29 April 2013

Alan Eagleson Shills for W.H. Smith

The National Hockey League regular season ended late last night. Tomorrow hundreds of millionaires will take to the ice in paid pursuit of a trophy intended for Canada's best amateur team. What better time to acknowledge Hall of Fame Builder Alan Eagleson, OC, for helping to make the game what it is today.

This poorly produced advert from the November 1978 issue of Saturday Night, captures the "Ardent Hockey Fa [sic]" as an improbable pitch man for W.H. Smith. "I've always enjoyed reading" says Queen's Counsel Eagleson, "and it's only in the last eight years that I've had time for leisure reading as opposed to legal reading."

I imagine that the amount of time devoted toward "legal reading" increased dramatically during the long fin du millénaire journey that ended in the Mimico Correctional Centre.

Personal note: Cufflinks are gratefully accepted from those who invite me to speak. Gas money is also good.

Related post:

28 April 2013

Our Strangest Book Advertisement?

Following Tuesday and Thursday's posts:

I can't leave Sol Allen's Toronto Doctor without presenting this advert for the book from the 11 March 1949 edition of The Canadian Jewish Review. I know of no other.

A dog's breakfast, is it not? The eyes hardly know where  to begin. I suggest the top right and corner:

The header is a bit of a mystery. The text is correct that Allen's story features Jews and Gentiles, but the former are very minor characters, passing fleetingly, never to be seen again. And while it's true that one character is an anti-Semite, she quickly learns to keep her opinions to herself.

Then there's that cheeky lead, which I'm betting was penned by the author of this self-published book:
To say that this is the greatest novel you have ever read is a trite statement. We won't say it. At least not at the moment.
Shouldn't that be the greatest novel you will ever read? After all, the advert is selling Toronto Doctor in advance of publication.

Never mind. What I find most interesting is this:
The sample pages alongside are a fair indication of the quality and style of this important book. These are no better and no worse than the average of its 386 pages.
I can attest to the veracity of this bold claim, though it needs mention that these aren't pages from the book – the page numbers and lines of type do not match. Oh, and the finished book has 390 pages.

Our strangest advertisement? Our messiest? Our least effective? All three?

And so, I leave Toronto Doctor with a final fun fact. Author Sol Allen held two positions in his family's company:  Secretary Treasurer and Director of Advertising. 

25 April 2013

Our Strangest Novelist?

The follow-up to my review of Sol Allen's Toronto Doctor, this now appears revised and rewritten, 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

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

23 April 2013

Our Strangest Novel?

Toronto Doctor
Sol Allen
Toronto: Rock, 1949
390 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

18 April 2013

Remembering la Corriveau

Executed 250 years ago today, Marie-Josephte Corriveau – la Corriveau – was a survivor. Just thirty at the time of her death, she'd long outlived her ten brothers and sisters, all of whom died in childhood. Marie-Josephte also survived her first husband, Charles Bouchard, the father of her three children. Widowed at twenty-seven, in 1761 she married Louis Étienne Dodier who, like Charles,was a farmer from St.Vallier on the St. Lawrence, just south of Ile d'Orléans. A little over eighteen months later, poor Louis was found dead in the barn, his head nearly caved in. The horse was to blame... or so it was thought at first. Then the rumours began to circulate.

In the spring of 1763, Marie-Josephte and her father, Joseph, were brought before a military tribunal. Joseph was found guilty of the murder and was sentenced to death. Marie-Josephte would've been flogged and branded as an accessory had it not been for her father's confession to a priest. Seems she'd been more than willing to see dear old dad swing for a crime she had in fact committed. At a second trial she confessed.

After Marie-Josephte was hanged, her body was placed in a gibbet – quite possibly the one pictured above! She was then transported across the St Lawrence and was suspended for five weeks from a post at the intersection of what are today Rue St-Joseph and Boulevard de l'Entente in Lévis.

Now, watch those property values soar.

An Anglo Quebecer, I first read of la Corriveau as a teenager in Philippe-Joseph Aubert de Gaspé's Les Anciens Canadiens. Her presence in English-language Canadian literature is negligible, though she did get off to an early start; William Kirby featured Marie-Josephte in his 1877 novel The Golden Dog. Here la Corriveau is a poisoner for hire, a direct descendant of Catherine Deshayes, the 17th-century serial killer known as la Voisine.

