December 14, 2011

1911 Christmas in Erin strikes a familiar chord

As published in The Erin Advocate

Christmas in the village 100 years ago was not all that different from what it is today. Browsing through issues of The Advocate from December 1911, the vocabulary seems strange, but the themes are the same: food, parties, concerts, Santa, hockey, church and shopping.

It had been 25 years since Karl Benz received the first patent for a gas-fueled car and three years since Henry Ford released his Model T ($950), but in this part of the country, motoring was still a fair-weather activity for the well-to-do. In December, a rural shopping trip for most people was dependent on good snow conditions.

"The sleighing of the past week has made business in all lines brighten up," said publisher Wellington Hull in the News Notes column. As always, it was interspersed with snippets of humour, such as, "Money isn't of any use to a man if his wife finds out he has it." Of course, the publisher was always ready to unite couples: "Marriage Licenses – Private Office – No Witnesses Required – Issued at any time – The Advocate Office".

At the Town Hall, a Union Sunday School Xmas Tree Entertainment was held on Dec. 21, with adults paying 25 cents to see a "splendid" musical program by students. This was Erin's first "Union Xmas Tree", a community party that was popular in many towns in Canada and the US in that era, often with presents from Santa for kids in attendance. It appears to be the precursor of today's "Tree Lighting" event.

At the R&R Store (Ritchie and Ramesbottom) the "Fresh for Christmas" advertised specials included mixed peel at 20 cents a pound and mince meat at 10 cents a package. Johnston's offered "Xmas Dainties" like navel oranges at 20 cents a dozen. In the "Notes of Particular Interest to Women Folks" there were instructions on how to pickle a mix of cabbage and celery.

In celebrity news, the nation was all aflutter with word that Princess Patricia, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, was moving to Canada now that her father Prince Arthur had been appointed Governor-General. She would be named Colonel-in-Chief of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry when the First World War started. She was described in The Advocate as "the only princess in Great Britain who is really pretty, clever and witty, as well as young. She has a little atmosphere of romance...and a most unroyal sense of humor."

It was the one (and only) year in which Ontario issued car license plates made of porcelain. In December, Norwegian Roald Amundsen led the first successful expedition to the South Pole, and the Royal Canadian Mint, in existence only three years, responded to public outrage over "Godless coins".

The newly-crowned George V had been identified on Canadian coins as: DEI GRA:REX ET IND:IMP, a Latin abbreviation meaning "by the grace of God, the King and Emperor of India". The mint removed the grace of God words (dei gratia) in July, but was forced to restore them in December. Today's coins have a shorter version for George's granddaughter Elizabeth: D·G·REGINA.

In church news, Presbyterians were preparing to vote on uniting with Congregationalists, part of the decades-long turmoil that led to partial union with Methodists and creation of the United Church in 1925. The congregation of Burns Presbyterian in Erin rejected the union and remained with the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

In village news, councillors couldn't decide whether to provide a loan to the Woollen Mill. The Advocate said, "Council have shown the grossest negligence over this matter, which is one of vital interest to the community". Council also got a letter from H. Murdoch, complaining that his cellar was being flooded by water backing up on his premises from B. Mundell's planing mill flume being raised. Council decided it was a private matter and took no action.

In hockey news, home town Erin defeated Acton 10-4 before a large crowd on Christmas Day. Admission was 15 cents, but for ladies, 10 cents. "The Erin boys made a very natty appearance in their new suits, which were worn for the first time."

There were about 60 social notices in the paper of December 27, 1911, listing exactly who had visited who for Christmas, along with details of various school concerts. Large ads from local stores wished customers a happy and prosperous New Year – just as they do today.

The largest ad, however, was for the new edition of the T. Eaton Co. catalogue. A sale started on Boxing Day, with a promise "to reach the highest pinnacle in value-giving, and with it all this guarantee – We Gladly Refund Your Money If Goods Are Not Satisfactory." The two featured bargains were Corset Covers for 39 cents, and Lace Petticoats for $1.98. Orders over $25 got free delivery.