Pelham Edgar: A tribute
by C.H. Little
(First published in Canadian Author & Bookman, Volume 58, Number 4, Summer 1983)
I met Pelham Edgar about 1926 at the Toronto Zeta Psi fraternity to which we both belonged. He was then in his middle fifties, tall and spare, with piercing dark eyes under thick eyebrows and a wealth of lustrous black hair. His aquiline nose surmounted the largest black mustache I had ever seen – it was difficult not to stare at in fascination. Being enrolled at another college I had no occasion to sit in his classes, but we had common interests in Upper Canada College, and cricket of which he was inordinately fond.
Today, Pelham Edgar is recognized as a “uniquely important figure in Canadian letters” (to quote Northrop Frye). He was a great teacher of English, a renowned critic and a staunch supporter of Canadian writing who did not fall into the error that nationality atones for inferior quality. He edited five books, and his pamphlets, essays, and reviews were published by the dozen in the leading journals of the day.
Dr. Edgar’s most important achievement in human terms, however, is the Canadian Writers’ Foundation Incorporated (1945) which he created almost single handedly in 1931 as the Canadian Authors Foundation to provide a perpetual fund “for the benefit of any men or women of distinction in Canadian letters (or their dependents)…in destitution.”
The Governor-General, Lord Bessborough, became the first Patron at Dr. Edgar’s request. The energetic professor then toured Western Canada to explain the generous aims of the Foundation, a distinguished Board of Governors was appointed and, on the 20th of October, a public meeting was held in the University of Toronto’s Convocation Hall with Sir Robert Falconer in the chair, and a galaxy of important speakers.
Prospects seemed bright but the Depression blocked any meaningful progress. In short, the Foundation had fine ideals but no funds.
A cruel example of the inability to act was the case of Raymond Knister, one of Dr. Edgar’s former students. He had published through Ryerson two novels so well thought of that he was judged the most promising novelist Canada had produced in the Thomas Hardy style, and had edited for Macmillan Canadian Short Stories as well as having a number of his own in print. But markets dried up, a publishing house failed, he was reduced to penury and despair. When in May 1932, he asked the Foundation for a loan of $400 to tide him over until his new writings were sold, Dr. Edgar could not point to any organization in Canada capable of extending aid. Raymond Knister was drowned in August. He was only thirty-two. This tragic waste spurred Dr. Edgar and Dr. Lorne Pierce of Ryerson’s to a firm resolve that a permanent fund must be established, independent of appeals to the general public, for use in future emergencies.
Replying to Dr. Edgar’s pleas, Prime Minister Bennett allocated $2,500 in the 1933-34 Federal estimates as an annual grant to Sir Charles G. D. Roberts. This was paid until his death in 1943 but then ceased entirely. The next applicant of note was Miss Marshall Saunders, left alone and indigent at the age of eighty-two. Since no government funds were available, a public appeal was made in 1943. Although this appeal had some success, it was clear that the Foundation must have money on hand for the future. Dr. Edgar spearheaded a campaign to set up a permanent Endowment Fund. He received the first cheque for that purpose from the Earl of Athlone, then Governor General of Canada.
After Sir Robert Falconer’s death in 1943, Pelham Edgar succeeded him as President of the Foundation and led a movement to have it incorporated in 1945 and reorganized with the same basic ideals but much more practical ways of raising money and distributing help. At the time of his death in 1948 he could take pride in the realization of the beginning of his dream: an enduring national organization with reasonable and secure funds to sustain and encourage distinguished Canadian Writers in need.
Copyright © 1983, CAA
Raymond C. Hull: Benefactor
by Anthony Hyde and Suzanne Williams
Raymond C. Hull, born in England, came to Canada in 1947, and turned into something of an oddball among Canadian writers. Living in Vancouver, it wasn't till he was in his thirties that he became interested in writing, largely as the result of a summer creative writing course at UBC. For the next several years, he supported himself in a variety of odd jobs, continued to take courses in writing, and began submitting his work, mainly plays, to the CBC. Eventually he became successful enough to work full-time at writing, and helped formed the Gastown Players in Vancouver, to produce his own (and other people's) dramas -- mostly melodramas, such as The Drunkard and Wedded to a Villain. It was after one of these plays that he first met Laurence J. Peter, a Vancouver educationalist, and after talking about Hull's play, Peter casually mentioned his interest in the sociology of organizations. Hull was intrigued, kept Peter talking far into the night, and eventually collaborated with him on The Peter Principle, a huge bestseller. (The actual 'principle' is summed up in the quotation, 'In a hierarchy, an individual tends to rise to his level of incompetence.') Laurence Peter died in 1990, Hull in 1985.
On his death, Hull willed all his copyrights, publication rights and royalties on written works authored or co-authored by him -- including his share of royalties in The Peter Principle - to the Canadian Writer's Foundation. He also left the total residue of his estate to the tune of $500,000 to the Foundation, all of which have provided thousands of dollars in revenue from interest to the organization over the years. Other recipients of his estate were the University of British Columbia, Main Library, who received all his books, literary notes, literary correspondence, note books, documents, files and manuscripts of all his published and unpublished literary works, along with the right to benefit from any publishings there from for the purchase of books by Canadian writers; and $100,000 to the Vancouver Public Library to purchase books by Canadian writers.
The Hull bequest came with the stipulation that the money be invested and only the revenue generated from these investments could be used to help finance the Foundation's mission of assisting Canadian writers in need.
It is our hope that this story will encourage other bequests of either large sums of money to go to the endowment fund (investments) to help generate annual revenue to enable the Foundation to continue to provide financial assistance to Canadian writers in need, and/or any copyright, publication rights and royalties on written works authored or co-authored by the benefactor.
Please see the Donation Information page for information on donating to this worthy program. Tax receipts are issued for all donations, bequests, and in memoriam tributes.