The Golden Dog: A Romance in the Days of Louis Quinze in Quebec
William Kirby
Toronto: Musson/Montreal: Montreal News Co, n.d.
Others, historians included, have added to the legend. Charles, her first husband, has come to be seen as one of her victims; in some tales,  five more ill-fated husbands are added to the mix. And what about the ten dead siblings?

The 20th-century brought more novels, a ballet, and plays by Victor-Lévy Beaulieu, Anne Hébert and Guy Cloutier.. She lives on in this century:

There's even something for the kiddies:

Were I not so far away, I'd make the effort to attend this evening's Marie-Josephte Corriveau Commemoration in Quebec City.

As it is, I'll be raising a glass, if only in recognition of the contribution she made – unwittingly – to the country's literature.

A black oatmeal stout with ruby highlights, la Corriveau seems the obvious choice, but like the lady herself, it's rarely seen in Upper Canada.

A bonus:

Just look at what the sorry souls at VDM Publishing have on offer:

15 April 2013

The Ugliest Canadian Book Cover of All Time

P.E.T.: Pierre Elliott Trudeau and his unearthly adventures
Jude Waples
(Cover illustration: Jude Waples)
New York: Avon, 1983

Related post:
The Greatest Canadian Magazine Cover of All Time

12 April 2013

Bad Poets

The Vancouver Sun, 21 February 1966
Poetic Burglars Hit Again
The poetic burglars have struck again.
   For the second time in a week, police found a poetic message while investigating a break-in.
   The message discovered early today at Canadian Trailmobile, 2650 Slocan, read:
   "You think we are fools, because we borrowed your tools. It's not very funny, because we also took your money. The Human Termites, Batman and Zorro."
   A small amount of cash was taken from the office.
   Police said the thieves entered the premises by smashing a window.
   Last week, police found a similar note while investigating a $400 break-in at a downtown restaurant.

08 April 2013

Did Arthur Stringer Incite the Bolshevists to Blow Up Wall Street? Maclean's Dares Ask the Question!

Myth: On 11 September 2001, President George W. Bush told Americans to go shopping.

Fact: He told them to go to Disney World.

Terrorism sells. Ten years ago, it was duct tape and plastic sheeting, eight decades before that it was issues of Maclean's:

The Regina Morning Leader, 15 November 1920
(ciquez pour agrandir)
"Did Arthur Stringer incite the Bolshevists to blow up Wall Street?' The question is absurd, is it not? How would the Reds have known of an unpublished novel that had been submitted to a Toronto general interest magazine? Besides, are we really to believe that no one had ever thought of blowing up New York's financial district?

My questions can't keep up with the fast and furious of the advert: "Who did it? Was it an accident? The bomb of a Bolshevik? Or merely ordinary insanity?"

Let's consider the Maclean's questions one at a time:

Who did it?

We don't know. What we do know is that at noon on Thursday, 16 September 1920, a horse-drawn wagon carrying roughly 100 pounds of dynamite was brought to a halt across the street from the offices of J.P. Morgan. A minute later, the horses and wagon were no more. Thirty-eight people were killed – most instantly – and who knows how many people were injured. The driver is thought to have fled the scene just before the explosion.

Was it an accident?

No, though a whole lot of people considered the possibility. Initial police investigations focussed on the sloppiness of businesses that sold and transported explosives. However, by the next day investigators had come to the conclusion that the carnage had been intentional. The give-away: an estimated 500 pounds of iron weights that had been mixed in with the explosives.

The bomb of a Bolshevik?

Doubtful. Early in the investigation police came upon a cache of flyers from the American Anarchist Fighters. "Remember, we will not tolerate any longer", read the text. "Free the political prisoners, or it will be sure death for all of you."

Or merely ordinary insanity?

Oh, there was insanity. Take New York Law School graduate and one-time tennis star Edwin P. Fischer. Mr Fischer had sent postcards to friends and relatives warning them of the devastation that would be brought upon Wall Street on 15 September, the day before the actual blast. He was picked up the next day in Hamilton, Ontario.

