cash. Then I started out to pay some bills.

Sorry to see it going so fast but I was behind in so many little things.

We made 182.00 at the St. Andrew's dinner.

Mr. McLeod stayed Tuesday night.He was telling me he has had a call to Scottstown. Will be considered here on the 19th of December.

He said he was afraid the Conservative axe of power might have fallen on you as it had descended on so many. They are pretty sure to carry IGNORANT ONTARIO.

I see just now they are having the discussion about the dismissals. That was pretty good. Sir Wilfrid said "Mr Borden was sound in doctrine, but weak in practice." It is a good thing that the Hon Graham has a seat in the house.

A letter from Edith last night. She as decided to get a suit. I wrote her I thought that was better for her. I don't like the fur she spoke of getting.

Marion is very busy,she says.

The weather has been very warm; losing all our snow again. You will know if they will let you come home for a few days.

You will not like to come this time without permission.

Yours with love, Margaret.

....In 1910 Norman left the railroad without getting permission from his superior. That's why wife Margaret writes that last cryptic line.

Norman wrote in letter in August 1910 to E. W. Tobin claiming that he hitched a ride on a boat rather than wait for permission and have to walk 43 miles to land transportation at "end of steel." He did not mention his 'family problems" but Tobin already knew about them, in a letter from Margaret, asking for his help getting Herb reinstated at the bank where he had stolen 60 dollars from the till. Obviously, there was no question of this happening. He would leave for out West, but not before Norman puts out $500.00 (half a years salary) to settle his son's affairs.

There are only a few 1910 letters, most penned by Herb, prior to and after his big mistake. In September he heads out West, asking Margaret in a letter to "tell no one where I am." The Newalls, old family friends now living in Saskatoon, (indeed, Norman's former partner in the hemlock bark business, have offered to take him in. Of course, Herb soon tires of their hospitality.

Also, in very early May, daughter Edith loses 'her great love' in a Cornwall, Ontario hotel fire. His name was Charlie Gagne, and he was also a bank clerk and had only recently been transferred to Cornwall. This particular conflagration was the deadliest in the history of that town and made headlines across the continent.

1910 was a very bad year for Norman and Margaret, but it would only get worse, before it got better.

Here are excerpts from Herb's early letters from out West:

Oct 1, 1910

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

The think I am certain about is that as far as I am concerned if I was making a good living in the East I would stay there. The houses here are very small and mostly all wood. They rent from 40 to 75. Lots in the center of town are very dear. I saw one the other day with 25 foot frontage and 130 feet deep that they ask 5.000 for. This to me seems far too high. In my opinion the land is too high. It has been bought and sold so often that now the holder has to get these big prices to clear himself and I think it will damage the town by driving property away from it.

Northern Crown Bank,
Saskatooon, Saskatchewan
October 15, 1910

I worked in the Saskatoon branch for about ten days as teller. They have a nice building of their own here and a large office. I was out looking for a room this morning saw a lot of them but they are very expensive. Did not see any for less than 12.00 and they were small and some not very clean looking. This is the finest city that I have seen yet in the West with the exception of Winnipeg which is I think the makings of the finest and best in Canada. The streets are very wide and also very clean. I am to get 700 salary which is not enough to keep me in the West. That is I do not think I will stay out here for the money very long as living is more expensive and I think I can get as much as that in the East. But I will stay this winter and see what comes up in the spring. I was sorry to have to draw on you for that 25.00 but expect to send it to you very soon now.

Regina, Saskatchewan

November 27, 1910

I do not think much of the Scotchman who are coming to this country of late. They are making the poor bank clerks job worth little or nothing. They will work for practically nothing and can do only about as much work. The banks are filling with them. They cannot begin to do the work that the ordinary Canadian can. We have two in the office here and they do not earn enough to buy salt for their porridge as far as the work they do, while my position and the accountant's is made miserable. You can give them work and they may do it, but it takes them so long and rather than wait you do it for them. The East is not the worst place in the work, in my opinion. The Western boom is at an end. Before very long, they will boom together. They are a lot like the Americans out here. Have met men who cannot understand how it is that I come from Quebec and cannot speak French. It is different every way here. You never hear men talking about matters of importance to the country like politics in Canada or foreign. Nothing seems to satisfy them but to talk real estate and a lot of the talk does not seem very real to me. Sometimes I feel sorry for the Indians and think we never should have taken away their land.

January, 1911

You said that if my services were appreciated I was sure to get along. Now that does not always work out. Take in your case and Sutherland's. What did he ever do for the Liberals.? I believe if the truth was really know that the liberals would be better off if they had never seen Sutherland. Still he gets a fine sit. You never found him doing and electioneering that amounted to anything. He might have done a little talking around his store, but if every person only talked to those that came to them there would be a lot that would never be seen or that would ever hear anything. It is a good deal like the banking business though. After you have been in it for a good long time it is perhaps just as well to stick to it and in the end there may be something turn up but it is a case of history repeating itself every day. The deserving are not always the ones that prosper. I feel it in my bones that the liberals remaining years of power are numbered. I do not think that Laurier is losing any of his personal power but he has had quite a few bad ones around that have done the damage.

April, 10, 1911

Dear Father,

I am going to postpone writing very much again as I am leaving for Qu'appelle tonight where I go as accountant. This is a town about 800 population in Saskatchewan and about 50 miles east of Regina on the main line of the CPR. I was up in the HO and had a talk with the General Manager and he has promised me a branch possibly this fall with an increase in salary at once. He did not say how much and when it does come it will probably be 50.00 or something like that, hardly worth mentioning. I do not think however that I will stay with the bank if I can find anything else that will pay any better at once. This working for nothing for the future is about played out for me. Will of course hold on to what I have until I get something better. I am getting rather old and have added another year to my age today

Letter: 40 The Whole Thing

Marg and Norman

December 5, 1911

Dear Norman,

Your letter with cheque enclosed received on the 1st but I have been so busy that I have not presented it at the bank yet.

I helped serve at the dinner. I first thought I would not go near but Mrs. McMorine came to see if I would go, and Bella had to, at least, she thought they could not manage without her, so we both worked and of course had the benefit of the whole concert which was fine.

Two lady singers and two men in all. They call it a great success.

There were two hundred and twenty sat down to dinner all at once.

I have not heard any fault with the ladies' aid. We expected to make some money as we got 75 cents for each plate.

Jack McMorine told me they were in the hole, talent cost them so much.

Uncle Alex and Christine (Watters)came down in the morning. Took it all in and as it was nearly 1 am, they stayed til morning.

Really, the sermon preached by Dr. Johnstone of the American Presbyterian church in Montreal was the best part.

He gave an address at the concert but preaching is more his forte.

I asked Jack McMorine if he heard it, he said he did not, but he heard it was 'the whole thing'.

I said yes, it was.

I will able to tell you all about it when you come home.

I don't remember whether I told you that Jack's sister's little girl died, was buried on the 28th up near Ottawa. He was in for the week and on Friday his mother died. She was buried here on Saturday on arrival of the 10.30 train. I went with the girls to the station, that is Esther and Edith, then to the church and cemetery.

The two girls came out, also the brother, so I was all that day at Florence's.
Just one thing after another to keep me going.

I manage to go over quite often to Dan's but not to stay. I have stayed a few nights with Florence. She is not out of her room yet. Has not got on very well.

Aunt Han (wife of Dan and sister-in-law) waited on the table at the St Andrew's dinner.

Grandma was well enough and wanted her to go. Dan did not go out at all. I don't know if he liked us going.

Said we were really needed and that we did the right thing.

I had letter from JR McLeod this am saying that he was to be in Sherbrooke, he might turn up at Tighsolas about 8 pm coming down by train if they finished their business .

It is in regard to Mr. Sutherland leaving Kingsbury.

Dr. Moffat arrived her Sunday night after an absence of 4 weeks. He called me up by phone this morning to say how do you do. He asked for you and Herb and the girls and wanted to know if I was staying all alone. I told him I was and that occasionally I have one of the little girls.

He told me Sam had located in New Westminster BC. Said while they were in Edmonton and Calgary it was 24 below and Sam was disgusted with the cold.

Dr. said he went over the GTR so did not go near where Herb was. In Herb's last letter he said he thought he would be home in the Spring.

