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THE ISSUES FACING the candidates for election to the 1948 Toronto Board of Education -- school renovations, hot lunches for students, sex education, teacher salaries, and comic books in the schools -- seemed far removed from the West's worsening relations with the Soviet Union. But one candidate was determined to remind voters that what was taking place overseas was much closer to their communities than they realized. Harold Menzies, a realtor and candidate for one of the two Trustee spots in Ward Five, distributed a campaign blotter urging voters to "Keep Communism Out of Our Schools." The blotter depicted "The Looter," a Karl Marx-like figure destroying Toronto schools and scooping up books with such titles as "Our Way of Life." Appealing to voters to "remember" Poland, Yugoslavia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia -- forcefully acquired Soviet satellite states -- the implication was clear that the same fate could befall Canada. "Don't be apathetic," the blotter warned, "Your Innocent Children's Future Depends on YOUR VOTE." The campaign document implied that the other Ward Five candidates, John Boyd and Edna Ryerson, were Communists whereas Menzies proclaimed himself as "The Man Who Sees Danger in Communism" and the "Only Candidate Not a Communist." (1) Menzies was not unknown to school Board voters, having served on the
Board as a Trustee from 1932-33, and again from 1938-42, including a year as Chair in 1941. Opposition to Communism was Menzies' reason for running again for the School Board: "I feel that our young people should not be subjected to its [Communism's] doctrines through representation on the Board of Education." (2) At a time when Gold War tensions were escalating worldwide, and when the Gouzenko affair revealed less than two years earlier that Communists had infiltrated the federal civil service, Menzies' message resonated with voters, who returned him handily to the School Board.3 Ironically, the other Trustee elected in Ward Five was Edna Ryerson, a Communist who was re-elected to her fourth term. A former office worker, Ryerson spent the war editing Searchlight, the publication of the Communist-led Canadian Seamen's Union, and continued in the position until a year after she was elected to the Board for the first time in 1945 at age 25. (4) Over the next few years, Menzies and Ryerson were dominant figures as Cold War tensions escalated at the Board.
While there is a growing body of scholarship on anti-Communism at the local level, Canadian historians have focused mainly upon the actions of the federal and provincial governments in their analyses of anti-Communism in Canada. (5) But the Cold War and the tensions associated with it also took place at the local level. Municipalities, school boards, churches, private associations, and even Arts organizations were watchful of potential Communist infiltration within their ranks. Local authorities were often as vigilant as the federal government in screening prospective employees, or banning Communists outright within the scope of their jurisdiction. Recent studies suggest that local institutions were crucial in achieving what one author calls "a pervasive pro-Cold War public opinion." (6) This paper attempts to broaden the understanding of the importance of local anti-Communism to the history of the Cold War by looking at the efforts of one local institution, the Toronto Board of Education, and how its policie s sought to uphold a Cold War anti-Communist consensus for new generations.
Menzies did not wait long to establish his anti-Communist credentials. At the Board meeting of 18 March 1948, Menzies, seconded by Trustee Isabel Ross, introduced a hard-line anti-Communist motion:
Whereas it has been the policy of the Board of Education to allow recognized political groups to hold meetings in school buildings, and whereas it is deemed inadvisable to countenance the spreading of the Communist doctrine, Be it hereby resolved that hereafter no individual, group, or body which is part of, or associated with, the Communist movement be granted the use of any building under the jurisdiction of the Board of Education for the City of Toronto. (7)
Menzies' motion set off a heated debate, with both defenders and detractors weighing in. Trustee C.R. Conquergood expressed his support for the motion: "Communist doctrine is poison. In my judgement it destroys normal and spiritual values. Children should be kept as far away as possible from that poison." (8) Trustee Ross, who seconded the motion, agreed, saying it was her duty "to oppose any movement which denies moral and spiritual value." (9) Saying he was "no friend of communism," Trustee Blair Laing, a former art dealer who was elected to the Board in 1944, expressed concern that Menzies' motion would only drive the Communists underground where they would spread "their ruthless propaganda," to which Trustee A.J. Skeans replied: "If we don't watch out the Communists will drive us underground." (10) Schools were available to "loyal and responsible citizens," said Trustee Harold Male, "but the Communists are not loyal. The Communist party is really a fifth column masking under a cloak of citizenship for its own ends." (11) Trustee Albert Crane agreed, saying he had a "chat" with an executive officer of the Communists, whom he did not identify, "and it convinced me that there is a serious menace in our immediate vicinity. If there is Communist teaching in our schools we should do something about it." (12) Speaking in opposition to the motion, Trustee Herbert Orliffe, a former provincial secretary of the Ontario CCF from 1934 to 1939 said, "I don't like the Communists and the Communists don't like me," but "I am much disturbed by the resolution because of its effect on the principle of free speech and freedom of assembly... By using Communist methods in an effort to save democracy, we ourselves are destroying our own democracy and we become no better than Communists ourselves." (13)
