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A Noble Cause Betrayed ... but Hope Lives On
Pages from a Political Life, by John Boyd

Chapter 1d

Elected trustee and join army

On Jan. 1, 1944, I was elected to the Toronto Board of Education, along with Edna Ryerson. That was in the heyday of the Party's electoral victories in Toronto, when Salsberg and MacLeod and Stewart Smith were elected. But I left the Board in mid-term (actually late spring) to join the army. That was by a decision of the Party.

At my request I was assigned to the Signal Corps„ which took me to Vimy, the Permanent army camp in Kingston, Ontario. There I completed my basic training, following which I was promoted to lance-corporal and then corporal. One of the chaps who was in basic training with me at the time was Jack Shadbolt, who eventually became a renowned Canadian artist.

Soon after completing my basic training, I had an interesting experience. I was called into the Army Examiner's office (until then I didn't even know what an army examiner was), who told me, "Corporal Boyd, you have to leave Vimy, you have to leave Signals." I said, "Why?" And he replied, "I'm not at liberty to tell you why, but you have to go." When I asked where to, he said, "Well, you're too old for infantry and your category is too high for the medical corps, so you have to go either into the Artillery or the Armoured Corps (tanks), but not its reconnaissance section." He had his papers opened up on the desk in front of him and while he was talking I could see the words "Signalman Boyd" and "non-sensitive" underlined in red. Having worked in printshops, I was quite adept at reading upside down and quickly put two and two together, but pretended I didn't know. He said, "You have to go into a non-sensitive unit." When I asked, "Why?" he again replied, "I'm not at liberty to tell you." So I said, "I know why; it's because of my politics." To which he said, "Well, that can be your interpretation." When I asked when I had to go, he said, "Immediately." And when I asked, "To whom can I protest?" he replied, "In the army you can't protest, you can complain." So I said, "Well, who do I complain to?" And he said, "To the Adjutant-General in Ottawa." "But that'll take time," I said. "Regrettably, yes," he said, "but you have to go."

Saved by a case of measles

Somewhat despondent, I went back to my hut and, lo and behold, found out that the fellow in the bunk next to me had the measles, which meant that the entire hut of some 40 men had to be quarantined for six weeks. Talk about luck! So I sat down and wrote a long letter — a really long letter — to the Adjutant-General in Ottawa. I explained that I had never ever been arrested, never contravened any laws, that I was elected to the Toronto Board of Education, but left it to join the army. I said I knew that I was being transferred because of my politics, but could not understand the reasoning behind it. Without naming names, I said that I knew of other members of the Communist Party, some of whom had even been interned, who served in Signals in that very camp and were subsequently sent overseas. I said I preferred to stay in Signal Corps. Well, before the quarantine was over, the examiner called me in again and told me I could stay.

It also happened that while I was there I was in close contact with Carl Birchard and Sid Dillick, who were in the Medical Corps and stationed in nearby Kingston. We used to meet once in a while over a couple of beers in a pub or restaurant. When I told them about my experience with the army examiner, they said that they had access to records and would find out what it was all about. When they did, they learned that besides all the data about my Party and ULFTA activities, the files also contained the information that my father had been arrested in 1918 for anti-war work, sentenced to three years in jail, then granted a suspended sentence on condition that he leave the province.

Carl and Sid explained my particular experience this way: documents of all new recruits go to the RCMP, where there may be as many as forty or fifty officers processing them. If your document happens to go to a fellow who's somewhat progressive or liberal-minded, you're okay. But if it's handled by some bigoted right-wing jerk, you've had it. And nobody there is likely to question or review that decision or take your side. Anyway, I was glad to know I wasn't going to be sent to Camp Petawawa, where the Royal Canadian Artillery was stationed.

