Sometimes your research brings up odd things – like a PDF of a whole book that someone scanned titled HistoricOntario – by G.E. Moore that has a bunch of really useful info about the Queenston area. Check it out!
Despite Book 4 in the Portia Adams Adventures being delayed in its release (till the fall, pandemic-allowing) you can still pre-order it right now.
And because I know how Book 5 ends and no one else does yet (sorry!) I find myself in the research stages of Book 5. What I can reveal is that Portia comes back to Canada in this book, accompanied by Annie, Bryan and of course, Nerissa.
Right now I’m reading Unbuttoned: A History of Mackenzie King’s Secret Life and I have to tell you, prime minister Mackenzie King is WAY more interesting than my 8th grade Social Studies teacher made him out to be.
Any other books about the late 1930s in Canadian history you would suggest to help me with my research?
As part of my research for book 4, I’ve been reading up on morphine addiction in the early part of the 20th century. I found out, for example, that Sigmund Freud died of a morphine overdose that was administered by his own doctor in an assisted suicide (Freud had mouth cancer and decided he was done at the age of 83 in 1939).
Addiction to morphine was called the ‘soldiers disease’ as many fighting men came back from the first world war (and second) addicted to the pain killer.
Laudanum (a pill or tincture made from opium and sometimes the addition of saffron, castor, ambergris, musk and nutmeg) was widely used in the 16th century, and well into the 20th.
Although many drugs containing opium were required to be labelled at the beginning of the 20th century, they were also commonly available without a prescription.
My first exposure to an opium den was in Arthur Conan Doyle’s story “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” one of my less favourite Holmes tales. Watson goes to find Holmes in the opium den down a “vile alley” on Upper Swandam Lane. In London in the 1930s, opium dens could be found in and around Pennyfields and the Limehouse Causeway.
From what I’ve read, the description of the seediness and danger around these drug dens were both racially charged and more negative than real. But, any drug den, whether it’s in the 1930s or today, will attract a certain kind of customer, so the danger was probably accurately described. For example:
In a talk at the Docklands Museum on 28th January 2007, Dr. John Seed from Roehampton University explored some of the realities of Chinese life in Limehouse from 1900 – 1940. He showed how public responses to several drug scandals, to interracial marriage, to housing shortages and unemployment, contributed to an enduring myth: the idea of a Chinatown in Limehouse that never really existed. Read more here.
An anti-opium movement sprang up in response, mostly as a method of controlling the populace from “deviant” behaviours, but doctors were still prescribing various opioids as a method of pain control.
I’m writing a scene today where Portia catches sight of a suspect standing on the platform of a London tube stop, and I always like to watch this video when writing about that specific setting (and I’m very lucky such source material exists).
It’s from the 1930s, and hosted by the Kinolibrary Film Collections:
You can subscribe to the Kinolibrary on Youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfM-3hDSJkd2M_YGSn8oVkw
“Marylebone became home to the city’s wealthy elite, but it was also scarred by pockets of extreme poverty. In Marylebone’s large and notorious workhouse, opened in 1775 on land donated by the Portland Estate on the north side of Paddington Street, society’s poorest and most vulnerable exchanged unpaid labour for food and shelter. A Ragged School, founded in 1846 on Grotto Passage, was set up to provide education for destitute children. The Ossington Buildings estate, off Moxon Street, was built between 1888 and 1892 to house some of the area’s working class poor, who had previously lived at the same site in miserable slum dwellings.”
– from History: The Howard deWalden estate
Once in a while someone does you a huge favour in the research department and this is one of those times:
Canada officially became a country in the British Empire in 1867 with the enactment of the British North America Act.
Prior to that the land we now call Canada was just a bunch of European and American settlements.
The Canadian Red Ensign was Canada’s flag at the time (it would not be replaced by the modern version of the red and white flag until 1965).
Dominion Day celebrations were not as popular as Canada Day celebrations are because back then Canadians still thought of themselves as pretty British. There was a big Dominion Day celebration in 1917 marking the golden anniversary of the Confederation and then again in 1927 – called the diamond jubilee.
By 1932, Portia is back in Toronto, pursuing a case on behalf of her best friend, Annie Coleson, so I am sure she partook in the local celebrations of her native country’s birthday!
Yeah, I thought that title would catch your collective eyes. Writing in Starbucks this week, my friend John Lorinc gave me an idea when I mused aloud: “Now where would one dump a body in Toronto?” It shows that he is a good friend that he knew I was speaking about my detective series and not planning a murder, but he suggested that in the 1930s, the Ashbridges Marsh might be a good spot to rid oneself of a dead body. According to the University of Toronto’s library (where that photo on the left is from) back then the Ashbridges Bay Marsh was more than five square kilometres wide. One would take the Coxwell streetcar to get into the area and Ulster Stadium was built there in 1925 (where it stood until 1945). It was incredibly polluted (with sewage and run-off from unregulated factories) but still managed to support wildlife and birds. People, horses, children all drowned in this marsh over the years, add to that the toxicity of the area, and it was due for a fix. The city finally decided to fill in the marsh between 1920 and 1950, but there was still a bit of marshland left for the murderous purposes of this author .
One of the characters in book 4 is a Canadian lawyer who has become disillusioned with the law only a few years after taking the bar. I’m in the midst of creating this woman’s back-story, but as I do I am reading about the true histories of some ground-breaking women like Tmima Cohn of Toronto (1907-1989).
Here’s a bit about her from the Law Society of Upper Canada’s website:
Tmima Cohn was inspired to go into law by her father, a Romanian-born Orthodox Jew who marched in a suffragist parade in Toronto, and by her mother, who was a teacher, Bible scholar, and early advocate of women’s rights. After graduating from the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall Law School, she was called to the bar in 1932. She found the profession unwelcoming to a Jewish woman lawyer and like other women of the period, she stopped practising when she had children. As a lay person, she actively promoted environmental issues and the rights of women in the United States where she lived most of her life, by offering her services at free legal clinics, giving talks on women’s rights, and writing a handbook of legal rights for women in Florida in 1976.
She sounds amazing doesn’t she? My own lawyer, who I am naming Clara Schott (after the first female lawyer in Ontario AND the Commonwealth – Clara Brett Martin) is going to be older, and will add some gravitas to the work Annie and Portia must do to free Mr. Coleson from jail.
In my head she looks a bit like Susan Sarandon in The Lovely Bones.