Thursday, May 25, 2017

Dutton Events May 27, 2017

Backus-Page House Museum will have a display at the Dutton Child Care Centre with information about our summer day camps and pioneer toys to play with.  

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

World War Wednesdays: The First World War Chronicles of H. W. Cooper, Part One

H. W. Cooper ca. 1917, Elgin County Archives
     I recently came across a vast repository of some remarkable pen and ink drawings from the First World War in the Elgin County Archives, and wanted to do a bit of a different post that would allow me to include as many of them as possible. Each one provides a unique glimpse into life during the First World War and the Canadian soldier's experience, and it is fascinating to see these snapshots of moments in time through the artist's perspective. It's not immediately clear how ECA became the home of so many of these valuable records, but we're lucky to have them in safe keeping close to home. Here is ECA's biography of artist H. W. Cooper, 1893-1976:
As a child, Herbert W. Cooper lived with his family in Australia, where he attended boarding school and worked in a mining camp. At some point he emigrated to Canada where, preceding and during the first two years of the First World War he served as a Quarter Master Sergeant and military recruiter at a military depot in Toronto, while also working as a freelance illustrator and writer for Macleans magazine.
In 1916, Cooper was posted to active war service in Europe as a non-commissioned officer with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, serving as a Transport Staff Sergeant with the mounted ambulance corps in Belgium and as a Quarter Master Sergeant in France.
In January, 1918, Cooper was assigned to the Topographic Section, Intelligence Branch, Canadian Corps Headquarters, France, where he worked constructing scale models in clay of the Canadian front lines, based on maps, aerial photographs and other materials.
In July, 1918, Cooper returned to front line duty, first with the Royal Flying Corps (R.F.C.) and then with the Canadian Corps Survey Section working as an observer, flash spotter and document runner.
From December, 1918 to January, 1919, Cooper was posted to Canadian Corps Headquarters in occupied Bonn, Germany and was then transferred to Jodoigne, Belgium, where he served until early April, 1919 when he was transferred to the Canadian War Narrative Section (CWNS), Canadian Corps Camp, Bramshott, Hants, England.
In June, 1919, Cooper was transferred with the CWNS to Ottawa, Canada. His letters indicate that he planned to continue serving with the CWNS until early autumn, 1919, when he intended to seek his discharge papers and relocate to New York City to seek work in “the advertising business” as a copy writer/ illustrator.

     Further, here is their description of the collection of Cooper's records:
Fonds consists of pen and ink drawings and letters depicting scenes of daily life involving the Canadian Expeditionary Force in France, Belgium and Germany during and immediately after the First World War. Includes descriptions and images of Albert, France; Neuville St. Vaast, France; Notre Dame de Lorette, France; Lievin, France; Ypres, Belgium; Camblain L'Abbe, France; Mont St. Eloi, France; Andenne, Belgium; Bonn, Germany; and Cologne, Germany; as well as descriptions of Cooper's work with the Canadian War Narrative Section in Bramshoot, Hants, England and Ottawa, Ontario in 1919.

     Without further ado, I will let these works speak for themselves:
Church and Statue, Albert, France, ca. 1916-1917
Soldiers at Rest and Play, ca. 1916-1917

The Most Comfortable Spot on a Winter Night, ca. 1916-1917
In the Underground Y.M.C.A., ca. 1917
Some Signs on a Street Corner- Lievin, France, ca. 1917
Artist Acknowledging Gift of Socks, ca. 1916
Scenes in Ypres, Belgium, ca. 1917
French Kids Doing Homework in an Estaminet, ca. 1917-1918
Refugees, ca. 1918
Sentry Guarding German Prisoners of War, ca. 1918
     I hope you enjoyed these fantastic works and their realist portrayals of the people and places we read about so often in First World War history. If you're interested in seeing more, check out @HWCooper510199 on Twitter to see more of the drawings, and stay tuned for next week's discussion of Cooper's wartime letters!
     Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Happy Victoria Day

from all of us at Backus-Page House Museum and Tyrconnell Heritage Society!

We're open today from noon-4:30pm for museum tours.  Adults $5, children $2

Thursday, May 18, 2017

May 20 & 21 The Road to Culloden A Scottish Living History Event

Don't be an Outlander!  Join us at Backus-Page House Museum this weekend for new battles and surprises.  Meet Bonnie Prince Charlie and his loyal Jacobites!  Visit Colonel John Campbell and an historic Sutler's Tavern.  Food available for purchase.  Museum open for tours with the new I Am Canadian exhibit on the second floor and wood stove cooking in the back kitchen.

No debit on site, but credit card available for gate and food upon request.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

World War Wednesdays: The First World War Munitions Industry in St. Thomas and Beyond

Female workers making munitions at St. Thomas Metallic Vaults plant, St. Thomas, ON, during the First World War, Elgin County Archives
     Something I feel like I haven’t written much about so far is the industrial aspect of war and how the Elgin County area was implicated by manufacturing demands. I was a bit disappointed to find that there really isn’t much written on this topic in the local context, and hope to see some more resources in the future. This week, I’ve compiled what I was able to find in terms of the First World War! 

