• NEXT MEETING: “JOSEPH HECKMAN, CPR PHOTOGRAPHER”

    Saturday, April 29, 2017, 2:00pm – Noted railway enthusiast and author Ralph Beaumont presents his most recent book ‘Heckman’s Canadian Pacific: A Photographic Journey’. As photographer for the CPR, Joseph Heckman travelled across Canada by train and hand car between 1898 and 1915 shooting images of the fledgling national railway system with his glass plate camera.

    For more information, see CLUB MEETINGS.

THE SPIRIT OF CHILDHOOD: A CANADIAN POSTCARD (AND AVIATION) MYSTERY

By Andrew Cunningham

Postcard collecting can take you to unexpected destinations. This post is about how postcards dragged me off into suburban Canada of the 1930s. A few years ago, as part of my collecting focus on my hometown of Winnipeg, I picked up an unused real photo postcard that seemed, initially, to be of rather minor interest. It depicted a little girl seated in a replica airplane, evidently designed for children. The craft was emblazoned with the words “The Spirit of Childhood” and “Winnipeg 1934”. The setting was the public sidewalk out front of a house of an exceedingly common local style: 934 something street; or maybe 334. Unidentifiable, in other words.

the-spirit-of-childhood-winnipeg-1934

The Spirit of Childhood, taking off from a Winnipeg sidewalk circa 1934.

I filed it away and, I will admit, soon forgot all about The Spirit of Childhood. That is, until a few months ago, when to my surprise I came upon a second similar postcard. This one featured two girls in another replica airplane, which again proclaimed “The Spirit of Childhood”. But this time it wasn’t Winnipeg. It was “Vancouver 1934”.

spirit-of-childhood-vancouver-1934

Vancouver’s Spirit of Childhood has managed to attract a passenger and a co-pilot.

How odd. What was going on? Were these planes constructed from a kit ordered from (say) Eaton’s or the Bay? Not likely, it seemed — their construction and painted lettering were similar but not by any means identical. And yet it certainly appeared that they had been designed with reference to a common model and, one would presume, owed their name ultimately to Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis.

Since then, I’ve discovered several more examples of The Spirit of Childhood online. The Peel Collection at the University of Alberta shows four postcards of this genre (for a genre it appears to be). One card is emblazoned with “Edmonton 1931” and there are also three Calgary examples, one whose date is not captured in the photo and two that respectively represent the years 1936 and 1937. The last image that my Googling uncovered shows a similar scene of a plane that doesn’t have a painted reference to a city or a year, but which apparently came from the Yukon Territory.

One useful result of this search was the revelation that the difference between “my” two planes does not, after all, mean that the designs were one-offs. In fact, if you look closely at the images linked above (plus my pair), it appears that there were two models of these planes. The “Vancouver” model appears virtually identical to Edmonton 1931, Calgary 1937, Calgary 193? and the Yukon plane, while the “Winnipeg” model looks the same as Calgary 1936. So now we are left with seven planes in two designs, dating from 1931 to 1937 and each being the subject of photographic postcards in a similar style. By that I mean that every single one of the photos has been taken on a sidewalk in front of a house — a natural place for the plane to be, I suppose, but you’d think that the odds would be that at least one out of seven photographers would have decided on some other equally good location. To speculate: could the photos have been intended for submission to an organization — to the manufacturer or a retailer, for example — as part of a contest the rules of which specified how the required photo was to look? Frankly, I haven’t a clue.

Another thing to note is that — going by what shows up in the first few results returned by Google — there don’t seem to be any U.S. examples, or examples from eastern Canada. Surely that must mean something….

But all I have at this point is that these planes were made from some sort of plan or kit, that there were at least two designs in use, and that these were distributed across Western Canada in the 1930s. They may have been intended to represent something about Canadian aviation, but — if that’s the case — I’m not sure what.

Anyone who might be able to shed some light on this aviation mystery is welcome to submit a comment!

 

HOCKEY-PLAYING FELLERS…

By Andrew Cunningham

Just to follow up on John Sayers’ baseball mystery, I thought I’d tell a tale of my own that shows how much fun it can be to solve a postcard puzzle of just that sort.


Mine is about the boys of winter, not the boys of summer, though. A few months back, I acquired a rather ragtag group of ice hockey postcards, most of which seemed to date from 1910-1940. They weren’t early NHL or Stanley Cup treasures or anything as desirable as that. Instead, they mostly seemed to depict school and local players (or entire teams) from Quebec and New Brunswick. A smaller number were from Ontario and a scattering of U.S. border states, and still others were simply unidentified and, so far at least, unidentifiable. (Actually, I should add — if only by way of warning — that many of them had been misidentified, possibly deliberately, by a past seller who seemed to have decided to “identify” the cards with the name of a randomly-chosen school or town whose first letter conveniently matched with the letter in the monogram on the team’s sweater. Hockey sweaters in those days almost always featured either a large plain letter or an artistic “monogram” design made up of a letter or letters — think the “CH” of the Montreal Canadiens or the Boston Bruins’ spoked-“B” — both are survivors from that period.)

