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Some Christmas themes from 1935 ring true today

Celebrations take place despite economic concerns, technology helped connect the North with the world

Spreading Christmas cheer despite concerns with the economy and rising prices, while appreciating the wonders of the latest technology. This may sound like Christmas today, but the same themes were front and centre during the holidays in the Porcupine Camp back in 1935.

Here are the front-page stories from the Monday, Dec. 23, 1935 edition of The Porcupine Advance.

It is no great stretch to say much of the subject matter rings true today, more than 85 years later. In 2021, we learned the price of turkeys was going up for the holidays and it may be tough finding the right-sized bird.

The headline "110,000 Pounds of Turkey for Porcupine This Year …. Scarcity of Fowl and Price Alike Fail to Affect Quantity Used Here" appeared in the edition.

“This Christmas season will see about 110,000 pounds of turkey consumed in the Porcupine area by its 25,000 people. The Advance has learned from a survey of incoming turkey shipments from the west. Other places may have a turkey shortage, but apparently the eight to 10 cents a pound rise in the price has not deterred Timmins people from ordering almost as much turkey as they did last year, when the total consumed hit an all-time high of 120,000 pounds," reads the story.

The increasing demand for food would be made up by selling larger quantities of chickens, ducks and geese, whose value had only hiked three to five cents a pound.

"Fine special Christmas beef, veal and pork is also expected to increase in volume this year," according to the Advance.

“Many Canadian Centres have been complaining about the failure of the supply to meet the demand but it would appear that the Porcupine district is well provided for.”

People of the Timmins area have always been generous to those less fortunate, particularly around the holidays. The turkey shortage impacted gift hampers, but organizers still provided Christmas dinner.

At that time, the Loyal Order of Moose held a Turkey Stag to raise money for families in the Porcupine. 

"The churches and various charitable organizations of the district prepared a list of families who are in need of help and it has found that the proceeds of the Stag — $1,100 — will have to be stretched to the limit to take care of those in town. In previous years it has been possible to help some of the less fortunate settlers of the area," reads a story in the same 1935 edition of the Advance.

Due to demand and the price of fowl, families received roast beef and "good wholesome foods, with candies and nuts for the kiddies" but no toys.

“Deliveries will be made direct from a number of local stores, in order to save the cost of transportation which in previous years amounted to $25 or $30.

“Two hundred and thirty-five baskets were sent out last year. Somewhere between 225 and 250 will be sent again this Christmas. Deliveries will begin tomorrow morning and may have to be continued on Christmas morning.”

This holiday season, many are worried about packages and gifts being delivered in time for the big day.

People in the Porcupine had been there, done that in 1935.

Consider the headline "Immense Amount of Mail at Post Office … Christmas Rush Now on. Special Service Being Given for Convenience of the Public."

“With the number of bags of mail arriving at the Timmins post office increasing every day and the trains running late due to the Christmas rush, the postal service here is strained to the limit to keep up with the work.

“Tonight’s train is expected to be late but the mail will be worked sometime before midnight. Tomorrow (Christmas Eve) the mail will be worked as soon as it arrives and box holders will be able to get parcels delivered at the wicket. General delivery will not be open from Tuesday evening until Thursday morning.

“Incoming mail reached a total of 146 bags on Thursday night and increased steadily up to Saturday. Outgoing parcel mail alone took 125 bags on Friday.”

One big difference, however, is that many local businesses are experiencing staffing shortages in 2021.

In 1935, unemployment was a big issue.

“There are between 500 and 1,000 men in the Porcupine for who Christmas will not be a merry event at all. They have no work — no chance of a job. Most of them have been going about from house to house asking employment of any kind. Some have walked 40 miles into the bush with the hope of getting a job only to be turned back," reads a story in the Advance.

“Several causes contribute to the bad condition — it’s worse right now than it has been for some years in the Porcupine. First on the list is the closing down of all road work. Where last winter some 400 men were provided with work every other week on the back road, the main road, the Ferguson highway and the Swastika-Matachewan road; this year there is not a thing moving."

Small mines in the district had also closed in the fall. The Pamour laid off 60 men after running into trouble with frost, which meant they had to stop surface work. Two Ramore properties had stopped operations and smaller mines had reduced staff to a minimum.

In the bush, companies that had done a large amount of cutting the previous winter were doing little to none at Christmas 1935.

“The town is taking no men from the local employment office — they have their troubles in providing some kind of work for those who are getting relief. Last year they had a number of men on for a short period at wages," reads the story.

“The last cause of the trouble is the influx of unemployed from other parts of the province. They have absolutely no chance of obtaining work in their home towns, they say, and think it’s worthwhile looking around the north at least. The large majority of them are forced to return as best they can, disappointed.”

A long-time local Christmas tradition was in full swing back in the day, with F.W. Schumacher handing out presents to nearly 1,000 youngsters.

“Schumacher’s own private Santa Claus got busy on Thursday night and decorated three big trees in the Schumacher public school assembly room with more than a thousand gifts. Skis, sleighs, dolls, drums, horns, books, purses, sweaters, cameras, toy cars, toy dishes, toy sewing machines, big three-wheeled scooters, wagons — what a joy to any child’s heart! And on top of that, a thousand bottles of Christmas candies were piled here, there and all over the place.

“What excitement there was as the hundreds of pupils of the Schumacher public school came there with their parents finding the presents that bore their name.

“F.W. Schumacher, for whom the town was named and who at one time owned most of the land on which the prosperous place is now, plays Santa Claus every year to Schumacher children — he’s done it every year since 1916, when the one-roomed school had somewhere about 10 pupils. Throughout the 20 years of his generous giving, Schumacher’s school population has grown steadily until this year, with the students at the new high school to be added to the list, the total reaches nearly a thousand."

The F.W. Schumacher Foundation carries on the gift-giving tradition today, albeit the pandemic has meant that gifts have been delivered to elementary-aged children's homes instead of the traditional party to hand them out.

In 1935, however, many Schumacher residents stopped by to see the bright Christmas tree, hear pupils sing carols and get in the Christmas spirit.

Today, Christmas greetings will be shared by many online. Back in ’35, it was possible to reach out across the miles thanks to technology.

A story informed locals how the Timiskaming and Northern Ontario Wires were helping people share Christmas greetings around the world at low rates.

“Special arrangements have been made by the T&NO Telegraphs this year for the delivery of Christmas greetings in all parts of the North and through an arrangement with world-wide telegraphic and cable services to have greetings delivered anywhere in the world," reads the story.

“Low rates apply for local deliveries and on Northland services. Suggested wordings make the choice of greeting easy. Special forms for the Christmas telegrams will be used, having at the top a typical Northern Christmas scene.

“Telegraphed greetings will be delivered on Christmas morning or earlier, the local branch of the T&NO Telegraphs advises.”

Special forms instead of emojis. The worldwide telegraphic and cable service instead of the world wide web. Technology has a history of helping Northerners reach out.

It all just goes to show, the Porcupine Camp knows how to celebrate Christmas, regardless of the challenges of the day.