I Guess You Had to Be There:

The Dirty Thirties

and Fighting Forties

Science fiction fans appeared in Canada as early as anywhere else; there are letters and mentions of Canadians in pulps and fanzines in the mid-1930s; but Canadian fans were few and far between until the 1940s. Contacts between Canadian fans in different provinces used to be intermittent.

Let’s face it. Canada is the fringe of settlement, in North America. If you see a map describing population density and distribution – or, hell, just look at a high-altitude view of the hemisphere, by night – you notice immediately that settlement and city lights thin out abruptly, as your eye tracks northward from the U.S. border. The cities are strung out mostly along that border, and fan groups show up in population centres, if they appear at all.

SF fandom, in Canada as elsewhere, is a minority interest and a function of the general population. You will find at least a few fans, and probably several SF clubs, in any population; but in any Canadian province the population centres are further apart, and may be smaller, than in any comparable area of the United States. For some fans, as in Manitoba or British Columbia, the nearest American conventions may be closer than the nearest Canadian ones. It is helpful to know that Winnipeg, Manitoba is 571 km away from Regina, Saskatchewan; 2099 km away from Toronto; and 206 km away from Brandon, in the same province. At the dawn of fandom, these were formidable distances.

Come to think of it, they’re not much less formidable distances today.

Taral Wayne, a former fan in the 1970s and 80s, still living in Toronto, once commented that fans in North America tended to travel to conventions within regional areas, such as the Northeast, Midwest, Southeast and Pacific Northwest; and several of these regions straddle the Canada-U.S. border.
(Personal correspondence, 1980s.)

I sometimes think the right parallel to draw to Canada is not the United States, but Australia. The difference is, the fringe of settlement tends to girdle the whole country, in Australia; and they don’t have an adjoining country next door, with ten times the population.

Based on the foregoing argument, you might well expect the first Canadian fan groups to appear in the biggest cities first: Montreal, and Toronto, followed in a few decades by Vancouver. This is almost what happened; but for some reason, fans of science fiction showed up rarely in Montreal, until the 1960s and 1970s.

Ottawa, Ontario is the capital of Canada, situated (like the U.S. capital) disproportionately far to the east of the country it governs, in the region of highest population density. Part of the boundary between Ontario and Quebec is the Ottawa River, which divides Ottawa from Hull, Quebec. Ottawa is situated 399 km away from Toronto, 190 km away from Montreal, and 460 km away from Quebec City.

Vancouver by the 1960s was a Pacific port city of over 1 million people (roughly half the population of B.C.) Greater Vancouver incorporates several smaller cities, two universities (Simon Fraser University, and the University of British Columbia), and some colleges, e.g. Langara and Capilano. This provides a fairly large fan population. Shipping, manufacturing industries and services for a large population mean a diversified economic base, even in the worst of times. In terms of attitude and anthropological culture, B.C. in general and the Lower Mainland in particular bear the reputation Southern California bears in the U.S.

I think fannish contacts have tended to remain intermittent between the Maritimes and the rest of Canadian fandom. Canadians say "the Maritimes" to lump together Newfoundland, Labrador, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia; but my information on fanhistory in the Maritimes is set almost entirely in Halifax and its environs, with occasional mention of places and events in New Brunswick. Wayne Chisholm, a former Halifax resident and congoer now living in Vancouver, describes the population centre around Halifax as a gathering of 200,000 people. The conventions in the area draw a few hundred people each. Acadia University (appearing later in this fanhistory) is about an hour's drive away from Halifax in the Annapolis Valley.

Boston, one of the nearest American population centres, is about 14 to 18 hours' drive away; Toronto is more like 24 hours' drive.

The Dark Backward and Abysm of Time

Perhaps the earliest mention of any single fan in Canada is a brief note about one Allis Villete of Alberta, who wrote to Fantasy Magazine in 1934. But many years later, Dale Speirs wrote in his fanzine Opuntia that Villete might in fact have been a hoax fan — possibly a nom de plume of Forrest J. Ackerman.
(Harry Warner Jr., All Our Yesterdays; Dale Speirs, "Allis Don't Live Here Anymore", Opuntia 19, May 1994.)

Vancouver’s fanhistory is not really lost in the mists of time, but its early documentation is fragmented. The earliest, and rather isolated, mention of Vancouver is in Donald A. Wollheim’s 1936 report in Astounding, on a fan magazine called The Canadian Science Fiction Fan ... which has not been attested by any other source.

