Thursday, February 27, 2014

Marching Off to War

The hot and languid summer of 1914 was rudely interrupted by escalating hostilities an ocean and a world away from Canada. Once Britain declared war on Germany, it was only a matter of hours before Canada rallied to support her Mother Country. After all, Canadians were British subjects in those days.

“WAR” screamed the Toronto Star headline on August 5, and people cheered in the streets. With a mixture of excitement and patriotism, over 30,000 naïve young Canadians hurried to enlist in a conflict that everyone thought would be over by Christmas. They couldn’t have imagined the enormous sacrifices they would make.  

Privilege and wealth didn’t help. In fact, officers were killed in proportionally larger numbers than their men. Some families lost all their sons. Many felt that the best and brightest were among those who lay in the endless rows of graves.

During the four years of conflict, 600,000 Canadians enlisted, 68,000 died and over 170,000 were wounded, some more than once. Canada's population at that time was less than 8 million. There is, of course, no record of the mental and emotional toll that "the war to end all wars" took on the participants and their families.

Monday, February 24, 2014

From Regattas to Combat

Canoe race

One of the highlights of summers on the lake is the annual regatta. These friendly but often fierce competitions encompass sports such as canoeing, swimming, and sailing, and also quirkier events such as canoe tilting, as shown in the photo below.

Canoe tilting or jousting
The Muskoka Lakes Association (MLA) Regatta was already so popular prior to The Great War that people travelled up to Lake Rosseau from Toronto just for the day, with special steamships and overnight trains to ferry them home again. Hundreds of private boats sat at anchor or were moored many deep at the docks and islands within view of the activities. At the end of the day, various resorts held dances because even the largest of them, The Royal Muskoka Hotel (mentioned in a previous post), couldn’t accommodate all the revellers.

MLA Regatta at the Royal Muskoka Hotel
Canada’s Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, was vacationing at the luxurious Royal Muskoka Hotel in July of 1914, and was supposed to award the prizes at the MLA Regatta. But he had to rush back to Ottawa just days before Britain declared war on Germany on August 4th, when Canada was also plunged into war.

The young men who had fought to be the toughest or fastest on the lakes would now battle on a far different and distant playing field.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

No Shocking Glimpse of Stocking

Photo by Frank Micklethwaite
It must have been awkward and difficult to canoe in those long skirts and fussy picture hats – to say nothing of dangerous if you capsized. Underneath those dresses, ladies wore steel-boned corsets, lace-edged chemises, ruffled, embroidered, pleated, or flounced petticoats, knee-length drawers, and stockings. Not exactly swimwear, or comfortable for energetic summer activities. 

Eaton's Catalogue 1913-14

Eaton's Catalogue 1913-14
 These elegant styles are from the Eaton’s 1913-1914 Fall and Winter Catalogue.

Eaton's Catalogue 1920-21
During the war, hemlines were already rising to show a bit more of a “glimpse of stocking”, which Cole Porter rightly pointed out in his 1934 hit, “Anything Goes”, had once been considered shocking. Perhaps more shocking are the prices, which seem to have more than tripled in only 7 years.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Different Kind of “Family Bible”

Eaton's Catalogue, 1916
Do you want to buy a piano and some sheet music to play on it? Have you run out of Campbell’s soups, smelling salts, or Lydia Pinkham’s potent patent women’s tonics? Need a new kitchen range? Wallpaper? Canoe? How about an elegant horse-drawn sleigh? Will you choose a $10 or $100 diamond ring for your sweetheart? You could order just about anything anyone would want or need from the Eaton’s catalogue. In 1912, you could even purchase a pre-fab house for $890!

Eaton's Catalogue, 1914
First published in 1884, the Eaton’s catalogue grew in size and popularity to became a Canadian household staple for over 90 years – often referred to as the “Family Bible”. Kids on isolated farms or in city homes leafed through them eagerly to find skates, bicycles, train sets, hockey sticks, or doll carriages to add to their Christmas wish lists. Women discovered the latest fashions for themselves and their homes. Men could deliberate over cameras and rifles, pocket watches and fishing lures.

Cottagers often put in substantial catalogue orders before heading to the lakes for the summer. By the 1930s, there was a special “Eaton’s Camp and Cottage Book”, and goods were delivered right to your dock – including motorboats and pre-fab cottages!

The Eatons themselves were avid cottagers, as mentioned in a previous blog.

Cottages and all their contents have been sold or passed down through generations. I wonder how many still have furnishings provided by Eaton’s?