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.

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