Skip to Main Content
Conscience and History

Conscience and History: A Memoir

Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 215
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Conscience and History
    Book Description:

    Conscience and History is a thought-provoking personal look at the ethical questions Canadians have faced in the past fifty years written by one of our leading historians.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7323-6
    Subjects: History, Education

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-2)

    This memoir was incomplete when Kenneth McNaught died in 1997. He had been working on the story of his life for some time, but had only thirteen chapters completed and a fourteenth under way. The manuscript covered the years from his birth, in 1918, to the early 1970s. It was handwritten in pencil, difficult to transcribe, and full of abbreviations and short forms. Although elegantly written, it was clearly a first draft. Had he lived to complete his autobiography, Ken certainly would have made many alterations to the text.

    Even so, the prose flows splendidly and acerbically, as McNaught tells...


    • 1
      (pp. 3-8)

      Fashion now dictates a somewhat supercilious assessment of Old Toronto, a provincial town suffused with Orange bigotry, racial intolerance, prudish moralism, and a colonial frame of mind; a place where you could fire a cannon up Yonge Street on Sunday and injure no one. All true, of course. Yet, like the notion that progress is inevitable, this myopic recollection needs much closer focusing, a more imaginative historical perspective.

      For someone born in 1918, the 1920s and 1930s were full of colour and excitement. Toronto was the Queen City, second only to Montreal – that scandalous, corrupt home of a million...

    • 2
      (pp. 9-21)

      Next door to us on Sheldrake Boulevard in the 1920s, Dora Mavor Moore, by then a single parent, was bringing up her three sons. A bit further along the street lived Don Ritchie, who later published an evocative history of North Toronto. It was a quiet, secure community serviced by horse-drawn carts delivering everything from coal, ice, and bread to more interesting parcels from Eaton’s and Simpson’s. In winter, wheels gave way to sleigh-runners. Then we hauled toboggans and bob-sleds the block and a half to what seemed like mountain slopes in Sherwood Park.

      In 1922 my parents built a...

    • 3
      (pp. 22-36)

      The University of Toronto campus in the autumn of 1937 more than met my well-nourished expectations. The creeping leviathan of the 1950s and 1960s had not yet swallowed whole streets. For four years Bev and I went several times a week to the Lantern Tea Room – on Willcocks Street, where one of the ugliest of science buildings has now taken the place of old houses and lofty elms. Lunch could be had there for 25 or 30 cents.

      I very nearly registered at Trinity College, in the company of other Upper Canada College chaps. Inside the Trinity quadrangle, however,...

    • 4
      (pp. 37-44)

      While I was at Pickering I had travelled down to Baldwin House each Friday afternoon to attend Ralph Flenley’s graduate seminar in historiography. His seminar was much better than his undergraduate smothering of medieval Europe. I was invariably late and Flenley was invariably tolerant. A great many evenings at Borden I had spent reading – mostly in books ancillary to the historiography course. When I emerged into another wonderful Toronto autumn in September 1945 I had no lingering doubts about where I should head: right back to Baldwin House to enrol in the graduate history program. Despite what I knew...

    • 5
      (pp. 45-58)

      For the first three years at United, Tryggvi Oleson, Stewart Reid, and I shared a large overheated office on the second floor. This was pretty chummy. The ‘open concept’ gave little privacy for talking with students, and lots of scope for our own conversation. My weekly teaching included nine lecture hours and four or five tutorials. I lectured in the European survey course, Canadian, and a wildly improbable History of the Americas. Course descriptions and examinations were arranged jointly with the historians at the University of Manitoba in Fort Garry, just south of the city – with which United was...

    • 6
      (pp. 59-72)

      Smell has much to do with a sense of place. Dry prairie air fails to carry the wonderful aromas of spring and summer. Each time we came east and drew in the moist air of the Great Lakes, perfumed and slightly hazy, we felt easier, at home. Sometimes we tried to resist the comparison – but always failed.

      In Toronto we stayed several weeks at Blythwood before renting a second-floor apartment in an old house on Cottingham Street for the summer. In the lilac-filled morning of 25 May I made my way to the place of execution – a dignified...

    • 7
      (pp. 73-88)

      As Winnipeg autumns go, which is pretty damn fast, that of 1952 seemed propitious. Two young men arrived from the East; I knew at once they would shoulder academic muskets on the banks of the Red.

