Like a Winter Sun

Why recall arguably discordant contingencies? Why choose to remember the so-called bad stuff? Why not stick to heroism? Because I’m writing for adults. War isn’t that simple. If Angela Davis is coming to terms with the other inside, so am I. If readers can’t tolerate some adulterating then they should look away.

My second book on textbook censorship Canadian Mockingbird: Exposing Censorship and Textbook-Mediated Social Engineering is set to debut February 15, 2024.It explores Ontario’s thinking and its bureaucratic efforts to keep public school students uninformed on a long list of topics. This short article about Chatsworth, Ontario born writer and Alberta legislator Nellie McClung’s censored book In Times Like These: The Rise of Feminism is just a preview.

It’s somewhat of a personal topic. This November I’m remembering some ancestors and achievements making it possible for me to be here. I’m not ranking them. There is no objective order. Yet sitting here in Toronto, just after Remembrance Day, my Great Grandfather David Alfred Cousby (b. 1896) comes to mind. I remember his sacrifice, but also the attempts by those he served to keep him, and others like him, ignorant of issues leading to war.

Unlike WWII, the West doesn’t remember a First World War villain with the hate it keeps Adolph Hitler. Although many Americans disagreed with the United States’s participation (see Jim Powell’s May/June 2014 Policy Report for the CATO Institute), war is good business. And, this was also going to be the war to end all wars. United States industry participated on both sides in fact.

Supposedly McClung’s book (orig. Nellie Letitia Mooney) was rejected because the Ministry had a policy of only permitting Canadian-printed texts while the University of Toronto Press’ 1972 reprint was manufactured at its Buffalo, New York plant. But that wasn’t all. The Canada Council, funding public arts, provided a grant despite the University owning a foreign printer. Management claimed the book had “limited applicability” despite majority approval by the expert panel hired for its evaluation.

In Times Like These was originally printed in the United States as well, by D. Appleton and Company in 1915, and then distributed in Canada by McLeod & Allen, contemporaneous with my Great Grandfather’s enlistment in the so-called Great War on November 20, 1915 in Callander, Ontario.

Canada entered…enthusiastically and innocently: no one questioned the rightness of a struggle to preserve France and the Empire and to exterminate German militarism.3

He’d been a farmer in Angus, all 5’2″ of him, was the son of Emma Jane (Coulson) Morrison née Harris and Frederick William Coulson.

Thanks to my cousin [TBD], also a Coulson, for obtaining and making available Great Grandpa Coulson’s CAF records.

Sapper Coulson arrived in England a year later. Then it was off to France in December 1, 1916 where he served until April 14th, 1919, a total of 3 years and 162 days before being demobilized for becoming “invalid” with a case Syphilis caused by one of the sub T. pallidum species. He’d been at Vimy, where he dug tunnels for communications cabling, and at Mont-Saint-Éloi. He was finally discharged in May.

Fortunately war wasn’t the end for Great Grandpa Coulson like it had been for more than 66,000 other Canadians. After his return he was hired on as a carman, switching trains from one track to another in Capreol for the Canadian Northern Railway. My Great Grandfather also joined the Orange Order. On The Twelfth he rode a horse in the Orange Walk. Coulson Street continues on as a place name in his honour (Open with Google Maps).

Hemlock and Coulson, Capreol. May 2014. Copyright 2023, Google.

With war and 23 years of life behind him, David married 19 year old Edith A. Hamilton on March 26, 1920. This Sudbury schoolteacher was the daughter of  S. Hamilton and Mary Beattie. David and Edith’s children included Fred, Gordon, twins Doug and Don, and my Grandmother Mary, or “Mollie” as she became known.

I don’t want to antagonize my relatives, but what do you think the Province could have meant by “Limited applicability”? It may be surprising to discover that today even among free speaking conservative Western historians,4 the United Kingdom and its allies are now understood as the aggressors. But it’s conventional knowledge. War is a ‘good’ but dirty business. The economic theme would have been kept out of focus for Baby Boomer and Generation X public school students.

Ontario was extremely careful with perceptions, to the point of mischaracterizing panel-selected textbooks in rejection letters to publishers, even after its supposed compliance with freedom of information regulations in 1960. And Circular 14, Ontario’s annual list of authorized textbooks, was nationally distributed.

One civil servant who recommended the book remembered McLung as Canada’s best known feminist in 20th Century’s first half. Not only was she anti-war and a suffragist but the author and her book were committed to prohibition, a fight she and others like her won in 1918.

Ontario reintroduced sales again in 1927, monopolizing the trade, but towns and cities remained remained dry long afterwards. My hometown Owen Sound remained dry until the 1970s, Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood until the 1990s. McClung’s book included some frightening alcohol-related statistics. “Three thousand women were killed in the United States in one year by their own husbands who were under the influence of liquor…

…Ten families whose parents were both drinkers were compared with ten families whose parents were both abstainers, and it was found that the drinking parents had out of their fifty-seven children only ten that were normal, while the non-drinking parents, out of their sixty-one children, had fifty-four normal children and only seven that were abnormal in any way.”5  

McClung discussed international war with the same destructive language. “Life is warfare – not one set of human beings warring upon other human beings – that is murder, no matter by what euphonious name it may be called.”

As odd as it may read now, the reprint’s introduction author Veronica Strong-Boag discussed how neither Canada nor Nellie McClung “developed a radical ideology”. Strong-Boag called McClung’s writing Victorian. Prime Minister McKenzie King even appointed this author of fifteen book as a League of Nations delegate in 1938. Yet with the cheapening of conversational English over more than half a century, just to the 1970s, McClung’s words may have appeared extreme, and could have been effective. Ontario’s concern isn’t hugely surprising.

1. Officially Canadian Mockingbird launches February 15, 2024 even if Amazon still lists it as December 1, 2023.
2. Education Officer Babion, June 2, 1975; then rejected for poor binding, American printing November 6, 1975 by Officer Doris.

3. Berger, Carl. Introduction to Conscription 1917: Essays by A.M. Williams [and others].  University of Toronto Press, 1969.
4. Granatstein, Jack Lawrence. November 11: Did Vimy Ridge Matter? 1914-1918: The Making of the Modern World. Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, Toronto. November 11, 2013. Thanks to Prof Granatstein, author of the popular 1998 Who Killed Canadian History among many other titles, for his assistance with my investigation of censorship and historical permissibility by explaining one challenge he experienced as a younger historian.
5. McClung, Nellie. (1972, orig. 1915). In Times Like These. University of Toronto Press,  p.99 and 101.
6. Ibid.

*Updated November 14, 2023