I hope you all have been enjoying a very pleasant holiday week! The folks of Peterborough certainly were, in 1936, although given the state of affairs in the world, it was not a time completely free of cares. so read on, for a series of “scenes” of the holiday season 79 years ago…
Scene 1 (Peterborough):
As you might imagine, Peterborough’s churches were busy with Christmas week ceremonies, and on Christmas Eve the Peterborough Examiner exhorted its readers to “make way for a real Christmas in 1936.” Noting the quietness of the first Christmas morning, the newspaper’s editorial gently lamented:
“We have become so confused today that we cannot hear well. There are so many forces, factions, selfish interests and man-made promotions shouting for attention that they make much noise. It is hard to hear the great realities and become aware of eternal verities.”
A common complaint, including in the present day. Were Peterborians heeding it? Well, they were certainly not being selfish when it came to sending each other things…
Scene 2 (Peterborough Post Office):
“With twenty-five extra employees assisting the regular staff of postal clerks and mail carriers, Peterborough post office is this week setting new high records for speed and volume of mail handled at the Christmas season.”
So wrote the Examiner on December 23rd, 1936, and the newspaper went on to provide some numbers: 105,000 letters per day were passing through the office, and that figure did not include the Christmas parcels.
Scene 3 (Peterborough Canoe Company Workshops)
There was great activity, too, in the workshops of the Peterborough Canoe Company, which had “been working overtime the last two weeks to keep abreast of last-minute rush orders for skis and ski equipment” according to the newspaper of December 23rd. When the market for canoes died away during the winter months, the Canoe Company turned its attention to snowshoes, skis, and the like.
The market for winter sports gear was brisk in 1936, a fact seen by some as evidence that the Great Depression was toddling to an end. “The generous blanket of snow assuring a white Christmas and the swift return of prosperity are credited for the demand,”quoth the Examiner.
Scene 4 (Madrid, Spain):
It was not, of course, a very Merry Christmas everywhere on the globe, and the Examiner on Christmas Eve served up a stark reminder to its readers that others did not have it quite so good:
“Death and nation-wide misery were the Christmas presents focused on Spain to-day… While all other Christmas lands were thanking God for the blessings of peace, grieving Spain counted her dead, her maimed, and her starving inhabitants.”
Civil War was raging in Spain, and the forces of soon-to-be Generallissimo Francisco Franco were actively attacking the capital and other cities that December with predictable effects on the seasonal spirit. “The streets of Madrid,” reported the newspaper, “once thronged at this time of year with gay crowds of Christmas shoppers, to-day were traversed by listless people looking at the wreckage of familiar buildings.”
Scene 5 (Peterborough Relief Office):
While far — literally and figuratively — from the horrors of Spain during the Civil War, there were still some causes for Christmas concern around Peterborough herself. Ski sales aside, the Great Depression still lurked about the place, and two days before Christmas the city’s Relief Office told the newspaper that “there are still a number of families and of unemployed single persons in Peterborough for whom no Christmas cheer has yet been arranged.”
Although the Peterborough Fire Department had been acting the role of Santa Claus for some days already (see beginning of article), as had other local charitable outfits, more help was needed. The Examiner‘s article went to ask people to contact the Relief Office to ensure that “the spirit of Christmas shall permeate every home and every heart in the community.”
Scene 6 (the Peterborough Examiner sports desk):
Furthermore, there was peace being made on some unlikely fronts in the name of the Christmas season. The Examiner‘s stalwart sports-writer, Cec Perdue, described the regional rapprochement:
“Our feuding enemies, the district sports scribes, have sent us some missives. We opened the one from Belleville under water and read thereon: “May your Christmas be merry and your New Year bright and Cheery. (signed) Ken J. Colling.” After shaking the one from Oshawa suspiciously, we opened it up and saw: “Cordial greetings for an especially happy Holiday Season. (signed) George H. Campbell.” And this was from Lindsay: “Heartiest greetings and very best wishes for a Season of Happiness. (signed) Leo Begley.” So we felt like a rat that has stolen the poor widow’s last bit to eat in an unheated tenement! And we apologize and join heartily in this Xmas armistice of the ink-slinging brotherhood.”
Scene 7 (A mansion on a hill):
Even the eleven people (ten men, one woman, in this year) who were occupying bunks down at what the paper called the “grey stone mansion” — i.e. Peterborough County Jail — were treated to Christmas dinner, thanks to an involuntary donation by a local poacher. As the Examiner reported on Boxing Day:
“The piece de resistance of the dinner was the turkey which was recently Exhibit A in the prosecution of a citizen in the Magistrate’s Court. The citizen was found guilty of having shot the bird while hiking by one of the farms in the district.”
There was no word on whether the poacher himself was among those sitting down for Christmas dinner at the jail.
And that, then, was Christmas in Peterborough in 1936. Next week, we’ll look at 1937 at its very end, but in the meantime you can read up on the festive season in Peterborough back in 1884!