Did he say anything in yours about coming? Dr was asking if he was coming Xmas.

We have had it very cold here for two days. It is moderating this afternoon.

I had a letter from Edith. She is well. She has more work this year and is not any too well pleased about it. This idea of putting Miss Smith at head was not very kind. I told her rather than have her unhappy, she better just give it up.

Of course, if she can manage to stay until May it will be better. I am looking for Flora's letter, this evening. When I get cheque cashed and my bills paid, I will write you again.

I am afraid if you get this letter at 10.30 it will take until midnight to read it.

Your loving wife, Margaret

...Dr. Moffat, who has just lost 8,000 dollars in an E.T.stock market swindle, and who is moving out West soon, is asking about Herb because Herb owes him money. Margaret appears not to know this. Or she does not want to mention the debt in a letter. A great deal was left out of letters, they were self-censored. You could never tell who might read them.

St. Andrew is the patron saint of the Scots. Norman was President of the Richmond St. Andrew's Society in the past. In 1909, while away working on the railroad in La Tuque Quebec he sent his 'regrets' for not attending the celebration to the then President. He was very angry when he heard that his regrets were not read out at the dinner as was proper form.

He left behind a flyer for the 1900 celebrations.

Right: St. Andrew's Society Concert, Richmond Quebec, circa 1900, when Norman was Treasurer. Program Included: Solo, Scotch Airs; Song, The Star O'Robbie Burns, A coronet Solo by Mr.I C Walker; a duet "Robin's Farewell: by Miss Kenmore and J. R Bain and a Humourous recitation by Mr. E Fox. Much more plus Auld Lang Syne and God Save the Queen at the end. (Victoria was still on throne. She died the next year and so began the Edwardian Era, or the Laurier Era here in Canada, or as I like to call it: The Tighsolas Era.) The President was Chas. Campbell.

Letter39: Very Kind Mr.Blair

This Russian Pony Jacket was the first fashion item in the1910 Eaton's Catalogue. It was a new fur.

1095 Greene Avenue

Nov 30, 1911

Dear Father,

Doubtless you have been looking for a letter for sometime.

The trip home did me a world of good. What a time Mother has. I don't think she is getting much of a rest. It seems to be one thing after another.

How quickly the time is going. Not quite 4 weeks until Christmas.
We are very busy here practising for Christmas concert.

Was sorry to hear about poor Aunt Mary's death. I had a letter from Mother this morning telling me about it.

Mr. C was telling about the fine banquet and concert they are giving on St. Andrew's day. Dr. Johnstone of the American Presbyterian is to preach and give an address in the evening. I would like to be there.

Marion is well and enjoying life. Mr. Blair is very kind about taking her out. He asked me several times, but I have been unable to accept as yet.

She had a long letter from Herb today. He seems to be so contented and writes such cheerful letters that I am sure he must be enjoying his work.

I have been think of buying a fur coat. Russian Pony. Like what we saw in the spring. A good one would cost about 75 dollars or so. It seems a good deal to put into it. But I have to get a new suit and a ruff. I don't know which would be better investment. What do you think about it?

Dr. Clark called on Miss Smith and me last week. He is very nice. We are very much interested just at present about Church Union. I hope it does not pass.

Write soon,

Your loving Edith

...Odd. Edith Nicholson is working at French Methodist Institute, a missionary school that takes in French Catholic children (and Italian) and attempts to convert them to the Methodist faith, yet is against the Presbyterians and Methodists uniting. They are having a plebiscite among the faithful in 1911.
(On 1907, Principal Paul Villard wrote a small book about the Institute Preparing the Way.

"Our French Institute is more than a boarding school. It is a home where Christian influence is felt from morning to night. The aim of the school is to give each of the pupils not only an insight into life, (to train our pupils in the true faith of the Gospel) which to many may prove a hard battle, but to make the education received of practical value in making their lives successful.

Nowadays, we seem much disposed to turn our eyes towards the Great West, which is booming. We see the gleam of prosperity and we follow the rush. But in our enthusiasm, we forget that there is something to do at our own door and we overlook the fact that the French Canadian people of Quebec and Eastern Ontario are seeking the light and are eager for liberty as never before."
(Villard clearly had a ghostwriter, because in a letter of recommendation he later gives Edith, it is clear his English grammar is poor.)

Even odder. Edith is making but 275.00 a year and she is thinking of buying a 75 dollar luxury fashion item, a "fantasy" item really. (She seems to be fishing for an offer from her dad - who she must know is broke -to help her pay for it.) In 1910, she splurged on a new hat at Ogilvy's.

"It is a large black shape trimmed with little pink roses and a black velvet ribbon. I got it at Ogilvy's; Paid $7.50 Marion also got hers there, trimmed with a wreath of flowers the colour of her blue silk dress. She paid $6.50. It is much smaller than mine rolled off her face at one side."

But that purchase was understandable: Stylish hats were the measure of a woman back then.

Letter38: Terrible News

Tighsolas,1910 era.

Richmond November 27th, 1911

Dear Norman,

You will be sorry to hear that poor Mary Jane (sister) died the 21st.

She had been ill only a week with an attack of asthma and bronchitis. Dr. Thompkins was out three times but as she had often been so very ill we were not so alarmed.

He called it heart failure at the last. They had sent for Mystie but she died before any of them got here.

She was buried Friday the 24th at 1:30 in the Flodden Church cemetery.

Mr. Sutherland (Reverend H.C. of Kingsbury) preached the sermon.

Bella and I went out by train Thursday, taking it at Melbourne. We got a chance up with Ines Pope.They drove us to the station. We went to Racine where they met us with a sleigh. Then Jack Pelan came out with a wagon so I got home with him.

It was not cold.

Dan came out with Clayton. He took a sleigh. Was better for him.

Clayton got his auto all fixed up is running it every day.

This afternoon Mrs. Skinner sent Lloyd over to see if I would like to go for an auto ride. Mrs. S. was going out for the first time. So we had a nice ride. The roads are smooth. What snow there is is packed down.

I had a letter from Herb Saturday. Also a short one the first of the month. He says he is in the best of health, weighs 180.

Said he recd your letter and was going to write. Also says he likes his position fine.

Had a letter from Edith and Marion this morning. They are well.

Heard from Flora last week. She is well.

I don't hear very much about St. Andrew's, only that they are going to have it in the Town Hall. Mrs. McMorine says they expect a 240.00 take at dinner. I hope they won't be disappointed.

Of course Bella or I must go and help.

I will be glad to see a cheque for I have been dead broke for quite a while and all the bills coming in.

I borrowed two dollars from Edith.

Grandma is a little stronger. She took the terrible news better than we thought.

I have stayed at Florence's a few nights lately. I was feeling lonesome and she too.

Jack's sister's little girl died in Montreal Saturday. He has been in nearly all week. And his mother is sick. Just came home for the funeral and went right back. He will be home after Tuesday.

I am reading the Parliament news. Also suffragette's doing.

I must start getting ready for Xmas soon. How long will they give you?

Flora comes the 21st. Now with much love
Your loving wife

With such a stream of bad news on the homefront, Margaret looked for something more diverting less close to home. And the British Suffragettes and their colourful antics were just the ticket. These 'restless ladies' had a momentous week in late November, 1911: They had held a protest against the Asquith Government's Manhood Suffrage Bill, giving all males the vote, and on November 23rd Christobel Pankhurst and 223 other women, "white haired ladies and girls still in their teens; ladies in silks and laces, others wearing the cheap finery of the working class" had been arrested for vandalism. Mom Emmeline heard the news while campaigning in the U.S. "This means the truce has ended for the year. This a declaration of war,"she said. (From a newswire report in the Montreal Gazette.)

Letter 37: They Promised Me Something Better

1903 sheaf binder.

Nov 23, 1911
Semans, Sask

Dear Father,

Your letter of some time ago received. Good to know that you were liking your work and the location and also that you were still on the job.

Suppose you can only expect to get notice to stop before long because, as you say, they must have lots of friends to find places for.

This job I have suits me very well and think it was a good move. The collection part is only temporary, of course, but they promised to give me something else to be much better.

Expect it will be sales.

Of course, they only pay my expenses while I am doing work so I have to have to pay my own hotel bills on Sundays and holidays.

