Last Sunday morning, for the first service after Epiphany, I put on a nice dress (fashion note, because one of my New Year’s resolutions is to celebrate the wearing of lovely clothes: I wore a long-sleeved knee-length woolen A-line dress in broad earth-toned horizontal stripes, tights, high brown boots and, to keep things real, a crow’s skull pendant), and walked down to what I have so quickly begun to think of as ‘my’ church. Each Sunday I look forward to walking the six blocks over to attend the service. I would go more often if I could. And so, while sitting in the beautiful sanctuary on yet another chilly, overcast morning, I thought about what keeps drawing me back.
It’s not the sermons which, while interesting and considered in their way, are pretty standard fare for the United Church. It’s not the congregation, or not yet: while I have met a number of parishioners and both ministers, we remain, in essence, strangers to one another. As yet I have no formal belonging to this church. At services I sing beloved hymns and say the Lord’s Prayer and join in the doxology, but speak no words to any person. I am merely a soul among souls, a presence among presences.
As an adolescent I spent a great deal of time—hours nearly every week—in the woods near my parents’ home on the outskirts of a Toronto-area suburb. Almost every day I would walk the lands behind our home, tracing a circuitous but purposeful path along the ridge, across a copse of goldenrod and skirting the edge of a cornfield before dipping down into the old millrace pungent with jewelweed, rising out of it near the adjacent farm’s old bottle dump and crossing the gravel road bordering the conservation lands that were my ultimate destination. Down in the ravine I would walk for more than a mile along the creek, paying attention to the perennial negotiation between the flowing streambed and its slowly shifting banks. High above me, especially in the fall and winter, the wind would roar in the trees, and they would creak slowly back and forth like disciples bearing witness to its power. In these moments my solitude was absolute; my sense of connection to the cosmos nearly complete. I was only breath; only movement; only soft footfalls on silty loam; only a presence among presences, a soul among souls.
The ravine was my church, my place of worship, and no religious service has done more than approximate the sense of immanence I experienced in those days in the woods, or in the awareness of wild creation I sense now in storm-tossed trees or in a waxing moon hanging low over the lake. The Holy Trinity that is Christianity’s core tenet cannot come close to equaling the power of creation present in a stand of trees and in a handful of soil, and in this I likely mark myself irrevocably as an apostate. But I suspect—oh, how I suspect—that theologians have known this for millennia, and that the rules of religious observance owe much of their rigidity to a compulsion to rein in the raw, self-abandoning consciousness of Creation, as if to regulate access to the God who is always already present in every breath of wind.
But still, there are the hymns—such a large part of worship in most Protestant churches—that so often and so evocatively deploy metaphors drawn directly from the natural world. Protestant hymnbooks positively bulge with them. Critics point out, somewhat accurately, that most of these hymns were written in and about pastoral England and are therefore dated, bland and culturally insular. Musicologists sometimes cringe at their prosaic lyrics and repetitive rhymes. And, of course, liberation theologues within the United Church demand, loudly if somewhat absurdly, that the Eurocentrism and coloniality of Christian hymns (and indeed Christian worship more generally) be exposed and decentered.
But the hymns, the hymns. The hymns are the Word embodied; the hymns connect earth-bound souls to the divine; the hymns are the living breath of a living faith. Through hymns congregants sing the same songs as wind and water; through hymns we may channel currents in the air and soil. Singing a hymn is an act nearly as sacred as walking in the woods and echoing in every sinew the creaking voices of the trees.
And so, at services I sit near the back of the sanctuary and stare up at the pillars holding up the broad wood ceiling as simply as trees holding up the sky. I sing the beautiful hymns, and practice my solitary faith, and consider whether belonging to a congregation will add to or constrain it.
I don’t remember where I was on 6 December 1989. I do remember following the massacre on the news, and struggling to grasp its implications. At 17 my relationship with feminism was complicated; it is even more complicated now. But what struck me then, and strikes me even more strongly now, is that by “feminists” the shooter really meant “women.” That is what I remember, and that is what I think of 33 years later, in a year in which women’s lives and bodies and basic rights seem as much under threat as ever.
Twelve of the fourteen women murdered that day—Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, and Annie Turcotte—were engineering students. The thirteenth woman, Maryse Laganière, worked for the university. The fourteenth woman, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, was a nursing student.
