Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The 7th Decade Girl and 1937

This is the second in a series of 8, (maybe10), 7th Decade Girl blogs I hope to post to the St. Catharines Standard website. A 7th Decade Girl is a vibrant, (she says modestly), active woman between the ages of 59 and 68.

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons I volunteer at the St. Catharines Museum. I am helping to catalogue the Standard Collection. The Standard Collection is comprised of thousands of photographic negatives of people, places and events taken by St. Catharines Standard photographers from 1936 to …? Actually I’m not sure of the date of the last negatives. 1970s, maybe. They certainly won’t all be catalogued in my lifetime so I haven’t concerned myself with the date of the last image.

I sit at a large work table in a brightly lit room in the basement of the Museum at Lock 3 with 4 other cataloguers. We each have a small light table, magnifying glasses, white cotton gloves, rulers, pencils, pens, etc. A similar work table with 3 or 4 other cataloguers is behind us. (They are working to catalogue the Museum’s general collection.) It is a congenial group and I really enjoy being a part of it.

Part of my job is to peer back seventy years into the glass negatives that contain the photographic images of 1937and describe in detail what I see.

Some general impressions of that year – nobody was overweight in 1937, ties to Britain were strong and male and female roles were traditional, clearly defined and not questioned. Oh, and a note about shoes...It was the end of the Depression and although most people managed to get spruced up for the camera they often couldn’t hide their feet. Their shoes speak with painful eloquence about hard times.

Some things have changed since 1937. One image that stands out is a shot of about 10 children taken in one of the local parks. They were waiting to register for the summer programmes that were offered by the city. Not a parent was in sight! Very different from today, but not at all different from Merritton in the 1950s when I grew up. What was alien to my childhood experience was the fact that the little girls were all wearing dresses. To play in! I was as shocked as if they’d all been wearing tiny, little burkas.

While cataloging a series of images of the 1937 Henley Regatta, (already over 50 years old by that time), it was difficult not to wonder what happened to the young men from Niagara who grinned into the camera and wore their medals so proudly. I found myself studying their faces but I never figured out exactly what I was looking for. A hint that they knew what was coming? A dark premonition of Dieppe, Hong Kong or Juno Beach? The war seemed to cast an insidious shadow backwards over those boys but they seemed oblivious to it on that hot day in August.

Something to think about in these uneasy times.

Till later, Francie
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