This is giving me a lots of valuable experience. Have to do a little driving but find most of my men in town.

My headquarters are Strassburg.

Now just this morning I have taken two Chattel Mortgages on horses belonging to farmers who owe us and would not pay.

Take Bills of Sale on crops of others who we cannot trust to sell their own crop and give us our money.

Expect to have total land mortgages as well. Have the forms and power to do so.

All these collectors for machine companies make money and I am thinking that if we could get an agency in new territory we could do the same.

Will write more particulars about this as soon as I can get more information.

The crops in this particular district are very good but (the farmers)have not finished the threshing yet.

Will have to leave a lot of it until spring although they are threshing away at it with four inches of snow on the ground.

I think I can get a position selling threshing machines in the spring and will likely take it as that pays more money.

Your loving son,

P.S. Had a letter from Mother and wrote her twice last week.

.......Herbert appears to be hatching a scheme here. It wasn't easy being an only son. At the turn of the last century, in Canada, sons were expected to help out their parents financially in times of need. Herbert Nicholson, who was once expected to become a doctor, crumbles under the pressure.

Norman Nicholson, born 1850, also spent his twenties jumping from job to job, but in the Eastern Townships. He went to academy (high school) which cost money in those days and his brother Gilbert did not, so Gilbert inherited the family farm. This was a typical arrangement. As a youth, Norman sold turkeys for a while, and collected outstanding debts for two different doctors at two different times. (Doctors were expensive and many many patients, it appears, couldn't afford to pay their doctors bills.)

Norman's early 1870's diaries are chock full of little love poems. As a man in his early twenties, he had sex on the brain. Imagine that!

"When the courting at midnight has ended
And he stands with his hat in his fist,
While she lovingly lingers beside him,
To bid him Ta Ta and be kissed,
How busy the thoughts of the future
You bet you his thoughts he don't speak
He's wondering how they can manage
To live on six dollars a week."

Norman lucked out. He got into the hemlock bark business which was a major ET industry for the next two decades. Hemlock bark was used in the tanning process. He married in 1883, and spent 48 dollars on new furniture, 5 dollars for a ladies ring, and 50 cents for a frying pan.

One 2 stanza poem he wrote in pencil on a small piece of paper and saved it in his wallet. It is a terrible poem. But the last line claims that there's a message hidden within. And, sure enough, if you take the first word of each line the line reads: "When will you sleep with me, my dear." It's a dirty poem from 1870!

And yet I am certain Norman would have been upset to learn that there was a young working woman (a stenographer) living in Herbert's boarding house in Qu'appelle. (Margaret would have been appalled.) I didn't learn this from the letters: it's the 1911 Census that reveals this to be a fact.

There were eight boarders in his house, four of whom were Canadian and four of whom were European: one Scot, one German, and two Englishmen. Three of the men were salesmen in shops. One was a bartender. Now, that fact might have upset Herbert's parents even more than the other.

The same Census form reveals Herbert's salary to be 800. a year. He describes himself as an accountant. He clear didn't feel he was making enough money at the bank, so he moved on to work for Massey-Harris, the farm machinery people.

Letter 36: My Fifty Bad Kids

Norman Nicholson in Masonic Regalia, perhaps in 1917.

3 Tower Avenue

Nov 15, 1911

Dear Father,

As usual I takes me an age to get around to write a letter but it the time goes so quickly that I hardly know where I am.

I am working like a slave at school these days with those fifty bad kids of mine.

I suppose Mother gives you all the news from home so there is nothing that I need to say from there.

It will soon be Xmas and time to go home again. Do you think you will be able to get home this time or will the Conservatives not let anyone celebrate Christmas.

Last Thursday Edith, May and I went to a party at Mrs. Reeses. I don't think you know her. She was a Miss Brown, a cousin of Ella McLean's in Kingsbury.

We had a fine time there until morning, but it was not quite so funny to have to work the next day.

May and I have moved upstairs to the room just above where we were. Then Mrs. Ellis has made our old room into a parlour and we have all clubbed together and rented a piano so there is music in the house nearly all the time.

Last night I was serving ice cream at a Bazaar for the Victorian Order of Nurses. Rather cold weather for ice cream but anything to make money.

Last Friday May and I went to Macdonald. They were having their dance and May and I thought we would go too, but when we got there I decided that I would not go so I went to bed. May and Flora went and had a fine time. Flora is looking well. Macdonald certainly agrees with her.

Now I think I will stop for now.


Letter 35: Do Not Waste Any Sympathy

A group waiting for the 'bus'.. a horse and trailer.

Richmond Tighsolas,

November 10th, 1911

Dear Norman,

Your letters of Sunday and Monday received was glad to get them.

I thought it strange in one of your letters you asked if I had been to Kingsbury when I had written you all about it.

Edith came home Tuesday night. She had a cold and a sore throat that affected her voice, and was not able to teach so Dr. Villard asked her if she would like to go home for a week.

I called Dr. Tompkins in as Dr. Moffatt was away on his western trip. He said she would be all right in a day or two. So she expects to go back on Tuesday.

She was looking well and did not have any temperature and has a good appetite.

Mrs. Dr. Skinner has a son weighed 10 lbs, fine big boy, only they are very much disappointed that it was not a girl.

Florence Peppler has another little daughter, born the 5th. They are all delighted with her so don't waste any sympathy and say you wish it was a boy. They are pleased.

Nathan is covering the barn with red tin sides and all does not look very well.

The McMann's are to move next week. . The Sutherlands are having a sale on the 18th, selling everything I heard. Mrs. Gawne has rented their house. Mr. Messier is going to move to Montreal, He is travelling for some lumber firm. Mrs Messier is delighted. Don't think she will move 'til January.

So that will be another house.

Mr. Rothney has moved into one of Mrs. Kellie's houses. I wish he had taken ours.

Clayton left his auto at Megantic. Something went wrong, broken cylinders I think. Jack Peppler was laughing about it. "How many repairs he has made on it," he said. "Soon he would have a new one."

I have not heard from Herb. Edith is writing to the Institute telling them how well she is feeling.

I tell all the people that you will be home for the winter. So when you come they won't be surprised. Will write when E goes.

With much Love Margaret Nicholson,

Cheque will be very acceptable when it comes.

The girls say I am looking well. I take so many trips to the mail, I stay healthy.

All my love,
Your loving wife

...For all the gossip that flies around town, babies seem to pop out of nowhere. It appears that pregnancies were kept under wraps, literally and figuratively. Probably due to superstition more than misplaced propriety.

Letter 34: Happy, Sort of..

Margaret with Marion. In 1912, Marion was worn out from work and looking for a proper place to live. Very thin!

November 2, 1911


Dear Norman,

Yours of the 29th received. Glad to hear that you had a letter from Herb. So you will know that he has quit the bank.

Flora came home Friday at 7pm and stayed until Tuesday at 4 pm. She was very busy all the time as she brought her white dresses to wash and iron.

I never saw Flora so fat and such a good colour. She has such a good appetite!

She was going into the city to teach today.

In regard to the water, they took up the pipes opposite our house and the Montgomery's. They did not dig up any of the street. I really don't notice any difference in the pressure. I asked Mrs. Skinner and she said, "No, not any." Only while there I heard their flax crop was a failure, the frost caught it before it was ripe. I think they intend to go next summer.

I am going to Kingsbury as soon as the weather is a little settled. Dr. Skinner will make a fire in the furnace once a day, but I won't stay away long.

Edith Peppler stayed last night. Stella and she take turns.

It seems to me, Grandma is feeling stronger, but they won't let her come downstairs.

I was telling Dan (brother) that Herb has left the bank. He said he was glad. I am really glad, in a way, myself. I always said he did not intend to stay long in it.

So, if you come home, it will be all right. We can make some arrangements.

John McLean has gone to Sherbrooke to work for Rand Drill. He says they will have to close the Flodden Church as so many are leaving.

It is snowing here, pretty cold, but I have the house very comfortable.

Your loving wife,


Back in 1910, if teaching was a profession with a future, the Ministry was not. Many Nicholson relations are Presbyterian Ministers, including Reverend J. R. McLeod, who performed the marriage ceremony for Margaret McLeod and Norman Nicholson back in 1883. He charged 12.00.

