Monday, February 08, 2016

Book Notes: Heaman on Poutanen on Montreal Prostitution

As part of our occasional series of book reviews contributed by friends of this blog, today we offer a notice by Elsbeth Heaman of McGill University on Mary-Anne Poutanen's recent study of prostitution in Montreal.  In appreciation (see how this might work?), we will shortly have a note on Professor Heaman's own Short History of the State in Canada. 

Mary Anne Poutanen, Beyond Brutal Passions: Prostitution in Early Nineteenth-Century Montreal 
(Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015). Pp. xviii, 414. Cloth $100, ISBN 978077354533-5. Paper $34.95, ISBN 978077354534-2. 

Anyone who has visited the Musée d’Orsay lately must be struck by the binary. The museum proper displays what comes to seem a relentless onslaught of romanticized female flesh. The temporary exhibition, on prostitution, just as relentlessly deromanticizes it—a rebuke that was inaugurated and remains best represented by the centrepiece of the show: Edouard Manet’s wholly self-possessed “Olympia.” I found the exhibition a wonderful rejoinder to the rest of the museum (although next time I probably wouldn’t bring my children).

That tension between ideal and real women is fully on display in Mary Anne Poutanen’s new book on prostitution in early nineteenth century Montreal. The period saw a huge change in the status and experiences of women. Their world narrowed in many ways: they were being pushed out of work, out of ownership of land, out of public space, and out of political debates. Separate spheres was never fully enforced of course, but the change was huge nonetheless. Prostitution was at the centre of those changes: it breached public and private, street and household, work and non-work, and above all respectability and its opposite. Poutanen sees a huge paradox at the centre: women tended to take up prostitution because they were poor: widowed, abandoned, newly emigrated, etc. It was work (and relatively lucrative work at that) but it was deemed the opposite of work: legally it was classified as idleness and vagrancy, a breach of the peace. It kept households together, children with mothers, but was seen to destroy households because there was so much immoral sex involved. Nothing better conveys the contradictions of a Victorianizing Canada than the tortured ideas about and practices of prostitutes: they embodied (sorry) the impossibility of reconciling ideal and real worlds, moral and economic identities, loving and mercenary motives.  Poutanen brings enormous work and extraordinary detail to characterize what she describes as a “shift from a local moral economy to a more repressive local state apparatus” (317).

Poutanen teases through judicial and police records to find out what these women were doing, what they said they were doing, and how they did it. It begins with a discussion of space: the household versus the street as places of prostitution, embedded (sorry) in overlapping but still very different social relationships. She establishes very clearly that household prostitution was often a family affair. Prostitution on the streets was more associated with immigrants, increasingly Irish, who often worked in groups. Both had their dangers: violence, theft, exposure above all. Both had their moments of push-back against the very male world: violence, theft, and some wonderful examples of provocation of middle-class respectability. Subsequent chapters walk us through the legal framework, the policing, judging, and punishment of prostitutes. Police and prostitutes had particularly interesting relationships because they “shared a common workspace” (247). Bawdy houses were illegal, as a breach of the peace (on grounds of lewdness and idleness) but they paid higher rents so even a chief constable and a sheriff were caught investing in them.

The records convey much more than just prostitution because accusations of prostitution (“You whore!”) were and remain common coinage. We see prostitution but we also see sex-inflected disputes within households and among neighbours more generally. Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish the sex-worker from the insulted non-sex-worker. But mostly, a gritty reality, a grass-roots social history, rings through—as, for example, when Ann Connor accuses Samuel Stevens of committing a breach of the peace: “he knocked at the door of the widow Mary Robinson on Commissioner’s Street and shouted out, ‘let the sailors in to the whores.’” (197). If you like a gritty, grass-roots social history, you’ll like this book. 

Elsbeth Heaman teaches history at McGill University. Mary-Anne Poutanen teaches history at Concordia.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Guess I'll go out to Alberta online

Some years ago, I did a little piece of work for Ancestry, the online genealogy company, and got a year's membership comped. Which I used, quite happily, to do various odds and ends of looking up people and censuses and such, and also constructing a family tree starting with our children and going well back on both sides.

