December 19, 2012

1912 Advocate delivered lively slice of modern life

As published in The Erin Advocate

In 1912, Erin readers could rely on The Advocate not only for local news, but for national and international affairs, on-going excerpts from novels, and a relentless stream of advice from the unscrupulous makers of patent medicines.

There were just 511 residents in the village, a total that would not be surpassed until the 1940s, but it was a busy hub for the district, and proud to take its place in the modern century.

As Christmas approached, there was news that the Canadian government had allocated the astronomical sum of $35 million to the Royal Navy, to build three Dreadnought battleships, part of Britain's naval arms race with Germany. There were also weekly reports about the first of two Balkan wars, with Serbia, Greece, Montenegro and Bulgaria overpowering the Ottoman Turks, helping set the stage for World War I.

To liven up the Christmas season, the Young Ladies of Erin held a Ball at the Town Hall, which The Advocate reported was "nicely decorated for the occasion, making a very pretty appearance by Electric Light".

Some things never change, such as the newspaper promoting local business. Publisher Wellington Hull wrote, "Shop Early. Only 2 weeks to Xmas. Our merchants are making attractive Xmas displays."

Hull also reminded taxpayers to pay up any amounts owing, or face extra costs. In addition to also being the local printer, auctioneer, money lender and issuer of marriage licenses, he was on salary with the village as Tax Assessor and Collector.

Erin village had a bylaw that allowed businesses to open in the evening only on Mondays Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Township was being urged to pass a bylaw limiting Hillsburgh evening shopping to Tuesdays and Thursdays.

You could buy fur coats or groceries at the Ritchie & Ramesbottom store. Steel & Foster had Motor Hoods for ladies and Natty Mufflers for men. Whole wheat Triscuits were advertised as the "Toast of the Town". The serial romance novel at that time was entitled The Invitation; Or The Bird That Pecked at the Window.

There was a report of Fergus working on a water works system, with half of the debentures taken up by local residents. Erin wouldn't have such a system for another 50 years.

On Christmas Day, 1912, there was an essay on Page 1 from "Luckenuf, Belfountain". It was penned by Charles W. Mack, the eccentric philanthropist who had invented the cushion backed rubber stamp, and owned the land that is now Belfountain Conservation Area. In the gate post of the stone wall in front of his summer retreat there, he cemented the word Luckenuf.

He questioned whether Christmas customs were losing their hold on the popular mind, "since the marvels of science began to usurp the seat of authority".

"Are the parents doing their duty to-day? The answer is, no, a thousand times, no. Far too many are leaving their children to shape their own destiny, to grow up as they may. How many parents make themselves companions to their children to find out their thoughts and acts and treat them with gentleness and consideration, giving them thoughts of rich character building, instead of being afraid of this and that subject?

"The complicated apparatus for alleviating the woes of the community has sprung into being, piece by piece, out of an overpowering sense of social necessity. Efforts to deepen the sympathies of young people and to lighten the lot of the sick and afflicted, or to brighten days that are apt to be dull, amid the general jollity, has not grown stale or out of date.

"There is no better time to attempt kindly acts than while the atmosphere is charged with good feeling and the sense of brotherhood now in the hearts of the true and real."

Ads for dubious remedies revealed not only the limitations of medicine in 1912, but a condescension toward women that was common in the media. Dr. R.V. Pierce of Buffalo, America's most famous patent medicine man, promoted his Pleasant Pellets for "the weaknesses and disorders peculiar to women", at the top of Page 1:

"Woman's most glorious endowment is the power to awaken and hold the pure and honest love of a worthy man. The woman who suffers from weakness and derangement of her system soon loses her personal magnetism, good looks, amiability and womanly charm. Dr. Pierce has devised a successful remedy to regulate and purify the stomach, liver and bowels. It makes weak women strong, sick women well."

Meanwhile, from England, there was news of militant suffragettes seeking volunteers to bomb the House of Commons. Full voting rights for women (not just for those owning property) were not granted in Canada until 1918, and in England, not until 1928.