Black vinyl with slanted armrests, homemade by my dad and sent in a cube van after I moved to Edmonton (as a surprise) along with a grey trunk containing, among other surprises, a huge Canadian flag I bought for $10 from I can’t remember where; two chairs that fold out for sleeping, which I sleep on for months until I buy a bed; and a stuffed poodle named Bandit I thought I was too old to care about. (I was wrong.)
I could probably have bought seven couches for the price of this one delivery but none would have had its particular brand of vinyl charm (I crotchet an afghan for it while watching MASH) in an apartment with Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe posters taped above a small unpainted table and bamboo blinds that keep the night out but to my astonishment allow everyone to see in. The flag comes in handy.
The trunk becomes a coffee table and it all feels quite luxurious and one night while eating Old Dutch chips it occurs to me that this is the first place I have ever lived where I don’t have to share a bathroom, the first time in my life where a toilet is entirely mine.
The couch is under a window that faces a parking lot and garbage bins where one night I see someone hanging out with a knife. Are they throwing it away I wonder… or finding it or waiting for someone… or running away from someone. Questions, things forgotten, details.
About that couch: it’s possible I never even sat on it (the chairs were comfier).
She rose before daylight made crimson the east
For duties that never diminished
And never the sun when it sank in the west
Looked down upon work that was finished.
She cooked an unending procession of meals,
Preserving and canning and baking.
She swept, she dusted.
She washed and she scrubbed.
With never a rest for the taking.
A family of children she brought into the world,
Raised them and trained them and taught them.
She made all the clothes, patched, mended and darned
Till miracles seemed to have wrought them.
She watched by the bedside of sickness and pain
Her hand cooled the raging of fever.
Carpentered, painted, upholstered and scraped
And worked just as hard as a beaver.
And yet as a lady-of-leisure, it seems,
The government looks on her station.
For now, by the rules of the census report
It enters her—No Occupation.
Note: the rules changed in 1931, when “homemaker” was allowed on the Census report.
“In 1881 women were allowed to join the newly formed Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Natural History Society of New Brunswick. Saint John women interested in natural history, history and science enthusiastically embraced the group, and by 1892 they had taken control of the auxiliary, electing members, establishing objectives and offering programs. Their motto, “Progress is the law of life,” underscored their “commitment of self improvement, technological advancement and social uplift,” which they felt was best gained through education. The Society offered lectures, museum tours, field trips and teas. The Saint John-based group was so successful that by 1905 women outnumbered the men of the Natural History Society two to one. As time passed they expanded their programs, focusing on education directed at women and children.*
“Among the most popular activities were summer science camps and clubs for children and youth. In the photo shown above, science camp participants are enjoying a meal on the beach. Most of the young women are wearing middies and bloomers—popular sportswear of the period. That the participants appear to be female shows that even 100 years ago, girls and women embraced science education when given an opportunity.”
* Collecting and museum work offered opportunities for scientifically minded women to engage in high-profile cultural and intellectual activities in their communities, thereby offsetting as well as challenging their lack of political rights.
Source: Herstory, The Canadian Women’s Calendar which I’m happy to say I’ve been receiving as a gift for years and which, while it’s a desk calendar, and I use it as such, the first thing I do every year is read it like a book.
Each page features a historic photograph, work of art, or brief account of past and contemporary lives lived and contributions made—by people like Lois Vallely-Fischer who founded one of the first university faculty unions in Canada.
It also covers aspects of history not usually mentioned in the usual history books, such as, for example, that of women’s rowing—not until the 1970’s were all-women crews allowed in competition (boxing was practiced by women for almost a century before the first women’s boxing club opened in 1996).
It’s a favourite read every year and never fails to leave me stunned and grateful for the work that’s been done, and continues to be done, in this country, by women—many of whom I suspect no one ever hears much about. And how, amazingly, there’s never a shortage of women to fill its pages.