Just as the veterans were returning home, thousands were thrown out of work as the munitions factories closed down. The Canadian Labour Movement was active and by 1919 had 250,000 members across Canada. Coal miners struck in Alberta as did CPR machinists and car men. That year, Canada had 336 strikes involving 148,000 workers. Wages were cut and inflation was high. In Canada now, it was the War of the Unions.
In February, The Soldiers’ Settlement Act was passed. For three years’ active service – 183 days’ pay and allowances based on no less than $100 per month served for married men, and no less than $70 per month served for single men. That was approximately $600 for married men and $420 for those with no dependents. Those soldiers who did not serve out of Canada got lesser amounts. The same provisions applied to service in the Canadian Naval Forces. This meant a little nest egg for the Bulmers as with low wages and inflation, $600 was an admirable amount.
Many of the visitors to the Bulmer home were friends from the Salvation Army, who came with genuine pleasure at seeing their comrade returned to his family. However, it was two visiting bigots who lost the Army a good worker. Dan had taken up pipe-smoking while he was away and was sitting on his verandah, smoking his pipe after dinner and talking to his visitors. When they rose to leave, one said, “We’ll’ be pleased to have you back: on Sunday, if you get rid of the pipe.” Dan was irate. “If that’s all that is keeping me out of Heaven, I’ll not go to the meetings.” He no longer played for the Salvation Army Band and joined the Governor-General’s Bodyguard Band.
He went back to his old job at Consumers Gas Company. Hector was working steady at the garage. Both came home in the evenings very dirty and tired. They would take off their work clothing in the scullery and wash up before coming into the kitchen to greet the family. Dan and Polly didn’t embrace before the children, but he would tease her after a quick kiss on the cheek, by pulling the ties on her apron or snatching a comb from her hair. She would pretend to be angry and sometimes there was a little pushing and laughing around the kitchen. Polly would say, “Oh, go on with you, you great daft aper.” She had lost most of her habit of dropping aitches and putting them where they shouldn’t be, but still held many of her old ways of speech.
Then, one of the children would bring Dad’s slippers and he would sit in his arm chair with a mug of tea and talk about the day while his wife finished preparing the evening meal. All the family sat down together, making a point of being there when their father was ready. He would give the Blessing and begin the passing of large vegetable dishes and meat platters. Hector and Dan each had at least two large plates full, covered to the edge with gravy. Polly believed a working man needed to eat well.
Hector and his father had not seen service in France and had only hearsay stories of what went on there. When men gathered in their home, the talk nowadays turned to war experiences. It was as though they had to get them out in the open for other men to share. A country that had been shielded from the true conditions of the war was unprepared for the mental reactions of their returning loved ones. They were expected to take part in the homecoming celebrations, then get a job and forget the war.
Lapel buttons were issued for the Veterans, and became known as the ‘Return Button’. It was one way that they recognized one another and would strike up a conversation
They gave consideration and understanding to one another. Often, young people would give a man wearing a Return Button a seat on a streetcar. Their elders tried to find jobs for the returned men and often loaned money. There were some, however, wearing someone else’s Button, who got all they could out of it. There were also legitimate wearers, who declared they would milk it for all it was worth and never work again.
When Winnie’s John returned home late in 1919, he was a different man than had left. He had seen considerable action on the muddy battlefields of Europe and had taken some gas. Many of his friends had been left behind to die on the battlefields as he had obeyed the order to press on. He had, however, helped carry some wounded men o safety. At home again, he was given to nightmares and awoke sweating and disoriented. He would wander the house at night, unable to sleep. In a large group of people, such as gathered at the house at this time, he became agitated. Some word or action would cause him to flare into a temper and roar out of the room. Winnie would find him upstairs, crying and calling himself all kinds of a worthless being.
Polly’s cousin, Frank Helks, had served in some of the places where John had been, and they found that they had witnessed similar events, not aware that they were in the same sector with different units. Dan listened and sympathized, allowing them to talk as long as they wanted. Polly’s reaction was as always, “keep busy and give it time”, but this was something the men had not gone through before and even time didn’t completely erase the traumas left in the returning servicemen.
