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Miss Confederation

Miss Confederation

The Diary of Mercy Anne Coles
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Miss Confederation: Mercy Anne Coles

It is rather a joke, he is the only beau of the party and with 5 single ladies he has something to do to keep them all in good humour.1

The “he” mentioned in the above quotation is Leonard Tilley, who was then the premier of New Brunswick, and Mercy Anne Coles, the irreverent writer of this note, was one of those single women. Ten unmarried women altogether, three from Prince Edward Island, two from Nova Scotia, four from New Brunswick, and one from Canada West, accompanied their fathers or brothers to the conference in Quebec City, where the men negotiated Confederation and the creation of Canada.
The start of Canada’s journey to Confederation is a fascinating one, involving a circus; Farini, the tightrope walker from Port Hope, Ontario; the American Civil War; a whole lot of champagne, sunshine, and sea; and lovemaking — in the old-fashioned sense.
The process began in earnest when, in September 1864, the Fathers of Confederation, travelling by rail, steamship, and horse-drawn carriage, met in Charlottetown, the provincial capital of Prince Edward Island, to discuss the possibility of a union of Britain’s North American colonies.* Like New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, PEI was an independent colony of the British Crown at the time. The final of this group of colonies, Canada, was made up of Ontario and Quebec, then known respectively as Canada West and Canada East. Each of the Maritime colonies was very small, and with a large and growing American neighbour, many of the colonies’ residents, including those of Canada East and West, felt that if they were to survive separate from the United States, then the time had come to join forces and form a larger political entity.**
Following their time in Charlottetown, the Canadian and Maritime delegates crossed the Northumberland Strait on the Canadians’ steamship, the Queen Victoria, and toured briefly through Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, meeting in Halifax on September 12 for the delegates to discuss the idea of Confederation further. Mercy Coles, the unmarried twenty-six-year-old daughter of Prince Edward Island delegate George Coles, went with her father on this tour. From Mercy’s descriptions she was the only young woman to go on this trip with the delegates. Perhaps her father viewed this as an opportunity for her education, or to meet a potential husband.
The big meetings and events, though, were saved for Quebec City, where, in October 1864, the Maritime Fathers of Confederation, with their unmarried daughters and sisters in tow, travelled again on the Queen Victoria, which the Canadians had sent to bring the Maritimers up to Quebec City. They promenaded on the decks and looked out at the spectacular fall scenery along the shores of the St. Lawrence.
Mercy Coles was not part of this large group, however. She writes that her “father thought the trip [by ship the whole way] would be too rough for mother and me.”2 Instead, Mercy, her father and mother; William Pope (Colonial Secretary and a member of the Conservative Party, which was in power in PEI) and his wife; and Mrs. Alexander, the widowed sister of Thomas Heath Haviland (also a member of the Conservative Party), left on October 5, a day earlier than the others. They crossed from PEI to Shediac, New Brunswick, then took a train specially booked for them to Saint John. There they picked up Leonard Tilley, the aforementioned “only beau of the party,” as well as two members of Tilley’s government — Charles Fisher, with his daughter Jane, and William Steeves, with his two daughters.
From Saint John, they travelled by steamship down the Bay of Fundy, the trip taking twenty-four hours, to Portland, Maine (compare this to the sixty-plus hours it would take to get to Quebec City by ship). There was as yet no rail line from the Maritimes to Quebec through Canada, and so the group had to take this roundabout route through the United States. Of course, what the single women missed in the promenading on the Queen Victoria’s deck, they gained in the attention paid to them by the recent widower and then-premier of New Brunswick, Leonard Tilley.
In Quebec City, the Fathers debated and finally crafted the seventy-two resolutions of the British North America Act, the act that formed the Canadian constitution at the time, and which still forms the basis of the Canadian constitution today.

* No young women from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, or Canada, accompanied their fathers to the Charlottetown conference in September 1864. No doubt the men didn’t view the time in Prince Edward Island (which had nowhere near the opportunities and entertainment that Quebec City had) as an opportunity for their daughters to meet potential husbands. The women of PEI, however, including Mercy Coles and Margaret Gray, were part of the social events at Charlottetown.
** Newfoundland did not take part in the Charlottetown conference, however representatives from there did go to the Quebec conference.

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The Teacher and the Superintendent

The Teacher and the Superintendent

Native Schooling in the Alaskan Interior, 1904-1918
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After Completion

After Completion

The Later Letters
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[a letter from Boldereff to Olson, during his years at Black Mountain College]


Brooklyn to Black Mountain
[26 November 1953]




Charles dear—


 A very nice black special delivery man brought the exquisite package last night—and I stayed up to read it through—It is now before breakfast and I hasten to tell you, though as you can guess, there is very much which I am not sure of at this first reading, that the primary adjective which comes up to me is clean—that in some marvelous transposition the very air of a Gloucesterman's boat has somehow been made to blow—that the pages are intensely clean and male.  That they come to me as Ishmael did with a wondrous healing at an hour most needed (I had precisely at five last night a big blow out with my boss).  But above all, I want to tell you that this last two weeks I am steeped in Rimbaud's La Chasse Spirituelle which I ordered from France and in the light of all that sacred holy thing discloses of Rimbaud's sufferings (I cannot wait to show and talk to you about it) in that high light--where I was touchy and fussy as a priest in his sanctuary—Maximus seems the next direct step—it comes over big, Olson--clean as clean—and while it requires, as always, very much hard work on my part to decipher in detail--it has already delivered its message to me and I would say comes out as in absolute, direct succession to La Chasse.


 I have found a book which you also must see, "The Sacred Tree Script"—explains things in Rimbaud, in Plato and refers in ways I want to discuss with you to your "Gate and the Center"—very wonderful discovery, to me, and I now think--I can practically draw a literal line of exactly how and where the thing has traveled from the beginning of "man's motion"—is not that what you called it?


 There were several beautiful things that struck me as I read so hastily—


 "In the midst of plenty, walk..."


this whole passage through to the end of this Song is genuine song and I hope will be made a song and sung by someone who feels its music as I do and can hum a tune, as I can not.


It is a strange thing to be a woman—to be as full of your thing you could burst—and yet to have no outlet—I feel my thing growing to a size and a clarity inside me that you'd think it would have to break through in some form—yet I can neither sing, compose, write prose or verse, draw, sculpt or any of all those blood passages--perhaps I can squeeze it out into my house, which I am still determined to build before I die!


One other thing—I have an article from the architect Deitrick, on his terrific State Fair Arena at Raleigh, N.C.  Most exciting building of the modern world—go to Raleigh if you possibly can—and see it—as I plan to whenever I can swing the money—Charles—in that building you will find everything which makes genuine polis--one of the great achievements. And the result of what cooperation and creative joint activity. Please hunt up Engineering News Record—February 5 1953 an article "Curved Roof on cables spans big arena" and you will thrill to see proof that Gloucester is now in Raleigh, N.C.


                                      Your loving Frances


I only realized a few days ago that the dwarf letter disturbed you --that was not innuendo, Charles—it was straight child—and referred to physical head only—and my remarks, to trying to delve into cause, why, against the obvious, I felt it to be so physically accurate. It all has to do with a play I saw as a child which has become a kind of legend to Lucinda and means something neither of us can convey but which we are clear about, completely, entre nous.

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