That experience may have skewed my views, but I kinda like online genealogy services.  Sure the public records ought to be free, and not sold by private subscription,  But basically the public records remain free.  What you get for your private-subscription money is a lot of digitizing and indexing and don't-leave-your-desk instant access, most of which the public repositories that hold the records are unlikely to provide very soon.

Case in point:  I got an email from Ancestry the other day, reporting that they have just made accessible Dominion Lands Act homesteading records of Alberta 1870-1930  -- records available elsewhere for sure, but not something I've ever pursued, and now suddenly a few clicks away inside Ancestry.  As it happens, my late father-in-law was born on an Alberta homestead. I did the few clicks, and there's an image of the document where his father, George Joseph Brophy, Ontario-born, resident in Calgary, farmer, put his signature on his claim to 160 acres in 1909:  Blackie, Alberta, "right out on the bald-headed prairie," as someone from High River told us when we once went there.

No Brophys have lived anywhere near that homestead for about 85 years, and it isn't anything previously unknown to the family, but maybe I will get props from my in-laws: 'Hey, look at this document I found."

There's a lot out there. I can see why it's popular.


Friday, February 05, 2016

Prize Watch: BC National Nonfiction Prize to Rosemary Sullivan

Rosemary Sullivan, the Toronto biographer, was last night awarded the BC National Prize for nonfiction for her book Stalin's Daughter,, according to a very small note in the Star and a longer one in the Globe. Can't help thinking the Giller gets a little more coverage.  The Globe notes
There was some discomfort at the event when, during his opening remarks, B.C. Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Peter Fassbender referred repeatedly to the books of non-fiction as “novels.” When he returned to the stage at the end of the ceremony to announce the winner, Mr. Fassbender – previously B.C.’s education minister – repeated the error. “I think we’ve heard some amazing stories behind each one of the novels,” he said.
The fix for that kind of ignorance -- and the way to restore the arm's-length non-partisan approach that should always apply to literary awards -- would be to get rid of the pols and have the lieutenant governor present the B.C. Prize instead of some political hack too 'busy' to take a briefing on the event he is attending.  Anyone on the left coast ready to start that campaign?

Sullivan had already won the Hilary Weston nonfiction prize for this book and  remains a finalist for the Charles Taylor prize -- not bad! With all the recognition granted her earlier works, she ought to be accepted as the leading Canadian biographer these days.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Book Notes: The Virginian in Alberta

There has been a lot of history published in recent years, much of it by University of Calgary Press, on the ranching frontier in Alberta in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Now adding to that library is a thick essay by John Jennings, pedigreed Albertan, Canadian equestrian, Canoe Museum stalwart, and retired Trent University prof: The Cowboy Legend: Owen Wister's Virginian and the Canadian-American Frontier.

Its idea is that the namesake and inspiration of Wister's 1902 novel The Virginian, which did much to fix the myth of the noble western cowboy in American culture, was Everett Johnson, who soon moved north from Wyoming to Alberta to become one of the giants of the Alberta ranching culture at its peak, and, indeed, a friend of Jennings's own father.

Jennings admits some difficulties. "I have almost no physical proof that Owen Wister ever laid eyes on Johnson," he writes, and Wister was evasive about the model for his hero even when specifically asked about Johnson.  But his case is pretty strong, nevertheless, and in the end that issue is less important to him than how Johnson's own story enables him both to explore Alberta ranching history and compare the evolution of ranching culture and society on either side of the international border:
A major argument of this book will be that, although the two western cattle frontiers were remarkably similar in many ways, the very different legal institutions, in both criminal and land law, caused them to develop in very different ways.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Burning down the House

Clearing the rubble

Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of the fire that destroyed the Parliament Building in Ottawa, 3 February 1916.