Polly was working hard at her Dining Room. She was not getting much help from the rest of the family now. Doll was working, and upstairs, Winnie and John were trying to establish their own little family with their year-old daughter. As John was restless, the couple went on long walks, pushing the baby carriage, talking and getting reacquainted. Winnie had less time to spend helping her mother. John objected to his wife working. When Polly went tired to bed she often grumbled and complained to her husband. He would reply by reminding her of- their first years together and the need for young people to be on their own. Reluctantly, Polly closed down her Dining Room.
It comforted her to have her old customers tell her how much they missed her good home-cooked meals and to hear how much she had contributed to their pleasure. “It was only to fill a gap while the men were overseas,” she would answer, but it was a long time before she was really content with the change.
Work began on her Confinement Room soon after the closing of the Dining Room. “Why do you want to start that up again?” Dan wanted to know. “Well, the girls will be having babies. There are several of our friends expecting and will be wanting a place to come. Winnie was pregnant, and young Jackie was born on her 23rd birthday, October 29th, 1920. Her Mother was with her as before, and was the first to announce the birth to John and the others.
Doll had been staying with friends overnight quite frequently and Polly expected that she would want to move in with them soon. No one was prepared for her announcement that she was married to Arthur King and that they were expecting a baby. “Well, if you’re married, you’ll have to live with your husband” , Polly said, as she helped her daughter pack. Tears came from both of them as they gathered Doll’s things together. Meanwhile, Dan was talking to Art, telling him what he expected of his daughter’s husband. Art hung his head, he had trouble meeting his father-in-law’s eyes. Later, Dan remarked, “This may be good for her. It is probably what she needed all along.” “Ey, but I’ll miss her. You always miss the one that gave the most trouble.” Polly sniffled as she got into bed. Eight months later, Norman King was born in the room down the hall.
Frank and Annie Helks had a surprise that year also. Several years after Edna and Tom, Annie had another daughter, Eldred. On November 4, 1920, CFCF Toronto gave its first broadcast — the oldest radio station in the world. Dan bought a radio with earphones which he would take apart and hand around for others to listen. There was so much scratching and interruption in the programming that only he had the patience to stay with it for long.
On December 1, 1920, the Immigration Act was changed to indicate that no immigrant could enter Canada with less than $250, plus $125 for each member of his family over age 18 and $50 for every child between 5 and 18 years. “Good things we came when we did. We didn’t have that kind of money.” Also in 1920, there were electric signs on Yonge Street and more and more autos. Deliveries were still made by horse and wagon, though, as autos were difficult to start up so often. The horses got to know the routes and went along on their own while the drivers ran back and fro with the deliveries.
Winnie spent most of her days downstairs, talking to her mother and friends. The baby cried almost continuously and there were other arms to comfort him. After the children came in from school, she would gather up her own children and take them up to her rooms to clean them up and prepare a good meal for John’s supper. Over dinner, they would talk quietly so not to disturb the baby, or if he was awake, take turns trying to comfort him. Irene would often slip away and on sunny evenings sit on the front stair landing. She loved to have the coloured designs from the stained glass window play on her arms and legs. She would lie back and bathe her body in the shimmering colours. The murmuring voices and quiet laughter from below would draw her to the backstairs where she would open the door and sit on the top step. She was afraid of the dark and there was only a small kitchen door, but she would wait there until her Grandmother opened the kitchen door and ask, “Are you up there, Irene?” There was always some treat left from dinner. Polly put a sauce on all vegetables and even a dish of carrots tasted good to the child. Sometimes there was the last piece of cake or pie that had been quarreled over, so Polly would give it to her granddaughter saying, “Here you settle this!” It was wonderful downstairs in that forbidden place. Her Uncle Hector threw her high into the air, her Granddad bounced her, on his knee, playing ‘ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross…’ and the girls and our Jack played games with her as she had taken the position of a little sister. It would not be long before she was missed upstairs and Winnie would pull hard on her arm, “Your Father wants you upstairs when he is home. Don’t you dare make a sound and waken your brother. ”
Young Jackie went from one sickness to another. He contracted the chicken pox when the rest of the in the house were going through it, and later got blood poisoning in his leg from an infection. He became very weak and had no appetite. Winnie said the doctor had told them that Jackie needed to go to the country, so they looked for and found a small cottage in New Toronto. John was working at the Famous Players film exchange. He took the radial car in and out of the city. The cottage that they rented was nice in summer, being on the edge of a large farm, but winters were very bad and the wood stove in the kitchen couldn’t keep out the cold. Jackie thrived whether because of the country air or his mother’s constant attention. They were ready to move back to the city after the first winter.
