01 March 2014

Freedom to Read Week: Selected Salacious Filth Found in a Toronto Controller's Dresser Drawer

David A. Balfour
1889 - 1956
The joke that is Rob Ford isn't funny anymore, right? We all know where he's heading, the only real question is whether he'll be taking anyone with him. Torontonians, take extra care as you cross at the intersection, a black Cadillac Escalade may be just around the corner. 

No, not that funny at all. That's where Ford breaks with the buffoons of the city's past, my favourite being Controller David Balfour. If the name seems familiar, it may be that you've once strolled through Toronto's David A. Balfour Park.*

Balfour was no friend of parks, once calling for the removal of all flower beds, but his real foe was reds. He saw them everywhere, pressuring both Queen's Park and Ottawa to round up anyone he considered a communist leader. This included aldermen and Hewlett Johnson, Dean of Canterbury, who once dared speak in his city. Reds taught children to spit on the cross, claimed Balfour, adding that Bathurst United Church was a centre of communism. A Catholic, the controller fought Ontario Attorney-General Leslie Blackwell's move to  regulate bingo operators.

When not protecting children from those who would teach them to spit, he was working to shield their eyes and those of their parents from "salacious books" being circulated by lending libraries. Balfour's obsessive focus on "immoral literature" provided many column inches for Globe & Mail City Hall reporter Frank Tumpane. The six on the right come from the 22 March 1947 edition.

Balfour was a great collector of the material he sought to ban, encouraging others in the battle to send filth his way. "I stick them in the top drawer of my dresser," he told council. "I'm ashamed of them."

The controller was short on titles, amassing a lengthy list that he was never  willing to share. However, over the years he did mention five titles, one of which was Jan Peel's The Bed and the Blonde (Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949). I don't have a copy in the top drawer of my dresser, so can't provide a cover image. Here are the rest:

Forever Amber
Kathleen Winsor
New York: Macmillan, 1944
Rosamond Marshall
Toronto: Collins White Circle,  1944
Duchess Hotspur
Rosamond Marshall
Toronto: Collins White Circle, 1947
The Flesh is Willing
James Clayford
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949
A fin de la semaine bonus:

The Globe & Mail, 30 September 1949
* David Balfour is, of course, also the name of the central character in Robert Lewis Stevenson's Kidnapped, which was published just three years before the controller's birth. I'm not certain that this wasn't just a coincidence.

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