Category Archives: Genealogy

Literary Mariposa: A Little Quick History

If you walk down Mayne Street in Mariposa you will be astonished at the number of bookstores. That is, you will be if you have not already heard of the place, or have heard but don’t know much about it. If you take the Professor’s old description at face value, and think that the place could not change in the ensuing century-plus, then your astonishment will be fully justified, not to mention the moment when you first behold the amazing edifice that is the Peter Pupkin Memorial Public Library, and all those people in the parks and coffee shops reading or talking about books.

Just to get one point out of the way: the Professor who first described Mariposa, in the old days when it was only a little town and had not yet flowered as a city of literary refuge, was not the Stephen Leacock of McGill University and Old Brewery Bay near Orillia, Ontario, but another summer-cottaging professor of the same name. If you want to understand Mariposa past or present you must learn to distinguish between the two.

A quick recapitulation of the history: You probably recall that Zena Pepperleigh married Peter Pupkin around 1910 and they promptly (too promptly, according to gossip) had an enchanted baby, Lena. Then, a year or so later, they had twin boys, Marval and Norval. Then in 1914 Peter went gallantly off to war and was killed. Zena eventually married Josh Smith’s son Hector and had more children. In time she inherited all the property accumulated by Judge Pepperleigh in a long career of crooked judging; Hector inherited the proceeds of his father’s graft; Lena, Marval, and Norval inherited the Pupkin real-estate fortune. In 1946 the whole clan of them — Zena, Hector, her children, their children and their spouses, all significantly bruised by the record of the times — perceived how the wind blew and decided that three ill-gotten fortunes should not simply be allowed to grow with the flow, but should be put to some radically alternative purpose. By now they owned most of Mayne Street and a good deal of the rest of Mariposa besides, so were in a position to make things happen, as soon as they could figure out what they should be. Since they had also inherited the Professor’s library and were all tremendous readers, they decided to go with books. They would turn Mariposa into the most bookish little town in Canada, if not the world.

Thus was born a new Mariposa, a City of Literary Refuge. Of course, in order to be that, it had to be a City of Much More. You can’t hide behind a book, by itself. You have to meet the book in a protected place. Eventually I will tell you the whole story. For today I will simply describe, very superficially, what Mariposa looks like now.

The population, by the latest count, is 47,620, and if all of them lived in a heap it would indeed deserve to be called the City of. But in fact less than half live in town; the rest are scattered among the rural areas that were amalgamated with the urban into the present municipality. Calling it a City was simply a sudden effusion of side on the part of the Council of the day, now long diluted of Pupkin family influence, although not of memory.

Mayne Street, formerly a short stump running westward up-hill from the old bridge over the Missinaba River, now runs a considerable distance on both sides of the new one. The literary area, however, is confined to the old, west side, the east having been zoned commercial ugly in accord with current fashion in urban design. Its ethos, however, permeates the whole place. You may find people reading books even in the Tim Horton’s out at the Junction where Mayne Street meets the By-Pass, and as for the motels along the way, you have to book ahead at almost any time of year if you want to get a bed before the literary refugees. Most likely, however, you will be one yourself, because the proprietors of establishments of all kinds, having learned that literary folks are prepared to pay above the going rate for what they crave, and also tip often and well, make no effort to attract other kinds of tourists. Occasionally a party will stray in, and quickly move on.

The Pupkin clan, now swelled by another two going on three generations, still owns the whole square in front of the Peter Pupkin Memorial Library and intentionally nurtures the bookstores, galleries, coffee shops, and bistros that surround it. These overflow into the blocks behind and along the river, where cunning remolding and restoration have turned the old linear lanes into pedestrian pods where conversation reigns. The river is a little too large and lively for recreational boating of the leisurely kind, and since the other kind is resolutely inhibited by low speed limits and a ferocious municipal noise by-law, most of it stays away. If you want to swim you can take a bus to one of the beaches on Lake Ossawippi or Lake Wissinotti. Nobody ever calls them that, by the way —  they are the “north” and “south” lakes respectively — any more than anyone calls the Missinabi anything but “the river”.