Letters from England were coming more frequently since the war. They were still rationed for food and some other materials. Eliza had given up her home and now moved from one to the other of her daughters. When she had disrupted one household enough, she left in a huff for the other. “I suppose it is time we took a turn,” Dan suggested after reading the latest letter. “How about taking that trip we postponed awhile back. If you think it is right, you could bring your Mother back with you.”
So, Polly made her plans for a trip ‘over ‘ome’. Win and John moved back into the big house to keep an eye on things during her absence. “I wish I were thinner.” She mused, “No matter, they’ll have to take me as I am. ” She was still not one for style and she bought a navy blue serge suit and a plain navy straw hat. There were no frills, only a brooch at her neck and the wide gold band on her left hand. She was confident that this was a proper outfit for the stout matron she had become. She was 42 years of age.
The whole family came to see her off. There were photographs taken on the front lawn and then the ride to the station. Polly and Dan went by taxi but the others took the street car. “It will be a long trip but the ships are better now. You seldom hear of anyone being sick nowadays,” they assured her, but it was sad to see her go.
Three months later they were all assembled again waiting at home for their Mother’s return. Winnie had the house all in order and the children went from window to window long before it was time. At last, grandma was back and with the tiniest old lady they had ever seen.
In 1922, when women were cutting their hair and shortening skirts, less and less was being worn. There were, of course, many who kept to more conservative style but none like Eliza had been seen in Toronto for many years. She had not changed her manner of dress in over fifty years. She continued to wear mourning black, with skirts to the ground covering several layers of clothing. Her only ornament would be a neck brooch and violets or lily-of-the-valley in her hat. Her soft leather boots came over her ankles and required a button hook to-close them. She always, wore black kid gloves. Those who lived with her soon found other unique things in her wardrobe, like a corset which seemed unnecessary for her small frame. She wore a ‘breast binder’ to ‘hide her shape’, and underpants below the knees, split between the legs for convenience. Everything was tied at the waist with tape, no elastic to give away and cause embarrassment. There was a camisole under her blouse and two petticoats under her skirts. The young girls loved to see ‘Grandma Taylor’ dress. Her ‘bit of best’ was black rustling taffeta.
There was also not much change in the woman herself. She did seem to be smaller and at 74 years, she had indeed become shorter. Her hair was now white and still pulled into a small, hard knot on the back of her head. Her lovely skin was deeply wrinkled but her eyes were still a snappy blue. Her small features, hands and feet gave the impression of a delicate old person but a cutting word and a poke with her elbow soon gave notice that she could take care of herself.
Tea was ready and a comfortable chair which Eliza took as her right. The noise and confusion rose as the men came in from work and more of the family assembled to meet the travelers. Polly took her mother up to the front bedroom. “This is your room, Mother. You don’t have to stay in it but if you find it a bit noisy you will have a place to get away on your own. When your boxes come, you can put your bits and pieces around and make it more homelike. See, across the street, next to Pointz Meat Market over the paint store is where Winnie and John have moved. You can go over and see them when you’re ready to go out for a walk.” She had made it clear to her Mother before they left England that should Eliza decide to make her home with them, the rules would be the same, – no interference with the children or the running of the house and no more needed to be said. Eliza knew that she was at the end of her influence with her daughters and except for a few lapses, she settled in as part of the family. Only once, she made reference to the house and the conveniences Polly now had. “I see that you are coming up in the world at last,” she remarked.
On February 14, 1921 the Canadian nickel coin had been authorized and John had made a bracelet for young Irene from a piece of silver chain and five dangling five-cent coins.
