I’ll let slip some information on how the “Working Women” scene of this year’s Guided Spirit Walks came together. In this particular scene of “At War’s End” six women stand together, and each in turn shares a different perspective on the wartime issue of women and work. Our main focus of the scene was Isabella Frampton Hawken, who co-founded Dominion Electric Co. with her husband. Hawken ran the company in its daily work as her husband was a pharmacist, and she took an even greater role is its management after his death. The programming team and I uncovered Hawken’s story in our Museum archives, and her dialogue was written to tell that story as well as to share her views on the women and work topic more broadly. The other characters in the scene are complimentary, as we felt it necessary to incorporate multiple perspectives on the issue. Some of the working women’s statements come from articles posted in the Globe and Mail in 1918: real, anonymous women shared these thoughts with the public one hundred years ago. The women depicted in the scene also quote job advertisements from 1918 that we found in the microfilm copies of the St. Catharines Standard. The last woman to speak recites Evelyn Underhill’s 1917 poem “Non-Combatants”, which we included to give the scene a dramatic close. Just as the women of St. Catharines in 1918 hosted a marinade of unique perspectives, this scene is a living mosaic of different voices and pieces of research.
We brought in new approaches to research in each scene. In another scene, three students sit in a classroom and chant a poem as their teacher, Eliza Sophia Fitzgerald, arrives. “She is our champion reader,” they say. “Her voice would drown a herald”. We were fascinated by Eliza Sophia Fitzgerald, as she was one of the first women to graduate from a Canadian University when she completed her degree from Queens in 1884. Fitzgerald was revered as an accomplished and successful educator. Although teaching was one of the fields that women were encouraged to participate in at the time, Fitzgerald was celebrated as an academic and an innovator. There is even a scholarship in her honour at Queen’s University, awarded to the student with the highest overall standing at the end of their second year. To complement this research and to create a more dynamic scene we added students whose lines come from the 1917 Vox Collegiensis yearbook; this was the yearbook of St. Catharines Collegiate, where Fitzgerald taught. We were thrilled to find that, along with an excerpt on the war that Fitzgerald later reads, students wrote fun and silly poems about their teachers in that edition of the school’s yearbook. The poetry they recite is the genuine perspective that they shared about their famously successful teacher.
I’m a Brock University student heading into the fifth of my five years in Concurrent Education this fall. Although this summer position is in no way affiliated with the post-secondary institution, it often feels like a valuable internship or a co-op for my future teaching career. I’ve practiced researching, writing, and communication skills while improving my time management and organization to do so. A skill sometimes less common that I’ve been able to exercise here has been perspective. Early in my research I came across the story of the Adie family: of their four sons three died in battle overseas. The first of these men to die was born in 1896. I was born in 1996, and when I graduate with my BA/BEd degree in 2019 I will be twenty-two years old. I’ve had my moments of considering situations in my life to be difficult, but through reading the stories of these real St. Catharines residents I’ve remembered to appreciate how good my life has been. If I had been my age one hundred years ago, I’d likely be returning home from war to a disturbed home community with a new economy and a lot of missing faces. Or perhaps I wouldn’t be returning home.
The research for this program has been extensive. The hours that I have contributed personally are minimal in the full scale of historical sources that has been gathered for “At War’s End”. The programming team has been thorough in our study of the facts relevant to the characters. I have witnessed some truly creative and insightful research practices to bring together real historic voices from newspapers, journals, letters, yearbooks, and various other databases to ensure an informative and enjoyable Guided Spirit Walks. Keep an eye out for more posts on “At War’s End” for a look at its rehearsals and production! Tickets go on sale August 1st.
We have a fantastic group of volunteers who help bring these people’s stories to life, many of whom have been involved in the Guided Spirit Walks since their inception in 2012. Here are just a couple of the voices of those who dedicate their time to making this production as successful as it has been:
“What brought me to GSW…? I think I started in 2012. I started with the museum as a Dragon Boat volunteer, then committee member and then the Museum Advisory Committee. I then got bored with sitting around talking and not doing anything and the next thing you know I’m dressing up as the Mayor’s wife for dinner and then it was in a cemetery!
History is important… even on a municipal level, knowing our history will go a long way to understanding our future. I want to make history exciting for people, bring it to life… and the people we work with are amazing… this is fun and there is nothing better than an audience that is obviously enjoying what we present them!”
– Irene Romagnoli
“I’ve had the good luck to be part of the Spirit Walks from the beginning, and I must say that at first I had reservation about a performance in Victoria Lawn Cemetery. That concern disappeared after the first, which had a War of 1812 theme. In fact the uncomfortable feeling was reversed, as I went from thoughts I was intruding, and being disrespectful, to ones of understanding the times and admiration of the character I acted. Lt. Col. John Clark (1787-1862) was my first role in 2012 and today I recall that script when I admire the doorway to his home, on display as part of The People and Places exhibition at the St. Catharines Museum. Last year in 2017, I was James Rae Benson, St. Catharines’ first MP and only Senator ever, and I can’t walk past the picture of his home, Clendennan, our first City Hall, in the gallery without tweaking some thought of Confederation and his personality.
After each year I ask what can possibly be done to top that year’s production, and every year I get an answer. The costumes have developed form almost nothing, to now rival any professional group. Every year the scripts are more realistic, yet have an artistic flavour, blending historical accuracy with a dash of everyday life.
I’ve been lucky to watch the progress and success of our Spirit Walks.”
– Des Corran
Guided Spirit Walks run September 7th, 8th, 14th, and 15th at 6pm and 7pm at Victoria Lawn Cemetery. Tickets go on sale August 1st.
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Chris McGivern is the Museum’s summer Program Assistant and is studying Concurrent Education at Brock University.