Canada: Personal Experiences

Figure 1.--A HBC reader tells us that he bought this portrait in Beauce, Québec. An 8-9 year old boy seems to be pouting. He is seated in a large wicker chair and holding his little brother's hand. The portrait illustrates how children were dressed when going to Mass on Sunday. The boy wears a formal Norfolk suit. It might have been his First Communion suit. Notice the Eton collar and white bow. They were probably photographed around 1910.

We have begun to collect information about individual Canadian boys. Here some readers have contributed information about their experiences. We have also added some accounts we have developed from available images. Hopefully our Canadian readers will help us develop information for this section. Here the individual entries cover a cross section of social class, and ethnic background over time. Many of the entries here are historic, but we encourage readers to add their personal accounts here.

The 19th Century

We have begun to collect some information about Canadian boys in the 19th century.

Unidentified Montreal Boy (Québec, 1870s)

This little Canadian boy in a Carte de Visite (CDV) portrait look to have been photographed in the 1870s. The late 60s is possible, but the 70s seems more likeky. He was photographed at the Notman studio in Montreal. If you contact the Notman Archives at the McCord Museum of Canadian History in Montreal, you can get the name of this child who we believe is a boy. The Notman negative number is 70007. The Notman Collection is arranged using the original numbers assigned by Mr. Notman, and any numbered Notman photographs found, for example, in family albums can be identified easily by using the card files, both numerical and alphabetical. So hopefully we might some day know the boy's nme. He has two perfectluy styled top curls as well as curls at the back. Brocade embroidery on his little bolero style jacket with a skirt below. It looks to be a dress styled to look something loke a kilt suit.

Unidentified Brothers (New Brunswick, 1870s)

Here we have portraits of two unidentified brothers. All we know for sure about the boys is that they had their portrait taken at the same studio. We know the name of the studio, the J.B. Davidson Photograph Salon, but we are not sure where it was located--perhaps St. Johns. The portraits are tin-types. We would guess the portraits were taken in the 1870s. The boys are dressed in identical outfits, which look to be home made. he jackets are worn like cut-away jackets, but they may in fact be sraight cut. The younger boy looks to be about 8 years old. The older boy may be about 10 years old.

Unidentified St. John's Boy (New Brunswick, 1870s)

Here we have two portraits which seem to be the same teenager at slightly differet ages, perhaps 14 and 16 years old. THe boy wears two similar single-breasted suits with high-cut lapels. In the first portrait wears a stock. The boy in the second portrait looks to be wearing a cravat or very larege tie, it is difficult to make out. All we know about this boy is that the portrait was taken in Saint John by a well known photographer. The portrait is undated, but we would guess was taken in the 1870s.

Unidentified Boy (Ontario, 1880s-90s)

We do not have a great deal of information about this Canadian boy. A Canadian reader has, however, found several portraits of the boy which show him at several different ages. He reports, "The seller was from Halifax, Nova Scotia and I found them at his booth at the Giant Flea Market in Sussex this summer in 2003. He thinks he got these from Ontario, maybe Toronto, but he said he may have got it locally in Hapifax from one of many auctions he has attended, so perhaps I will be able to locate the photo studio by the name on the CDVs." The CDVs are not dated, but HBC estimates that the first was taken in the 1880s and the second in the 1880s. The CDVs have the name of the photographer and addresses, but not the name of the city in which they were taken. Two of the photos are actually the same, both damaged, and the third was in better condition of him when he was older. Written on the back in pencil was simply; "Uncle Fred". So we know the boy's nane was Fred.

M.E. Beckett (Québec, 1899)

Here we have an older high-school age boy wearing a kneepants suit for a formal portrait. Unfortunately we know nothing about him or his family. He does appear to be from an Anglophone family. He is very elegantly dressed in the style of a young adult except for the teenage knee pants and ribbed long stockings (black of course, as would have been standard). The image shows how common kneepants suits were for even older boys at the turn of the 20th century.

The 20th Century

We know much more about Canadian boys in the 20th century.