She came in from playing on her grandparent’s front lawn with an empty chain. Neighbourhood children had removed all the nickels.
On July 19, 1921, Ontario voted for prohibition of manufacture, import and sale of liquor. It wasn’t until December 1926 that the Ontario government took control of its liquor sales. In the meantime, those who worked in the breweries were out of work, but small illegal stills sprung up in garages and basements, keeping Revenue Officers busy. Smuggling by boat from the French Islands near Newfoundland became a lucrative business. Many homes began making their own homebrew. The kitchen curtains would be drawn of an evening and the doors locked, while Dan worked on his ‘brew’. When it was ready, he had an apparatus for capping the bottles and he kept the finished product in a cabinet under the kitchen sink. Everyone seemed to know that this was going on in working men’s homes, but nothing was done about it. Recipes for wine and liquor made out of raisins, rice, potatoes or whatever, passed from hand to hand. Some people made reputations for good liquor which was popular at parties and weddings. However, others became sick and some died of concoctions made out of anything that had a percentage of alcohol, not meant for human consumption.
There were more drunken people on the streets than at other times. Some would be sleeping it off in doorways and there was usually a jolly person or two on a street car.
Impaired driving was as yet not a misdemeanor. Eliza took no truck with the inebriate. She would pierce them with an icy look and then push past. One evening near Halloween, she was returning from town with Winnie and her two children. A young man who had a few drinks put on a mask and jumped from between two houses to startle the group. Winnie was so frightened that she began to call out loudly for her husband who was still at home and couldn’t have heard her. The children began to cry and cling to their mother. The young man doffed his mask and began to laugh. “Can’t you take a joke?” he mocked. Eliza went after him with her umbrella and forced him to run. “If I catch you, I’ll lick the wits out of you. “The look of that tiny old-fashioned woman coming after him with her umbrella must have been something for him to think about as he later recalled the events of the evening.
On February 11, 1921, the discovery of insulin for treatment of diabetes was announced in Toronto. Doctors Frederick Banting and Charles Best received the Nobel Prize which they shared with colleagues James Collip and James MacLeod. In later years, Hector and Winnie had reason to recall this event when they were diagnosed as having the disease.
On March 23, 1923, Foster Hewitt ‘the voice of hockey’, announced his first hockey game over the Toronto Star radio station CFCA. The first treaty signed independently by Canada on its own authority, without the intermediation of Britain, was signed in 1923 with the United States. It was for protection of Pacific fisheries.
Of more importance to the Bulmer family was the marriage of Hector to Beatrice Heatley on March 12, 1923. They had been keeping company for some time and everyone felt quite comfortable about Hec’s choice of bride. Beat’s father was ill and the young couple moved into the flat of the family’s home at 983 Ossington Avenue so they could give a hand with the upkeep of the house. Their son, Richard, was born on June 20, 1925, the first family baby to be born in a hospital.
Monster machines were in the waters of Lake Ontario dredging up sand to fill in acres of space for an amusement park at Sunnyside Beach. The old stairs had been renewed but now bathers walked through the park, across a paved road and the famous “Board Walk’ to sandy beaches and bathing houses for swim. There was a free bathing pavilion with large separate change rooms for males and females, but clothing had to be brought out to the beach to ensure it was available for the trip home. Many changed on the beaches behind towels.
Each evening and on Saturdays, the amusement park was in full swing with the Flyer, Loop-the-Loop, Merry Go ’round, Fish Pond and games of chance. Hot dogs, ice cream cones and cobs of corn as well as candy floss filled the evening air with tempting smells. Young men spent dollars trying to win trinkets for their girl friends. There were free concerts going on at the Orthaphonic but beach chairs had to be rented. As soon as someone left his chairs, others crowded in to claim them. Female impersonators, wearing the latest in beaded dresses and head bands, and waving large plumed fans were very good until they tried to sing. Jugglers and dog acts, tap dancers and magicians worked for prize money or what they could get by passing a hat.