Thanks for the tip from Frank Rockland, author of Fire on the Hill, who writes:
Suspicion that it was German sabotage began almost immediately. Supposedly, the Providence Rhode Island Journal had informed the United States Department of Justice three weeks prior that the German embassy had ordered attacks on the Canadian Parliament Buildings, Rideau Hall, home of the Governor General, and Canadian munitions plants.
But sabotage and arson were ruled out:
The fire was likely accidental. Going through the archives and newspapers there are regular reports on fires being started by improper disposal of trash, such as glowing embers from fireplaces and careless smoking.

The Reading Room, where the fire started, was a fire hazard as newspapers were hanging from racks on the varnished pine walls. While the library staff had put up No Smoking signs the signs were frequently ignored. There had been recent construction so there is also a strong possibility of an electrical fire was the source that destroyed the Centre Block and the lost of seven lives.
The destroyed building was constructed during the 1860s, initially to be the capital for the pre-confederation Province of Canada. When he saw the new parliamentary buildings under construction, George Brown called them "a capital worthy of a great people" and declared, "A hundred years hence the people will fancy the men of their day were giants in imagination."

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Annals of fiction bigotry

From Sarah Murdoch at the Toronto Star, new lows in what passes for nonfiction book reviewing:
You can read what many regard as an excellent, perhaps even the definitive, Napoleon biography, 2014’s Napoleon: A Life, by Andrew Roberts, at 976 pages. Or you can read Napoleon: A Concise Biography, by David A. Bell, at 113 pages. If, like me, you would prefer not be buried under a welter of detail about a historical period with which you are only vaguely familiar, you’ll chose the latter.
Imagine a reviewer advising that the Reader's Digest Condensed Books edition of such-and-such a novel is preferable because she prefers "not to be buried under a welter of detail." Somehow an historical illiterate can judge two history titles exclusively on the basis of which is shorter, and still hold a job with a major newspaper.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Toronto Star: Canada's History on women's history

Heather Mallick, feisty columnist for the Toronto Star, today celebrates Canada's History -- "this wonderful magazine" -- for the exploration of great Canadian women ... and some of the obstacles they overcame -- that leads the current issue.
I’m grateful to this wonderful magazine for information I knew only vaguely: university education was routinely denied to women until the late 19th century, blatant wage discrimination only became illegal 60 years ago, and medicine and law, forget it.

Yet women did things that would rattle the future, as Canada’s History describes.
Available now.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Women's suffrage at 100: A million women voters in 1916-17?

I think we need to declare a little louder.  Today marks the hundredth anniversary of women securing the vote in Canada both federally and provincially -- though only in one province at first.  

I don't usually post anything like original research here, but after Tuesday's post I looked a little deeper. And it seems more clear and more certain the standard account of woman's suffrage needs some work. I still await correction if I've missed something fundamental.  But let me lay it out in some detail.

The Franchise Act, 1898 revoked John A. Macdonald's infamous Franchise Act of 1885 and established that the requirements for voting established in each province would henceforth also apply in federal elections.  That is, there was no longer a separate set of federal rules on who voted; the provincial franchise applied federally, even if that meant different criteria province by province.  This act was still in force in 1916, so when Manitoba established women's suffrage in that province on January 28, 1916, women qualified to vote in Manitoba could also vote in federal elections. Saskatchewan followed Manitoba's lead on 14 March 1916, Alberta on 19 April 1916, BC a year later on 5 April 1917, and Ontario on 12 April 1917.  In each of these provinces, Canada's Franchise Act, 1898 meant that the right to vote provincially automatically conferred the right to vote federally. By April 1917 about a million women "from the Ottawa River to the Pacific coast," as one parliamentarian put it, held the right to vote federally as well as provincially.  There had not been a federal election since 1911, but the right was established.

I make a point of these details, because the standard account of woman's suffrage in Canada denies that women could vote federally, until the federal government gave a few favoured women the vote late in 1917 and then introduced a much wider women's franchise in 1918 for the postwar federal election of 1921. Here, for instance is the subheading of the Canadian Encyclopedia article on Women's Suffrage, which summarizes the standard account:
Women in Canada obtained the right to vote in a sporadic fashion. Federal authorities granted them the franchise in 1918, more than two years after the women of Manitoba became the first to vote at the provincial level.
I'm becoming more and more sure the standard account -- provincial voting only for women until 1918 -- is wrong. As Wilfrid Laurier described the existing situation on September 6, 1917,
in five provinces, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, women now have the franchise 
It is clear Laurier was talking about the federal franchise, because in September 1917 women were about to lose their right to vote federally, and Laurier was speaking against precisely that.

