holiday thoughts from the flaneur, 1911

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H.H. Wiltshire, aka The Flaneur, was one of the first columnists to appear in Toronto newspapers. According to historian Paul Rutherford in his book A Victorian Authority: the daily press in late nineteenth century Canada, Wiltshire's Saturday morning musings in the Mail and Mail and Empire "might roam over the woeful condition of France or Ireland, the arts world, Toronto civic politics, displaying a Conservative bias but not in any strident fashion." As Wiltshire's nom de plume implies, his columns read like the thoughts of a man carefully observing his surroundings as he wanders the city and wire reports. Wiltshire readily interacted with his readers, answering their general questions or debating their opinions.

Here's how Wiltshire greeted his readers during his holiday column a century ago:

To all my happy readers I wish a Happy Christmas and a good New Year. For them, "may good digestion wait on appetite and health on both," as the familiar toast has it, and may there be neither headaches nor heartaches through the holiday season. No doubt most of us would celebrate with greater zest if it were a white Christmas, and I have heard many friends bewail the fact that we are not to have real old-fashioned Christmas weather in Toronto. The sad truth seems to be that a Christmas of mud and slush is just as typical if December weather in this part of the country as one of ice and snow drifts could be. But if ever there is a time of year when the spirit should defy the weather, it ought to be forgiving others their trespasses against us, and rejoicing to think that they should forgive ours against them. As Tiny Tim said, "God bless us every one."

Before moving to other topics of the day, Wiltshire expressed his thoughts on seasonal gift-giving:

There are many of us I hope who will be able to look back to the celebration of Christmas in 1911, and in the ten years or so that preceded it, and smile to think of the foolish excesses in the matter of gift making that marred them for many people. The tyranny of the Christmas present presses heavily in this country and in the United States, and if we do not rise against it it may yet crush the sweetness out of the day for all but the ultra prosperous. We have seen how the American people revolted and established a "safe and sane" manner of observing their great national holiday, and it ought to be no harder to bring about a return to the simplicity of earlier Christmases. To my mind, the gift making should be confined to children, and those who believe in Santa Claus and his reindeers. Too often among grown up people Christmas giving degenerates into a mere exchange of cheques for equal amounts. Posterity will build monuments to the man or woman who rescues us from this monster of conventionality.

The Flaneur's opinions were originally expressed in the December 23, 1911 edition of the Mail and Empire.


Quimby Melton said…
JB, I'm fairly obsessed with both the flâneur concept and representations of this concept since the 19th century. H.H. Wiltshire and his column were news to me, though, and I'm looking forward to investigating more thoroughly.

Thanks for giving me another lead!
Thanks for the reference to Henry Wiltshire ~ The Flaneur who was my great-great grandfather. Flaneuring and writing have continued down the family line - his daughter Kate Wiltshire was a newspaper columnist writing interesting Vancouver observations, my father wrote as a hobby, I author a cycling blog ( and my son Kyle is a natural flaneur and writer and traded a paperclip for a house ( The internet has provides a great opportunity to discover family history and share the joy of flavouring. Colleen MacDonald - Vancouver BC

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