Oct 11, 2016

College in Canada

Mariana G. Martínez Rodríguez
Marianopolis College School Picture
Hand-colorized photograph, 1946
The first three Martínez-Rodriguez sisters, Mariana, Elia Maria and Ofelia, spent two years each going to school in Canada. All of the Martinez-Rodriguez studied abroad. It was expected. Their mother and her siblings had done the same (they went to schools in Pennsylvania or New Jersey). And they all became richer for it, returning to Cuba speaking, reading and writing fluent English, understanding a different way of life, and striking up deep and long-lasting friendships with Canadians, Americans, and other fellow students from Latin America. To Mariana and Benito Prats, the first of the Maryland Prats, these foreign friendships (Benito had taken a number of post-graduate medical courses in Philadelphia, New Orleans and other cities) were critical to their successful emigration to the United States and the resumption of his professional career.

Mariana (right) and her good friend from
Camaguey and classmate
Teresa Martínez Lamo
at Marianopolis College, Montreal, 1945

Note on back: “Lindas y bellas las dos en una
rejita que da al patio, Nov. 16/45” “Us two, pretty
and beautiful, at the fence to the grounds.”
Whenever possible, and especially for the girls, it was important to go to school with at least one good friend from Camaguey, or with a sister or cousin. They could not count on anyone else speaking Spanish (although they always found fellow students from other Latin American countries to make friends with) and a friend or a sister would help the pair ward off homesickness.  Not that this was their first time away from home; the Martinez and the Rodriguez before them all went to boarding school in Havana from a very young age. Why? The Rodriguez and their ancestors before them went to school in Havana because good educational opportunities were limited in Camaguey. For the Martinez children in the 1940s and 50s, maybe going to boarding school in Havana was because that was what their mother had done.

Elia Maria Martínez
Mariana’s sister and
classmate at The Pines
in Chatham, Ontario.
Mariana Martínez, the eldest of the Martinez-Rodriguez, went to boarding school in Havana from the age of nine (third grade) to Mariana Lola’s Angel de la Guardia — The Guardian Angel — school for girls. Mariana Lola Alvarez Martinez was a cousin on the Martínez side, very religious and described by all as wise, generous and kind. She is a “Blessed” in the Catholic Church which means she is en route to being named Saint one day.

Elia Maria and her sister Ofelia
After Mariana graduated, Ofelia
took her place at The Pines for
her first year and Elia Maria's
second year there.
Note on back: “Elia Maria and I
on one of the sides of the school.
Chatham, Nov. 9-47.”
After she finished her education there, she continued to board at Angel de la Guardia while taking courses and graduating from Institute No. 1 with a Bachillerato, the U.S.  equivalent of an Associate of Arts degree.  She was 18 years old. Her two oldest sisters, Elia Maria and Ofelia did the same. The three were just a few years apart.

Then it was off to college and Mariana, being the eldest, would lead the way.  The girls would not get the more thorough education that was planned for her brothers, but it was to be more than just Finishing School. It was the twentieth century, after all, and Mariana’s parents were progressive in their views, especially regarding the participation of women in what was still considered by many in the 1940s as men’s work.

This building housed Marianopolis College when
Mariana attended.
Today it is the J.K.L. Ross Mansion
on the McGill University campus in Montreal.
The reasons for going to Canada rather than the U.S. are lost to time, but Catholic Church connections probably played a role, maybe even Mariana Lola Alvarez’ religious connections. World War II was still ongoing when decisions were being made and that may have also called for caution. Arrangements were made by mail and telegram, and one fine August day, Mariana, her parents, and her good friend Teresa Martínez Lamo (no relation) set off for Montreal. It was late August, 1945, World War II had concluded earlier the same month, and they were off to enroll in Marianopolis College.

Mother House for the Sisters of Notre Dame in Montreal
Today it houses Dawson College.
Marianopolis College foreign students boarded there. 
Passenger air service was in its infancy and had been curtailed by the war, and Miami was not yet a “destination,” so the route would have been by train to Havana (overnight), then by passenger ship to Tampa (one day) or perhaps all the way to New York (four days), then by rail to Montreal (overnight from New York City). They probably stopped a day or two in Havana and again in Tampa or New York to refresh themselves.

Who's on the $5000 bill?
Click on image to enlarge
Unknown to Mariana, she was carrying her and Teresa’s tuition in her shoe!  Her parents had hidden a U.S. $5000 bill between the sole and insole of one of the shoes she was wearing. Imagine her surprise, when, after arriving at their hotel room in Montreal, her father asked her for her shoe and pulled out a $5000 bill from it! This was a lot of money! In the 1940’s the average annual wage in the United States was $2,255. Room, board, tuition, books, winter clothes and pocket money for two would not be anywhere near $5000 in 1945, it was probably closer to $1200 each.
1946 Ford Deluxe Sedan
 Perhaps her parents were planning to buy some things for the ranch on their way home, or, most likely a new Ford sedan. Ventura always bought Fords, and foreigners could stop off in Detroit to order a car, custom built, for delivery after they returned home. In 1945 $1,300 would get you a Ford Deluxe 4-door sedan with a six-cylinder engine, to be delivered by the Ford dealer in Camaguey.