Though in 1898 the federal government had renounced the power to set the federal franchise, it could always re-acquire it. The British North America Act, 1867 allowed, but did not require, federal control of the federal franchise.  Then in August 1917, with a federal election looming, the federal parliament passed the Military Voters Act, giving the right to vote in federal elections to Canadians, of any age, gender, or race serving in any of the Canadian forces at home or overseas, or even in Imperial forces if electoral officers could find them (i.e, if they were still in Canada, mostly).  Since the troops overseas might not know who their home constituency candidates were or who to choose, they would even be able to vote for the party instead of a candidate -- and the party could then apply their votes where they needed them most.

In September 1917 the government introduced a second bill, the War-time Elections Act.  This act also asserted the federal power to set and adjust the federal franchise. It declared that henceforth a women could vote in federal elections if she was "the wife, widow, mother, sister, or daughter" of a person serving in the forces. Not otherwise. It also disenfranchised conscientious objectors and any person naturalized as a Canadian since 1902 (because many were from central Europe and might be pro-German ore at least lukewarm about the Canadian war effort). Literally millions of Canadian citizens were being disenfranchised from federal elections for the duration of the war.

Hearing Arthur Meighen claim, while introducing the War-time Elections bill, that in general provincial franchise qualifications would still apply, opposition leader Wilfrid Laurier protested:
If I understand him right, he has made quite a departure from those qualifications because in five provinces, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan , Alberta, and British Columbia, women now have the franchise, but under this legislation, the women of those provinces, with the exception of those who happen to be relatives of men who have enlisted, are deprived of the franchise.
Yes, acknowledged Meighen, that is correct.

There were, of course, no women in parliament to address this issue of female disenfranchisement.  But several among the small bloc of Liberals in opposition began to hammer, not only at the rigging of the male franchise, but also at the disenfranchising of so many women.  Frank Oliver MP:  "We are to disenfranchise the women of five of the great provinces of Canada."  Onesime Turgeon MP: "By this bill an injustice is done to the women of five provinces." J.H. Sinclair MP: "It disenfranchises about a million women who live between the Ottawa River and the Pacific Coast."

As the debate went on, some Conservatives, including Prime Minister Borden, began to deny that women were being disenfranchised. They never had the federal vote, they claimed. Some Liberals appear to have been convinced, but gradually a few returned to the question of the pre-existing women's vote now being removed. Meighen, who had already acknowledge the disenfranchisement, began to hedge and temporize.  Finally, he declared the government had been advised by its lawyers that provincial legislation had set the rules for which persons could vote in federal elections,  But -- presto -- women were not persons under the law, so the provincial legislation did not apply federally, since the Franchise Act, 1898, authorized the provinces to determine what persons could vote in federal elections,

Had this been tested in court, Laurier demanded to know?  Was there a judicial opinion on this? There was no time to find that out, said Meighen, the bill had to be passed before the election. And once the bill passed (as he did not mention), it would be beyond the courts' powers, since the federal government did have the power to give and withdraw the right to vote in federal election as it chose.

The War-time Elections bill did pass in the fall of 1917. No women had voted in a federal election between January 1916 and September 1917, since there wasn't one. Now none could, unless they served in the forces or had a family member who did.

At the start of this debate in September 1917, there was an acceptance in the House, ill-informed a many members appear to have been, that women west of the Ottawa River did indeed hold the right to vote in federal elections. And there is lots of historical evidence (see Sharpe and McMahon, The Persons Case) that the courts of the day would have deferred to the legislatures on the personhood question, if the legislatures had been willing to act on it. Surely the western legislatures had very directly declared that persons eligible to vote included women.