The best letter writers of all the correspondents in the entire Nicholson stash of letters (1887 to 1936) are these church professionals; I guess, good writing skills were a pre-requisite for the job, writing and sermon-giving and writing good sermons.

From these letters, ministers seem very big on describing tragedies in gruesome detail: deaths especially. In 1912 Richmond, the Ministers are kept busy with funerals. Indeed, there are so many deaths that year, in Richmond-Wolfe, people remark upon it. Two of the people mentioned in this letter will soon be dead.

Letter 33: Lauder at the Princess

Norman Nicholson's membership card, Saint Andrew's Society.

Montreal Nov 1 , 1911

Dear Father,

This is just a wee note to let you know that I got your check which I have kept and sent Flora mine.

Flora and I were both home for Thanksgiving. Flora had from Friday until Tuesday.

I did not go out until Sunday morning as I wanted to stay and hear Harry Lauder. He was great and I enjoyed it immensely. It was at the Princess Theatre. He sang 8 songs I counted, including Roamin' on the Gloamin' and told jokes too, of course. He was on stage for about an hour. There were other acts too, including a violinist who played all crazy. And an acrobat. The usual.

Mr. Blair took his sister, who was in town for a few days, too.

Edith has been having another bad cold but is getting better now. There is no more news and I have heaps of school work to do so I will stop for now will write more later,


Entertainment options in 1910 in Montreal were vast: theatre, vaudeville, cabarets (although it is unlikely Marion visited the bawdier places), and of course, the motion picture houses.

Montreal was home to North America's first luxury motion picture house, the 2, 500 seat Ouimetoscope on Saint Catherine. And least one other motion picture house, the Nickel, promoted itself as a respectable venue, with no questionable movies or questionable clients and posh leather seats. It is at the Nickel that Marion, in 1909, sees Man in the Box, the silent short featuring Mack Sennett, who was born in or near Richmond and was the same age as Edith.

In 1908, the Lord's Day Act was passed in Canada. Consersvative Presbyterians and Labour Unions joined forces to ensure a day off for most workers from noon on Saturday to noon on Sunday.

The Ouimetoscope and some other motion picture houses ignored this law. Ernest Ouimet, the proprietor, said Saturday was when he did his best business. If you give people the day off, they need something fun -and cheap- to do.

Here's a snippet from the Montreal Council of Women's Committee Report on Immoral Material from their 1913 meetig.

"Your convenor reports an average increase in the number of moving picture shows, there being 69, more than in all Canada 5 years ago. Many of these have been visited more than once by members of the Committee. The Chief of Police has been most courteous in interviews regarding important matters. The Pictures are somewhat improved, but the vaudeville is still of a very ordinary tone (sic.)Some managers interviewed would like to exclude vaudeville, as it is expensive, but the public demands it.

Objections are expressed resulting from darkened halls where the pictures are shown. There is a menace to morals in this and it should be prohibited.

Letter 32: Giddy Old Maid

Marion in the Sky with LadyBugs.

Oct 26, 1911

Dear Father,

I intended answering your letter before but I have been leading a rather giddy life for an old maid like myself - and then my work keeps me quite busy.

Last weekend we had Flora and she is looking simply fine and getting so fat!

She comes in the second of November to teach again.

They gave her a very good criticism for this time. She does not seem to find the work at all hard.

We had had Thursday and Friday for holidays on account of the Teacher's convention. I did not trouble the convention much but enjoyed the holidays.

Next week we have Thanksgiving day I have not yet decided whether I will go home or not.

Harry Lauder is coming to town and if I stay over Mr. Blair said he would take me to hear him.

I was up at Dr. Cleveland's last week to see Mrs. Coy. She spent a few days with Mother on her way to Danville, but no doubt mother has written you since then. She was looking just the same as she did then years ago.

You need not worry over Mother staying alone for in her last letter to me she was sleeping at Skinners.

I am glad you are so comfortable in your new quarters. I only wish your work was here in the city.

Now I must close with love and the next time I will try and not be so slow about answering.

Herb used to say grandma could beat me on a race to the Post Office.


Letter 31: Dandy William Dawson

Macdonald College

Oct 25, 1911

Dear Father,

Received your letter last week I am sure you must think it is about time I was answering it. But I think you know what a poor correspondent I am.

Everything is going on just the same as usual here. This is a very systematic place, everything has to be done just so.

I have to teach in the day school on Thursday, an arithmetic lesson to elementary 11. Which I don't think very much of but I have to do it, all the same.

Our section is going in to Montreal to teach on November 2. I hope they will send me to the Wm Dawson school again, its just dandy.

If ever I get through here I shall certainly try to get a city school, you have a nice room and everything to work with which means a lot.

Last Saturday the Model class gave a reception in the gym. I had a very nice time for an affair of that kind.

The gym was very nicely decorated with flags and banners.

On Sunday we had Dr. Clark of Westmount, the one you met at Mr. Carmichael's last spring. It is just fine.

Next Sunday Dr. Barclay is going to preach so you see we have nothing but high class preachers out here.

We held our literary society last Tuesday. I got on all right. I have serious intentions of developing into a public speaker and joining the suffragettes.

What do you think?

Have not heard from Mother this week but I suppose she has so many letters to write that mine is rather late.

I wrote to Herb a week or so ago but he has not answered yet.

Wasn't it too bad about poor Marjory Sutherland and Frank Dresser?

Had a letter from Pauline today. Said She and her mother were going out to Quebec Friday to look for a house. I suppose they will want to leave Rd as soon as possible now.

Miss Drummond was out here Saturday. I had a great time taking her around to see he sights and finding out all the news from home.

Now I must stop as it is getting late will write a longer letter next time.

Lovingly Flora MN

William Dawson was located at Christophe Colomb and St. Joseph, in what is now Le Plateau.

There was no suffragette movement in Canada, or so claimed a letter to the Editor clipped by Edith. There was however "a movement for the enfranchisement of women."

Suffragettes (that is militant suffragists)were brought in to Montreal to speak, usually invited by the Montreal Council of Women. These speakers always prefaced their talks by saying they were not for militancy... but they had to say that. In a 1913 Canadian Magazine article, Isabel Skelton claims the Canadian suffrage movement is "backwards." It exists in the UK because they have more spinsters and it exists in the US because they have a history of fighting for equal rights, (abolition, I guess.) Canadians, she says, are 'single-minded homesteaders, intensely on the make, so political and civil responsibility does not loom large."

Letter 30: A Regular Life

Edith, Herb and Marion, circa 1888.

1095 Greene Ave

October 18th, 1911

Dear Father,

Was glad to get your letter. Intended writing before this but have been very busy and when off duty have been out a good deal.

It has been such beautiful weather. Flora spent from Friday until Sunday evening with me. She is looking fine, weights 114 and is quite happy.

Marion and I took her to the theatre on Friday night. She seemed to enjoy it. I think it will be relaxing, the change and the regular life.

She got on splendidly (practice) teaching in the city. Flora is going home for Thanksgiving in two weeks. It will make a nice little break

Marion has quite a hard class but seems to be getting along well.

Mrs. Coy was at Dr. C a week ago. We were up to see her. She went out to Richmond and stayed a day or so with Mother.

Had a card from Mother Saturday saying Marjory Sutherland has passed away that morning at 7.30. It seems so sad. She made such a fight for life.

Mother also said she was going to Kingsbury with Christie. I hope she will stay for 2 or 3 weeks. The change will do her good. I do hope she will not worry about any of us. When we are all well we should be contented.

I have been terribly busy. My salary this year will be 275.00, 50 dollars more than last year. We have two new teachers, Miss Vipond and Miss Seward, both Methodists. They seem quite nice.

I have very little news this time but will write soon again.

Your loving Edith

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Letter 29:: Changing the Buttons

Suits in the Eaton's Catalogue, 1909-1910 winter. Margaret paid 12.00 for her suit, on the low end of the selection in this catalogue, why she likely put on new buttons: an old trick to make an item of clothing look more upscale. The 12.50 style here is made of wool panama and the jacket is trimmed on the collar, cuffs and pockets with military braid.

Richmond, Quebec

Oct 14, 1911

Dear Norman,

Your letter received last night. I also had long letters from both Flora and Marion. Said how well you looked in your new suit when you visited them on your way back to Cochrane.