The women were young; the youngest twenty; the oldest 31. All were vibrant, accomplished, hard-working women, and as the years pass I find myself thinking, more and more, about what kinds of lives they would be living today. By now they would be in their fifties; two just past sixty; all likely at the peak of their careers; thinking about retirement, hoped-for grandchildren, ailing parents, new winter boots, vacation plans, the state of the planet. The kind of women one might encounter breezing into a smart café, shrugging the snow from their coats before sitting down to share gossip over lunch and a latte. Greying hair; a cancer scare; someone’s new love; variable rate mortgages; the fluctuating price of gas.
One of the women turns to another and asks if she has heard from Maryse lately, or Annie, or Helene, or Genevieve. A pause; a shaken head; a look of confusion. Oh; do you mean— I’m not sure; I don’t …
All at once the film recoils in its cylinder, stuttering briefly before rolling backward in a chaotic rewind. The projector shudders, lights flashing wildly; suddenly something rattles and pops and the whole thing derails. Metal shrieks, the reels rip loose from their casing, and in the background there is disembodied shouting. The film unspools into wild coils, frames snapping apart, stills spilling across the gritty floor.
Soon—but far too late for any hope of repair—all this tangle of metal and celluloid comes to rest, and in the profound, echoing silence punctuated by lights pulsing intermittently against the gloom, the only discernible images are those of the fourteen faces in an endless sequence of frames, eerily soundless and still.
Today is the second Sunday of Advent—the second Sunday of the Christian liturgical year, and also the second Sunday of my return to the fold after three decades’ absence from church—and it felt good, once again, to put on a nice dress, walk down to Runnymede United Church in the bleary December sunlight and sit in an already familiar pew in that beautiful sanctuary.
Celebration of the second Sunday of Advent revolves around the theme of Peace, and I was quite curious to see how the Runnymede service would address this theme amid intersecting global crises, perhaps most pointedly the devastation and peril resulting this year from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The readings—Isaiah 11:1-10 and Matthew 3:1-12, both traditional for the second Sunday of Advent—offer meditations that not only seem a bit incongruous amid the celebratory lead-up to Christmas, they advance complex, even paradoxical notions of peace. Isaiah promises the deliverance of God’s people, Israelites and Gentiles alike, alongside a veritable litany of peaceful outcomes: wolves lying down with lambs; calves with lions; wild creatures lead by a child; etc. etc.. But the text also calls for a leader or ensign who will “smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.” The passages from Matthew promise salvation through baptism, but demand repentance. Both readings bristle with urgency, evoking barren, broken, battle-scarred landscapes (not only of the soul) that must be traversed before peaceful rivers can be reached and good rootstock (the defining metaphor in both passages) nurtured. The promise of peace—a renewed Covenant; the Kingdom of Heaven; the presence of a Savior—seems very real but distant, and difficult to secure.
As a member of Generation X, who grew up simply assuming we would all be bombed to annihilation in a nuclear Armageddon, and who then saw the tremendous promise of genuine peace brought by the end of the Cold War turned rapidly to ruin, simplistic invocations of ‘peace’ strike me as profoundly empty. The notion that one can just “say no to war”—as if aggressors will then simply go away and stop their genocides—seems to require an ignorance of reality that risks becoming complicit in the very evil it purports to oppose.
I am the only churchgoer in my household because my husband, an avowed if open-minded atheist, is also the son of someone who survived the Romanian Holocaust only because her mother sent her as a five year-old, by train with a near stranger, away from Czernowitz (now called Chernivtsi and, due to movement of the border, located in Ukraine) being ‘liquidated’ of its Jews, most of whom perished in Transnistria. It didn’t matter that my husband’s relatives were well-educated, secular, German-speaking engineers, doctors, lawyers and business people: they were still marked for genocide. And if the rescue of what remained of Europe’s Jews during the latter part of the Second World War was somewhat incidental to Allied efforts to stop Hitler’s conquest of Europe, it was nonetheless the result of a belated but real understanding that “peace for our time” will invariably fail if it remains willfully blind to murderous reality.