What makes Mariposa exceptional is not only the magnificence of its public library, the rich number and variety of its bookstores, coffee shops and bistros, the size and excitement of its four annual literary festivals, its Mariposa Literary Hall of Fame, or the pervasive bookishness of its public spaces, but the way it has woven the book, and now the electronic writing and reading device, into its whole society and economy. When I have room I will tell you about its fine paper mill, its book binderies, its publishers, its editors, its writers tapping away on their keyboards, its poets declaiming in the parks and places, its songs, its plays, its accommodations for readers and for conversation, its money and influence and authority behind them all, and in short the whole wonderful interconnected vitality and verbosity of the place, but not today.

The Train to Mariposa still goes there, but in a very different way.

Posted April 23, 2018, 339 days before the Stephen Leacock Sesqui-cum-triaquarteria-centennial officially begins.

 

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What Happened to Josh Smith’s Hotel?

The next time I sat down with my host I asked him to continue the story of Smith’s Hotel. This is what he told me:

“When Josh died folks wondered what would happen to the hotel. They knew that Josh didn’t own the building, only the “inside” and the business. Nobody knew who did own the building; the tax rolls said it was a company, with the address of a law firm. While Josh was away Billy, the desk clerk, was running it, along with the local accountant, and they just kept on, waiting to see what would happen.

“Then one day an Indian showed up in town. He was a funny-looking young man, stocky, with a round face, and really thick glasses. He went to see Lawyer Macartney, and they went to see Judge Pepperleigh. Then they all talked to Billy and the accountant, and everything came out.

“Josh had had a wife, a native woman from Spanish, and they had a son, whose name was Hector, who may have been only half- but who looked whole-blood, and who was Mariposa’s newcomer. He now owned the “inside” of the hotel, and the business. And who do you think owned the outside? That was the real surprise. It had been Judge Pepperleigh, who took it before he became a judge in payment of a legal bill from the previous owner who went to jail anyway, and who gave it to Peter Pupkin and Zena as a wedding present. And Peter was in France and dead by this time, so Zena now owned it and, it turned out, a bunch of other real estate in town, because Pop Pupkin had been quietly investing on Peter and Zena’s behalf for several years.

“Now Judge Pepperleigh assumed that Zena, being a woman, would expect him to manage all this stuff, but she soon straightened him out, and Pop Pupkin backed her up, because he trusted her more than her old man, friends though they were. And these were, after all, her properties, all tidy and legal. She was a widow of substance, and she liked that idea. She also thought there was more money, and more interesting things to do, in the business than just in the building. So she sat down with Hector Smith, and they made a deal. They would put the building and the business together. He would run the bar, she would run the hotel and the restaurant, and they would split the profits. Billy stayed on, to teach them the ropes, and run the front desk. Eventually, after he married Sadie from the boarding house, they set up in a hotel of their own, but that’s another story.

“So there were Zena and Hector, in business together, and then after a while sleeping together, and then married with eventually a bunch of kids running around the hotel and helping out when they got old enough, along with Lena, who was the “enchanted baby” you read about, who didn’t stay enchanted forever but was a good kid and very smart. She went to work for her grandfather, inherited the Pupkin empire along with her brothers, and did very well. She died just a little while back. Zena and Hector spruced up the hotel, brought back the café, toned up the restaurant, and turned the “Rats’ Cooler” into a games room. The tourists and the travelling people loved it.

“Josephine Smith, the mayor, who has it now, and runs it along with her daughter, is the daughter of Zena and Hector’s son, so she’s Josh’s great granddaughter, like I said, also Judge Pepperleigh’s. She’s a Smith by birth and by marriage, but her parents weren’t related. The hotel, as you know, is still called Smith’s Hotel. The name was good enough then, and it’s good enough now. It’s a fully modern place now, of course, but still has that old-fashioned feel to it. The rates are reasonable, and it’s always busy. Other hotels have come and gone and changed hands, but Smith’s Hotel carries on in the old way.”