The New York Times,18 September 1920
Under questioning, Fischer at first appeared uncertain as to how he'd known about the coming carnage, telling Magistrate George F. Jelfs that a message had come "through the air". However, he soon became more certain:
I have lived a life of helpfulness and unselfishness. I have never held a grudge against anyone, and have always tried to do good to everybody. For this reason I think that God, perhaps, has given me a power that has not been given to those who lead selfish lives.
When the magistrate asked how he knew exactly where the explosion would take place, Fischer replied, "I knew because Wall Street is the centre of evil in the world."

Not so insane after all.

Fischer had not only entered Canada illegally but had threatened some of our finest millionaires in Toronto's Queen's Hotel, and so was deported. He returned to New York's Grand Central Station clothed in two suits over tennis whites,  at the ready for a chance match. The poor man would end up being institutionalized in the Amityville Insane Asylum.

Despite all the publicity, Stringer's The City of Peril did not appear in book form until 1923, when it was published by McClelland & Stewart and Alfred A. Knopf. I've yet to come across a copy myself, but Kathleen K. Bowker's Canadian Bookman review has me sold:

March 1923
Trivia: Edwin P. Fischer was 1895 Ontario Tennis Champion.

More trivia: The Wall Street bombing very nearly ruined Anti-Straw Hat Day:

The Globe & Mail, 16 September 1920
Related post:

07 April 2013

'IN MEMORIAM! The Hon. T.D. McGee'

The Hon. T.D. McGee

Dedicated to his sorrowing Widow

"Cum lugeate, lugebo."

                    Dead! – and by a death terrific! –
                         Erin, hear it! – Can it be,
                    The young spirit so prolific
                         Beats no more in great McGee?
                    Dies irae! – break it gently
                         Oh! let pleasure hold her breath!
                    For 'tis true that tongue so mighty
                         Now lies cold in silent death!

                    Breathe his name in muffled numbers!
                         Gather, nations, round his brier!
                    Gaze upon him as he slumbers,
                         Starting pity's choicest tear!
                    Nature seems to've caught the spirit
                         Of his sad, yet noble fall,
                    And, through sympathy for merit,
                         Drops to-day her virgin pall.

                    Envy may spit all her rancour –
                         Strike at honesty her best –
                    She but does her body honour,
                         While she sends his soul to rest.
                    Patriot, orator,and statesman
                         Of unsullied purity;
                    With such pow'rs were interwoven
                         Fairest flow'rs of poetry.

                    But no longer chained in wonder
                         Shall admiring throngs rejoice,
                    Or give back applause in thunder
                         To the magic of his voice!
                    Hope, though like a paraphelion,
                         Cheers us in our awful gloom:
                    For 'tis sweet to know Religion
                         Smoothed his pathway to the tomb.

                    Noblest forms must soon or layer,
                         Mingle with their kindred dust,
                    While their spirits rise to brighter
                         Regions of the happy just.
                    Spirits! bear his soul to heaven!
                         And, what's left, – a glorious name!
                    Be it reverently given
                         To be canonized by fame!

                    Ah! but who can consolation.
                         To his orphans now impart!
                    Or can sooth in dereliction
                         His poor widow's breaking heart!
                    Let us breathe a De profundis,
                         That a bright eternity
                   May receive the spirit of his
                         Own originality!

                                                              – P.J. Buckley
                                                           Grand Seminary
                                          Montreal, 8th April 1868

Assassinated 145 years ago today.

Related posts:

02 April 2013

Trotsky: The Accidental Terrorist

The Sixth of December
Jim Lotz
Markham, ON: Paperjacks, 1981

I'm both pleased and honoured that expat Canadian writer Mark Reynolds has contributed this, the very first Dusty Bookcase guest post. More of Mark's writing can be found online at View of the Marching Fishes. 

When Brian offered me the opportunity to write a guest-post on The Sixth of December by Jim Lotz, I jumped at the chance. It struck me as inspired that someone had thought to link Trotsky’s brief imprisonment in Nova Scotia to the Halifax Explosion. I imagined a Communist of Unrequited Dreams, or perhaps a Forrest Gumpsky – here Trotsky founds the Red Army, there he blows up Halifax, and during his New York exile he advises a young F. Scott Fitzgerald on writing fiction.

The Sixth of December starts 11 months before the titular date, 100 meters under the Atlantic, where a German U-Boat and its crew lay slowly dying. Warships of the Royal Navy prowl the surface, drawing their net of depth charges ever closer on the helpless sailors below.