In this morning’s service the arduous, aching, perilous effort involved in any quest for peace was underscored by the choir’s simply superb performance of the haunting, powerful anthem “Dona Nobis Pacem,” “Dona Nobis Pacem”—or ‘grant us peace’—is, at its core, a simple, heartfelt plea, a short lyric from the Agnus Dei of the traditional Latin mass, sung as a round or spoken as a call and answer (which is how I have heard it in my church-going). The arrangement the choir sang so powerfully this morning was a somewhat recent one, prepared by contemporary American composer Z. Randall Stroope. If, like me, you have a prejudice against contemporary arrangements, Stroope’s setting will blow your mind. Seriously: have a listen here. It’s simply astonishing.
Stroope’s arrangement of “Dona Nobis Pacem” was a brilliant choice for this morning’s service because it appears (I say ‘appears’ because I am terrible at discerning lyrics without a printed text in front of me) to incorporate the words from Isaiah 11: 1-10, which was, of course, one of the readings for today’s service emphasizing both the promise of peace and the grave difficulty of achieving (let alone maintaining) it.
The city of Czernowitz / Chernivtsi, from which my mother-in-law’s family was deported in 1941, currently attracts refugees fleeing the Russian invasion in eastern Ukraine. Many of the refugees are children, five or six years old, like my mother-in-law was when her mother sent her away in hopes of ensuring her survival. Many of these refugees are headed in the same direction—south, into present-day Romania, because missile strikes interrupt even the provisional peace of a city so far spared the worst of the invasion.
In this morning’s service one of the ministers invited worshippers to consider the spaces and circumstances that bring them peace, and I thought about how often, in my experience and in human affairs more broadly, peace is provisional; how sometimes it reduces to a moment of remission in the furious face of disaster. I thought about how often peace must be fought for and defended with vigilance, like space or the right to exist. I thought about peace as a kind of mercy.
I also thought, as always, about my secret garden, where even in times of sorrow I commune with the bumblebees and witness the miracle of life unfolding in flowers and fruit. In this domain, which holds itself as much as possible beyond human affairs, peace is ingrained in the relationships between living organisms and in the flows of energy throughout the vibrant cosmos.
I find peace, too, in the wind that roars in the trees, and in solitary progress through the woods, and in moiling for fossils on gravel bars, and in a kayak gliding through lilies in an oxbow lake. In these moments there is no urgency; there is no crisis; there are no demands. There is only the movement of light and shadow, the slow motion of the earth; the voice of Creation saying: listen.
Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent—for Christians the start of the liturgical year, marking the formal beginning of the Christmas season—and so I did something I’ve meant to do for a very long time: I went to church.
I was raised in a faith community—the United Church of Canada, in which I was christened as a young child and confirmed at the age of 14—and grew up going to Sunday school, singing in the choir, and doing community volunteer work as part of the church. For many years my family’s life revolved around the churches we attended—first Riverdale United Church in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood and, later, Pickering Village United Church in Ajax Ontario.
Riverdale United Church, at least from 1976-1981 when we lived nearby and attended regularly, was as serious about its annual theatre productions as it was about the liturgy. The church community was intelligent in its interpretation of the Gospel, lighthearted in its practice of faith, and earnest in its commitment to public service. In many ways it has remained my model of a healthy, engaged, active church. Sadly, Riverdale United Church closed in 2010 after what appears to have been a long period of slow decline as the neighbourhood changed and long-time parishioners died or moved away. In 2018 the building, whose title had been transferred to the WoodGreen community services agency, was torn down to build supportive housing for seniors. I was fortunate to receive an invitation to salvage material from the building in the days before it was demolished, and am grateful to have one of the church’s stained glass windows and a hymnal cabinet—both pried from the building’s studs with crowbars I’d brought across town on the streetcar—in my home.
Pickering Village United Church, which we attended from 1981 until 1988, was very suburban and, at least at the time, deeply stereotypically of various eighties excesses right down to the social cliques and rituals of conspicuous consumption. It was not a good fit for my parents, who were neither suburban nor middle class. Despite being treated as outsiders, my family contributed greatly to church activities—my father was a steward, my mother edited the church newsletter and served as choir secretary, we all sang in the choir (which was and probably still is excellent), volunteered for everything, and donated large sums of money my parents could really not afford—remaining active in the church until my father resigned us all from church membership over the at-the-time-divisive issue of gay ordination. This was a terrible pity, since my father, who had been reflexively homophobic like many of his generation, eventually came to support marriage equality because, perhaps above all, he was a romantic who believed in love. I don’t think he would, later on, have cared one whit about a minister’s sexual orientation or gender identity as long as they knew their theology and could slip a few ridiculous puns into a sermon.