Edith left at four Sunday afternoon for school.

Lena, Christina and Malcolm (Watters) were still here. We all went down to the train with her.

Then they started as they wanted to get to Kingsbury in time for Church.

Then I went over to Grandma's (mother Sarah Mclean McLeod) stayed for tea and came back and stayed all night at Mrs. Skinner's. Have slept there nights as she is very anxious to have me, but I don't stay for breakfast.

I was down at Florence's (Peppler). She said Stella (daughter) could come any time I wanted her I thought as I intended going to Kingsbury that I would not have her until I came back.

They did not bring the wood yet. On Tuesday morning the man came and sawed and split what was left of the furnace wood and piled it in the shed.

I went up to the Last factory (Boston and Last). Saw that "great man", George, asked him to bring it as I had a man there to split it.

He said he did not promise it for this week.

I told him you certainly thought he did, as you engaged a man for that day.

He said "No,. next week."

Today, as it was fine, I called Campbell (boss?). He said he would speak to George and he would bring it this afternoon or tomorrow morning.

We will see what they will do tomorrow. Lasts they have none, they say.
Well, I said bring the wood.

I got my suit, is all right this time at least. Mrs. Skinner thinks so. Mrs Montgomery thinks the coat ought to fit better it looks very nice. The skirt could not fit better and by changing the buttons a little it will be all right. I am very glad to have it.

Grandma keeps about the same. Does not seem to gain although she sits up a while every day. I was over last night. Bella was there. I asked her to come down and see my suit. She did not come. It was my day and I had to stay at home. Mrs. Beiber called.

I was forgetting that Monday morning at 8 o'clock Mrs. Montgomery came over to see if she could borrow me for a day, as Esther Duffie had died at 5 o'clock and she and Mr. M. wanted to go down to Durham. So I stayed all day.

Then again I stayed with the baby Wednesday while she went to the funeral left at 8 o'clock.

Her poor mother will miss her.

I am looking for a letter from Herb. It is three weeks since I have heard from him.

Mrs. Skinner has not heard from the Dr since he arrived in Saskatoon. Would be there Tuesday, she thought.

Poor Marjory Sutherland (21 year old daughter of J.C. Sutherland)has not been so well for the last few days.

Write often and don't you worry about me. I won't stay alone (in the house.) Only take the best of care of yourself.

With much love
Your loving wife

Wood for heating is a major issue, costly to procure and to chop and an absolute necessity in Richmond, Quebec in the winter. In 1908-1910, when Margaret was home alone with daughter Flora and niece May Watters, the young girls took pride in how they fed the furnace themselves. I guess this was typically a man's job.

The Boston and Last Factory was often where the Nicholsons bought their wood, for the furnace and the stove. The place was a major employer in Richmond in 1911, judging by the Census. A last is a wooden or metal form in the shape of a human foot, used to repair shoes and boots.

Heating the home was a major expense and major worry. The Nicholsons spent 40 to 50 dollars for wood in the fall and another 4 dollars (app) to have it split.

Letter 28: Do My Duty

Edith dressed for work.

October 12, 1911.
1095 Greene Avenue,
Dear Mother,
Letter and bankbook recd.

I hope you are taking things easy.

Has Mrs. Coy been up? Said about the middle of the week. She was going to write you. I told her you would be delighted to see her and were looking forward to her visit.

We were up at the Dr's (Cleveland) for tea Sunday. Then all went to St. Paul's. Today I was at a little tea at Olive's. (Notre Dame de Grace?) I always enjoy going there, it is so home like.

I have not seen Hugh yet. He is ill with a cold. Flora is coming tonight. We are going to the theatre this evening to see The Earl of Pawtucket.

Glad to hear that you like you suit. I have seen so many just that style out here.

Miss Vipond got word Wednesday at 7 that her sister was dead. She was married and living in Shawvillle. She was only 24. She left this morning at 10.

Miss Duncan is teaching here in her place. We have been quite busy at school. I am not pleased with the way things are arranged this year. But now that I am here, I will make the best of it. I shall do my duty, but nothing else. In the meantime, perhaps something else will turn up.

Did I tell you? I am to get $275 or 34.50 a month.

I will write again after Flora goes back.

Yours lovingly,


Mrs. Coy is a family friend (perhaps related to the N's in some way through the Clevelands) who lives in Framingham, Massachusetts, not far away from Newton Center where Dr. Watters lives.

In 1908, when Flora and May are visiting the doctor and on a trip to the Wellesley Campus in his Stanley Steamer, they all drop in unannounced on Mrs. Coy, who writes Margaret to say how embarrassed she was to be in her housecoat, but she was doing a wash. Mrs. Coy has no daughters, just a son, Chester, and from her letters it seems her life is lonely and hard.

Edith has been working at Ecole Methodiste Westmount, a private missionary school, for two years. She has no teaching diploma, so she cannot get a better paying job at the Montreal Board.

Letter 27: Swept off the Face of the Earth

Aylmer River October 10th, 1911

Dear Mr. Nicholson,

In reply to your letter of the 6th inst. I must say I am glad to hear from you and to know that there is one good Liberal left to tell the tale for I thought at one time Borden had swept them all off the face of the Earth.

I am sure just like myself you must have been surprized at the turn over but now we will have to wait for the consequences which may not be very bright for me or you.

Well, for our cause in Pontiac...It was a disgrace. That man Cahill spent fifty thousand dollars in this election and you know where the money spent like that it is hard to have things right, but there is one thing sure he paid for every vote he got and didn't get enough.

We are leaving here this week going to low bush residence 4 is closing for the winter. I remain yours respectfully,

M Sloan

Letter 26: Not Nervous at All.

Young Margaret McLeod.


26 September, 1911

Your letter telling of your safe arrival recd last night. I also got the cards you sent me on the way which kept me contented.

The day you left the Clayton took me to Melbourne. Jennie McMorine was there, and I went back home with her and stayed the night.

Since then I have been sleeping at the Crombies as Ethel and Mr. Crombie are both in Montreal.

Now, I must tell you, I am not at all nervous staying alone. In fact, I have not been much here; I take tea at the Crombie's and the Farquarsons', so if you try and take care of yourself, I will do likewise.

The Pope boys are going to pile the wood. They want to do it.

Florence went in to Montreal. Saw Flora and Marion. Edith was at her school. Marion said her cold was much better and that she goes in every day to work.

Glad you had such nice weather for your trip. I mailed your (Sherbrooke) Records last week. Will write soon,

With much love,
Margaret Nicholson

Letter 25: Elections and Feeds

Norman and Margaret at their marriage?

Macdonald College

Sept 25, 1911

Dear Father,

How is everything in Rd? Is Edith's cold better. I suppose she is getting ready for Montreal.

How is Mother? See that she doesn't work too hard.

Are you coming out to see me on your way back? I think Mother had better come with you. It would be worth your while to come out and see the place, it is just fine.

Isn't it too bad about the elections? Anyway Richmond did its share when they elected Tobin. I suppose it was exciting around there.

The twenty first, was there any sort of celebration? It is very quiet here.

Prof Kneeland gave us a little talk on politics but that was all.

I wonder how the Sherbrooke people feel having a Conservative elected? I wonder if Frank McRae can spell any better than Bill.

Yesterday we had the Rev. Dr. Scrimger for our Minister. He was very nice. Next Sunday we are to have the Rev. Dr. Welch, so you see we have nothing but first class ones here.

Dr. Welch was the one we had for our anniversary last year. It is really the Presbyterian service we have at the assembly. They use our hymn books and follow our order of service.

I have joined the choir. They have got a splendid choir master and a good organist so it makes it nice.

Yesterday afternoon Mabel Shaw, Molly Jamieson, Miss Wright, two (domestic) science girls and myself went for a walk to Fort Senneville. It was just lovely, only I was pretty tired when I got home.

Saturday night Mabel and I were invited to a feed. Two girls, Mary Stewart and Muriel Murtchison gave it. Their people were out to see them Saturday and brought them a supply of stuff so they asked some of the girls in to help them eat it up.

Of course, we didn't refuse. We had raspberry vinegar to drink, soda biscuits, two kinds of cake, fancy biscuits and candy and fruit. Quite a spread, don't you think?