There were contests of every kind to attract crowds. Dance marathons, as well as pole-sitting on small platforms on the top of real poles. Food was passed up by a rope and waste brought down. Seven-day bike races featuring names like Torchy Peden, sculling races and sailing regattas; a family could have a lot of entertainment for an evening and perhaps buy only a five-cent ice cream cone.
Marathon swimmers coated themselves with black grease in an effort to stand off the cold of Lake Ontario and compete for prizes given by Wrigley, who sponsored Toronto’s own
George Young, the Catalina Kid. When the eye could no longer detect the swimmers and their rowboat attendants, radios gave play by play of how the race was going and it was often long after dark before the last swimmers came in.
John Bond took a job on the Flyer for a few summers, collecting second fares. They were paying doctors’ bills. It was not uncommon for doctors to be paid for service at five or ten dollars a month. John did his job at the film exchange during the day and then went to work at Sunnyside. It meant lonesome evenings for Winnie but she would often give the children a nap and go down to the beach later so they could look around and then walk home with their father. No amount of pleading would make her part with any of their father’s ‘hard-earned money’ for treats, and if they persisted, something else would be denied them. They soon learned to watch what was going on free and appreciate it.
Sunnyside was only a few blocks from the Roncesvalles home. At the corner where King, Queen and Roncesvalles came together Laura Secord had a candy store in which Ivy worked. The girl clerks wore white starched aprons and white shoes similar to nurses. The store colours were black and white with no adornments except the stern picture of an elderly Laura Secord herself. J.B. Hayes and Mr. O’Connor thought that the quality of the candy spoke for itself. On special days like Easter, the window might have a few ducks or chickens made with crepe paper feathers, each carefully assembled at the factory where the candy and Easter eggs were made. Pounds of pure dairy butter were unwrapped and put into a mixing machine with sugar and flavourings to make the special eggs for which Laura Secord was justly famous.
The intersection of the three busy roads became congested at certain times and it was then that a policeman would go out `on point’ and take his stop sign from its place of storage on the sidewalk. There was a mixture of wagons, bikes, cars and trams. Pedestrians did not think they should be held up from getting their street cars and would dart across against the traffic. The directing policeman would often abandon the semaphore and move back and forth among the congestion waving and shouting orders. Trouble with a car that wouldn’t start or a horse that wouldn’t stop was frequent and good for a few stories over dinner tables.
The family at home was getting smaller now. Winnie, Hector and Doll were on their own. Ivy was keeping company and planning to be married the next summer. It made sense to move into a smaller place but it was a hard decision to leave the ‘big house’. Moving day was more disorganized and confused than the last one. The male members of the family arrived complete with wives and children. Polly had packed a few dishes but the drapes were still hanging as were the pictures. The beds were made and there was food in the cupboards. “I don’t like living in an empty house so I left everything till today.” Polly explained. “It will only take a minute or two to get all these things packed.”
The women began to give orders. Two friends with trucks lent a hand moving heavy pieces of furniture and making several trips to an apartment at 305-1/2 Roncesvalles Avenue. At that end, there was a set of narrow steps from the street to the second floor apartment. Furniture and men got stuck, and many words of profanity were invented, tested and perfected that day. The grandchildren ran about in the half-empty rooms, listening to their voices as the house became hollow. “Leave that”, Polly would interject if someone picked up a box that was meant for another destination. “A neighbour is going to have that,” or “that one goes to the Salvation Army”.
When it was all done Polly sent Our Jack for fish & chips and Dan brought out some beer. They all sat around the kitchen, sweaty and tired at the end of the day. “Damnedest move we ever made,” Dan concluded. There was a worse one in the future which he would miss.
The apartment had been set to order and had begun to seem like home when they had a visit from a distant relative from England. She arrived, thin, prim and in a light grey suit. Visitors from overseas usually stayed for two or three months. Jane, the visitor in the light grey suit, made it known that she was in Canada looking for a change, some excitement and a man, not necessarily in that order. A change she did have in a home with three active young people, the excitement may have come from the music and parties in the home, but the man never materialized and she left for home after Christmas. She did, however, contribute to some excitement on her own. Never one to soil her hands or her new traveling clothes, but on seeing everyone else bustling around her on Christmas morning, she asked if there was anything she could do to help. Dan, who had little patience with ‘that useless woman’ told her she could clean out the fire grate? This she did.