As an adult I have, of course, gone to church / temple weddings and funerals and, sometimes, attended special services, but have never since belonged to a faith community. Most of the time this has seemed fine. Like my mother, I identify as a solitary Christian and have developed a deeply personal, rather unorthodox theology that remains principally Protestant in its structure but which seeks the divine (and divine revelation) in nature and natural processes—as, incidentally, do a great many deeply Christian hymns (more about one of my favourite hymns here). Since adolescence I have been agnostic about (even indifferent to) the divinity of Christ, while remaining committed to the Christian theology of sacrifice and redemption. In some quarters this would make me a heretic, but I’ve never had much patience for literalism. The God I believe in would appreciate it if humans thought more, not less, and would really like us to stop committing atrocities in His name. And along these lines, my favourite and most deeply valued para-religious texts include the anonymous fifteenth century lyric poem, “Adam lay I-bounden,” whose lines—“Ne hadde the apple take been, the apple taken been, / Ne hadde never our Lady aye been Heaven’s queen. / Blessed be the time that apple taken was, / Therefore we may singen, “Deo gracias.”—came as a revelation about knowledge and its gifts and responsibilities when I first encountered them in the good old Norton Anthology of Poetry in an undergraduate literature course; and Italian journalist Giovannino Guareschi’s book (made into a film) The Little World of Don Camillo, a series of interlinked stories in which a Catholic priest solves his village’s human problems in part by arguing with Christ on the Cross.
Sometimes, though, a solitary faith is a lonely faith and, as I’ve gotten older, I have longed to belong to a faith community. I’ve missed the rituals and fellowship and, perhaps above all, I’ve missed the hymns. Protestant hymns are, on the whole, joyful, rich in symbolism, and celebrate connections between the ordinary and the divine, and I miss hearing voices raised in song.
And so, on Sunday morning, on the first Sunday of Advent, I put on a nice dress and a good coat, and walked over to Runnymede United Church to attend my first Sunday morning service in more than three decades.
Runnymede United Church was established in 1925; the Gothic Revival building housing the congregation was completed in 1928. I’ve often admired the building while passing by—it’s right across the street from the elementary school my daughter attended for ten years, meaning that I’ve had plenty of opportunity to enjoy the architecture—and have noticed how often the building seemed abuzz with activity. In returning to worship, I have hoped to find a faith community neither too cliquey nor obviously in the process of dying out, and Runnymede seemed neither of these things. About a year ago I subscribed to the church’s email list, and was pleased to see a balance of traditional and contemporary interests represented in its regular communications. Because my church-going experiences are mainly from the 1970s and 1980s, I was hoping to find a church in which traditional elements of the liturgy had not entirely been discarded and, being quite familiar with the United Church’s longstanding practice of trying to be all things to all people (a thing seeded in its very inception), I was a bit worried there would be nothing familiar when I walked in the door.
And yet, when I walked in, there was familiar carpeting, and familiar dark woodwork, and a familiar smell of lemon and beeswax. The entry was busy with ushers, just as I remembered from childhood, and someone immediately handed me a printed copy of the Order of Service, which I was very pleased to take. Stepping into the sanctuary—a wonderful space, bright with carved woodwork and stained glass, the walls painted yellow and blue, the arches hung with Arts-and-Crafts-inspired banners—was like returning to a familiar and beloved home. I found an empty pew not far from the back, hung my umbrella, shrugged off my coat, and sat, just as I had done so many hundreds of times before. The organ—a pipe organ, it seems!—pealed the opening chords of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel,’ and as voices raised to sing the processional hymn, I stood there, choking out the familiar words, crying with longing and relief.