This is a fearfully hungry place. I am hungry all the time. I was weighed Saturday and I have gained 6 lbs already: that is a rate of 2 lbs a week. I am "going some", don't you think?

If I keep on at that rate I will be quite a size by Christmas.

Your loving daughter,
Flora M. Nicholson.

Letter 24: We Never Had Any "Understanding"

Hugh Blair, my husband's Scottish/Cree/French Canadian grandfather.

Montreal P Q

20 Souvenir Avenue
Sept 20th, 1911

Dear Jean,

Your letter of the 12th just received and I am very pleased that you have brought up a subject that has been on my mind for quite a long while, of course, I refer to that delicate question that you have ask me and of which you want to know the truth.

In your letter you reproach me for not writing more often.

My reason in not writing you was that I have been taking my time in thinking about the above mentioned subject and the conclusion that I have reached since the receipt of your letter I know will hurt you.

Of course, you must know that we were never engaged and as for any understanding it must have been entirely on your part as I myself was only thinking of you as a very kind friend….

In the first paragraph I have mentioned that I had been thinking on the same subject but please remember I was not thinking in he same way as you were, as my thoughts were whether I would offer myself to you or not. Now Jean I have fully decided that we are very unfit for each other except in any other light than very good friends as our likes, dislikes and temperament differ greatly on many subjects and as this effects the lives of both of us I know it would be rash for us to make any alliance that we in later years might deeply regret.

I now hope that I have made myself very plain to you in answer to your question. From the contents of your letter it has hurt me very much to write this one, for I am sorry if I have said or done anything that has led you to think that there was any understanding between you and I and I feel sure that if I have given you any unintentional thoughts for the same, I know you will forgive me, knowing your true womanly character as I do and any little thing I may have done was always done in the light of a very good friend and I hope that we may continue to be so, as friends are harder to make than enemies.

For there are many good points in your actions and character that have led me to respect you very highly and I hope were long that you will have a young man that can endear himself to you and have his affections reciprocated; for I feel sure that you have been chosen out to be a comfort and a helpmate for some worthier man than myself. In closing my letter I wish to thank you and your mother for all kindnesses shown to me and I will always think highly of both you and her and should at any time you require a friend I will always do anything in my power to be of any assistance. All I ask is that you will write and let me know whether you have forgiven me or not.

Your Sincere Friend,

This letter was found in a book of correspondence with carbon copies once belonging to Hugh Christian Blair a lumber merchant working in his father's thriving business. This version was never mailed, but no doubt he got the message across somehow.

I actually cut it down. I guess there are never enough words to break off a courtship.

I gather from this letter that Hugh dropped this very proper woman, who was 'under the protection' of her mother for feisty, independent Marion Nicholson.

Letter 23: Everything is so Grand!

Macdonald Teacher's College 1910 campus. This is now John Abbott College's main building. I got this picture from the Education McGill website. In 2007, they celebrated the Faculty of Education's 150th anniversary and posted a page about Macdonald which included information about the Nicholson girls taken from and every year, student teachers about to embark on their practicum learn about Marion and Flora's experiences.

3 Tower Avenue,

Sept 10, 1911

Dear Father,

I am sure you must be wondering why you have not heard from me, but I waited until I could tell you that I had seen Flora quite settled in Macdonald.

I was not able to go out with her as I had to be at school but I saw her safely off.

Mabel Shaw was with her. As she had been there before I thought she could look after her better than I could.

Henry was in town the day that she came in and he took Flora, May Watters and Mabel Shaw to the Windsor (Hotel) for lunch.

Then I got away from school and saw her off for Ste Anne's.

Yesterday Marion Watters and I went out and spent the day with her.Left here at 10 am and did not get back until 10 in the evening.

I think she is just a little bit lonesome but she would not give in that she was.

Everything is grand there. She has a fine room and her room mate seems to be a very nice girl and I am sure she will like it very much.

I only wish I were young again.

I suppose you will be home soon so I will leave anything that I have forgotten till then.

When you write Flora, put Box 55 on it and she will be sure to get it.

I want to get this into the mail so will stop for now.

Lovingly Marion

... Excuses, excuses. Letters in those days often began with an excuse (for not writing earlier) and ended with an excuse (for not writing more).

The Windsor was the fanciest hotel in Montreal in 1910. It was where High Society, on the Anglo side at least, held its balls, and art shows and such.

It is where powerful men lunched. So that fact that Dr. Henry Watters of Newton Center, Massachusetts took the girls there is worth noting. Dr. Henry Watters was May's older brother and Norman's nephew.

Macdonald College was built in 1907, with tobacco money and meant to be an agricultural school for men and a school of domestic science for women. The campus only absorbed the McGill Normal School (Teaching School)under pressure.

The Macdonald-Robertson movement was concerned with reversing the falls, so to speak. By teaching farmers advanced principles it was hoped they'd return to their farms and not stream to the cities for work. And by teaching girls 'the science of homemaking' it was hoped that fewer of them would aspire to jobs in the males sphere of the wider, outside world.

Those teachers were problematic. Some of them were career women -out of choice - and others were prime examples of those irksome 'new women' restlessly agitating for Universal Suffrage and social reform.

Letter 22: Liberal Fire-Water

Flora and, I'm guessing, May Watters. (They look alike and appear the same age and May has the long face inherited from Norman's mother, so it's the right side of the family.)


September 5, 1911

Dear Norman,

I have been so busy could not get time to write, but I got your last two letters.

Strange that you have had no word about coming home for the election. Dr. Skinner told me you'd be here the 16th. He is on the Committee. I heard you would have your trip for nothing.

Flora went into Montreal this morning. Marion went in yesterday with May. Marion was going to try to take Flora to the station to see her off on the train to Ste. Anne.

Flora did not feel lonesome getting on the train at Richmond as the girl she is to room with went with her. And Mr. Craik and son were going, as the boy is to be taking the teacher's course. And one of the Dresser girls too.

Only we both were pretty tired.

May is going to try and board with Marion at Mrs. Ellis's.

I met Clayton at Dan's Sunday night, when Marion went to say goodbye. They were asking when you were coming.

"Oh well," I said. "He will be hear to weep with his friends if the Liberals lose." Then I asked, "Do you really think Hayes is going to win?"

Clayton said, "Yes, there are so many Liberals turning Conservative. And I have not heard of one Conservative turning Liberal."

I said, "You will find that there won't be many who turn. And Hayes cannot win against Tobin." Of course he says the Liberals are using a lot of whiskey, and all such talk as that.

I told Rothney that you could not say about the house until you came home. He said he could wait until then all right.

I have not heard from Herb. In his last letter he says he is to be Manager again. So he is busy.

Yours with much love,

....Mr Craik's son would have been one of only a couple of males taking the teacher's course, but upon graduation he could expect a starting salary $300.00 dollars a year higher than that of a female graduate. And a principalship was a likely prospect, too, for any male Normal School graduate.

In the letters, Margaret often describes conversations in HE SAID I SAID fashion. Fun!

Ste Anne is 20 miles west of Montreal, at the tip of the island.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Letter 21: My Views are These

A chart tabulating votes in 1904 election in Richmond-Wolfe. (Norman Nicholson's)

Richmond August 21, 1911

Dear Sir,

At a large and representative convention held in the town of Richmond on the 18th day of this month, I was, by unanimous vote, selected as the Conservative Candidate for the Parliamentary Division of Richmond Wolfe.
The honor is a great one, and if elected, I will do my utmost to truly represent the views of my constituents.

On the two great questions of the day, Reciprocity and the Navy my views are these: I am opposed to the Taft Fielding Reciprocity Pact for reasons which I will explain from the platform. As to the question of the Navy I am in favor of having this matter decided by the direct vote of the people.

During the campaign I shall endeavor to visit all the parts of the two counties. The time is short and some localities may be overlooked, but I hope to have an opportunity of laying my views before you in meetings, the dates of which will be shortly announced.

If after having listened to our side of the case, you will favor me with your support.

I will be grateful.

Sincerely yours

John Hayes MD (Stamped)

In the 1904 election of the chart at top, Tobin the Liberal candidate got 3787 votes against 2576 for O'Brady the Conservative candidate. Men voted in Halls, schools, stores and even private homes, it seems. Poll number 13 at Windsor Mills was at the "store house of Mr. Dearden opposite River View Hotel." In Richmond that year 507men were eligible to vote. 371 men voted, 230 to 141 for Tobin the Liberal.