Science Fiction and Life

A number of people who lived through these decades recall the announcement of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with a sense almost as of science fiction invading reality. But this process had been going on for a long time, notably with the defeat of polio by the Salk vaccine. Until then, summer every year had been attended by the deaths of hundreds of children, in every city.

Nils Helmer Frome

Early (and isolated) fans in B.C. include Nils Helmer Frome, a fanartist and fanpublisher who moved around southwestern British Columbia from 1936 to 1958, and Bob Gibson, who did on-stencil covers and fillos for Les Croutch’s Light (alternating with John Cockcroft). Frome published two editions of Supramundane Stories out of Fraser Mills, in 1937 and 1938, with an impressive roster of contributors; and he did an issue of Fantasy Pictorial for the May 1938 First National SF Convention in Newark, N.J., Frome is thus the first Canadian whom we know to have published an SF zine.
(Warner, All Our Yesterdays, p. 174.)

In 1946 Bob Gibson moved from B.C. to Kapuskasing, Ontario. Gibson gafiated before 1948, but was GoH at ONOCon 1 (Calgary, 1985).

Frome is documented at some length in Sam Moskowitz’ 1989 Mossashuck Press monograph, “Howard Phillips Lovecraft and Nils Helmer Frome”. Michael Dann, a member of the British Columbia SF Association, looked up Frome’s family and wrote a Frome biography for fanzine publication. … It seems that Frome was not in contact with any organized fandom in his province.
(Michael Dann, “Nils Helmer Frome: Lost and Found”, New Canadian Fandom#6, January 1983.)

There have been rumours of a Vancouver club in the 40s; a friend in Victoria told me in the 1980s about attending meetings of a Vancouver SF club in the 1950s, which were also attended by Al Purdy (subsequently a well-known Canadian poet).

I thought this was probably the Hibited Men, mentioned in the August 1952 Amazing. But Browne is mentioned by Taral Wayne as leaving Toronto in 1954.
(Taral Wayne, “Same As It Ever Was: Toronto Fandom 1940-1980” [unpublished, 1981].)

Toronto Fandom: Little Acorns

Most of the early Canadian fanactivity on record occurred in Toronto. Once again, this may be explained by demographics: Toronto was one of the largest cities in Canada, earlier than most other population centres in Canada.

(Come to that, Montreal was one of the oldest cities in North America, therefore one of the largest in Canada; so why, I ask myself, did fanactivity there lag behind other Canadian cities? I’ll return to this issue in the chapter on the 1970s.)

Taral Wayne writes:

The immediate origin of Toronto fandom was a small number of SF readers at St. Andrews Boys College in Aurora. Fred Hurter Jr. published the club organ, Censored, for four issues before moving to Montreal with some of the others. “Beak” [Joseph] Taylor went to Toronto instead, where he met with Al Betts, John Mason and others, and formed a loose fan community. Beak had already started a zine at St. Andrews called Eight Ball. With the fourth issue, however, he changed the name to Canadian Fandom, and thus started the first continuing tradition in Canadian fan history.
(Taral Wayne, “Same As It Ever Was: Toronto Fandom 1940-1980” [unpublished, 1981].)
Leslie Croutch (1915-1969)

Leslie Croutch, of Parry Sound, Ontario, was one of the longest-publishing fanzine editors in fandom. A self-employed radio and television repairman working from his home, he published Light from Parry Sound for over three decades, starting in 1941. Croutch was also an aspiring SF writer, a congoer, and active in the early National Fantasy Fan Federation. He visited friends in Toronto such as the writer A.E. van Vogt and the fans who hosted the first Worldcon in Canada.

Les began circulating a trade list called Croutch Magazine Mart News, which ran for 107 issues as a carbon paper throwaway. As of issue 108, though, Les changed the name to Light and the numbering to match, it having evolved into a regular zine for FAPA. Les, too, became a satellite of the Toronto group.
(Taral Wayne, “Same As It Ever Was: Toronto Fandom 1940-1980” [unpublished, 1981].)
Canadian Fandom
The early Canadian Fandoms were rather [more] like magazines than fanzines. This was 1943, and most fanzines were [like that]. A typical issue ran fiction, poetry, collector's ads, serious articles on SF and science, and was headed by businesslike editorials. There was incipient fannishness, but it would be a few years coming out of the closet. Frome, in Vancouver, and Croutch, in Parry Sound, were important contributors, as were some of the people Beak had met in Toronto. In a very real way, Canadian Fandom was Toronto fandom, in that early time. Social gatherings were at Beak's, and rarely exceeded four or five, including Croutch.

