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Random Historical, Social and Cultural Moments


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No Typhoid in O’Keefe’s Beer, Montreal, 1906

La Presse 6 May 1906, page 27

Cause beer cures everything!


Pas de Typhoide dans la bière O’Keefe

Toutes les bières O’Keefe sont absolument pures et hygiéniques.  On ne sert que du meilleur orge, du meilleur malt, meilleur houblon et de pure eau filtrée.

Pour etre doublement certains, nous faisons filtre l’eau avant le brassage, filtrer de nouveau ayant l’embouteillage, et finalement pasteuriser.

Nous avons une Biere pour tous les gouts

Good label Ale – pour ceux qui aiment une biere  rich et cremeuse – egale a n’importee

O’Keefe’s Special Extra Mild Ale – pour ceux qui trouvent les bieres ordinaires trop pesantes.

O’Keefe’s Pilsener Lager – La biere legere dans la bouteille claire, pour ceux qui aiment un breuvage de temperance leger

O’Keefe’s Star Beer – que ne contient pas 1 ¼ pc d’alcool

Commandez de la O’Keefe aujourd’hui – la biere qui est toujours OK

O’Keefe Brewery Co Limited – Toronto

Driving in Quebec, summer 1930


cartoon 1930

The Crossing Sign

Bill heeded nix

Now he’s crossed

The River Styx


Curve on Two Wheels

Tried Bill McGee

And Drove Slap Bang

Into Eternity


So very fast

Drove Percy Dough

That his friends drove

Behind him slow


Hic Jacet Nutt

Who, on a twirl,

Drove with one arm

Around his girl


Here’s all that’s left

Of Danny Stead

Ignored the lights

Both green and red


He’s sleeping here

Is William Hicks

Found Gas and Booze

Wouldn’t mix


The Province of Quebec automobile bureau submits figures to show that with the clearing of the roads for Summer, motorists are inclined to cut loose and take dangerous chances.

A Bride’s Costume, Etiquette, 19C

Gentlewomen Aim to Please: Edited from Victorian Manuels of Etiquette, Jerrard Tickell, London: George Routledge & Sons, 1933.


A bride’s costume should be white, or some hue as close as possible to it.  It is considered more stylish for a very young bride to go without a bonnet, but for her head to be covered with only a wreath of orange blossoms and a Chantilly or some other lace veil: this, however, is entirely a matter of taste; but, whether wearing a bonnet or not, the bride must always wear a veil.  If a widow she may wear not only a bonnet but a coloured silk dress.

Getting Married in Paris, 1892

Glengarry News, 4 Feb 1892


Getting married in Paris

Saturday is the marrying day of the Parisian ouvrier.  It is an economical arrangement.  It gives Pierre two whole days for celebrating, with a loss of but one in the shop.  He is obliged to take advantage of all such devices for, do his best, marrying is expensive business in Paris.

Before Pierre can with safely select his particular Saturday he has a multitude of civil and religious requirements to see to.  Neither he nor Lizette can think of such a thing as marrying without the consent of their families.  If father, mother and grandparents are dead, a family council must be called of the nearest living relatives to consider the case and give or withhold permission.  If it is refused to Pierre, and he is under 25, or to Lizette, and she is under 21, the marriage cannot go on.  If they are over those ages they can summon the recalcitrant relatives three times, at intervals of a month each, before a notary to give consent. If after the third summons, the permission is still withheld, at the end of a fourth month, they may marry.  That is, after the proper publications have been made and necessary documents taken out.

When Should a Man Swear? 1895

The Glengarrian, 20 Sep 1895

When should a man swear?

Man is not only a reasoning but a swearing animal.  Sometimes his feelings are expressed audibly and at others they are so deep down in his nature that nothing less than a volcano would thrust them to the surface.  If man should swear at all, when should that time be? The church is silent on this important matter and the law gives no sanction to cuss words.  Stovepipes are provocative of feeling, but corns are far worse.  Wives should see that their husband’s corns are kept down.  This may be done quite easily, painlessly, and with absolute certainty by Putnam’s Corn Extractor.  Beware of flesh-eating substitutes offered for Putnam’s Corn Extractor.

