One of the Kitchener 1916 project’s challenges is perspective.
I read early 20th-century newspaper articles and try to turn off my early 21st Century sensibilities. While it’s not always possible, I think it’s important that I’m aware of my biases and experiences—“lenses,” if you will—when reviewing the accounts of the day.
To be fair, some lenses help. I know the results of the various intrigues, squabbles, and adventures, so I try to attune to contributing factors and related issues. As example, I know Berlin’s Board of Trade was integral to establishing some of the community’s infrastructure, which led to the group’s attempt to change town/city elected governance to a commission system. After this failed, Board of Trade members (who were also aldermen) worked as a bloc to reignite their agenda, this time as city businessmen rather than as an outside organization. This reluctance to consult the electorate reared its head again during the citizen’s meeting about the petition to change the city’s name and the council’s debate on the issue.
But there are other lenses I need to be aware of when I read and write, as they are very different from how many Berliners of 1916 would see what was happening around them. Culture is an important one. This area is no longer 70 per cent German—(it’s now closer to 20-25 per cent). Canada still has British links, but is an independent nation with a Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrined in our Constitution. By being neither German nor British, I am one of the shades and hues multiculturalism imbues my community. Why is the culture lens key? Because it helps interpret events, actions and reactions and is part of how a group lives and eats.
At the same time, I’m aware of the lenses I’m missing. First and foremost, I do not live in a community torn apart because of a war. While I could imagine what that’s like, I simply don’t know that reality. Another one is what I think of as the Royston Vasey lens of context. More than once I’ve read an article with wink-wink, nudge-nudge–type phrasing. More than once it seemed as if the printed words veiled a different (real?) story. More than once I found the first story on a subject that read as if it were the second or third. Like many small communities, I think it may be safe to assume everyone in 1916 Berlin was connected by fewer than six degrees, so perhaps editors and writers didn’t feel the need to lay essential groundwork for some stories.
A few of my lenses could be thought of as “women’s issues.” There is (of course) my interest in foodways and its related subjects (recipes/home cooking, agriculture, home economy, food manufacturing, prohibition, etc.). But 1916 was an important year for recognizing the legal status of women, beginning with some Manitoban women receiving the right to vote, That set suffrage in motion in other areas of the country.
Because it’s 1916
Unfortunately, I can’t record everything I want in my weekly summaries. The week the Concordia Club was sacked was chock-a-block with local news so that I couldn’t squeeze in the suffragette victory in Saskatchewan.When Premier Scott was presented with a 10,000 name petition to confer full citizenship on the province’s women, he “was fully prepared to say the time had arrived for such action.” I couldn’t help but notice his Delphian sentiments when put alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s defence of Canada’s first gender-balanced cabinet in 2015 .
This month’s favourite:
Valentine’s week didn’t come with a fug of flowers and hearts. That’s not to say ink wasn’t spilt on marriage (not necessarily romance) and whom men should marry (apparently “mill girls” were preferred over those with high school or University education). Amongst the smattering of words on relationships and marriages was this poem about not finding Miss Right. From The Berlin News Record on 10 February 1916:
There are girls who are dark,
And girls who are fair,
And girls who have all sorts of looks;
There are girls who are serious,
But where are the girls who are cooks?
There are girls who are gay,
And girls who are pretty,
And girls who know much about books,
There are girls who are bright,
There are girls who are witty,
But how scarce are the girls who are cooks?
This is, apparently, an ongoing issue. Just ask The Sugarhill Gang:
Have you ever went over a friends house to eat
And the food just ain’t no good?
The macaroni’s soggy, the peas are mushed,
And the chicken tastes like wood
Don’t stop the rockin’.