Toronto fans were subscribers to the zine, and wrote letters ... There was no club and no meetings. …

The St. Andrews bunch that went with Hurter to Montreal reformed around the McGill campus [in Montreal] in 1946, and two years later, managed to produce one revival issue of Censored. Hurter and Moe Diner both contributed regularly to Canadian Fandom in spite of their ineffectiveness as a fan group in Montreal, visiting Toronto when they could. Late additions to Toronto fandom in this first period were Bill Grant and Ned McKeown. Many of the earliest names associated with Canadian Fandom were already disappearing.
(Taral Wayne, “Same As It Ever Was: Toronto Fandom 1940-1980” [unpublished, 1981].)

Taral’s perspective is that Toronto dominated Canada’s fandom as there was no fandom elsewhere, from the 1940s onward, apart from the person of Les Croutch in Parry Sound. In fact, Taral asserts, Toronto dominated Canadian fandom well into the 1970s. Even granting the appearance of short-lived clubs in various cities, and Vancouver fan groups in the 1950s and late 1960s, Taral has a point. Beak Taylor, and Al Betts, and John Mason would get together, sometimes with Les Croutch; and yet, as noted once in Can Fan, no more than six Toronto fans ever assembled in one place. Can Fan #7’s subscription list ran to 25 members.

Taral goes on to mention, in his first “Same As It Ever Was” column in New Canadian Fandom, that most of these names are totally obscure, but a few ring a bell, as collectors. Some of them, collectors who would do anything to be the sole possessor of collectible items; some of them, members of the S&M/fetish subculture.

The Derelicts, or Derelict Insurgents, were a later generation of fans, including Boyd Raeburn, Ron Kidder, Gerald Stewart, Joseph "Beak" Taylor, Ed McKeown, John Millard and Don Hutchison; they were known for their interest in the Beat poets, jazz, fast cars and leather jackets, as well as for being fanzine editors. (Don Hutchison is now editor of Northern Frights, an annual Canadian anthology of dark fantasy.)

Torcon (I)/Worldcon 6 (1948)

In 1947 [Beak Taylor] and McKeown went to the Worldcon in Philadelphia. There they met an older fan named John Millard, who had been discharged from the RCAF in the previous year. He had been at the Chicago Worldcon in 1940, so he counted as an old-time fan experienced in the ways of cons, compared to the other two Canadians. On the spur of the moment, McKeown proposed that Toronto bid for the next Worldcon. There was some demurral that Toronto fans were too disorganized, but Taylor and Millard were convinced, and John announced the bid. In those days, Worldcons were decided by caucus, and the bid was no sooner announced than the next year's con was awarded to the Torontonians. The bid was brought back to astonish the homebodies; then, for the next ten months, Beak and Ted and John poured themselves into their preparations. Organized for the first time into frequent meetings, the committee was nicknamed "the Derelicts".
(Taral Wayne, “Same As It Ever Was: Toronto Fandom 1940-1980” [unpublished, 1981].)
Beak Taylor, Grant Millard and Ned McKeown bid for the 6th Worldcon to be held in Toronto, where it was held July 3-5, 1948. Guest of Honour was Robert Bloch, and Fan Guest of Honour was Bob Tucker. Attendance was something under 200, which was usual for Worldcons at that time.

The first Canadian Worldcon was held in the Purdy Rai studios, 55 Queen Street East, Toronto, on July 3rd through 5th, 1948. The studio was a small red brick building, probably two stories high, with the auditorium on the second story, remembers John Millard. The programming was rather off the cuff, though there were planned speeches, and a few tables of saleable art, magazines, and other collector's items were placed around the walls of one room as an innovation. The first huckster's room of a sort. Bob Tucker, as fan guest, was another invention of the Torcon, and he published a special edition of Le Zombie for the occasion. When the con was over, Toronto fandom went instantly somnambulant, producing a Torcon memory book in a gigantic edition of 200 as a last gasp. Beak Taylor handed over the reins of Canadian Fandom to McKeown, who delayed the next issue for a year, and gave up in turn after a second issue, more than two years later. …

Toronto fandom and the Derelicts ceased to exist in 1949. McKeown went to Cinvention in 1949, and Millard continued to attend Worldcons, but Toronto was suffering from the general malaise that was later described as the death of Fifth Fandom. Interest revived for the first Midwestcon, but early Toronto fandom was too far gone and had drifted away from SF one or two years later.
(Taral Wayne, “Same As It Ever Was: Toronto Fandom 1940-1980” [unpublished, 1981].)