     To begin, I think it's of interest and importance to mention the state of hydroelectric power in Ontario at the time that the war broke out. As an example for all my local readers, the town of Dutton did not get hydro until August 1915, and was the first municipality in the province to receive its power by using the existing telephone lines along the Pere Marquette Railroad. When that was achieved, Dutton became the 121st municipality in Ontario to get hydro. Thus, hydroelectricity in the area was in its infancy at a time when it was on the precipice of its greatest possible demand. Great Britain had declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914 (automatically including Canada as well), and as an historical record compiled by Entegrus observes, "To manufacture weapons of war, munitions factories needed ever greater amounts of power, The demands made on the Hydro Electric Power Commission system increased enormously."

     According to a pamphlet compiled from government records called "Shell and Fuse Scandals: A Million-Dollar Rake-off," "The history of the war shows that the British Government was quite unprepared, at its outbreak to furnish the necessary supply of munitions. Realizing this- strenuous efforts were made to manufacture quickly large quantities of shells to cope with this situation and the enormous reserves which Germany had for years piled up. Shells were of vital importance; shells meant protecting the lives of our Canadian and British soldiers. Shells were the one thing that was needed."

     The pamphlet also observes that "The Canadian Government was asked to assist in the manufacture of shells and were given an initial order of 200,000. The Government appointed a shell committee composed of four military and four civilian members [the Dominion Shell Committee]." recognizes that "having a strong industrial base was as important as having good men at the front. Furthermore, Sam Hughes, Minister of Militia, impressed upon the Dominion Shell Committee that all components of the shells to be used on the front be produced in Canada." However, the process of awarding manufacturing contracts was more complex than would be expected. The site highlights that industrial contracts for munitions production "were very difficult to come by as there was a very strict set of conditions and standards that had to be met, but again, the demand was for locally produced munitions." Contracts were secured through the efforts of local politicians and Boards of Trade, who had to impress the Dominion Shell Committee and Minister of Militia. 

     At that time, the city of St. Thomas was among a group of similarly-sized municipalities for manufacturing and industry which included Stratford and Guelph, which were cited as examples of 'organizing cities' whose wartime industrial production secured a viable economic future that would carry on into peacetime. 

     Elgin County Archives holds only one accessible example of a wartime munitions factory in St. Thomas, though I am sure there are others. This is the St. Thomas Metallic Grave Vaults Ltd. plant, which was located at 155 Curtis Street, on the northwest corner of Curtis and St. Catharine Streets (now the site of the St. Thomas Police and Administration of Justice Building). A publication by the Elgin County Board of Trade and Publicity Association from around 1930 describes the peacetime purpose was for the factory: "The St. Thomas Metallic Vault Co., in their large two story brick building, are making vaults of a new type for inclosing [sic] coffins for interment, which are burglar proof, the demand for which is growing apace." Here are some photos of the interior of the factory when it was producing shells for the war, ca. 1917:

     There is very little information regarding that period in the factory's history besides these images, or the rest of its operation. A St. Thomas Times-Journal article published February 18, 1961 was captioned: "St. Thomas Metallic Industries Ltd., a direct subsidiary of H.A. Astlett & Co. (Canada) Ltd. has been sheet metal fabricators in St. Thomas for over 49 years. The principal items manufactured being "ST. THOMAS" metallic grave vaults which are produced in various sizes and distinctive colors. In recent years other products such as roofers' maintenance kettles, road maintenance equipment, portable torches, salamanders, and steel door frames have been fabricated for municipalities, contractors and railroad companies. Equipment for the tobacco industry has also been made and custom machining done for local industries." 

     Please let me know if you have any more details to help me fill in the blanks! 
     Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

World War Wednesdays: Glow: The "Radium Girls" During and After WWI

Employees of the U.S. Radium Corp. paint numbers on the faces of wristwatches using dangerous radioactive paint. 
  I'd like to thank my sister Lexi for bringing this week's topic to my attention, and hope you find this tragic story as interesting as we did.

     Beginning around the turn of the century in America, the chemical element radium was popularly seen as a scientific miracle that could cure a variety of ailments, including cancer, upon ingestion of the so-called "liquid sunshine." Because the magical substance glowed and fizzed, the radium craze saw its application in numerous other capacities, most notably in the production of glow-in-the-dark wrist watches. During the teens and the First World War period, the watches were largely manufactured for the U.S. military due to their obvious benefit in trench and combat conditions, before the 1920s gave way to their popularity as a hot new gadget among civilians.