My first service in more than thirty years featured a baptism in which a delightful baby (who kept waving his arms as if to smite the minister) was welcomed into the family of the church. By this point I was no longer shedding tears, in part because the pre-Communion hymn, ‘O Jesus, Joy of Loving Hearts,’ included the ridiculous lines “We taste thee, O thou living bread, / and long to feast upon thee still,” which absolutely made me giggle—because the book in my purse happened to be Bill Schutt’s Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History (2017). Schutt’s book, of course, includes a chapter on Holy Communion, exploring the sometimes unholy history of the Eucharist and the, er, thorny theological issue of whether or not the sacramental bread and wine are meant to be consumed, literally, as the body and blood of Christ. Un/fortunately, I didn’t get a chance to partake in Communion—a ritual I had stopped participating in by the early nineties because, at the time, I could not square the Protestant principles of faith with any suggestion of literal Transubstantiation, and the Anglican service at which I last sat through Communion kind of hedged on the issue—because there was no pre-wrapped packet of Wine and Bread at my particular pew. Over the years I have grown satisfied that Communion, at least in mainstream Protestant churches, is understood to be a metaphor—Corinthians, at least as I have read it, makes it pretty clear that Communion is meant to be taken in remembrance of Christ, not as a sampler plate—so maybe next time I will partake.
The sermon was short, the choir lovely, the prayers familiar. A few things have changed–the Apostle’s Creed is a little different from the one I grew up with, and the hymnbook—Voices United—seems to have most of the familiar hymns, but in a completely different order. I didn’t think to note the version of the Bible the United Church now uses, but will probably bring my old copy of the King James anyway, as, for the most part, I prefer the poetry in its passages. I did note that, during the service, the Old Testament was called the Hebrew Bible, which seemed interesting and, really, preferable, considering that both Testaments are living texts.
After the service there was a fellowship hour, which sounded lovely although I did not attend as, frankly, I felt a bit overwhelmed and wanted to be alone with my thoughts on the rainy walk home. I’ll do so next time, because I think Runnymede may be my new church, and I’d like to start getting to know its community.
Yesterday morning, bright and early, I took the streetcar halfway across town to attend the Old Book and Paper Show, hosted at the Artscape Wychwood Barns on Christie at St. Clair. The show was scheduled to open at ten, but when I walked in shortly thereafter, the hall was already buzzing with eager browsers and the booths were packed with people and an incredible range of wonderful paper-related things.
This was another first-time event for me. I’ve had a very serendipitous life discovering interesting old books and sometimes other paper treasures at book sales, yard sales, and in random boxes discarded at curbside. I’ve always maintained a large library at home, made up of books kept for research, teaching or pleasure reading, but suppose I have not really considered myself a Collector of books or paper ephemera. Although there are the 1940s issues of Chatelaine Magazine I snap up whenever they appear; and the nineteenth and twentieth century promotional cookbooks and kitchen-related pamphlets; and vintage books on animal husbandry, hunting and trapping, interior decor; and …
So maybe I have become a Collector after all.
At the Old Book and Paper show, I browsed the booths counter-clockwise, and was fortunate to arrive almost immediately at the delightfully-named The Book Not Mad, whose proprietor had laid out a very good selection of Canadiana, garden books, tame and therefore rather sweet erotica, and—catnip for me—old cookbooks and food-related promotional pamphlets. I rifled through those, and—with an eye on the clearly inadequate amount of cash I’d brought—bought three books.
The first, Better Cooking and Baking, was published by Robertshaw-Fulton Controls Canada in 1956. I had never heard of Robertshaw-Fulton before, but have learned that the company produced thermostats and other controls for electric heating elements. Many of the recipes—for apple pie, mushroom casserole, tomato soup cake (yes: it sounds awful, but midcentury cookbook enthusiast and TikTok recipe tester B. Dylan Hollis says it’s not half bad with the right frosting)—are familiar fare in mid-century cookbooks. Where Better Cooking and Baking differs, however, is in that the recipes are divided into two principal sections: Oven Cooking, and Range Top Recipes. Along the way, readers—who may be new to electric cooking—are also instructed in Correct Placement of Pans in Oven and shown schematic illustrations of stovetop sensing elements for stovetop burners. The cookbook has delightful photographs, which include lovely now-vintage oven and serving ware, and includes very helpful guides to kneading bread, shaping rolls and preparing pastry. I am guessing this cookbook was given away at trade shows and possibly also came free with the purchase of electric ranges containing Robertshaw-Fulton controls.
