In one of my favourite photos of my grandmother, Helen Price, she is relaxing in a little boat moored in the rushes along the shore of a lake somewhere in Ontario’s cottage country. Almost certainly, it was her soon-to-be husband, Harley Warner, who took the photo [but see the update at the end of this post].

She’s 23 and very stylish in her tie, cardigan, dress with a calf-length skirt, dark stockings and low-heeled boots. On her lap is a mildly thumbed magazine.

Helen, relaxing with the August 1923 issue of the Red Book Magazine

With just a little bit of research, it was easy to determine that what she’d been reading in the photo is The Red Book Magazine, specifically the August 1923 issue, with a cover illustration by Edna L. Compton.

The cover of The Red Book Magazine, August 1923

She might have been enjoying one of the more than a dozen pieces of fiction in that month’s issue, with mildly salacious titles like Fleshpots by Rita Weiman, or Kiss and Run by Harold Cary.

Or, in a slightly more intellectual vein, she could have been reading the second half of New Year’s Day, a two-part short story by Edith Wharton.

August 1923 was the last month of Helen’s life as a single woman. She and Harley would be married on September 22 of that year.


Update – February 15, 2021

Since I posted this last year, I’ve managed to put two and two together and I’ve decided that I was all wrong about the date of the photo. It wasn’t taken in August, 1923, just before Helen and Harley’s wedding. It was almost certainly taken on their honeymoon in late September of that year!

I’ve left the original text of the post unchanged, but here’s why it needs some explaining.

The couple’s wedding announcement in the Toronto Star, on September 24, said that “after the reception Mr. and Mrs. Warner left for Muskoka, the bride traveling in a cocoa brown duvetyn coat and brown velvet hat.”

The look of a Muskoka lake is apparent in this photo and in others that were clearly taken around the same time (I’ll post them soon). You don’t see rushes like that at a beach in Toronto. In the other photos, the rocky landscape of Muskoka is unmistakeable.

Reinforcing the conclusion about the photo’s timing, that cardigan Helen’s wearing looks much more suited to a late September day in Ontario than it would be to a steamy day in August.


* The source for the magazine cover and information about its illustrator and contents is The General Fiction Magazine Index maintained online by William G. Contento.