Finally, Kapitanleutnant Wolfgang Von Lothringen – aristocrat, conveniently English-educated, fanatic in the cause of the Fatherland – makes a desperate decision to make a break for it, surfacing his vessel and firing his last torpedo at his tormentors. However, the torpedo misfires and U-42 is destroyed. Von Lothringen survives, along with one crew member – Lothar Brutcher – and a Scottish merchant captain unwillingly aboard as a prisoner. The other 30 sailors under his command die, never to trouble the narrative or the conscience of their captain again.

As an opening scene, it’s a doozy, and it contains within it all the best and worst that the book had to offer. I believe the opening dialogue is best excused by the fact that both the characters were desperately starved of oxygen when speaking it:
”Do you see this?” [Von Lothringen] asked, pulling a cigarette case out of his pocket and thrusting under the nose of the Scot. “Made of steel, from the battlefield of Verdun. My brother and his regiment went in with the first wave on February 21 last year. Only ten men came out alive. One of them made this for me – in memory of my brother. Then he went back and was killed.”
   The Scot shook his head. “You’re a stubborn lot, you Germans.”
On the other hand, while the means by which Von Lothringen was trapped by the Royal Navy was similarly hard to believe, it turned out to have been based on fact.

Indeed, as I read on, it turned out that there was very little outside of the doings of the main characters in The Sixth of December that was not based on fact. The book might be that rarest creature of all – a historical fiction that does not fictionalize any of the history. That speaks well of Lotz’s professional standards – he is still, as far as I am aware, an active author of Maritimes history. The man clearly loves Nova Scotia and its past; I learned a great deal from The Sixth of December, but learning was not what I was hoping to gain from a book that promised “The Terrorist Plot of the Century!”

Lotz’s fidelity to the Muse of History puts some unfortunate constraints on the story. Leon Trotsky would have made a fairly compelling arch-villain for such a book, had Lotz been willing to depart from the record on occasion. Lotz was not, so the founder of the Red Army disappears from the narrative about one third of the way through. As Trotsky took his leave of the Amherst prisoner of war camp seven months before the Imo and Mont Blanc collided, I didn’t exactly expect him to be cackling from atop the town clock as Halifax burned, but readers might have appreciated a coded telegram or two, or a least a spit-take from the Kremlin.

Leon Trotsky, St Petersburg, May 1917, weeks after being released from the Amherst camp.
Trotsky entered Halifax by chance, a transit point en route to the Russian Revolution in which he was anxious to play his part (“an unknown exile now, within a year this man’s name would be on the lips of all. And he would leave a lasting mark on history.”) Realizing Halifax’s strategic importance, he orders his companions to gather as much information as they could on the harbour’s defenses.

The reasoning for this was somewhat convoluted: Trotsky planned to pull Russia out of the war, which he believed would both cause the Allies to lose, and also to intervene in the Revolution. If the latter occurred, he believed the Allies would use Halifax as a staging port (those who know of the Siberian Expeditionary Force will realize he was not entirely wrong in this, but that adventure launched from the West Coast). American involvement in the War both obviated and added urgency to the plot, in ways I cannot wrap my head around even after three readings of the explanation.

After Trotsky is detained, that justification was jettisoned in favour of revenge against the Canadians for the indignity of his imprisonment. In his brief time in Amherst (less than a month) he managed to convert a number of the other prisoners to socialism, and hatched an escape plot with the most promising of them – Von Lothringen among them. Trotsky’s powers of persuasion in such a brief period against enemy sailors were also hard to believe, but again, the rendering was scrupulously true.

Trotsky’s arrival date in Amherst (April 6, 1917) was tantalizingly near that of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and so that event makes an appearance as well. Our hero, Sergeant Jack Dobney, a North-End Halifax boy strong of jaw and stalwart of heart, fights his way though the battle, only to “catch a Blighty.” In the dressing station he meets pure-hearted but strong-willed Beth, a privileged South-End beauty serving near the front as a nurse. Sparks fly. I suspect the headiness of the moment could only have been amplified by an unnamed future author of high-school textbooks in the background of their burgeoning romance observing that “They’ll say that this is the day that Canada became a nation.”