“What about the other old Mariposans,” I asked, “the Drones, the Thorpes, the Bagshaws and the rest. Did they stay and thrive too?”

“Oh, some did, some didn’t. Like most places, the young ones move away, and new folks come in. It’s easy to say that the town has changed, but then, in a way, it hasn’t. The faces change, but the town changes the people behind them, and they all turn into Mariposans when they have been here a while. Everything on the surface has changed, but in behind, where Stephen Leacock never saw or couldn’t grasp, it’s just the same as it was in his day.”

When I heard this it didn’t take me long to decide that I would give Mariposa its due, in all its complexity, men and women too. I would tell its story the way it should have been told before. But I would do it for today’s Mariposa, and leave the old one alone. They were really the same, weren’t they? At least so I had been told, by someone who ought to know.

I would start by talking to a whole lot of people from every walk of life, and searching all the records I could find. I would build the story of Mariposa, and of Missinaba County, from the date of the 1911 election, when the old story ended. I have heard it said that that election was a changer. So it shall be for Mariposa, literarily speaking.

I’ll keep you informed as I go along.

Wish me luck!

And you thought it all ended in 1911

A great deal happened between 1911, when Josh Smith of Mariposa won Missinaba County for the Conservatives, and 2011 when Jo Smith won it back for them. In fact, if you returned, or paid a first visit, whether for nostalgia, curiosity, or any other reason, you would hardly recognize the place.

But the sun still shines there, and the people are a little unusual, although not perhaps in the same way as all those generations ago. People change, local cultures change, children turn into parents who turn into grandparents and then along comes another lot, but when an author decides to write them up they get frozen in time, and in truth they are not. I’m here to set the record straight.

As a quick illustration, let me tell you about Josephine Smith, known as Jo. You might assume she was descended from Josh, and you would be right. You might assume that the politics of the family were unbrokenly Conservative from him to her, and you would be wrong.

When I tell you that Billy the desk clerk turned out to be Josh’s son by a woman from up north who died, and that Billy married Zena Pupkin (née Pepperleigh) after Peter was killed at the Somme and adopted their son Lancelot (who started out as the “enchanted baby” but didn’t stay that way), and that Lance who took the name Smith went through all the Pupkin money trying to keep the sawmill afloat during the Depression and after going broke signed up in time to lead his company up to the Leopold Canal but never got to lead what was left of it away from there, having beforehand married Elizabeth the daughter of Edward Drone who held Mariposa for the Liberals all during the Mackenzie King years and who along the way had married Miss Lawson the school teacher, so that John Henry Smith the son of Lance and Eliza could get himself radicalized at university during the 1960’s and join the Waffle and in collaboration with Rosemary Bagshaw without benefit of matrimony sire Josephine who moved out West where she fell under the political spell of Preston Manning and ended up back in Mariposa running for Stephen Harper in 2011 and winning, you will see right away that the political genealogy of Mariposa makes a lively story indeed and that a lot happened after the events recorded somewhat approximately by Stephen Leacock all those years ago.

Of course a whole lot of other things happened in Mariposa during the ensuing years right down to the present and still is happening, and in fact about the only part of Missinaba County that has remained constant over the years is the boundary.

If you read this blog regularly you’ll get the full story both as it was and as it unfolds, but in order to catch the unfolding you’ll have to start at the bottom and read up according to the natural way of blogs. I’ll do my best to make the act of starting at the top and reading down, according to the natural way of reading, an intelligible experience too.

I’ll make it all hang together somehow, in the true Mariposa spirit, according to the precedent set by the pioneer Smith speaking to the pioneer Bagshaw, or perhaps vice-versa, after the Rebellion of 1837, that if they didn’t all hang together they’d hang separately. Which they did not, although things were lively for a time. But that’s another story.