Montreal’s Mont Royal
Their neighborhood was at the base of the mountain.
It is mostly undeveloped forest criscrossed with walks and
drives with overlooks, and the occasional grand building.
This is the old Royal Victoria Hospital building.
Marianopolis College was an anglophile school in French Canada. Classes were conducted in English except, of course, for the French language and French literature classes, which Mariana took. For Mariana and Teresita, it was full English immersion as soon as her parents departed, with almost full French immersion when they stepped off campus. The girls had studied English at school in Cuba, but now they had to use it, no exceptions. There were a few students from other Latin American countries, which they soon befriended, but there was no communications in Spanish outside of their little circle.

Classmate and friend Lourdes Sustaeta, Teresa 
and Mariana on Mount Royal
Note on back: “Lourdes, Teresita and I at Mount Royal,
taken by a young man passing by. I am smiling because
he asked me to tell him my telephone number.
30-Oct. 45”
The college was one of a number of co-located all-girl Catholic schools for grades from kindergarten to college staffed by Sisters of the Congrégation de Notre Dame du Montréal established by Marguerite Bougeoys in 1658 in what was then New France. The religious order was progressive from the beginning, as it was one of the first uncloistered religious orders for women. It was controversial, as nuns had always stayed hidden behind the walls of convents. Instead, these nuns started out as traveling teachers, going out to the small and dispersed population in Canada.

A Montreal Tramways (streetcar)
Dressed in World War II colors
Marianopolis College has moved twice in Montreal since Mariana attended there. In 1945 it was located at what is now known as the J.K.L. Ross mansion and surrounding buildings on what today is the McGill University campus. Foreign boarders back then were housed in the huge Mother House on Sherbrooke Street where all the nuns lived, today Dawson College.  It was a ten minute ride on a Rue Sherbrooke streetcar and a four-minute walk on Rue Peel from the Mother House to the College.  On nice days, walking the whole route was only a few minutes more on tree-lined streets and past mansions, monumental buildings, and manicured lawns and gardens, most of which are still there for you to see today. It is an impressive part of town, at the foot of Mount Royal.

First Snow in Montreal
Note on back: “Teresa Pozuelo and I, Peggy Cohen,
seated: Lourdes Sustaeta, Elsy Constance, Laura,
and Hilarie Fenton. Nov 20 / 35”
Mariana and Teresita’s first order of business was to buy warm clothes and heavy coats, gloves, and hats for the coming winter. It gets cold in Montreal. The average high temperature is below freezing in December, January, and February. I suspect the nuns sent them out shopping with a fellow Canadian student to make sure they obtained everything they would need for the coming winter. Mariana told me that she had never traveled north in winter before this stay in Montreal. She had been to New York City, but only in nice weather. She was so excited, she said, when rain turned to snow November 19th and she went out to play in it the next morning. Snowfall that winter was not very significant or frequent for Montreal. But it was enough to be magical to her and her friend Teresita and her friends from Central and South America.

“The Pines” Ursuline College, Chatham, Ontario
Mariana did not return to Marianopolis the next school year. Instead she went to Ursuline College — known far and wide as “The Pines” — an all-girls school in Chatham, Ontario, 53 miles from Detroit, run by the Ursuline Sisters. And Teresita would not be able to go with her. She got herself engaged that summer  and was going to be married later that year. So her sister Elia Maria went with Mariana instead, and to this day Elia Maria is not happy about this turn of events. She is two years younger than Mariana and still had a year to go to graduate from Institute No. 1 in Havana.  She was not given a choice in the matter and to Canada with Mariana she went.

1946 Pan Am Travel Poster
Elia Maria reports that she and Mariana traveled by themselves to Chatham for the 1946 autumn term. In just one year after World War II, commercial air service was well established throughout North America and they left Camaguey by airplane. They changed planes in Miami, then flew to New York via Savannah and Washington. Those little propeller airplanes needed to refuel often so they hopscotched from city to city dropping off and picking up passengers. In New York they took the overnight train to Detroit, and a bus from Detroit to Chatham. For Elia Maria it was an exciting adventure, with her big sister in charge and speaking in English with airline stewardesses, red caps, and the dining car stewards and waiters. During their ride to Detroit a pair of boys their age boarded, took seats across from them, and got a bit too chummy, she said, and when it was evident they were not going to take polite hints to get lost, Mariana got the conductor to re-seat them. 

A streetcar on the streets of Chatham
Why the change to Ursuline College? I never thought to ask when I could. Elia Maria thinks that it was to gain access to a secretarial school. Secretarial courses were not taught at The Pines itself, but arrangements could be made with a school in downtown Chatham, across the river from The Pines and less than 10 minutes away by streetcar. It was at O'Neil Business College at 50 King Street West that she developed her touch-typing skills and learned Pittman Shorthand for English that secretaries used to take dictation.