Gustave Gagnon Family (Québec, 1901)

Here we have a photograph of a 16-year-old boy with (probably) his older sister taken in the city of Québec in 1901. The portrait is notable for the distance between the two, quite unsusual. It is almost as if they did not like each other or were oblivious to each other's presence. We know almost nothing about the family except that the father was Gustave Gagnon and seems to have been a prosperous figure in the capital city of Quebec at the turn of the 20th century. We are told that the boy is 16 years old but not told his Christian name, only that he is a son of Gustave Gagnon. The older girl standing next to him appears to be his older sister. He wears a single breasted knee-pants grey suit (it seems to be grey flannel). The jacket is cut plainly with the lapels placed rather high up. Notice the boy's Eton collar which covers the collar of his suit jacket. I think he has a tie, although it is rather difficult to make out. The trousers lack the usual ornamental buttons near the hem. He wears the standard long black stockings and hightop boots with metal hooks for the upper laces. The somewhat casual haircut looks rather modern for 1901. The family was French Candian. We are unsure if the clothes here were standard Canadian fashions are were more prevalent with the French-speaking community wgich tended to be more culturally conservative than English-speaking Canadians.

Beauce Brothers (Québec, about 1910)

A HBC reader tells us that he bought this portrait in Beauce, Québec. They probably were from Beauce or at any rate somewhere near Québec City. The 8-9 year old boy has a wonderful, whistful expression. He is seated in a large wicker chair and tenderly holding his little brother's hand. The portrait illustrates how children were dressed when going to Mass on Sunday. The boy wears a formal Norfolk suit. It might have been his First Communion suit. Notice the Eton collar and white bow. They were probably photographed around 1910. here the garments of both children are home-made, even the long stockings which are knitted in 2/1 ribs under the knee and plain over the knee. The dress of both boys are typical of that time and express how parents, even if poor, sewed or knitted fine dress in adult materials. A Canadian reader tells us, "This portrait shows how French-Canadian parents were anxious to dress kids like princes." Both children are weaaring round garters. There existed no suspender waists in Québec like American children wore at that time. I think the younger child is a boy, primarily because of his hair.

Rich Canadian Boy (Québec, 1910)

Here we have a delightful photograph of William Cornelius Covenhoven Van Horne (age 3) on the grounds of his grandfather's mansion near Montreal. The boy's grandfather was the famous railway baron, Sir William Van Horne (1843-1915). Sir William was born in Will County, Illinois, the son of a struggling farmer-lawyer. He started life as a telegraph operator with the Illinois Central, the Michigan Central, and the Chicago and Alton railroads. He rose to become a great magnate of railroads in Canada and lived in Montreal as a Canadian citizen and president of the Canadian Pacific Railway

Smith, Albin Emerson (Saskatchewan, 1921- )

A HBC reader has provided information about a very interesting book of letters written by Nellie R. Campbell from Maine. She married a man called George Campbell and moved to the prairies of Canada, living on a farm in Saskatchewan near Saskatoon where she also taught in a rural grade school. She wrote a very informative series of letters from Saskatchewan to her relatives in New England, extending over the period 1920 to 1944. These have been published in a book entitled "Loving Yours, Nellie: Letters Home and Published Articles" edited by Sandra Hyslop and Pat Klassen (Victoria, B.C.: Trafford, 2004). Nellie and George adopted an orphan boy in the mid-1920s named Emerson Albin Smith and reared and educated him.

Unidentified Brothers (Québec, 1940s)

This French Canadian boy in 1942 had his photograph taken for his first day of school--he doesn't look overjoyed about the idea. He wears short pants (culottes) and long stockings (bas longs). This was a requirement at the Catholic public school run by nuns. This was how all the boys dressed, although there was no uniform. Uniforms were required only in boarding schools. School began in September and the weather was still warm. The long stockings sere not needed to keep him warm, but the nuns required all the hildren to wear them. He also wears a white shit with a Peter Pan collar. A wool sweater buttoned at front completes his outfit. Note the straps on his shoulders and waist for his book and pencil satchel. Long stockings were not commonly worn in France.

Unidentified Boy (Ontario, 1950s-60s)

I grew up in extreme southwestern Ontario, Canada. In the late 1950s and early 60s short pants were considered "sissy" even though or perhaps because we were often forced to wear them. Even in the summer, shorts were considered alright only in the back yard or, at the very most, around the neighbourhood. A bathing suit was considered okay, but shorts were just for little boys. I remember that, when sent to the barber for my monthly crewcut one hot summer afternoon, I insisted on putting on long jeans before I would go.


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Created: 7:31 PM 3/24/2005
Last updated: 10:12 PM 12/30/2007