Editor of army magazine

There was yet another unusual thing that happened to me there. Signal Corps had a monthly magazine called The Signalman, which had been the organ of the permanent force there since the 1920s. It was a very formal, stuffy type of publication, a hold-over from the spit-and-polish days of the peacetime army. It was sold once a month on pay parade, where the soldiers were asked to pay twenty-five cents for it. Some bought it, but many didn't bother. At the time, it was being edited by a chap who I later found out had been a member of the NDP. But he was also an alcoholic, and apparently one morning they found him dead drunk in the print-shop in Kingston while putting an issue to bed. So they fired him. Immediately there was a posting that they needed an editor for the Signalman and asking those with journalistic experience to apply. So I did. One of the chaps in line with me, waiting to be interviewed, was Dennis Braithwaite, who subsequently was a columnist for the Toronto Telegram. But I was called before him. Whether he was interviewed after me I don't know, but I got the job.

So I took over the editorship of the Signalman and held that post until I got discharged from the army. I revamped the magazine, brightened it up, put a lot of risque jokes and cartoons in it. A very able cartoonist in the camp created a character we called the Vimy Wolf, a girl-chasing wolf in a soldier's uniform, who proved to be very popular and got the soldiers buying the magazine. But I also put in some good serious editorials about the war and about postwar issues.

"He's a Communist!"

At one point, I was told that at a meeting in the officers' mess, a major raised the matter of the magazine and said: "I hear that the Signalman is being edited by a Communist. I think we should get rid of him." To which the camp commandant, a Col. Malek, said, "I don't give a damn if he is a Communist. He's doing a good job; the magazine has never been as popular even in peacetime. As long as he's not bringing politics into it, it's all right with me."

My headquarters for the magazine was the camp library, and because I had a lot of time on my hands I launched a project that turned out to be very popular. Every day at noon I put up a large sheet of newsprint on the wall, just near the entrance to the corporals' and sergeants' messes, on which, with a marker, I printed out the day's news briefs from the war front and from Canada. I knew that most of the fellows didn't read newspapers or even listen to the news on the radio. Many of them didn't know what the hell was going on in the world. That project, too, lasted till I was discharged.

In 1945, while I was in Kingston, my son Kim was born in Toronto. I couldn't be there for his birth, but saw him soon after on my next weekend leave.

Before I left the army, I had dreamed of not going back into full-time work in the Party. I wanted to get into the commercial art field and work in the Party only in my spare time, as others did. But it was an idle hope; I was roped back in very quickly. The Party at that time decided to propagate 16 mm. Soviet films, for which they established a company called New World Films, making me its manager. We showed the films in different ethnic halls and in the odd union hall.

A difficult choice

On my return from the army, I became active in the Ukrainian field again, in my spare time. At one point, I was asked to edit an English section in the Ukrainian paper for the Canadian-born; from half to two-thirds of a page in large format. I put out several issues. Apparently they were grooming me to become editor of a new paper, the Ukrainian Canadian, they were planning to put out. But I didn't know that, they didn't tell me, because I wasn't part of the leadership then.

In 1946, the Party decided to launch a daily paper, the Daily Tribune, which presented a new problem. Jack Stewart was assigned to edit it, and when picking the new staff he wanted me on it. When the Ukrainians heard about it, they said, "No, we want him." This is when I found out they wanted me to be editor of the new paper. This put me in a bind. The Ukrainian and Party leaders argued about it, again, as on previous occasions, without my participation, and were dead-locked. Finally John Boychuk, in his usual sly way, suggested they leave it to me to decide. Which, as I said, put me in a dilemma. I was very intrigued by the idea of working on a daily newspaper. Don't forget, this was in the heyday of the Party's activity, and we didn't know what the future was going to bring. So I opted for the Party paper. The Ukrainians never forgave me for that.

A learning experience

Working on the daily was a wonderful learning experience. Jack Stewart had been one of the editors of the Toronto Star Weekly, so I learned a great deal from him. We had a great time planning the paper, creating a style book, putting out the first issue, and so on. But the paper lasted only six months. This was the time of the Gouzenko exposure and Churchill's speech in Fulton, Missouri, which marked the beginning of the Cold War. But I continued on the editorial staff of the weekly paper through 1947. On Jan. 1, 1947, I was again elected to the Board of Education, along with Edna Ryerson. But when I ran again a year later, I was defeated, and only Edna got in.

In the spring of 1948, the Party organized a six-month political school, which was held near Sudbury, and I was one of those chosen to attend it.

