Published in the Montreal Gazette on June 30, 2012
In its February 16, 1909, edition, the Montreal Star ran a strange story that had the city’s gossip circles all a-buzz. The salacious account was that of a young New York City teenager who accidentally lost his life “endeavouring to elude a bevy of stenographers who sought to kiss him in honor of his 15th birthday”. In his frenzy, the ill-fated lad, one George Spencer Millet, inadvertently stabbed himself when he fell to the floor attempting to escape the screaming girls. He died on the way to hospital.
While, to my knowledge, Montreal never has had a similar dramatic denouement to such a playful prank, the city was very much alive with plenty of Edwardian moralastic intrigue. Take, for instance, the case of one Leon Beausoleil.
In July of 1909, young Beausoleil was so enraptured by the pretty female form of a nearby youth that he ran up to her on the street and quickly bestowed upon her a totally unsolicited kiss.
Unfortunately, according to a period newspaper report about the incident, Beausoleil had just previously been involved in a bit of a ‘jag’ (a bout of serious drinking) around the time of the ostensibly romantic gesture.
A very short time later, in Recorder’s Court, Beausoleil was fined six dollars (about $125. in today’s money) for his youthful indiscretion. The Montreal Star could not help but quip: “Was it worthwhile? That’s what a clamoring world wants to know. Is a kiss bestowed hastily on a fair lady on the street worth the consequences”?
Beausoleil himself reluctantly accepted the portion of his fine that was attributed to his ‘jag’ but reports say that he was much less agreeable with regard to the part ascribed to his unrestrained affection for the fairer sex.
In another prominent case a few years earlier, a couple identified in Montreal newspapers only as ‘Romeo’ and ‘Juliet’ found themselves in legal trouble for kissing and hugging in Viger Square. The strict mores of the Edwardian period forbade both activities from taking place in public venues.
Judge Louis Wilfrid Sicotte of the Recorder’s Court (today’s Municipal Court) was certainly not impressed by the couple’s defense: as they intended to be married the following month, they saw nothing wrong with their behaviour.
“The loving pair accused had, with utter disregard to the feelings of others, been kissing and hugging one another on a seat in Viger Square about 10 at night. There was no suggestion of indecency”, the learned judge himself remarked, “but their acts constituted an offence when displayed in public”. The Montreal Star reported in its June 18, 1906, edition that “a constable with an unromantic soul had come along and put an end to the tête à tête”.
The youthful lovers, “with indignation peering through their bashfulness”, were each sentenced by the 67-year-old judge to pay a fine of five dollars. To say the least, the ruling did not please them.
In the more prudish Edwardian era, there were of course many other ways for young men to get themselves in trouble with the local authorities. For instance, take the somewhat curious case of Henri Bilodeau and Joseph Bechard, both 17.
In the hot summer month of July 1905, the two lustful teenagers had taken to flirting with the young girls working at Peck’s factory on St. Lawrence Street in St. Louis-du-Mile End (then an independent municipality).
According to a July 29 report in the Montreal Star under the attention-grabbing title ‘The Crime of Flirting’, “the management of the factory had complained to the police that several youngsters had been in the habit of congregating near the building and distracting the attention of the girls. On Thursday, Constables Laframboise and Delorme hid near the factory and surprised the youthful lovers in the middle of their flirtation and placed them under arrest”.
Brought before Recorder Hormisdas Pelletier of St. Louis – du – Mile End, the young men were each fined six dollars (about $125. in today’s money), or failing that, as was so often the case in those stern Edwardian times, fifteen days ‘in the slammer’.