Letter 20: The Good Ole Cause

Mr. Norman Nicholson,
Residency 4, Division D Via Cochran, Ontario

Dear Sir,

I am in receipt of yours of the 15th instant and replying to same beg to say that I am still fighting the good ole cause and have Dr. Hayes of Richmond for opponent.

I will give your letter over to Mr. J A Begin and he will have to see about these matters as you are aware, I am pretty busy at the present time seeing my people. I hope that everything will be all right and will be glad to have you come and vote.

Yours truly,

E W Tobin (hand signed)

Letter 19: The Conservatives are Busy

Tighsolas Richmond August 18, 1911

Dear Norman,

Yours of the 15th received.
Marion wrote the first of the week giving you the information you asked for about Macdonald College. We had to get certificates from Dr. Moffatt for vaccination and her general (checkup). They asked for her weight so we went to McRae's and got her weighed, only 101 - not very much.

But she is feeling better than she did when she left school and is looking better.

About what Marion wrote, when Mr. Rothney called about wanting the house. they thought it would be just the thing for me to go to the city but I told him we could not say anything until you came home.
I hear that Mr. Rothney has given the college to Mr. Woodley, the New Principal. He may board.

Mr. Sutherland thought he would rent if he could not sell but later decided that they would stay here until they did sell.

Mr. Rothney looked at the Esnouf house with a view to buy.
Ian McMorine said we want to keep them both in town.

I think we have all the forms filled out and sent now. Just need the money.

I have got her some things at McMorine's.

Well, the election news.

I think they have got Mr. Montgomery fixed up all right. Dr. Skinner took him down in the auto to a meeting they had two nights ago.

They have rented the Barrie Block from Smilie so he is working with them this year and Bob Dyson is with them. Dr. Skinner said that is two that were against the Liberals last year - but the Conservatives are busy.

Tobin was in town two nights ago arranging matters.

Dr. Skinner was asking if you were coming. I said ,you won't need him, he said we better get all we can. So Sam and George Denzell were asking, they all say 'he better come'.

You better try and make some arrangement to be here and if you can stay and fix up for the winter.
I think likely this is the best place for me until we sell.

The last letter I got from Herb he was talking of Peace River District that he spoke of . I wrote him that I thought he was getting on well and he better stay in the Bank until you decide what you would do.

That if you did not stay on the road, you would likely go out west.

Allie McGillivery is running for Conservative member in Red Deer Alberta. He is getting up, is he not?

Sophia Nicholson leaves for Montreal Monday and then for the West. She just called twice. Would not take off her hat although we asked her to stay the night. She always had some excuse.

I will write again in a few days. You come home then we will see how this indigestion is. The trip will do you good and if you are not feeling well, we will just keep you here.

We are all very well. They have the telephone in at Jennie's. She called me up yesterday and invited me up for tea, as Annie and Aunt Christie were there.

With much love
Your wife Margaret

When they weighed themselves, it was fully dressed, so Flora was likely much less than 101 (unless they took the weight of clothes into consideration. I don't think so: in another era letter Edith says "I weigh 138 with my coat off." Flora is a tiny woman, so 101 isn't that skinny.
It appears that there is a sense, even in Richmond-Wolfe, that the election won't be a cakewalk for the Liberals.

Reciprocity wasn't popular with many Canadian industrialists, who didn't want tariffs on American goods lowered or eliminated. It wasn't popular with some citizens, because they feared the next logical step was the U.S. annexing Canada.

Some textile industry people, it is suggested in at least one era newspaper article, didn't want women to get the vote, because these women would likely vote for eliminating tarifs on textiles, in order to get cheaper fashions.

It was expensive for a woman to dress well in those days. Other era newspaper articles commented on it. One of the Nicholsons, likely Edith, clipped out a Letter to the Editor in reply to another letter mocking women and their expensive clothes habit. Men couldn't afford to keep them, the first letter writer complained. Well, if women could earn their own living, they could buy their own clothes, then, couldn't they? was the reply in the second letter. And it wasn't a woman's fault if most men preferred "the pretty butterfly of fashion and not the one who follows in St. Paul's admonition."

Letter 18: Don't Go on the Water

Marion in big hat on the water, possibly on Charles River in Boston with Henry Watters.

Residency 4 Div D. August 12, 1911

Dear Flora,

Your welcome letter of the 5th received last evening and was pleased to hear from you and to hear of your success in being accepted to Macdonald.

I note what you say about the financial part of it.

I am writing Marion to have her let me know how much the whole amt. will be and I will send mother a check to cover the amount.

The girl that is to become your roommate is a daughter of O. C .Shaw's of Kinsey, I think. Mother knows her father as he has been at our place.

She is a cousin of the Pope's in Melbourne and Richmond and her being at Macdonald will make it nice for you to start with.

I wish I could take the western trip with Henry as you said.

Mother tells me that Sophia Nicholson is going to Edmonton where her father and brothers are. Have you seen her yet?

I also hear through Mother that the Gymers (Margaret's sister Christie, living in Evanston, Illinois) and the Curries (Margaret's sister Sarah, living in Sarnia, Ontario) are coming to Richmond this summer.

Have they arrived yet?

Now I have nothing new to write about from here, what would interest you.

When you write again give me the election news at Richmond.
I see in the papers it is to be the 21st of September. That will make things lively at home for a time.

Let me know if there is anything you need when leaving home.

One thing, you are going to a nice place. When you reach St. Anne. I passed it when coming home. It's over the banks of the Ottawa River.

See that you do not go boating on the River as it is always dangerous. Do not be persuaded by any man to go as you read of so many boating accidents from currents and brats.

Tell mother that my indigestion is some better and hope you are all well.

Will close for this time,

Love to All

Your loving father, N

PS Time to go to bed. 10 pm.


Margaret's sisters, Christie and Sarah corresponded with her a great deal over the decades. (She had two other sisters, much older. Indeed, her neice, Florance Peppler, was raising a family across the street.)
Christie had moved to the US early on and complained in early letters that no one ever visited her. She also bragged in a 1910 era letter that she was over 50 but everyone said she looked so much younger. Well, she wasn't talking out of her big hat; she lived to 99!

These "Isle of Lewis" women were generally long-lived.

Sarah was a sad-sack sister, whose husband was an invalid with asthma and whose daughters, according to Christie, were uncaring. Sarah's letters to Margaret were full of complaints, but, then again, many letters Margaret received from relations and friends were on the blue side. It could be that women used the occasion of letter writing to vent, or it could be that life was hard in those days, for many women.

Christie lost a beloved son in the First World War and was devastated. Herb never went to war, and Christie pointed this out.

The Curry's moved about great deal in search of work. Sarnia, of course, was a highly polluted town in that era.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Letter 17: Are the Liberals to be Returned?

August 11, 1911

Richmond, Que

Dear Father,

Rec'd your letter and about Flora's expenses for the first month: there is the chemical Laboratory fee of $5.00, caution money of $5.00, doctor's fee of 3.00 which gives the attention of the Dr. through the year and 4 weeks board in advance which is 16.00 so that will be 29.00.

Then there is the fare in which I think will be about 3.50.

I don't know what books she will need but fancy she can get most of them from May Watters, if she has them. I think that is all she needs for a while and we are all busy trying to get her sewed up.

What do you think of the elections and are the Liberals to be returned?

Mr. Rothney called this morning to see if we would rent the house to a Mr. Woodley who is to take his place at the College.

Mother gave him no decided answer but said not at present. He then said that if we would rent it later in the fall that we would give Mr. Woodley his house at the College and he would take ours himself.

What do you think of it? If you were going to be up in the woods for the winter I think it would be a good plan for mother to take a flat in the city and then she could board Marion Watters and me which would bring in $40.00.

Then if this house were rented at $20.00, surely we could manage on that.

Of course, there would be the expense of taking furniture etc. into the city but we would not need so very much for one year.

I am sure if Mr. Rothney thought he could have this house, say in October or November, he would go and board with them.

It is the best I can do, since I have not found purchasers for Tighsolas. Evidently everyone does not appreciate it the way we do.