Angst and the Regeneration, Doctor Who, 2017

Every Doctor Who fan, every few years, undergoes the worry and fear of the regeneration.  It starts with the dreaded announcement – ‘this will be the last season’ for whichever actor is playing the Doctor.  The BBC and the Doctor Who production team then start this crazy game of who will be the next Doctor, the press weighs in and then the betting starts.  It is all a crazy, crazy environment which is used to publicize the show, and well it causes much existential angst amongst the fans.

The merits of the top contenders are weighed, the bets are laid, and the wait ensues.  Ultimately a new choice is made, and there is general discussion about whether the producers were drinking a lot, or if this was the best choice made, and so on.

This has been going on since 1966 when William Hartnell left the show and Innis Lloyd the producer had to replace him.  This was big stuff – Hartnell was the original Doctor, and nowhere was it said that he could change.  It was a risk in just replacing him, but they did, with Patrick Troughton.  He managed it by being completely different.  And so it came to pass that when the actor playing the Doctor decided that it was time to move on (and in the case of one – when someone else decided it was time to move on) the fan was faced with the suspense of the regeneration.  Would the actor be good in the part, were things going to change too much, would it all work?

The first regeneration I remember is when Tom Baker left the series in 1981 and Peter Davison was announced as the new Doctor.  I was a bit surprised.  I knew Davison as “Tristan” in All Creatures Great and Small, and loved him in the part.  How would he work as the Doctor?  Added to which, he seemed awfully young.  Ultimately, I loved his Doctor.

For me, the key to a good regeneration – or rather the key to having the series last when the lead actor leaves – is to make the character of the Doctor different enough so as to lessen comparisons between performers, while keeping the essential elements which the audience understand and recognize.  This is a very tricky balance to keep.  It all depends on the ability of the producers and writers to make sure that the stories provide the actor with the means to portray the Doctor, and please the audience.  It is a rather hard place for an actor to be in, to have to take over such an iconic role, with such weighted expectations, huge history, and devoted fandom.  It takes a deft hand, and a lot of talent to manage this.  For the most part the series has been successful.  Although I have to say, the first season for Capaldi was really a disappointment, so it was a good thing that the actor was so good in the part that he was able to overcome rather lacklustre scripts.

I have now gone through this whole regeneration merry-go-round 8 times, and well, honestly, it is getting silly.  When it was announced that Matt Smith was leaving it became a rather heated debate as to who would replace him.  I think that the added muscle of social media made this particularly noteworthy.  There was the feeling that the role of the Doctor should reflect more of its audience. There was a lot of talk about having the Doctor be less WASP-y, with the casting Idris Elba or David Harewood, both fine actors of colour, and good choices. Then there was the talk of having the Doctor be less manly, and hiring a woman for the part. Neil Gaiman’s great episode “The Doctor’s Wife” had already suggested that Time Lords were not gender fixed.   So why not have the Doctor be a woman?

A lot of people were outraged, the Doctor a woman?  Not happening, it isn’t traditional, it won’t work, etc.  They hired Capaldi, so the point was moot.

And then, during Capaldi’s run they brought back the Master as a woman.  Missy was brilliant, and the chemistry between the Capaldi and Michelle Gomez, who plays her, is captivating. The issue of regeneration then as a woman was answered by the producers – male characters can regenerate into women.  Any restrictions imagined by the fans or others were gone.

So when Capaldi announced that he was leaving, the discussion became more pronounced.  Soon after there was a lot of buzz about Tilda Swinton being offered the role (an interesting idea). But with this seeming openness about gender in casting, the haters came out.  I must say that this brave new world of social media has not only increased conversation, it has created a platform for people to express some not so pleasant views about women in roles of power (and the Doctor is a power role).  There are also a number of people who expressed disdain at the idea of a female lead in a science fiction work.  And then it was announced yesterday that Jodie Whittaker would be the Doctor.  Boom!

I must say people can be disappointing, saying such hateful things, and making such rash judgements.  We haven’t even seen her play the Doctor yet, and people are trashing the choice, making statements that are rather misogynistic and cruel.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a female lead in Doctor Who. And in an interview Whittaker actually had to defend her gender.  Defend it, as if somehow the choice was wrong.  Ridiculous!

