As the caravan of fifteen wagons, women, and children moved down one of the main streets to a vacant lot at the edge of town, it caused “a sensation as it passed. They went to Ottawa and were accused of robbery. Attempts were made by authorities to drive them out of Hull, Quebec, where they were seen bathing near their encampment “in a half-naked condition.” A kidnapping charge was levelled against two Romany men, then dismissed. The Ottawa Children’s Aid Society was summoned when someone thought two of the children had skin too fair for Roma. (The children proved to be those of Stephen George.)
The great tarpaulin theft, as it has come to be known here, takes its place on the records of local crime as a classic. It will be recalled that Almonte borrowed a big piece of canvas from Carleton Place to cover a newly laid sidewalk around the Bay. Men were working on the job all night, lanterns twinkled here and there and a watchman was supposed to keep an eagle eye on equipment. But despite all these commendable safeguards the tarpaulin disappeared about ten o’clock that night. Those in charge of the work, and the local police authorities were astonished !
No, the explanation was too fantastic because the police didn’t believe in ghosts. It appeared from the evidence of two ladies homeward bound on the night of the theft that, as they walked along the street that skirts the Bay, they were discussing how ghostly the white tarpaulin looked in the dim light of the lanterns. Then a horrible sensation—the great sheet began to move. Slowly, but surely it crept under the railing that runs along the edge of the sidewalk and prevents pedestrians from falling into the Spring Bush ravine.
The two ladies’ who saw this phenomenon stood rooted to the spot. They gazed at the tarpaulin in horror as the tail of it disappeared under the rail. They had an instinctive feeling that invisible hands were propelling the sheet of canvas into the obscurity of the deeply wooded gully. As it faded into the darkness the two witnesses rushed to where men were, working on the sidewalk and raised the alarm.
The men did not believe in ghosts either so they told the police.That night the chief, aided by a number of volunteers armed with lanterns, searched diligently in the Spring Bush for signs of the departed tarpaulin. But though they scratched their faces and barked their shins not a clue did they find for several days. Then the “law” got on the track of the evil doers. The tarpaulin turned up in the fire hall one night as mysteriously and unexpectedly as it had disappeared. A young man made a confession implicating another chap who had “done time”. When the police went after “the other chap” he had decamped to the woods where he led a sort of Robin Hood existence for the rest of the summer.
The most serious count standing against the fugitive is that on one of his surreptitious visits to town, under cover of night it is presumed, and he was refused admittance to a certain house. On being barred by the owner he is alleged to have thrown him down, drawn a knife and threatened to cut his throat.
After this he turned up in Windsor having followed a girl there whose family moved to the Western Ontario city. His attentions were represented and the girl’s mother informed the police whereupon the man was taken into custody. Almonte authorities were notified but whether the crown attorney cares to take action is doubtful as it would cost a considerable sum to bring him back and it is argued, so long as there is a warrant out for him locally he will give the town a wide berth.
Everything in life had been thrown in Lovina’s path, yet she she had survived a trip from Hungary to Canada on one of the rigged sailing ships coming to the new world. Her mother had died from cholera days before they had reached the port of Montreal, Quebec. What had kept her going was hopefully a better life and she quickly joined a “Water Gypsy” family that was going to Lanark County, then known as the District of Bathurst.
Before she had left Hungary Lovina had been taught to make exotic hats by her maternal Grandmother. who came from a strong matriarchal line of gypsies. The two had stolen more baubles than they bought to decorate their millinery, and Lovina thought she would have no problem doing the same thing in Canada.
However, much to her chagrin, there was only one sewing needle in the small village of Lanark where she lived in a shanty town of shacks, sheds and outhouses at the crossroads. The custom of that era was the lone needle was passed from one home to the other and could be used only for 3-4 days per family. Anything else she needed was bought for pennies from the traveling peddlers. Fabric, buttons, bits of ribbon and of course she managed to steal things in the dead of night to create her offerings for the General Store. Some of the church-going ladies enjoyed her hats, and for now bartering her hats and telling fortunes for goods and money was the way to go.
Black and white photograph of millinery shop in Elgin, Ontario around 1905. Owner was Estella Halladay (Campbell).
Most days she did light manual labour on the new roads being built, and sometimes she came home with mud up to her ankles. Once a week she visited the “Houses of Entertainment” to sell one of her hats to some husband who was having a wee drop. The ladies soon began to command her hats for funerals as her mourning hats had become quite the conversation piece.
Women in mourning followed very strict rules as to which types of dress were acceptable. Generally, mourning dress was the realm of women, for the expression of emotion was considered inappropriate in the male-dominated working world.
One day she hitched a ride on a peddler’s cart along with her hats to visit the town of Carleton Place. There she met Bertha Mayhew who owned the local millinery shop on Bridge Street and read Bertha’s fortune and told her:
“You cannot hide in a hat; you will be noticed, especially by men. To men, you become a lady when you don a hat–one who they rush to open doors for. To women, you become an inspiration, reminding them that they have a closet full of hats they have not had the courage to wear. Plus a veil can bring on more shenanigans than forgetting your silk underpants.”
* Author’s Note:
The sewing needle was an extremely rare item and only one per town was allowed in rural Ontario due to the rarity of steel. If it was lost the women of the area searched until they found it and it was high-end gossip and the news went up to 40 miles away.