Dobney’s wound is his ticket back to Halifax and, compelled by the conventions of the genre, Beth follows shortly after. Dobney is eventually enmeshed in a military police investigation involving supplies intended for the front going missing from the docks. Meanwhile, back in Amherst, Von Lothringen, Brutcher, and Kurt Hafner (another German submariner) escape. Von Lothringen makes it to Halifax, where he spends the next few months establishing himself as a bon vivant Swedish count, aided by money and materiel supplied by the apparently pervasive Communist underground active in Halifax at the time. The various deus ex Bolsheva means by which our fugitive’s adventures were furthered were always attributed by them in marveling tones to Trotsky, though again, the author refuses to trifle with the historical record enough to detail his involvement.

The Canada Car and Foundry Co., Amherst, Nova Scotia, in 1931. Fourteen years earlier it served as the prisoner of war camp at which Trotsky was held.   
Brutcher and Hafner have a harder time of it, escaping in a dory, but getting caught in a squall on the Bay of Fundy. The boat capsizes and they are separated, with Brutcher swimming for shore, though the exigencies of his situation did not block his capacity to recall geography trivia (“Dimly, Lothar remembered that this Bay had the highest tides in the world”). Lucky Lothar is rescued by a simple Acadian girl, learning her name (Monique) at the top of page 138 and falling into her bed at the bottom of page 139. The fanatic Hafner recalls him to his duty two pages later (he spent that time murdering a priest), but in the interim we learn much about Acadian history, in which Lotz was unable to resist forcing Monique to deliver some awkward exposition on the story of Legless Jerome.

Once the three Germans are reunited in Halifax, and Jack Dobney is undercover attempting to tease out the nature of the conspiracy, Lotz dispenses with most of the Nova Scotia sightseeing and historical trivia in favour of what I can happily report is a fairly engrossing cat-and-mouse game, the stakes of which are all the more foreboding for being known. The meticulous research (mostly) aids the plot and heightens the tension, rather than distracting from it as in the earlier pages. Unsuspected nuances of character appear, much to the book’s benefit.

But… but but but. The Terrorist Plot of the Century? The smiling face of Trotsky rising from the smoke of the Mont Blanc on the cover? Well, poor Mr Lotz set himself an impossible challenge. How does one turn the Halifax Explosion into the Terrorist Plot of the Century without altering a word of the historic record? That, alas, was a circle even 2,300 tons of pitric acid, 200 tons of TNT and 35 tons of benzene could not square. The German saboteurs failed in their own attempt to blow up the Mont Blanc (on December 5th), but did contrive to make it on to the bridge of the Imo just as the two ships were heading towards each other in the Halifax Harbour Narrows. It proved to be an excellent vantage point to watch Halifax be destroyed, with almost no effort required on their part.

01 April 2013

The Heart Accepts It All – John Glassco

The first day of National Poetry Month seems a good time to mention my forthcoming book The Heart Accepts It All: Selected Letters of John Glassco. I've never been much good when it comes to  salesmanship, so will leave the task to publisher Véhicule Press.

From their catalogue:
A brilliant and enigmatic literary figure.
Decades after his death, John Glassco (1909-1981) remains Canada’s most enigmatic literary figure. The Heart Accepts It All: Selected Letters of John Glassco draws back the curtain on this self-described ‘great practitioner of deceit.’ We see the delight he took in revealing his many literary hoaxes to friends, and the scorn he had for literary fashion. The letters reflect his convictions about literature, other writers and his own talent, while documenting struggles with publishers, pirates and censors. 
    Born into one of Montreal’s wealthiest families, Glassco turned his back on privilege for a life in letters. At age eighteen, having been published in Paris, his voice suddenly went silent. His unexpected return to the literary scene in 1957 coincided with the great flowering of Canadian literature. In the years that followed, he produced a unique body of work that encompasses poetry, memoir, translation, and several bestselling books of pornography. 
    Collected here are the few surviving letters from his youthful adventures in France and three previously unpublished poems. Amongst his correspondents were Maurice Girodias, F.R. Scott, A.J.M. Smith, Ralph Gustafson, Leon Edel and Margaret Atwood.
It's an honour to again find myself associated with this great talent.

Cross-posted at A Gentleman of Pleasure.