The honeymoon diary continues from New York City with a view from the past of Montreal in 1916.
As much as I’ve enjoyed reading the 102-year-old honeymoon diary, as the young bride, Myrtle, describes visiting Montreal, Canada, I’m left thinking “What?” a lot.
Newly married Myrtle starts with her journey to Montreal from N.Y. City by way of Albany.
Sept. 13th – Left Perth Amboy, N.J. at 9 A.M. for Grand Central Station, N.Y. City. We were there for several hours and what a Station. Just too much excitement. Missed the boat ride up the Hudson River but the train followed the River all the way to Albany. It was beautiful. Arrived at Albany, N.Y. 3:53 P.M. Went sight-seeing since Albany is a Capitol City. Left at 11:05 P.M. for Montreal, Canada, arriving at 7 A.M. So very tired but no rest.
Postcards give a clue to their sight-seeing.
Arrival in Montreal
Things get a little more curious in Montreal.
Sept. 14th – Staying with Mrs. Robinson, who keeps a boarding house. She did not think it decent for me to stay in my room to rest. (Will never forget how tired I was, too.) Went shopping with her for vegetables while Sid went looking for a ring. All her Roomers’ are quite old and very nice to me. Sid and I sight-seeing in the P.M.
A RING? Shouldn’t there be more about the jewelry Sid is going in search of and less about Mrs. Robinson’s roomers? And why is Mrs. Robinson so concerned about Myrtle’s “decency?”
The next day, Myrtle writes:
Sept. 15th. Soldiers all over the City. Makes one think there really must be a war on. Recruiting stations on all corners and made of sand-bags [sic]. This was our first real miserable day. Rain and very cold. Went to call on Win Gore, Mrs. Robinson’s father, who is a Fireman. He showed us all the fire-house equipment and their Mascot an Airdale [sic] dog. He and his wife are so nice and like real Folks. Took a ride over the city in the P.M. and another show in the evening with Mrs. Robinson. Really tired but don’t dare say a word. (Mrs. M.G. Robinson, 545 Dorchester Street.)
Filling in the Gaps with Research
Curious about the city itself, I looked to see what local historical sources were available online. Luckily, the Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales Du Québec grants access to historical editions Lovell’s Montreal directory. (Like most city directories, Lovell’s directories are a great source of socio-historical context. The Introduction of this issue had detailed information about Montreal in 1916.)
Lovell’s 1915-1916 directory puts Mrs. M.G. Robinson’s address as 543 W. Dorchester Street, a few doors down from the Windsor Hotel and the YWCA.
It also states that Mrs. Robinson is a widow of L. Robinson, which will be a useful clue if I decide to investigate to see if Mrs. Robinson was a relation of either Myrt or Sid. (That would certainly explain why Myrtle seemed bound Mrs. Robinson’s conventions about sleep and why she went along vegetable shopping and calling on Mrs. Robinson’s father.)
A few doors down, at 541 W. Dorchester street, Lovell’s lists W.S. Gore, the “fireman.” That same city directory lists him as a “watchman” in the name section. According to one of my favorite experts for all things French-Canadian and Genealogical, Judy Nimer Muhn, tells me that during WWI, “watchman” could refer to a plane sighter or even a forest service watcher. I wonder if it’s possible that firefighters took on that additional responsibility in the port city.
Montreal in 1916: A City Impacted by War
Myrtle’s description of soldiers all over Montreal in 1916 piqued my interest, as did her photo of one of the recruitment stations she mentioned.
In 1916, Canada was struggling to recruit soldiers, according to French Canada and Recruitment during the First World War by Dr. Serge Durflinger, an artlcle posted by the Canadian War Museum. “By 1916,” he states, “ …Those keen to volunteer had already done so; the rest would have to be convinced — or compelled.” Dr. Durflinger explains that most French-Canadians were not easily swayed to the cause.
French Canada’s views were reflected in low enrollment numbers. Yet, most Canadians of military age, notwithstanding language, did not volunteer. Those tied to the land, generations removed from European immigration, or married, volunteered the least. Significantly, these characteristics applied most often to French Canadians, although many rural English-Canadians were not enlisting either.
Looking closely at the photo, I could make out “Battalion Duchess of Connaught’s Own Irish Rangers” on the larger sign. According to the Library of Congress’s World Digital Library, this Montreal-based, “purely Irish” unit was founded “to assist with recruitment.” Happily, Wikipedia provided a recruiting poster (made available courtesy of the Library of Congress) that gives a clue to where Myrtle and Sid may have taken their photo.
In the fine print, the poster states that they were recruiting at 91 Stanley Street. Going back to the 500 block of Lovell’s 1915-1916 directory pictured above, we see that Stanley Street intersected with W. Dorchester street at the YWCA, just a stone’s throw from Mrs. Robinson’s residence.
It makes you wonder about what conversations Myrtle and Sid were having about the war and how it would impact their future, doesn’t it?
What stories are waiting in your closet? What not start telling them?
Photos and postcards from the post card album are in the Public Domain.
Screenshot from Lovell’s 1915 directory: Courtesy of the Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales Du Québec
Image of Recruitment poster: Public Domain. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3g12719.