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How Victoria's society women defied norms to raise funds for war effort ... with a little canine help

A book excerpt from Muggins: The Life and Afterlife of a Canadian Canine War Hero, by Grant Hayter-Menzies

Born in 1913, Muggins was a purebred Spitz, the sort of dog most often seen in the lap of a lady of leisure. But Muggins defied the odds, rising to unlikely fame during the First World War, when he became Victoria’s most diminutive, and highly successful, fundraiser for war-related charities. The fascinating account of this inspiring dog is detailed by local author Grant Hayter-Menzies in his new book, Muggins: The Life and Afterlife of a Canadian Canine War Hero (Heritage House Publishing, 2021).

Excerpt from Muggins: The Life and Afterlife of a Canadian Canine War Hero, by Grant Hayter-Menzies (2021), reprinted with permission of Heritage House Publishing.

Muggins’s first appearance with his new guardian Beatrice, as donation collection dog for a tag day appeal in support of the Italian Red Cross, appears in the Daily Colonist on August 6, 1916.

The appeal was organized by Mrs. Charlotte Pendray, whose husband Herbert came from the BAPCO Paint family (his ancestral home was the towered Queen Anne Pendray mansion on the Inner Harbour, now the Pendray Inn and Teahouse).

The linear fashions of the Great War and post war periods made Mrs. Pendray — a tall, stately woman, like the similarly shaped Queen Mary — look even more so, a ship’s figurehead come to life. And like a figurehead, Charlotte Pendray swept high through the waves of Victoria society on a tide of good works.

But then, where the Canadian Red Cross was concerned, the energy and intellect of women was embedded in the very fabric of the organization and everything it carried out during the Great War.

“When Canadians went to fight in South Africa in 1899,” writes Sarah Glassford, “the CRCS [Canadian Red Cross Society] Executive Committee went looking for women, appealing to the National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC) for help.”

As early as August 1914, in the first days after war was declared, it was Canadian women, she adds, who flocked to the Red Cross. One of these women was Adelaide Plumptre, an Oxford graduate in her early forties who was wife of the rector of Toronto’s St. James Anglican Cathedral and mother of two small children. Adelaide was a woman who got things done.

With teaching experience at Havergal College for girls, Adelaide turned her powerfully organized mind — she was described as “an executive genius” — to the Girl Guides, the YWCA and other organizations where education, health and patriotism were deemed the saviours of civilization.

Which is why she wrote to the Red Cross Society in September 1914, enquiring regarding the enrolment of women in the Red Cross Society, the better to effect “assistance which the ladies were desirous of giving.”

As Glassford writes, with this enquiry began a relationship with the Canadian Red Cross of thirty years’ duration, with Adelaide serving as president of the Ontario Division CRCS in the years following the Great War; she would be the first voting female member of the Executive Committee.

“Her arrival [in the CRCS] heralded the advent of a rationalized outwork production system for Red Cross supplies the likes of which had never before been seen in Canada,” writes Glassford.

Adelaide was merely acting on a motivating set of core beliefs, which were not unlike those of nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale: that an organized and efficient methodology could achieve anything; and a core belief of working equine welfare reformer Dorothy Brooke (1883–1955) in Egypt, in which compassion gave her the authority to interfere in any situation whose critical need required it, if the work that needed doing was to get done and get done properly.

Seeing Adelaide’s example, the women of Canada sat up, listened, and joined in:

“ … women were the heart and soul of the organization, holding dominion over branch-and-auxiliary level activity. It was they who organized bake sales, knitted garments, sewed and rolled bandages, held benefit concerts and afternoon teas, and canvassed their neighbourhoods and churches … .Women’s tangible, caring work for the CRCS encouraged a clear gender-based division of labour: as several Calgarians pointed out, it was only fair since women were doing the hands-on work, men should finance it.”

It can come as no surprise, then, that women were behind virtually all fundraising activities, with the Red Cross and several other charitable organizations aiding the war effort, throughout the time of war.

The first Red Cross Tag Day in Victoria was held on October 21, 1915. This type of fundraising event was very much as it sounds: in exchange for donations made to the Red Cross by passersby solicited by volunteers in the streets, donors were given a tag proving they had made the gift, a bit like a winning ribbon though not as colourful. “The Red Cross heals the wounds of the world,” stated one advertisement published in the days before the sale. “Who among us, living here in prosperity and security, can thoughtlessly neglect or selfishly refuse to GIVE TO OUR UTMOST? Give Freely and Gladly.”

Give people did, but to take advantage of that largesse a great deal of organization was required to make a tag day work its magic. Businesses in the downtown area had to be identified as potential stations for volunteers to sell tags to the public, then contacted and their support verified.

Men from the 50th Regiment Gordon Highlanders of Canada, headquartered at the newly built Bay Street Armoury, got involved as well; like the mostly female volunteers at the tagging stations, they were positioned at street corners and other public spaces apt to reach the most passersby, to advertise and perhaps provide the weight of military approbation to the taggers’ work.

There were a number of obstacles to overcome, not least the weather, which in Victoria was not always reliably good for business. Another major one was the role of women in the war effort. The world of the Great War was one which had still not broken free, despite the brief intervening era of Edwardian social freedoms, of the restrictive spell of the Victorian age, in which males dictated the role a woman was meant to fill as wife and mother, for whom the privacy of the home ordained the proper stage for her entire life.

Should, could, would a lady show herself on a public street in an attitude of appearing to sell something to the general public? Many in Victoria did, led by society doyennes like Charlotte Pendray, who for the Italian Red Cross Tag Day cited for especial praise “two little mites, who could not have been more than 4 or 5 years of age, who said that their mothers had sent them to help.”

So children, in the Victorian sense meant to be seen and not heard, were also escaping the confines of the nursery or home garden and doing their part for the war effort. And among the human mites were three canine ones whose efforts are listed in dollars and cents: Beatrice Woodward’s Lulu and Muggins, and a Boston bull terrier called Peter whose guardian was Mrs. H.R. Duce. The three dogs collected a total of $116.75.

It’s hard to believe, looking at these impressive donations, that just a little over two years earlier, the eight dogs belonging to members of the Gonzales Chapter of the IODE had raised only a total of sixty dollars for the war effort. It’s possible this small amount, and the failure of canine collectors to be used again to raise funds, can be explained by the fact that even in late 1914 many people believed (as did many in the military) that the war would be over by Christmas; it was a one-off show of patriotism and collecting donations for a valuable cause of temporary nature.

By 1916, however, when Muggins came on the scene, the world had been at war for twenty-four months. With no end in sight, and casualties dominating the daily news in all corners of the empire, the determination to help in any way possible broadened the scope and creativity of fundraising, if only to continue the dream that the conflict would end soon.