Category Archives: Nostalgia

Elsie MacGill: Flying under the radar

How did I not know about Elsie MacGill? 

There we were on Parliament Hill last September for the commemoration of the Battle of Britain. As if to belie the horrors of war and the sorrow of lives lost, brilliant sun shone down on Ottawa, Canada that day. Gentle breezes rippled the Governor General’s standard flying from the Peace Tower.

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Vintage aircraft, including a Lancaster Bomber,thundered overhead.

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The Snowbirds flew in missing man formation. Chills.

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And then we strolled by the Hawker Hurricane aircraft on display on the vast lawn and read this sign.

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Elsie MacGill, a Canadian, was the world’s first female aeronautical engineer, and a woman who supervised Hurricane production in the 1940s. How did I not know about her?

I did more research. As a child growing up in Vancouver, Elsie took drawing lessons from Emily Carr. Talk about inspiration. Elsie earned degrees from the University of Toronto, the University of Michigan and MIT. In fact, she was the first woman in North America to earn a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering.

Before her graduation, she contracted polio and was told she would never walk again. She was determined though, and she learned to walk with the help of two metal canes.

While using those canes, she went on to become the world’s first female aircraft designer. She co-authored the report from the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada. She became a member of the Order of Canada.

How did I not know about Elsie MacGill? Somehow she managed to fly under the radar.

I imagine her in the Canadian Car and Foundry factory in Thunder Bay (then Fort William) surrounded by metallic clanging, blazes of welding and the haze of smoke that hung in offices in her day. I picture her making her way to meetings with the help of two canes, somehow managing to command respect despite her gender and a physical challenge. I cannot help but feel awe and respect for doing what she did at the time she did it.

She wasn’t on the curriculum when I went to school. She needs to be. She’s my new Canadian hero.

Some Christmas perspective: Letters from the 1930s

I wrote this post three years ago, but I decided to post it again as we wind down our holiday preparations. A reminder of what is really important at this time of year.

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Correspondence from an earlier time helps us to gain perspective about our own circumstances. These letters, written by my husband’s ancestors, span the years between 1928 and 1936. The mood changes from comfortable and optimistic, to worried, to discouraged, to desperate.

In 1928 times were good. People had no inkling of the challenges to come. They proudly made use of electricity as they gathered around their radio in the evenings.

letter-jan-1928

By October 1930, people had started to feel the pinch, but hope did not elude them. Reading this now, we know the long, lingering hard times that lay ahead of them—the Great Depression and then World War II—but back then, they were certain it was a short-term dip.

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In 1933 many people were out of work. Lay-off notices were dreaded but common. Without a social safety net, no work meant no food or shelter. This lay-off notice came just before Christmas.

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At Christmas 1934, this letter was sent:  “. . . we find that it will be impossible to send any gifts this year, and therefore we would rather not receive any gifts this year.”

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By comparison, we are wealthy beyond all imagining. Our social safety net is not perfect, but it helps.

Rest easy. Enjoy our luxury. Happy Holidays.

The bridge: Binding traditions

I have watched this video about the bridge at Q’eswachaka a few times. I find the twisting of the grass, the braiding of the ropes, the calloused feet holding ropes in places, the ancient costumes, the sense of community and the joyful completion of hard work compelling.

The centuries-old tradition builds a bridge between communities on both sides of the Apurimac River in Peru—and between generations together, one after another.

What centuries-old traditions bridge your communities and your generations?

A different kind of daytime television

If you’ve been saving for a bigger screen TV but haven’t quite managed it yet, this will make you feel better.

In May of 1948, General Electric (GE) advertised “the one and only kind of television you can enjoy in broad daylight.”

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Their ads promoted a television with a “super-big” screen─3 square feet—and they promised clear reception of all 13 American channels.

These days “daytime television” means soap operas, inane talk shows or re-runs of sit-coms. In 1948, daytime television meant a physical TV set with an image bright enough to see during daylight hours.

We take our big screens with clear colour pictures that we can see in any light for granted. Every once in a while it’s good to pause and acknowledge with gratitude the technology behind it all, and the people in our past who harnessed that technology to create something that has become so omnipresent in our lives.

Isn’t it a shame that all that marvelous technology gets used for such frivolous, and sometimes harmful, drivel? Don’t you wonder what the great minds of our television pioneers, John Baird, Kalman Tihanyi,  Leon Theremin and Philo Farnsworth would think about the potential of their technology being harnessed for such beauties as Sharknado, or Duck Dynasty, or 19 Kids and Counting, or—God help us all—Real Housewives of Beverly Hills?

I think they would throw their hands up in despair. I think that if they had known what was coming they would have drawn up legal contracts forbidding anyone with the name Kardashian from ever appearing on their screens.

I hope that they are—right now—plotting ways to come back to haunt the producers of Toddlers and Tiaras. 

As I write this, my words appear on a computer monitor with a screen larger than the one in the 1948 GE advertisement. Its picture is bright and clear and colourful. I take a moment for gratitude for this incredible technology and the pioneer minds of the people who invented it.

Tonight, I think I’ll go home and kiss my big-screen television in all its bright, clear glory.  And I won’t watch The Bachelorette. I respect the great minds of television pioneers far too much to do that.

Drafting the Famous Five

“We take turns drafting as we make our way south, like cyclists in the Tour de France or geese, changing positions every ten minutes or so when the leader grows tired. I am surprised how much easier it is to follow someone else’s lead in those conditions, stepping where they step, trusting that they know at least something about the way we are going.” —Michael Yankoski in Mapping the Sacred Year

Michael Yankoski reflected on “drafting” when writing about a pilgrimage he made with friends. The walkers took turns leading into the wind, making the way easier for those who followed behind.

Pilgrims draft for each other, cyclists too, and geese. And so do we.

Famous Five monument, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

Famous Five monument, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

I’ve been drafting the Famous Five my whole life. Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards were five Canadian women who sought to have women declared “persons,” so that women could be appointed to our Senate.

On this date 87 years ago, April 24, 1928, Canada’s Supreme Court summarized its unanimous decision that women are NOT such persons: “. . .Understood to mean ‘Are women eligible for appointment to the Senate of Canada’ the question is answered in the negative.”

The women kept walking into the wind, drafting for each other, trusting that they knew at least something about they way they were going. One and a half years later, that ruling was overturned on October 18, 1929.

Thanks to them, I vote and own property. Heck, maybe someday I could even be in the Senate.

Then again, with everything that’s going on there these days, maybe not.

Nellie McClung: “Women are Persons” Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

 

 

Not auld, but new time’s sake

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Sometimes, yes, for your new time’s sake. 

At midnight on New Year’s we sing a song about the past instead of the future. For me, for the new time pelting me moment by moment, I prefer to look forward. No point in clinging to unhealthy, damaging relationships for old time’s sake. Choose healthy ones, look forward and go out and have some fun.

For New Time’s Sake

For new time’s sake, my dear,
For new time’s sake,
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet
For new time’s sake.

We two will run about the hillsides,
Amongst the daisies fine,
And we will wander many a mile
For new time’s sake

We two will wade in lapping lakes,
From noon to dinner time
And seas we’ll cross, and lands we’ll see
For new time’s sake

And there’s a hand, my trusty friend,
And give me a hand of yours,
And we’ll take a drink of goodwill ale,
For new time’s sake.

And surely I’ll pay for your pint,
And you will pay for mine
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet
For new time’s sake.

fireworks

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