     The watches were manufactured in factories across America owned by the U.S. Radium Corp., which were predominantly staffed by working-class young women. Bill Kovarik describes the production conditions and process: "Racks of dials waiting to be painted sat next to each woman's chair. They mixed up glue, water and radium powder into a glowing greenish-white paint, and carefully applied it with a camel hair brush to the dial numbers. After a few strokes, the brushes would lose their shape, and the women couldn't paint accurately." He quotes former employee Grace Fryer: "'Our instructors told us to point them with our lips,' she said. 'I think I pointed mine with my lips about six times to every watch dial. It didn't taste funny. It didn't have any taste, and I didn't know it was harmful.'" The workers were thus regularly ingesting the radium as part of their job, which reflects how harmless it was thought to be at the time. In addition, they would even paint their nails and teeth with it to surprise their boyfriends when the lights went out.

     Continuing with Grace's story, Kovarik describes how she came to realize that her time working with the glowing substance proved detrimental to her health:
     "Grace quit the factory in 1920 for a better job as a bank teller. About two years later, her teeth started falling out and her jaw developed a painful abscess. The hazel eyes that had charmed her friends now clouded with pain. She consulted a series of doctors, but none had seen a problem like it. X-ray photos of her mouth and back showed the development of a serious bone decay. Finally, in July 1925, one doctor suggested that the problems may have been caused by her former occupation. As she began to investigate the possibility, Columbia University specialist Frederick Flynn, who said he was referred by friends, asked to examine her. The results, he said, showed that her health was as good as his. A consultant who happened to be present emphatically agreed. Later, Fryer found out that this examination was part of a campaign of misinformation started by the U.S. Radium Corporation. The Columbia specialist was not licensed to practice medicine -- he was an industrial toxicologist on contract with her former employer. The colleague had no medical training either -- he was a vice president of U.S. Radium."

     The Corporation was thus an active conspirator in the illusion of radium's harmlessness, and we know today that it was fully aware of its dangerous side effects as recognized by scientists at the time. As with all significant historical moments, the intellectual and moral conditions of the time played a major role in the outcome of Fryer's and the Corporation's story. The realization that her health issues were related to the circumstances of her former employment coincided with the latter portion of the Progressive Movement in America, when intellectuals and activists undertook the effort to cure societal ills that had been brought about by rapid industrialization beginning in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This meant increasing professionalization and the proliferation of organizations, in addition to a strong role played by women spearheading those initiatives. In Orange, NJ, the location of one of the Radium Corp. factories, a city health department official brought the New Jersey Consumers League into an investigation of the mysterious deaths of four radium factory workers between 1922 and 1924, who then enlisted other experts to contribute to the study.

     Kovarik describes the lawsuit that followed from the investigation: "Although it meant flying in the face of some medical opinion, Grace Fryer decided to sue U.S. Radium, but it took her two years to find an attorney willing to take the case. On May 18, 1927, Raymond Berry, a young Newark attorney, took the case on contingency and filed a lawsuit in a New Jersey court on her behalf. Four other women with severe medical problems quickly joined the lawsuit. They were Edna Hussman, Katherine Schaub, and sisters Quinta McDonald and Albina Larice. Each asked for $250,000 in compensation for medical expenses and pain. The five eventually became known in newspaper articles carried in papers throughout the U.S. and Europe as 'the Radium Girls.'"

 Clipping from The Bee, Danville, Virginia, 1928
  Another trend that was becoming prominent around the time of the radium girls story and Progressivism was the role of the media in influencing public opinion surrounding news events. A publicity blizzard surrounded the story, led by New York World editor Walter Lipmann, which outraged readers and shifted opinion in favour of the victims while pressurizing the U.S. Radium Corp. to settle the case. Kovarik describes how the story was able to reach French scientist Marie Curie, who had discovered radium: "Curie heard about the reaction and, on June 4, said: "I am not a doctor, so I cannot venture an opinion on whether the New Jersey girls will die. But from newspaper descriptions of the manner in which they worked, I think it imperative to change the method of using radium."Curie herself died of radium poisoning in 1934."

     Eventually, an out-of-court settlement was reached between the Corp. and the radium girls, who received annual payments while they lived and had all medical and legal expenses paid by the company. In addition, a conference endorsed by numerous public officials including Eleanor Roosevelt called for the establishment of two committees: one to investigate existing conditions and another to recommend the best known means of protection for workers. A Public Health Service official, James P. Leake, commended the Consumers League and others who had worked on behalf of public health and worker safety. "By focusing public attention on some of these horrible examples," Leake said, "the broader problems of disease prevention... can be greatly reduced. It was so in the tetra-ethyl lead work." He added: "The martyrdom of a few may save many." Thus, while the five radium girls eventually succumbed to their exposure during the 1920s and 1930s, their experiences set a new precedent for legal working conditions in America in addition to a standard for public health.

     If you're interested in some fascinating further reading, here is an article discussing a radium-exposed factory worker who miraculously lived to be 107 and died in 2014:
     All information courtesy of "The Radium Girls" by Bill Kovarik, which you can read in full here:
     Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)