Detroit Department Stores
J.L. Hudson, Kern’s and Crowley Milner’s
Chatham was a small town. The nearest big city was Detroit across the border in Michigan. Every other Saturday, if the weather was dry, Mariana, Elia Maria and one or another of their school friends would take the bus or the train to Detroit — which was a little over an hour away — for lunch and to stroll through stores like J. L. Hudson’s, “the tallest department store in the world”; the 10-story Ernst Kern’s department store; and Crowley Milner, the store that covered two square blocks of downtown Detroit. All of them had stylish dining rooms where they could have stopped for lunch, and there were plenty of restaurants and coffee shops to choose from throughout the large shopping district. They said that many of the stores accepted Canadian currency. One way to avoid paying duty when returning to Canada was to pull off the tags and wear the clothes they had purchased before boarding the bus.

Snow in Chatham
Note on back: “The tree was beautiful with red leaves
covered with snow. The one next to Fina is Lolita
Canto from Santiago de Cuba. The other two are
from Havana. Also Alicia. 1 Oct. 1946.”
Mariana had equally fond memories of her year at The Pines and of the Canadian autumn, winter and spring. She graduated from Ursuline College in 1947. Elia Maria would return to The Pines to complete her studies the following year, accompanied by her sister Ofelia. And Ofelia would return the year after that to complete her studies — with whom, I do not know. Ofelia graduated in 1949.

Royal Bank of Canada, Camaguey
On her return to Camaguey, Mariana was hired by The Royal Bank of Canada as secretary to the bank manager. One of her daily duties was to take dictation at the end of the day for the Daily Report to headquarters. If there was a delay in balancing the ledgers she would have to stay late to finish the report. She would type it up in Spanish, then translate it to English and French and type it out. And finally she would type up a summary in English on a telegram blank for a courier to take to the city telegraph office for immediate transmission by cable to Montreal, headquarters of the bank. She and the bank manager were often the last to leave the bank, which was on the La Merced plaza, three short blocks from her home on Republica Street.  She worked for the Royal Bank of Canada until she married Benito in 1951.

As she walked home from work she invariably would be seen eating an apple, her sister Natalia reports. Probably a habit she picked up in Canada. Surprising, since apples, imported from the U.S., were not easy to find in Camaguey. Mariana was an apple-a-day person all her life. Lunch for her and Benito in retirement at Mayfair Manor was an apple — always a large red delicious, which she would peel at the table — and a cup of yogurt. 

Mariana on the grounds of The Pines
Elia Maria, on her return from The Pines, became an English language tutor in Camaguey, giving one-on-one conversational English and English writing lessons to children in the houses of the well-to-do. English was important not only for international commerce and travel, but for social purposes too, as high society got its fashion cues from American magazines, and American music was playing constantly on the radio and in movie theaters.

Fast-forward to Maryland around 1969 and you could find Mariana using her Pittman shorthand in her husband’s medical practice in their Bethesda home to take notes and then type up clinical records; and using her excellent command of the English language when checking with Medicare on a patient’s claim. But her excellent and well-pronounced English was accented, and when she got annoyed you could hear her from the next room: “The doctor’s name is Prats, P-R-A-T-S.” She would clearly spit out the “P,” but telephone calls back then were not as clear as they are today. “No, not ‘B’, ‘P’! . . . No, ‘P’!, ‘P’ as in Philadelphia”!


The clique outside a greenhouse in Montreal, 1945
Mariana, right, with Teresita de Varona in Montreal
On the Balcony at

Only girl named
is Elsy Constance

Two-inch square photos Mariana mailed home from Montreal, all with notes on the back.
Mariana had a Kodak Brownie camera that made square photos that she had developed at a photo shop in Montreal. All square photos in this article are from her camera.
Click to enlarge. Notes on the back of the photos, left to right, top to bottom:
(1) “Teresa, Yolanda — who will be teaching us to ski — and I. Oct. 30 1945”
(2) “The Mexicans, Lourdes and Elsy with Tere. Nov 16 /45”
(3) “A group of us in the garden: Dorothy, Lousette, Huguete, Marie Y., Rita, Yolanda, Lourdes. On knee: Teresita and Teresita Pazuelo. 30 - Oct. 45”
(4) “Con cara de guanaja y el abrigo arrugado pareszco una pordiosera, ¿no lo crees? 30-Oct.45” “With a stupid expression and a wrinkled coat I look like a beggar, don’t you think?”
(5) “Not feeling very well. At the school's entrance.”
(6) “My first picture with snow, notice the boots with snow on them. Nov 19 / 45"
(7) “Tere on a pile [of snow]”
(8) “Lourdes, Tere and Maite on the stairs. March, Sunday 3/46”
(9) “Dorothy, Rita and Teresa 20-Oct.45”
“Tere drinking maple sap one day we went out bicycling”
Montreal, 1946
Left: Ester Novo on the snow in Montreal
Right: Esther Zecay at home in Windsor
Note on back of Esther's photo: “One of the sweetest girls in the Div. I hope you'll write to me when you go back to Cuba. If you write to this address, the letter will be forwarded to me. (signature) 1671 Sandwich St. East, Windsor, Ontario.”