"Keep Communism out of Our Schools": Cold War Anti-Communism at the Toronto Board of Education, 1948-1951

By Clarke, Frank K. | Labour/Le Travail, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

"Keep Communism out of Our Schools": Cold War Anti-Communism at the Toronto Board of Education, 1948-1951


Clarke, Frank K., Labour/Le Travail


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. …

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