I conclude therefore, that when the Ontario and western legislatures specifically recognized women as voters in 1916 and 1917, they became voters both federally and provincially.  The courts were not consulted, but if consulted, it seems likely they would have deferred to the will of the legislators as expressed in the five provincial acts of 1916 and 1917.

I think we ought to be saying that most women in Canada (all those west of Quebec who were British subjects and of age) secured the right to vote in 1916 and 1917, both federally and provincially, with Manitoba leading the way. The federal Parliament took away the right to vote from the vast majority of those women -- maybe a million of them -- in the fall of 1917, before giving it back in 1918.

Votes for women in Canada:  starts a hundred years ago today, federally as well as provincially.  I know the textbook you use doesn't say so, but I think the textbook you use needs revision.

We recently saw a Canadian government use a crisis to strip the rights of citizenship from certain Canadians.  There was precedent for that a hundred years ago too.

(Quotations above are all from the House of Commons Debates, 1917, Vol. 6, on the War-times Election Act, September 6-11, 1917.)

Update and Caution, January 29:  I see a few complications arising and some more work to do.  In 1916 the federal cabinet did receive a legal opinion that the "persons" interpretation could be used to block the application of the provincial women's suffrage acts to federal elections. And there are complications from a Dominion Elections Act 1906 I have yet to follow up. (Why aren't the historical Statutes of Canada available online?)

Women's access to the federal vote was least controversial in 1916-7. In subsequent years, the federal government's citing of the legal opinion it had in hand seems to have been persuasive to many. By 1929 Agnes McPhail and other suffrage campaigners had accepted, correctly or not, that only the federal suffrage statutes (1917, 1918, 1920) had been relevant to the federal vote for women; they do not seem to have claimed women held the federal franchise in 1916-17.  On the other hand, the constitutional scholar A.H.F. Lefroy wrote c1917
Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan have, within the last year or two, given women the vote for their provincial elections, which will in the case of Manitoba, apparently, though not in the case of Saskatchewan and Alberta (see Dominion Elections Act, R. S. C. 1906, c. 6, ss. 10, 32), secure them also the federal vote.
The Manitoba interpretation would also apply to British Columbia and Ontario by the spring of 1917, and Laurier (who had brought in the 1906 act) clearly held to a stronger version of this in the September 1917 Commons debates.  More to do, evidently.



Wednesday, January 27, 2016

This month at Canada's History: Women

... the fourteen-page cover story is 20 Great Women, profiles by historians, curators, scholars, and personalities (Joan Sangster, Charlotte Gray, Michèle Dagenais, Adrienne Clarkson, Tina Loo, Orenda K. Boucher Curotte and others) with original portraits by Robert Clark.
Not many people plunge into activism at age fifty-five and spend the next twenty years in a fight that is unpopular with many in their own community.  But that's what Mary Two-Axe Earley did.
I got to know Anne Hébert when we were both living in Paris in the 1980s.  She lived alone in the fifth arrondissement in a tiny apartment where she would serve her guests tea in a formal, old-fashioned Canadian way.
Doris Anderson became the editor of Chatelaine in 1957 and over the next twenty years broke new ground as she transformed the traditional women's magazine into a platform for exploring critical topics such as abortion, birth control, and child abuse
Bold cover, too -- I hope it moves a lot of newsstand copies.

My own column in this issue speculates about the best job in Canadian history -- as a way into the task faced by the team at the Canadian Museum of History who are creating the new Canada History Hall. It's just all of Canadian history in 4000 sq meters for a million visitors a year for the next few decades.

Reviews by Tim Cook, Bob Rae, Allan Levine, and the staff. And much else.  Subscribe.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A question: about the centenary of woman's suffrage

Later this week marks the hundredth anniversary of the Manitoba legislature becoming the first in Canada to recognize women's right to vote as of 28 January 1916.  (See Allan Levine's story of it here.) By the end of 1919, all the  provinces west of Quebec had followed Manitoba's lead.  But -- genuine question here, dear readers -- did that give women in those provinces the vote in federal elections?