This particular card was one of several teams whose identities I was able to pinpoint, eventually, and (in this case) after having learned a lot about a little known corner of Canadian history.

[Baptist hockey team]

The card shows what is clearly a high school team, with its gentlemanly teacher-coach. A noteworthy feature of the card, which would have required a bit of photographic expertise and effort to achieve, is that one player is shown in an inset photo. There is nothing to say which team it is and the monogram visible on the team’s sweaters is one of those that isn’t easy for the modern eye to interpret.

But … there was a big clue. The names of the players — all but one — had dutifully been recorded on the reverse:

Back Row:

Hamilton
C. Cook
Nel. Auclair
Mr. Massé, pastor
M. Larivière
L. Brouillet
E. Jones

Front Row:

Groundwater
B. McCann
J. Derrick
[not named]
J. Hughes

The boy in the inset photo — who proved to be the key to solving the mystery — was named in full: Leslie Isaacks. 

A search on Ancestry.ca quickly revealed the sad news that a Leslie Raymond Isaacks, schoolboy, had died at Kingston, Ontario on 16 June 1931 at the age of 16. Leslie was a son of Charles and Sophie Isaacks, English immigrants who were Baptists — an important detail, as it turned out.

The information about Leslie Isaacks was interesting, but something didn’t fit. If this was a high school in Kingston, why were so many of the surnames French-Canadian? Another curious fact struck me: “Mr. Massé” is described as “pastor”. Not a priest but a pastor. It sounded as though, very unusually for someone who was (presumably) French-Canadian, he might have been a Protestant … and quite possibly a nonconformist Protestant, such as a Baptist (Leslie Isaacks’ religion, as I’d just discovered).

Hmm… I checked online for the next most complete and distinctive name: Nelson Auclair. Ancestry.ca yielded up the lad’s birth registration, which was in Marieville near St-Hyacinthe, Quebec. Sure enough, young Nelson was also a Baptist. Moreover, he had been baptized in 1913 by none other than G. N. Massé, pasteur.

Searching for G. N. Massé on Google brought to light the interesting history of French-Canadian Baptists in Quebec and particularly of the Feller Institute (or College), established in the 1840s in what was then Canada East by Baptist missionaries from Switzerland. An old history of Quebec’s French-speaking Baptists found online (in a very poorly OCR’d version) tells the interesting story of the Swiss Baptists’ arrival in Lower Canada and the not always welcoming response of local Catholics. It also makes reference to G. N. Massé and his brother, Arthur Massé. Wikipedia recounts the later history of Feller College, which was located in the village of Grande-Ligne south of Montreal (since renamed St-Blaise-sur-Richelieu), down to 1967, when it closed for good.

So, the pastor in the photo is one of the Massés, or perhaps a son who followed them in a life of service to the church. And that hard-to-interpret monogram is an “F”, for “Feller”.

Why then is Leslie in an inset? Well, it appears from his death certificate that he had been undergoing treatment in Kingston, his hometown, for two months prior to his death in June. So perhaps he had had to leave his mates behind in Quebec before the team photo could be taken and, not wishing to forget him, they had the photographer insert a photo that had previously been taken of him in a track or basketball uniform. If so, that would plausibly date this image to the winter or spring of 1931.

Another mystery solved. And here’s to Leslie and his friends, the Feller College hockey team. They’d have to be at least 100 years old to be alive today, but I’d be willing to bet that for as long as they may each have lived, not one of them ever forgot their lost teammate.

BALLPARK MYSTERY

By John Sayers

We love baseball. We love our home team (except occasionally when they blow it in the 9th inning!). We have friends that have travelled to every ball park in the majors – plus a half a dozen that are no longer being used! They have even been to some of the Double A and Triple A ballparks.

Even though we don’t collect that subject ourselves, we get entranced when we find an image like the one shown here. It looks like a ball park, but there doesn’t seem to be a backstop behind home plate. There is a player in a white shirt who seems to be hitting practice balls to the infield – and maybe the outfield that we can’t see. There is a film camera behind home plate. And there’s a police officer on horseback, and other officers on foot for ‘crowd control’.

Ballpark Mystery (Sayers)

There is a big crowd. It looks like 1920s – or maybe 1930s. The few women spectators are wearing hats. The men spectators are wearing an assortment of hats – including fedoras, caps, and ‘pork pie’ hats. Are the men on the field playing ball – or making a baseball film?

This was a very good sized stadium for its day, and so must have been in a major American city. But which one was it?

O.K. you ball fans out there. Where the heck is this?