January 20, 2014

Joe Maruca's "Secret" Notebook

Joe Maruca’s “Secret” Notebook

At some time or another, we have all experienced a really satisfying day at work, or perhaps more often, a day that left us wanting to vent our frustrations. Today we might use social media to voice these emotions. In the days before Facebook or Twitter, Joe Maruca documented his working life in a ‘Secret’ notebook filled with amusing cartoon sketches. 

Recently, I processed a fascinating collection of family items donated by the children of Joseph and Alice Maruca. These include a porter’s uniform, photographs, documents and the notebook. Joe’s father, Vincenzo had immigrated from Italy in 1920 and worked as a freight carpenter at the CNR shops in Transcona. In the 1950s Joe Maruca was employed as a Porter Captain at the Royal Alexandra Hotel in Winnipeg. The “Royal Alex” was part of the Canadian Pacific chain and was considered one of the finest hotels in western Canada. It opened its doors on Higgins and Main in 1906 and served as a social centre of Winnipeg until 1967. The hotel was demolished in 1971. 

A worn sketchbook, it’s red cover torn and with the remains of torn off tape or stickers. A reminding piece of blue tape reads, “Secret” below a slightly torn sticker showing an image of a large red and white multi-story building and text reading, “The Royal Alexander / Winnipeg Man. / Canadian Pacific”.

Through Joe’s sketches we can see a humorous account of the inner workings of the Royal Alexandra as viewed through the eyes of the front line staff. There is the frustration of being under tipped by a wealthy client or being “twisted” by a co-worker. The word twist can be as slang expression meaning to cheat or have something wrench from your grasp – when a fellow porter takes your next client and tip! We also see Joe as the hero of the story and a bit of a lady’s man. 

Cartoon sketch showing a round man flicking “1 thin dime” to a struggling porter holding a bag of golf clubs and standing beside three suitcases. A bubble above the porter’s head reads, “I should have stuck to shoe shines”.
“One Thin Dime” sketch by Joe Maruca
Cartoon sketch showing a man on his knees in front of another man who stands filing his nails, with one foot up on a chair. The standing man saying, “Well I don’t know – coax me”, while the kneeling man says, “Please Maruca I’ll never twist ya again”. Sketch title at the top reads, “CONTROL / Yes Sir”.
Cartoon sketch showing two women standing near the foot of a large flight of stairs with a framed mountain landscape hanign above the landing. One woman says, “Oh! There’s Maruca” and the other says, “Yea! Smile”. In the upper left corner is written, “Great guy when it comes to women”.
“A great guy when it comes to women”

The Royal Alex was home-on-the-road to musicians who came to play at the hotel or local hotspots such as the Don Carlos night club. Included in the donation is a collection of signed photographs of notable African-American musicians of the era – The Mills Brothers, The Charioteers, Nellie Lutcher and The Deep River Boys. Joe enjoyed a positive reputation among these performers and the service he provided would have been in marked contrast to the discrimination they faced at segregated American hotels in the 1950s. “When you’re in Winnipeg ask for Joe, he’ll take good care of you” was the message passed among the performers. A couple of his sketches suggest that Joe may have had musical dreams of his own.

Signed black and white photograph with slightly weathered edges of Joe Maruca in his porter’s uniform posing with Harry Douglas.
Harry Douglas with Joe Maruca “To Joe, Thanks for being so wonderful to me. Sincerely, Harry Douglas, Deep River Boys”
Cartoon sketch showing a four-man band on a stage. In the corner is a large firepace and a person sitting in an armchair watching the band. The cellist is labelled “Maruca” and writing near the pianist reads, “How’d Maruca get in this one”. Wriitng along the bottom reads, “Sunday Evening (Irving Plumb.)”.
“Long hair Maruca”

As new artifacts are added to the Manitoba Museum’s collection, our understanding of the past expands. Donations from families like the Marucas help to give us a glimpse the life of a talented ‘average working Joe’. 

Nancy Anderson

Nancy Anderson

Collections Management Specialist – Human History

Nancy Anderson holds a B.A. (Hons) in History from the University of Winnipeg, and received her M.A. in Canadian Social History jointly from the University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba. She has over 30 years experience…
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