Every time the role is recast, there will be changes.  As fans we have to accept that.  The actors we enjoy will not play that role forever.  They are talented people and want to enjoy a variety of parts in their career.  We have to accept that the change is inevitable, and that while we may picture the Doctor in our heads in one way, and this is usually biased towards our first Doctor (you never forget your first) that is not necessarily how others do.  So the Doctor will be played by a woman now – so what?  It is not the gender that is important.

Like other regenerations the proof will be in the pudding.  We have to hope that the producers and writers of Doctor Who come through with solid scripts, that the casting for all the parts is solid, and that the ultimate product – the episodes, are true to the series, its past and its present. Seeing as the show will also have a new Executive Producer (Chris Chibnall), and there will be new companions as well, it will be interesting to see how the whole changeover goes.  I look forward to it!

Jodie Whittaker, screen capture

Genealogists do History, 2017

As a part of my work as a public historian, and also from personal interest, I have done a lot of genealogical research. I will admit that even after a number of years doing this work professionally I am still surprised at the reaction of some of my colleagues to genealogical work.  Reactions vary, but at the minimum the research is thought of as being different, or set apart from historical research.  More extreme comments I have heard see genealogy not as being history at all.  You would think that in saying I do genealogy that I have admitted to practicing the black arts, conjuring family trees out of a cauldron filled with eye of newt, while singing incantations, when really all it is, is historical research.

One could say that genealogy suffers from an image problem, and to some extent, that is the case.  Genealogy deals with personal history and is practiced in the main by enthusiastic amateurs, most of whom are women.  For many professional historians it seems easy to dismiss the practice of genealogy and its products.  Some criticism directed at genealogical research points to the relationship of the researcher to the subject, that somehow being related removes judgment and objectivity, that genealogists are somehow unable to maintain the critical distance required to produce quality work.  Most pointed of all is that genealogy serves as a giant ego massage, that there is some form of personal aggrandisement which comes from knowing who your ancestors were.

The vast majority of those who do genealogy are seeking a connection to their family.  They are trying to understand their family’s past, and understand themselves and their lives within that past.  Family is central to personal identity, and the research into it, is a means to create or solidify one’s own identity.

Of course, perceptions of the quality of the research undertaken are not aided by the commercials for companies such as Ancestry, which promise remarkably quick results – finding whole family lines in only a few clicks.  Nor are the television shows such as Who Do You Think You Are?  Guiding celebrities through their families’ stories, which obscure the months of research and encounters with ‘brick walls.’ But those who do undertake this kind of research know that it does not come all that easily.  Nor are many people content to know the names of their ancestors; the handsome family charts produced are not nearly enough to satisfy a person.

There is a distinction made by many people who research their family between “genealogy” and “family history.” Genealogy is considered the straight creation of a family tree or pedigree, research done in order to go back as many generations as possible – a line of names stretching into the far past. Family history is the more complete research of the family including contextual research on occupation, locale, networks and society, which provide more understanding of the family’s life.  [] The researchers are trying to understand their family in all of its complexity by understanding the individual members and their place within a historical time and place.

Regardless of what the practitioners call it, researching family history has become big business.  The marketplace is full of databases providing access to primary sources, notably Ancestry and FindMyPast; access to software that organises and helps diffuse research; and publications that assist in developing the needed methodology.

For those who interested in uncovering the truth about their family, and not just creating a pretty line of names that lead back to a famous person who may (or may not) be related, there are a number of books, professionals and online resources to guide them through the researching process.  There is a large vibrant community which has developed to support family historians in their research.

I have been a member of a family history society for the last four years and have found its members to be talented researchers.  They have taken the time and effort to understand the sources, and to contextualize their ancestors’ lives in relation to the larger history.  Their work is balanced, well-researched, and realistic.  Through their experience, they have learned to accept the unlikable, unkind and uncomfortable ancestor. They do very good historical work.

