25 May 2010

The Messy World of Ronald J. Cooke

The House on Craig Street
Ronald J. Cooke
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949
158 pages

This review, revisited and revised, now appears in my new book:
The Dusty Bookcase:

A Journey Through Canada's

Forgotten, Neglected, and Suppressed Writing
Available at the very best bookstores and through


  1. Found it sad the way a man who had written for Canadian magazines and edited a trade journal in the forties ended his writing career.

    Here's something from those better days - a November 1949 Canadian Business article.

    "Although I had contributed several million words to trade papers and other publications, I had never written a novel before attempting The House on Craig Street. Completed in 30 days to meet a deadline, it was produced in a 25-cent edition by Harlequin Books of Winnipeg. In two months the demand justified a third printing, which bought the total press run to 65 thousand copies, most of which have been sold. My friends shake their heads at its literary quality. Others express their opinions with less reserved gestures. But if I can write a book which, in a 25-cent edition,
    will outsell hard covers by internationally-known authors, a revolutionary development must have taken place in the book business."

  2. bowdler, I share your feelings about Cooke's final decades. That said, there were a few books he managed to place with publishers, most notably Money-making Ideas for Retirees (Stoddart, 1985). It seems to have been quite successful; I know of three printings. In 1989, it was revised and reissued as Money-making Ideas for Seniors.

    I do wish there had been more fiction. Books like The House on Craig Street are not only fun, light reads, they offer glimpses of a Canada that is no longer. As far as I know, there was just one more pulp: The Mayor of Côte St. Paul (Harlequin, 1950).

    I add that there is one mysterious Cooke title, The House on Dorchester Street, which was published in 1979 by Vesta Publications of Cornwall, Ontario (publisher of the later Bluebell Phillips titles). An online bookseller describes it as "A lusty, gusty novel of how Montrealers lived and loved in the thirties." Apparently, the setting is an all-girl boarding house. I've never seen a copy.

  3. Great article! He is referenced in a 1986 Gazette article bout Murray's. "For old timers, Murrays is still a good place to meet and reminisce. Early this month, when the frost hit the pumpkins, I trotted along to Murrays Westmount corner for a spot of lunch with another good reminiscer, Ronald J. Cooke, the "writin' man."

    Ron's been around a long time, too. Sixty-odd years ago, he "dropped out of school" and became a delivery boy for Pascal's hardware - another Montreal institution.

    When I first knew Ron, he was peddling short paragraphs to trade papers at 10 cents an inch - little items about neighborhood stores and money-making ideas. Then, in 1952, he popped up with a novel The House on Craig Street, which was bought and published by Harlequin Books in Winnipeg. First thing I knew, he was not only a successful writer but the owner of a small string of magazines. Next, he sold the magazines and spent the next few decades writing books.

    And now, at 74, he has "another new book" - a revised edition of his Money-making Ideas for Seniors (Stoddart, Toronto), containing 94 success stories for us old folks who thought Retirement Day meant Siesta Time.

    For a boy who quit school at 12, Ron Cooke's literary career is astonishing enough. Even more remarkable - for 30 or 40-odd writing years, he's had retinitis pigmentosa, an eye affliction that makes him almost totally blind. He uses a Voyager XI computer to enlarge the type on his reading material and puts his manuscript under at Visualtek to make corrections.

    Go to a book fair or writing class - anywhere where authors gather - and you'll probably see Ron Cooke and Mary Alice Daly, his co- author. He won't see you, at least not very clearly, but he'll be listening and tape recording - demonstrating you can't slow a senior citizen down."

  4. Thanks Kristian for your clear and fair portrayal of Ronald J. Cooke. Ron was a writer, a publisher a magazine owner and my Grandfather. He worked for himself, was the owner many magazines, some which still exist (including respect trade magazines Bakers Journal and Beverage World) and also worked as top executive for Maclean-Hunter Publishing... not exactly a slouch. Yes at the end he published Canadian Writers Journal, yes it was basic to say the least, but it wasn't sad, it was the work of someone who couldn't retire even though he tried to many times. It made no money but it made him happy, kept him active and alive. Pretty good for a guy who was 90% blind and well into his 70's. For further information and clarification, Mary Alice Daly co-authored only one book, her contribution as co-author was to type what he dictated. Finally, he never lived on Elm street.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. As I've written elsewhere, Anon, I admire your grandfather's industry. The percentage of Canadian writers who are able to make a good living through writing and editing alone is so very small. That he did so in the face of physical constraints makes this all the more remarkable.

      I was certain it was Elm that he'd lived on. Was it Evergreen? Such a long time ago.

  5. Hi Brian; Thank-you for your response it is appreciated. He lived at 58 Madsen. -Glenn Wildenmann

    1. Thanks, Glenn. News the street was actually Madsen had me scratching my head - not on the way to or from BHS - then I remembered that for a time I had art lessons after school on that very street.

  6. He's profiled in a Montreal Star 1979 feature article, complete with large photo but I have no way of posting it in this comment.