September 07, 2011

Column took the pulse of a thriving community

As published in The Erin Advocate

"A chiel's amang you taking notes, And, faith, he'll prent it."

That is the quote that appeared every week, as the first line in the Local News Items column of The Erin Advocate, one hundred years ago. A rough translation: "A young fellow is among you taking notes, and you can be sure he will print it."

The line is lifted from Robert Burns' 1789 poem, On Captain Grose’s Peregrinations Thro' Scotland, and would have been recognized by Erin's upper class readers at the time.

Browsing through the September, 1911 issues of The Advocate, there is a large portrait of Conservative Robert Borden, who had just defeated Liberal Wilfred Laurier to become Canada's eighth Prime Minister. You'll find another portrait of Borden, who brought us military conscription and income tax, on the $100 bill. Wellington South (including Erin) stuck with Liberal Hugh Guthrie, who six years later crossed the floor to become one of Borden's cabinet ministers.

Tucked onto the back page, Local News Items covers the social comings and goings of people, whether they like it or not, with items such as:

• Mr. T.G. Howell, of Toronto, motored to Mrs. Hunter's, 10th line, last week.

Virtually every paragraph is a brand new topic, with random bits of humour: "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may be married." The column is a smorgasbord, with lines of poetry, editorial ads for products like Holloway's Corn Cure, descriptions of residents' illnesses, and reports of various burglaries, funerals, birthday parties and sermons.

There are frequent promotions for the business interests of the publisher, Wellington Hull, who was also a real estate and buggy salesman, and an auctioneer of farm implements. Every week, the column has lines like: "I have any amount of money to lend at a low rate on first mortgage.–W. Hull," and "Marriage licenses may be had by calling at The Advocate office." He also has advice for local politicians, on an issue that never seems to go away:

"We have at different times called the attention of parents to the folly of allowing their children to run the streets late at night. They are not only getting into all sorts of mischief, but learning bad language. Every small child under a certain age should be compelled to be off the street not later than 9 o'clock. Why not the Council pass a By-Law to this effect?"

There is the tale of Mr. W. Duthie, manager of the Hillsburgh branch of the Union Bank, who disappeared without a trace on a business trip to Toronto. Described initially as "a gentleman of good business ability and universally respected", it turned out the following week that he had abandoned his wife and children, with a "very considerable" amount of the bank's money.
Here are some other interesting excerpts from the column in 1911:

• A number of Italians who had been working on the C.P.R. track near Hillsburgh appeared before Magistrate Hull, charged with fishing on Sunday and trespassing on the reserves of the Caledon Mountain Trout Club. They were fined $5 each and costs.

• Colour-Sargeant Ward of Erin has been appointed to take part at the King's Coronation. (George V, grandson of Queen Victoria, became King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions including Canada, and Emperor of India, on June 22, 1911.)

• Mr. B. Mundell has been making some improvements to his planing mill, including the putting in of a new flume.

• Erin Village Council motion, carried: That we put down 300 feet of 4 ft. cement walk on the west side of Main Street, from the Agricultural Hall up towards the Station; and from Mrs. Morley's, on the east side of Main Street, to the north side of English Street, and put down new crossings at Spring, Scotch and English Streets; also put in curbing along the west side from Mill Race to Charles Street.

• The Clerk was requested to prepare specifications and advertise for tenders for building the bridge over the dam on Church Street.

• The Erin Tennis Club has been organized for the season. Mr. J.W. Flett is President and Miss Jessie Overland Sec.-Treas.

• Mr. R. Grundy has returned home from the North West and is again at his old position in Russell's store.

A large ad from Russell's boasts: "All the latest styles...See our Ruffs, Muffs, Caperines and all kinds of up-to-date Furs...We lead in Men's, Boy's and Ladies' Underwear...We have fitted a room upstairs for Fair Visitors where they may leave their Wraps with safety...Groceries always Fresh...Highest Price for Produce...Ladies' White Blouses, beautifully trimmed, reg. $1.25, for 98c."

A weekly ad for powdered soap, a relatively new invention, is typical of the era: "GOLD DUST is a good, honest vegetable oil soap in powdered form – scientifically combined with purifying ingredients of magic power." Too bad they don't make it any more.