My second purchase from The Book Not Mad was Tasty Meals for Every Day, issued by Canada Packers under the Maple Leaf Products banner in 1933. By 1933 the Depression was well advanced, and many of the recipes in Tasty Meals for Every Day are geared toward “economical meals.” There are, for example, plenty of recipes calling for chopped or ground meats, and many of them involve meat cooked in and with vegetables in order to stretch a dish to feed an entire family. The recipes are credited to “Margaret H. Rees, Dietician” who, according to Elizabeth Driver’s Culinary Landmarks: A Bibliography of Canadian Cookbooks, 1825-1949 (2008: 756), worked for Canada Packers and created or compiled recipes for at least one other company cookbook. I am guessing that this promotional cookbook was given away at public events like the Canadian National Exhibition.
I bought this cookbook for two reasons. First, Canada Packers operated out of the Junction-area Union Stockyards (at Keele and St. Clair) until 1983. The Stockyards—located less than a kilometre from my house, albeit on the other side of the proverbial tracks—has been developed into housing and large format retail spaces since the 1990s, although at least one slaughterhouse remains in operation, for now. The second reason I bought Tasty Meals for Every Day was because it includes handwritten recipes on the endpapers—my very favourite thing to find in an old cookbook. The recipes in my copy are an (unlabeled) chocolate cake recipe, which includes allspice and mace; ‘Chocolate Cream Filling or Blanc Mange;’ ‘Boiled Icing,’ Chocolate Frosting,’ and ‘Divinity Fudge.’ From these handwritten recipes, and from the grease marks in the cakes and pastries section of the cookbook, it seems pretty clear that the woman who received this cookbook kept it not for the meat recipes but for the desserts.
My third find at The Book Not Mad’s booth was this intriguing, vest pocked-sized A.B.C. of Mixing Cocktails. The book is undated but was produced before 1932 and possibly prior to 1926, when the company (sold to industrialist Harry C. Hatch in 1923) was renamed Hiram Walker-Gooderham Worts in a merger (note: the Distillery District’s Distillery Heritage website lists the date as “circa 1928”). Toronto-based Gooderham & Worts Distillers was located in what is now known as the historic Distillery District: after production shut down in 1990, the site (named a National Historic Site in 1988) remained largely vacant until it was redeveloped into galleries, shops and condos that have maintained most of the site’s nineteenth century industrial architecture.
I’m not quite sure what to make of this little book. Prohibition wasn’t formally repealed in Ontario until 1927, and remained in effect in the US until 1933. In Quebec, however, Prohibition lasted only until 1921, and G&W (or HWGW, as the company became known) exported enthusiastically to the province. I have seen reference to a bilingual, 1930 edition of A.B.C. of Mixing Cocktails, which obviously would have been distributed in la Belle Province (a digitized copy can be viewed here), so I am guessing that my edition (which includes a couple of mixed drinks with French names) would also have been made available in regions to which G&W could legally have exported alcohol. At the same time, the names of many of the mixed drinks—American Beauty, Astoria Cocktail, Bronx Cocktail, Manhattan Cocktail, Millionaire Cocktail, New Orleans Gin Fizz, Saratoga Cocktail, etc.—seem very American, very Jazz Age, meaning the book might have been subtly marketed to bootleggers’ American customers … or at least to Canadian drinkers who wanted to feel like they were consuming illicit beverages in a Detroit speakeasy.
Prohibition was effectively a farce in Canada. The country had no equivalent to the Webb-Kenyon Act, which had prohibited the shipment of alcohol from wet to dry states. Several distillers, most notably the Seagram Company, under the control of entrepreneurial Samuel Bronfman, took immediate advantage of this legal oversight and began building a mail-order alcohol empire within Canada. When America went dry, Canadian suppliers such as Bronfman saw the potential for sales south of the border and began ramping up production, ignoring ethical concerns. As Harry Hatch, president of Hiram Walker [Hiram Walker-Gooderham Worts], put it, “The Volstead Act does not prevent us from exporting at all. It prevents somebody over there from importing. There is a difference.”
This means it was entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that A.B.C. of Mixing Cocktails could have found its way into a few American vest pockets prior to 1933. Which makes one wonder: had Jay Gatsby been carrying one, would he have survived George Wilson’s bullet?