Q. On the topic of Party schools. You attended an earlier one. I've seen some of the subjects taught at the later ones, and they seemed to be rote repetitions of Stalin. How do you compare them?

I believe I can make a comparison, although the two schools were 18 years apart. The Ukrainian school, as I mentioned earlier, was a six-month course led solely by Matthew Popowich, who was a very able and a very interesting lecturer. We did study Ukrainian grammar and the history and geography of Ukraine, but the rest was pretty well all on politics. There weren't very many text-books from the Soviet Union then, so we studied from those that were available in Canada. In any case, Popowich knew enough about these topics to acquaint us with the works of Marx and Engels and some of the writings of Lenin.

The Party school in 1948 was led by Stanley Ryerson, Leslie Morris and Tim Buck. It was attended by a dozen or more younger Party members, most of whom had just served in the army during the war. It was really a course to train a pleiad of new Party leaders for the post-war period. It included people like

Bill Ross, Bert Whyte, Norman Penner, Sam Walsh, Nigel Morgan, Maurice Rush, Danielle Cousinier, Leah Roback, Bill Tuomi, Terry Levis, and several others. We studied mainly from the textbooks History of the CPSU and Marxism-Leninism (both of which had been authored by Stalin) and books by Marx and Engels, including the Communist Manifesto. We also spent some time on the history and problems of trade unionism and on Communist Party policies.

Q. At which one do you feel you learned more?

Without a doubt, at the 1948 school. The subjects were more far-ranging and the quality of instruction was far superior. Ryerson was a very good teacher. Buck taught Leninism, and he was very good, too, largely because of his phenomenal memory, which enabled him to know his subject. I recall one humorous incident. During one of his lectures, he was quoting from memory and said, "Lenin in such and such a chapter said so and so." And Bert Whyte, being the irreverent smart-ass he was, asked: "What page?" We all laughed, but Buck said, "Just a minute, it'll come to me," and a few minutes later he said, "It was on page 192, in the bottom paragraph." He had this awesome photographic memory, as did Peter Krawchuk.

Secretary of Slav Committee

It was in the fall of 1948 that, under the direction of the Party, the Canadian Slav Committee was organized and I was appointed executive secretary. This was a federated body made up of representatives of eight left-wing and Party-controlled ethnic organizations: Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Slovak, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Yugoslav and Carpatho-Russian. This was a national body, but there were also local committees, except that they did not have paid secretaries.

It was a big movement, born during the euphoria of victory in the war and the part played in it by the Soviet Union. The Ukrainian and Russian left-wing organizations were particularly upbeat and at the height of their successes. I must say, however, that I had mixed feelings about it. I was all for the unity of the Slav people, but as a Communist I also wondered why this was confined to the Slays, why others were not included, especially in Canada, where the Party led fairly strong Finnish, Jewish and Hungarian organizations. Why were they not included? It bothered me a bit. But I went along with the idea, since it was Slav unity that helped to win the war. Much later, I realized,and documents have since shown, that this was all on the instructions of Moscow. There was a Slav committee in Moscow and in each of the Slavic countries. It was all a part of Stalin's overall plans in the event of another war. He wanted Slav unity — just in case.

Concerts and folk art

I went into this new assignment with both feet. It was a very successful venture, exciting and pleasant because it had to do with the songs, music, dances and culture of all the Slavic peoples. Each of the eight participating organizations contributed to the financing of its operation. This consisted mainly of my salary as executive secretary and office expenses. Whatever functions were undertaken — concerts and so on —were likewise covered by the organizations. We organized huge concerts in Massey Hall, and when that proved not big enough, held one at the CNE Coliseum. We also organized huge all-Slav picnics and an exhibit of Slavic folk art acquired from the Slav countries — embroidery, ceramics and graphic art — which we eventually took on a tour across the country. We also held a large all-Slav Congress to which representatives from the Slavic countries were invited. Some of them were refused visas and therefore could not attend. I should add that there was a similar movement launched in the United States and an American Slav Congress held.

In the spring of 1949, our son Zane was born.

[ Continued ... ]

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