Polly was working in the kitchen over a large turkey and whipping a huge pot of potatoes, as all the children and their families were coming for Christmas dinner. She kept complaining of smoke and Winnie checked for dripping grease in the oven. “It seems to be in the back of the apartment.” Someone noticed smoke in the back sun porch and the fire department was called. Jane had put the ashes from the fire grate into a cardboard box and it had smoldered through the floor of the sun porch. “Damn fool woman!” Dan retorted. As a heavy snow had blocked the back line, the firemen had to come up the stairs from the front street, through the living room, ‘dining room and kitchen to the sun porch. The grandchildren were seated at the kitchen table and Polly began filling plates with food. “Eat it up before the place burns down,” she told them, as the fire hoses slid past their chairs. “I didn’t spend all day on this meal to have it go up in smoke,” she continued to hand plates of food to whoever passed her. The fire was out quickly and Jane was understandably abashed but it took quite a bit of mediation on Polly’s part to keep Dan from saying more to their guest. Drinks were handed all around to the firemen and Dan wished them a Merry Christmas and apologies for having brought them out on that day. Eventually, the family settled down to dinner and a good laugh over earlier events. “That’s another one for the book,” someone said.
On June10, 1925, Ivy married William MacMillan, a policeman. They were married at the Church of the Epiphany. This was the first daughter to have a church wedding with all the trimmings. Her cousin, Edna Helks, was her attendant and she was escorted down the aisle by her father. Whether from joy or excitement, Ivy began to cry before she left home and sniffled throughout the ceremony. Afterwards she was her happy laughing self dancing in her wedding dress to tunes played by the piper who lead the dancers. Winnie wore a lovely pale green dress that she had beaded herself, but Polly wore black crepe as she believed her full figure and age required dark colours. She was 45.
Unknown to the wedding party there had been angry words before the wedding. Eliza took a long time dressing and everyone made allowances for her, but there was only one bathroom in the apartment and it needed to be in steady use on that day. Eliza had spent much more than her allotted time washing up in the bathroom, and when it was time to leave for the church, she sat, in her room sorting through old pictures. Polly was flushed and concerned that everything would go well and she spoke sharply to her Mother as she tried to hurry her into her clothing. “You’d be too late for a funeral, let alone a wedding,” she said. There was no more said between the two women but the next day, Eliza packed some things in two of Eaton’s shopping bags and repeating again, “I’ll not stay where I am not wanted,” went out the door in the direction of Winnie’s home. She and “John had moved from the flat across the street and were now in a duplex at 17 Lumbervale, so it was a long walk for the old woman. Polly phoned to see if her Mother had indeed gone there and was told that she had and they would keep her overnight.
Eliza insisted that she would not return to her daughter’s home and would sooner sleep in a park. Winnie and John did not know what to do as they were just managing on his salary and had moved into the duplex so the children could each have a bedroom. It was decided to give Grandma Taylor their bedroom and they slept on the davenport in living room. She stayed for four years.
Ivy’s son, Archibald Daniel, was born on March18, 1926. The thick head of hair with a widow’s peak that he would have later was not in evidence as he was quite bald as a young baby. He made up for his lack of hair with a broad smile and a happy, easy going disposition that made everyone love him. Irene was forbidden by her mother from going to see the newborn as her aunt needed rest, but her new cousin had been born at Grandma’s house and it was always something special to hold a new born. A trip to the library took her past her grandparents door and it proved too much of a temptation for the eight-year-old. Polly didn’t know of the instructions from home and told her granddaughter that she was the first to hold the baby next to his own father and mother. Oh, the joy to hold him! He didn’t cry or fuss and was in fact the only baby she had in her arms who didn’t want to get away from her. Winnie didn’t tolerate disobedience in her children and Irene spent many afternoons confined to the front porch to consider her sins, but she and Archie grew up to be fast friends and she always considered a few afternoons kept from play was little to pay for the importance of having had ‘first hold’.
Continued – Polly – Chapter 5