Fun Fact 1: A.B.C. of Mixing Cocktails includes a recipe for “Flu Cocktail,” which seems very of its post-1918 Influenza Epidemic era. In case anyone wishes to try it in the Covid era, it calls for
1 dash of Jamaica Ginger
1 teaspoonful of Lemon Juice
1 teaspoonful Rock Candy Syrup
1 glass of G & W “Four Roses” Rye Stir together and serve in same glass
Fun Fact 2: I paid $15 for my copy of A.B.C. of Mixing Cocktails, and thought it a fair price, but see that the book is considered scarce, and the couple of copies available online are listed for over $400 CDN. Yikes. Well; I guess I’ll drink to that. If you don’t want to spend the money on a print version, you can read a digitized copy online here.
From another seller’s booth I bought this 1941 copy of Emergencies in War, prepared by the Canadian Red Cross Society. The booklet was produced during the Battle of Britain (1940) and Blitz (1940-1941), during which Nazi warplanes carpet-bombed civilian as well as strategic targets in efforts to force Britain to submit to German terms (the same approach Russia has used in its targeting of civilian populations in Ukraine in 2022). Emergencies in War assumes its Canadian civilian readers may well find themselves under direct attack, and seeks to prepare them accordingly, with advice on dealing with shock, bleeding, burns and other wounds. It includes chapters on Psychology of Emergencies — noting, “fear is an implement of war” — and Air Raid Precautions.
A very relevant example from the Psychology of Emergencies chapter is the reported use of noise to terrorize civilian populations:
Fear has played a large part in the progress of the present war to date. Hitler, realizing that fear is the most powerful and deep-rooted instinct in human nature, has repeatedly, and successfully, and without conscience, made use of it to achieve his conquests. For instance, note how he has made use of loud noises to produce fear. German dive-bombers have sirens placed on their wings, and German bombs have vanes which make them scream as they descend. The masses of civilian population in Poland, Holland, Belgium and France broke into frenzy in the face of dive-bombers roaring down at 600 miles an hour, with sirens wailing, bombs screeching and machine-guns blazing, and swarmed on to the highways, effectively blocking them to fast manoeuvering of allied armaments.
For this chapter alone, the book is excellent, and—it must be said—timely, more than eighty years later. This, incidentally, is a subject I will shortly have much more to say about over at The Space Between Us.
My favourite finds at the Old Book and Paper Show were 1930s and 1940s issues of Canadian Home Journal, a woman’s magazine that ran from 1905 as The Home Journal (and 1910 as Canadian Home Journal) until 1958. Middlebrow Canada describes the CHJ as similar to Chatelaine Magazine, but in browsing the issues I bought yesterday, I’d say the CHJ is notably lighter weight in terms of the issues it addressed. Where Chatelaine, even in the thirties but definitely by the forties, is usually proto-feminist in orientation, and tackles social issues intelligently and pretty much head-on, the CHJ takes a softer approach, foregrounding stories and serialized novellas in which traditional themes are advanced and including (at least in my reading so far) much briefer non-fiction articles that tackle their subjects somewhat in passing. Where CHJ has it over Chatelaine, however, is in its visuals, which are wonderful. Chatelaine covers are very good, but look at these CHJ covers! I just love them.
I hesitate to mention advertisements, because far too often ephemera resellers rip ads out of old magazines and sell them individually as tear sheets. I don’t get this at all. It seems to me that the ads lose their value when removed from their context, particularly the record the magazines, their format, design, articles and advertisements offer of the era in which they were published. Ads can be scanned, which I suppose would undercut much of their resale value. And yet—advertisements are emblematic of the mass production era, and maybe it would be better to enjoy them that way.
Still, have a gander at this gorgeous advertisement for Congoleum Gold Seal Rugs! Isn’t it incredible? I would die—positively die! (only metaphorically, of course)—to have this kitchen!
So endeth my day at the Old Books and Paper Show. There was so much I didn’t have a chance to enjoy, especially the numerous boxes of old photographs and postcards at various vendors’ tables. They were utterly swarmed with people and I didn’t want to push in. I was also, if I am honest, experiencing information overload. Also, the vendor from whom I bought the Canadian Home Journals had tons and tons of old magazines (including old Vogues) and catalogues (Eaton’s, Canadian Tire, etc.) I would have loved to look at longer. Maybe next time. It was a fun event, and I’ll definitely go to the next one.