Here's the complication. In 1898 the federal Parliament had passed legislation giving control of federal electoral lists to the provinces, so that provincial franchise rules automatically determined who voted in federal as well as in provincial elections. It was a federalism thing. In 1867 control of electoral lists had been left with the pre-existing provinces for the time being. When in 1885 Macdonald's federal government exercised the power to move control of the federal franchise to the federal government, the opposition Liberals accused them of altering the confederation agreement and centralizing what should be decentralized. In 1898 Laurier, who had been one of the critics in 1885, passed legislation to return control of the federal franchise to the provinces.

In 1917 and in 1918 the federal government began to take charge again of the federal franchise rules. A series of bills legislated new federal controls on the federal franchise and the keeping of electoral lists, finally providing in 1918 that women (in all provinces) could vote federally whether or not they could vote provincially.

I take this to mean that that when women's right to vote in Manitoba elections was confirmed by the Manitoba legislature in January 1916, their right to vote in federal elections automatically came with it. Amiright about this?

All my authorities at hand -- Elections Canada's History of the Vote in CanadaCanadian Women: A History (1988 ed, mea culpa), Canadian Encyclopedia online, Wikipedia -- fudge and fuzzify on this. They are clear enough that from 1898 control of the federal franchise lay with the provinces, and that did not begin to change until 1917.  But as I read them, all report that women got the right to vote in federal elections only with the federal government acts of 1917, the first beneficiaries being some some female military personnel,and then female relatives of soldiers. They seem to assume that the provincially-mandated enfranchising of women of 1916 and 1917 had applied to provincial elections but not to federal ones. Even Manitoba's official commemoration of this event declares that it applied to "the right to vote in provincial elections."

Now, there was no federal election between January 1916 and September 1917.  If Manitoba women had the right to vote in federal election in that period, by virtue of the Manitoba franchise rules applying to federal elections automatically, they would still not have been able to exercise their right -- but only because there was no federal election happening. That is, Manitoba women got the right to vote in federal elections in January 1916, but never got the chance to exercise the right before the feds took it away in September 1917 (before beginning to give it back again). N'est-ce pas?

I'm genuinely puzzled here. It's a smallish point, a technicality perhaps, and complicated.  But if our standard authorities have got the technical details wrong or at least fuzzy, is is not worth starting to put it right?

Can anyone confirm or correct me here? Put it this way: if there was a federal by-election somewhere in Manitoba in mid 1916, could Manitoba women have voted in it? The books seem to tell us they could not.  Seems to me they could have.  Emails go here.

Update:  Allan Levine offers a list of federal by-elections but none quite fits the test. Jonathan Scotland has some evidence:
I don't have a 100% confirmation for you, but it strikes me that you're right -- especially because one of the justifications of the 1918 Act to confer the Electoral Franchise upon Women was to correct the fact that (to quote the online version of A History of the Vote in Canada) the War-time Elections Act "effectively withdrew the vote from women who would otherwise have had it by virtue of provincial law but did not have a relative in the armed forces," something Laurier pointed out during the HoC debates in September 1917. Incidentally, Peter McDermott points out Laurier's position in his chapter "Enemy Aliens in the First World War" in Wright, Tucker, and Binnie, eds., Security, Dissent, and the Limits of Toleration in War and Peace, 1914-1939, p. 85.
Now that seems persuasive.

Laurier in the House of Commons, 6 September 1917, points out the Wartime Elections Act (then under debate) would disenfranchise women of Ontario and the western provinces who already had the franchise -- unless they happened to have relatives in the forces.  Following McDermott's footnote, we get at p.5421:
Mr Laurier:  Am I right in this: that while the women of Ontario and the western provinces have today, under the laws of those provinces, the right to vote, they will, with the exception of those who are qualified as the relatives of men who have enlisted, not have the right to vote in this election?
Mr. Meighen: That is correct.
Clearly they are talking about the federal vote in the forthcoming federal election.  The quotation above from the History of the Vote would be pretty persuasive too, except the rest of that book's coverage of the changes made by provincial legislatures consistently refers to the broadening of the provincial franchise only.

I think next Thursday marks the anniversary of the day women in Manitoba had their right to vote provincially and federally established -- the first in Canada.

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