Communist Trustee Edna Ryerson attacked the motion as one that "would make a hollow shell of democracy." She then attacked the Trustees who supported it: "I believe you are motivated by fear and cowardice; fear for those who might come to believe in the ideals that you oppose, and cowardice because of your methods of suppression." She ridiculed the part of the motion that denied use of school property to individuals who merely "associated" with Communists: "What about the other 19 members of this board? Do they not associate with me?" Curiously, Menzies, the sponsor of the motion, was silent until Ryerson remarked that he and Trustee Ross could "fight and lie as much as they like" in their fight against Communism, at which point he jumped to his feet: "Does Mrs. Ryerson say I lied?" "I meant Mrs. Ross," said Ryerson on the defensive. (14)
Not a single Trustee who spoke in favour of the motion presented evidence of a Communist threat to Toronto's schools, referring instead to a hypothetical threat. Nor did any of the Trustees in favour of the motion grasp the irony of suppressing freedom of speech and assembly while denouncing the tyranny of Communism. Despite the logic put forth by Trustees Orliffe and Ryerson -- albeit intemperately by Ryerson -- fear and loathing of Communism won the day as the motion passed easily by sixteen to four with only Ryerson, A.J. Brown, Laing, and Orliffe opposing. (15)
Press reaction to Menzies' motion was largely negative. On the same day the motion was debated, the Globe andMail found it "extraordinary" that Trustees who have run for office and were elected through the democratic process, "still do not know how it works." "If democracy means anything, it means the free play of all points of view." Reminding the Trustees that the Communist Party was still legally recognized, the Globe warned that the "tendency to suppress disagreeable points of view is the constant threat to the democratic system, and those who wish to do so, for whatever motives, are the enemies of freedom." In addition, "this sort of oppression" of minority opinion might actually help the Communists by giving them an "invaluable" talking point: "It is hard enough to fight their philosophy without handing them ready-to-use ammunition." (16) The Toronto Star criticized the motion's vague reference to the Communist "movement" that would not only exclude members of the Labour Progressive Party (Communist) fr om using school property, "but could be used to justify the refusal of a permit to any person or persons the board choose to label as associated with communism." Echoing the Globe's argument, the Star told its readers that the Labour Progressive Party was a legally recognized party and charged that the Trustees had passed a resolution "which goes far beyond party membership in the discrimination it sanctions." (17)
The press, however, was not unanimous on Menzies' motion. On the day the motion was scheduled for debate, the Toronto Telegram rejected as "untenable" the notion that the Communist Party of Canada was simply another political party or that Communists citizens with all of the rights of citizenship: "It is incredible that in this day any responsible or instructed person should be found to say that Communists are a minority whose rights must be protected by the system of government against which its efforts are directed." The Board was not being asked to debate "vague and academic theory of the meaning of democracy," but rather, whether or not the property it holds in trust for the "loyal" citizens of Toronto "is to be placed at the disposal of those who would destroy Canada as we know it." As far as the Telegram was concerned, "the question involves no issue as to freedom of speech." After all, "Communists are still free to speak where the law allows them," but school property should be off limits: "If the scho ol trustees are trustees for democracy they can do no other than accept the resolution moved by Trustees Menzies and Ross and deny the use of schools for subversive purposes." (18)
The Telegram's bizarre notion that civil liberties for Communists or other unpopular groups should be restricted to where the law "allows" them was not considered far-fetched at the time. Indeed, other voices argued that Communists were not worthy of rights at all. In a speech to the Toronto Police War Veterans Association the day before the Telegram editorial, Ontario Premier George Drew called upon Ottawa to ban the Communist Party outright because "a Communist is an agent of a foreign power sowing the seeds of discontent throughout the country." Drew even went so far as to call Joseph Salsberg and Alex MacLeod, the two Labour Progressive Party (LPP) MPPs in the Ontario legislature, a pair of rats: "and 'rat' is the only word to use because they are gnawing away at the foundations of our free society." (19) In the House of Commons, the various parties differed on whether the Communist Party of Canada should be banned--with the Conservatives and Social Credit in favour and the Liberals and CCF opposed -- bu t all agreed with Prime Minister Mackenzie King that "there is no menace in the world that is greater" than Communism. (20) Canadians, however, were willing to go further than their federal government with 68 per cent telling pollsters that they would support the outlawing of organizations that were "largely Communistic." (21)
The hardening of Canadian public opinion toward Communism was not only reflected in Menzies' motion but also in the unsympathetic treatment of opponents of the motion. Blair Laing, one of the four Trustees who voted against the motion, was angry that despite his opposition to Communism "its [sic] been brought to the attention of members of my family that I am a Communist because I voted against the resolution." (22) Laing's remarks were made during a meeting of the Board at which communications were considered from the LLP demanding an immediate repeal of the Board's resolution and from LPP MPPs, A.A MacLeod and Joe Salsberg, requesting the use of …