In 1872, Dr. William Henry Brouse was elected to Canada’s second Parliament.
Known to many in Grenville County as a highly regarded doctor who practised on both sides of the St. Lawrence River and a former Prescott Mayor and Postmaster, Dr. Brouse was a Liberal, defeating the prominent Conservative and engineer of the Bytown and Prescott Railway, Walter Shanly.
Christmas 1872 marked the beginning of a new chapter for Dr. Brouse, his wife, Frances Amelia “Fanny” Jones, and their 12-year old son, William. It was Mrs. Brouse’s first Christmas with no familial Post Office obligations. Her father, Alpheus Jones, had served for many years as Prescott’s first Postmaster until his death in 1863. Dr. Brouse was appointed Prescott’s second Postmaster, and from 1864 until his decision to run for federal office in 1872, Mrs. Brouse had likely played a significant role that included making sure everyone in Prescott received their cards and holiday packages on time.
While Eaton’s had not quite begun publishing its famous mail-order catalogue, Prescott’s proximity by rail to Ottawa and Montreal, and the Prescott-Ogdensburg ferry service made it relatively easy for those with means to buy the latest factory-made goods.
Popular publications such as Canadian Illustrated News, The Illustrated London News, Godey’s Lady’s Book, and Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management were familiar to many in Prescott, including Mrs. Brouse. They portrayed lavish Victorian Christmas celebrations.
By 1870, Dr. and Mrs. Brouse were already well known to Ottawans. On February 26, 1870, they represented Prescott — along with a few other guests — at a Grand Ball, in Ottawa: “a brilliant crowd of fair women and brave men”, according to The Globe. About 2,000 guests gathered “at the invitation of His Excellency the Governor-General and Lady Young to do Honour to His Royal Highness Prince Arthur…His Royal Highness was in the best of spirits, and expressed himself pleased at the entertainment…”
In addition, the couple maintained strong ties to Montreal, where Dr. Brouse had started his post-secondary studies. He served for some years on Victoria University’s Senate, and maintained a membership in Montreal’s prestigious St. James Club.
In the 1870s, it is likely that Dr. and Mrs. Brouse struggled to reconcile their religious beliefs with their evolving public lifestyle. Shortly after their marriage, in 1858, Mrs. Brouse had left the Church of England to join the Methodists, the church of her husband’s family. There she would have found simpler forms of worship, new hymns and mandatory abstinence.
When Grenville County Loyalists Paul and Barbara Heck formed the earliest Methodist society in Canada in the late 1780s, Methodists had not celebrated Christmas. No Christmas sermon was ever penned by John Wesley and while brother Charles wrote, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, he composed many hymns for every season of the year.
Like so many 19th century Ontarians, Dr. and Mrs. Brouse found ways to adopt a few Victorian trends and honour, at the same time, their Methodist roots. Their 1872 celebration probably
- emphasized Advent as the beginning of the church calendar
- played down the use of Christmas decorations. Holly would have been acceptable, but mistletoe — because of its pagan origins — and kissing balls would not have been encouraged
- involved a small gift exchange, possibly from a Christmas tree adorned with unwrapped, useful presents for each family member
- focussed on the Christmas meal and sharing with family, and
- stressed the visiting of the elderly and the preparation of Christmas boxes for local churches to give to the needy on Boxing Day
Following Christmas 1872, life for the Brouse family became more complicated, divided between Prescott, Ottawa, Montreal, and later Toronto. Their home in Prescott probably became a place where supporters and important visitors gathered frequently, and William Jr. set his sights well beyond Prescott, marrying into the prominent Gooderham family in Toronto, in 1887.
Photos: http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/canadian-illustrated-news-1869-1883/Pages/canadian-illustrated-news.aspx, http://www.iln.org.uk/iln_years/year/xmas2.htm & http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/en/