      Richard Stingle came to teach English. The black Scot in Dick swamped his drops of German blood. Growing up in Timmins and Kirkland Lake had hardened his heart against most bosses; he had fought for unions and the CCF in rowdy mining towns, and then put himself through the University of Toronto. At Victoria College, Northrop Frye captured him with myth and archetype –...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 8
      (pp. 89-100)

      In the summer of 1955 Principal Graham died at his summer retreat on Lake Simcoe. We had never felt close to the Grahams, though we admired his struggles to wrench from the Board of Regents greater efforts in raising funds for a church college whose academic standards Graham wished always to advance. His tolerance of our assertive idiosyncrasies was remarkable, but not infinite. A friend reported telling him of my confirmation and of his response: ‘Oh, well, he’ll be all right, then.’

      Perhaps long immersion in Old Testament study had led Graham to place too high a value on kinship...

    • 9
      (pp. 101-116)

      On 2 July 1958 United’s Board of Regents fired Harry Crowe. My first intimation of what came to be known as the Crowe case (I’ve always referred to it, more accurately, as the Lockhart case) had come to my office on 16 April when Viljo Packer brought in a letter that Harry had written to him on 14 March. I begin with this incident because Harry’s letter was, and remained, the only crucialdocumentin an ugly sequence of actions, charges, and countercharges that eventually stirred academics across the country and breathed vigour into the fledgling Canadian Association of University...

    • 10
      (pp. 117-132)

      Winnipeg looked so welcoming. The four airline attendants who rented 739 for the summer had left it spotless. Puny but prolific elms already spoke of autumn; the front lawn glistened with golden leaves. But evening gatherings automatically segregated themselves, the conversational focus predictable. A year later, in darkest Westmount, Frank Scott asked Bev what it had all been like. She answered, ‘I never felt more alive.’ I guess. There was certainly much electricity surging through the halls of old United as we girded our loins to face students and colleagues – both groups deeply divided. Two letters gave me heart...

    • 11
      (pp. 133-150)

      December had been the cruellest month. As the days shortened, we tried to conjure up the future; trepidation set in. Talking with Jack Clough at St Luke’s helped a great deal, even if his summary secular conclusion surprised me: ‘Ken, you were right; no gentleman reads another person’s letters.’ Spontaneous warmth came from students and from academics whom we scarcely knew. That warmth, added to the support of our cross-fertilized circles of close friends, eased our worries while deepening the emotional ambivalence as we prepared to leave Winnipeg for good. When we drove down the Pembina highway for the last...

    • 12
      (pp. 151-167)

      A kind of contrapuntal quality gave zest to the 1960s – as, I suppose, it had all along. I had become pretty well pegged as a ‘radical,’ academic and political, yet I attended the Anglican Church, ‘the Tory Party at prayer.’ I wrote for the ‘businessmen’s magazine,’ yet belonged briefly to a propaganda group that turned out to be controlled by Trotskyites. My political hero in the first half of the decade was Tommy Douglas, yet I supported the unstable Hazen Argue for leadership of the NDP. In mid-decade I flirted incautiously with the New Left and ‘student power’ –...

    • 13
      (pp. 168-183)

      After teaching for sixteen years, I had not had a sabbatical. Toronto generously offered me one after teaching there for only four years – in 1963. I had a project ready, one that grew directly out of my graduate seminars. I proposed to spend a year in London searching out correspondence between British and American socialists and progressives. I had in mind documenting transatlantic lines of influence in the thinking and politics of the left of centre. When collated with similar research in the United States and Canada, I hoped to shed some light on the curious phenomenon that the...

    • 14
      (pp. 184-194)

      My position in the Department of History depended on a number of variables: length of my connection with the department and with the chair; the number of courses, students, and theses I dealt with; and my relations with my colleagues. My long connection with the department was of no particular advantage; at least half a dozen others equalled it, and, in any case, as the numbers exploded in the 1960s and 1970s this was a minor factor. ‘Old guards’ are never popular. A number of the new American appointments considered that our course structure and teaching method were out of...

  5. Postscript Kenneth W. McNaught: Untypical Professor
    (pp. 195-198)

    Today we have come together to celebrate and commemorate the life of Kenneth McNaught, untypical professor. Nearly forty-seven years ago, in the September following the great Winnipeg flood of 1950, I first met Professor McNaught. During the following decades I came to recognize him as a person of quite remarkable virtues and talents: teacher, historian, husband, father, acerbic commentator, accomplished water-colourist, carpenter, wicked martini mixer, sailor, teller of shaggy dog stories, wit, and much more. But for me and many others here, including some from those early Winnipeg years, he was always teacher, supporter, colleague, and, above all, friend and...

  6. Index
    (pp. 199-202)