I hope this is very clear and plain and I supposed you will not be able to give any answer until you find that the Liberals have been returned.

I am sure the Rothneys would be nice people to have in our house - if any.

Let me know what you think of this as soon as possible. Mother will write to you today too so what I have failed to make clear, she will do.

Lovingly Marion

PS. Of course Mr. Rothney might find another house that would suit Mr. Woodley then there would be no need of him taking ours and he is in a great hurry to get it settled.

And he has not said that he would wait, so this may all come to nothing but it seemed such a good chance that I thought I must write at once.


...Marion Annie Nicholson, 24, was a woman of action, as this letter clearly reveals. And unlike her sisters and parents, she was not greatly attached to Tighsolas, their brick encased Scottish Baronial/Queen Anne style house in the posh area of town. And she was practical too: she, herself, was in search of a place to stay in the city, during the work year, a place without a bossy matron who watched her every move.

In those days it was very difficult for single working women to find accomodation in the city. And without good references it was next to impossible. And even with such references, the Matrons (usually widows) who boarded such women felt it their place to control them. After all, they were liable in the young women 'strayed.' They could be accused of running a bawdy house!

In 1911, the Nicholsons have serious financial problems, caused, in large part, by the many debts incurred by son Herb (all of which he has defaulted on and some of which his father, Norman, had co-signed for).

And Marion knows she will have to come through with her own cash if things get any worse. After all, her parents had paid for her tuition and board at McGill Norman School in the 1905/1906.

Norman, once a successful bark salesman, had already been feeling the pinch by 1900, when most of the hemlock bark in the E.T. (used in the tanning business) had been harvested. He turned to trading in pulpwood in 1901. But this didn't pan out: by 1907, he had 33 dollars in the bank and no employment.

Tighsolas was built in 1896, the year Wilfrid Laurier came to power, for 2, 712.00. Norman kept a record. The mortgage on the house was 90 dollars per quarter, at 6 percent interest on 1,500.

The Nicholsons were hoping to get around 4,000 for it, but that wasn't in the cards. Families were moving out of Richmond and there was surfeit of houses to rent or buy. The fact that Marion feels they can get 20 dollars for renting out Tighsolas is very revealing. Before building Tighsolas, the Nicholsons rented in Richmond, a smaller clapboard house and paid $25.00 a month!

Alas, their home was their only collateral - the only thing keeping Norman's own creditors from calling in their 'notes' - as they called it back then. (At least that is what the family feels.)

The house was, one the one hand, an anchor in a storm and on the other hand, a brick albatross around the family's neck, keeping the Nicholsons from being nimble enough to make swift and satisfactory decisions in an era of galloping change.

Letter 16: Expensive to go East.

Description of the landscape around Transcontinental Railway.

Residency 4, Division D. August 1

Dear Sir,

I see by the Herald today that you have received the unanimous nomination of the Liberal Convention at Richmond.

Allow me to congratulate you and hope that your election may be as successful.

In the matter of coming home to vote, could you arrange the matter through Mr. Parent. As they hold down very close here in leaving the work.

Also as to allowing my time while away, as it is expensive to come east, from here being so far, trusting you may be able to arrange this matter for me and that I may hear from you.

Yours Respectfully,
N Nicholson

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Letter 15: The Longest Ride

Tighsolas, August 10, 1911

Dear Norman,

Your letters of the 5th and 8th reached here in a short time.

You will have Marion's and Flora's by this time so you see Flora has her certificate to enter Macdonald; all we have to do now is to get her ready.

We are trying to but the hot weather and a good many interruptions we do not accomplish much.

You will know now that Parliament is dissolved and you better try and make some arrangement with Tobin.

Yesterday morning they had their Liberal convention; he was chosen again without a dissenting voice.

In the afternoon they had the speeches in the Town Hall. I went, of course, with Marion and Flora.

Edith was out at Kingsbury for two days. She just got down as the meeting was nearly over. She heard Began of Three Rivers and McKenzie (Provincial Member of Parliament).

The first speaker was Tobin in English and French and Began of Windsor Mills and R Smith RC of Montreal.

He,of course, was the finest orator. And after hearing him I am quite in favor of Reciprocity. And he also explained Sir Wilfrid's stand on the Navy Bill.

Dr. Hayes is the Conservative candidate. They have the Oddfellows hall for their meetings. The Liberals are trying to get the Barrie Block, which will be quite central near the hotel and post office.

I don't think Tobin has anything to fear. If the other counties are as sure, Sir Wilfrid will be returned to power.

I shook hands with Tobin.

He asked for you. I said you had not been home since you went up there.

There were so many around or I was going to say that likely the election would bring you.

Quite a number (of people) are asking for you. We are saying you will be home for the fight, so we will look for you then.

The time will pass quickly. Dr Skinner is quite interested in it. I said it was bad if you were away. He said "I have not gone yet."

Nathan (Montgomery) and his wife are quite off about this election. She does not believe in Reciprocity and he does not like the stand Sir Wilfrid took at the Imperial Conference.

I am going to tell Rowatt to fix them up. I think Dr. Moffatt has been talking to them.

I am glad you are feeling some better. Drink boiled water all you can.

Tuesday Mr. and Mrs. Wales (town tycoon and shop-keeper) and his chauffeur came up to the house in their fine new car and asked me to go for a ride. They took me to Windsor Mills, the longest ride I have had. I enjoyed it very much indeed. Mr. Wales has been quite ill but better. He has not run the car yet himself.

Last eve Marion and Flora went to play tennis. Mr. Skinner asked Edith and me to go out with them, we went out seven miles in the Spooner Pond Road but could not find the pond. We had the ride and the air: that was what we wanted.

Jack McMorine is not in the store yet. He is not getting on very well, is able to be out at the door a little.

Marion had a letter from Henry Watters. He is leaving Montreal today for his Western Trip. He has to be back in Boston the 6th of September so it came on hurriedly. He said he will see Herb.

Mr. Neilson got home a few days ago. Said Herb was looking well. He was there all the afternoon.

We are dreading the visitors from the South and the West as we are so busy. Sophia Nicholson called. I gave her your message. She did not stay a night, although we asked her and she promised to. She has gone back to Flodden and will leave from there. She says she is going to Winnipeg by boat (?) Too common to go all the way by rail.

Dan and Grandma are well.

Our wood is holding out all right. Will have plenty to do until you come.

I will mail you the Times tomorrow.

Yours with much love,


E.W. Tobin was a self-made man, a Roman Catholic of Irish Extraction with only an elementary school education. (Unlike Peter Mackenzie, the MNA for Richmond, who was a graduate of St. Francis College.)

Tobin, who owned a saw mill, was MP for the region for 33 years and the letters and telegrams to the Nicholsons, in good times and bad, reveal why. Tobin was loyal to constituents and especially to his workers on the ground.

Women did not have the vote in 1910, but the suffrage movement was at its peak in Canada, not that Canada had much of a suffrage movement. This letter suggests some women already had a say in the 'family' vote. All the Nicholsons (including Norman) support the suffragists. In the era, Edith goes to hear UK speakers brought in by the Montreal Council of Women. In the 1920 election, Margaret goes out to cast her first vote ever early in the morning. "How I love this country!" she writes in a letter to Marion. Mrs. Montgomery arrives home from out of town too late to vote.

The shopkeepers of Richmond, Quebec were well-off and influential. McMorine (dry goods, ready-made clothing, boots and rubbers) McCrae (groceries, provisions and hardware) Pope's Butchers, and a Miss Eugenie Hudon, milliner, who in 1909 tricked mother Margaret into buying a big fashionable hat she was embarrassed to wear to church. Well, Miss Hudon was probably losing her young fashion-conscious customers to the big city, which is why her terms were firm: "Accounts must be paid by the end of each month."

J.C. Sutherland sold his drugstore to Mr. Bedard in 1911, when appointed Superintendent of Schools.

Mr. Wales, who owned a General Store, advertised fabrics and dress goods each week in the Richmond Times-Guardian. According to the Richmond Historical Society's book "Tread of Pioneers" Wales was the first person to own a car in Richmond. Upon his death, he left money for an Old Age Home to be erected, which still exists and still bears his name. Norman, a leading citizen who was embarrassed financially, was an executor of his will.