In the last several years the genealogical community as a whole has begun to address the criticisms levelled against them regarding the use and citation of sources.  One example is in the development of standards and procedures which assure legitimate results.  The genealogical proof standard was developed in order to standardize how ancestors are identified – essentially a way to confirm that the John Smith in a document is actually your John Smith.   The Board for Certification of Genealogists summarize it in this way:  “In order to merit confidence, each conclusion about an ancestor must have sufficient credibility to be accepted as “proved.” Acceptable conclusions, therefore, meet the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS). The GPS consists of five elements:

  • reasonably exhaustive research;
  • complete, accurate citations to the source or sources of each information item;
  • tests—through processes of analysis and correlation—of all sources, information items, and evidence;
  • resolution of conflicts among evidence items; and
  • a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.” [ ]

Genealogists and family historians who care about their work, employ historical method, gleaned from academic training, historical books, guides and methodological books, and from genealogical training now available from a wide variety of sources.  Citation is common, and care is taken that the research can pass the scrutiny of other genealogists. All of the popular genealogical software provides ways to incorporate the citation of sources, and the how-to’s emphasize the importance of citing sources. There are even manuals for citation available, some being adaptations of the MLA and Chicago styles. There is a large community out there of family historians and genealogists who take their work seriously, and are dedicated to employing proper “academic” techniques to ensure that their research and its conclusions are historically accurate.

Miriam Webster defines social history in part, as “the environmental history of an individual; specifically: Case History.” [] Family history is social history – genealogy is history. Family historians are essentially writing social history – case history. The only difference between the work of genealogists and professional or academic historians is the practitioner.

Sure there are still those out there who go for the quick easy genealogy, tracing by a few clicks on web sites and adopting family members who seem to be related without much thought, and then calling it a day.  Their trees fill the commercial websites, and confound people who actually care for accuracy.  I have encountered trees that include children born to a parent in their sixties, people married after their death, and so forth. Their work is easily distinguished from those who have actually undertaken serious research.  But should we judge the all genealogists by the actions of these people?  I think not.  There is some amazing work out there, and it should be read by historians.

In the survey taken for the study Canadians and their Pasts, it was estimated that over five million Canadians had either worked on their family tree or done some genealogical research in the year of the survey. [The Pasts Collective, Canadians and their Pasts, UTP, 2013 p 71].  Historians risk, by ignoring or deriding family historians’ attempts to connect to history, alienating the very people most likely to support their work. Family historians and genealogists support their local archives through financial donations or volunteering, and buy specialist historical books and general histories. They are fundamental to the historical community. Professional historians should be a part of the historic community, not set apart.

Genealogy is history, and perhaps we should try to remember that the support of history, historical work and historians, no matter what the flavour, is integral to the maintenance of an informed and democratic society. “[F]amily history often serves as a foundation for a broader historical consciousness and is a fundamental building block of people’s citizenship in their communities, in their country, and in their world.” [Ibid, 83]

Bad Writing and Worse Spelling, 19C

Gentlewomen Aim to Please: Edited from Victorian Manuels of Etiquette, Jerrard Tickell, London: George Routledge & Sons, 1933.


But there is something more to be guarded against than bad writing and worse spelling: saying too much – writing that kind of matter which will not bear to be read by other eyes than those for which it was originally intended. That this is too frequently done is amply probed by the love letters often read in a court of law, the most affecting passages from which occasion “roars of laughter” and the derisive comments of merry-making counsel.

When New Zealand Sinks, 1892

Glengarry News, 4 Feb 1892


When New Zealand Sinks

It was formerly, say, fifty years ago, nothing uncommon for a new island to appear above or an old one to disappear beneath the waves of the Pacific Ocean.  Such occurrences were sometimes noted as often as two or three times a year, and it were so common as to hardly excite comment among navigators and scientists. Of late, however, the Pacific has been “pacific” indeed.  It will be thirty-six years this coming summer since the last island disappeared and exactly a quarter of a century since the last one popped up its head in the “greatest new oceans.” But geologists argue that this is a suspicious silence an omen of some monstrous catastrophe; that Dame Nature is simply resting for a mighty effort. Sir Sidney Bell even goes so far as to predict that the whole of New Zealand and the greater part of Australia will be engulfed before the end of the year 1925.

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