Sunday, February 10, 2013 |
From the book:
Ottawa: Recovery, 1946 - 1953 (pages 127-129)
As P.K. had quickly discovered, Arthur Irwin was a widower in his early fifties with three children. He had solid credentials for his new post as commissioner and chairman of the National Film Board. He was a member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, had spent twenty years Canadianizing Maclean's magazine, and possessed remarkable moral courage. He had provided the information for an exposé by George Drew and an article in Maclean's revealing that the Canadian military had sent soldiers to war with Bren guns that jammed under fire. A man whose values were unquestioned, he began his work as commissioner by interviewing every employee and firing three whom he believed to be Communist. He then set about running the reorganized National Film Board - and courting Pat Page.
Pat had accepted an invitation from Arthur to visit his summer cottage at Belmont Lake, between Toronto and Montreal. She was chaperoned by Maudie Ferguson, and Arthur's grown children - Neal, Sheila, and Patricia - were also there. Pat impressed Arthur's family by doing flying cartwheels on the lawn. She was bitten by a blackfly and Arthur recalled that her arm swelled enormously: "Damn good-looking arm."88 They had intended to go to a local dance, but Arthur said that he would like to show Pat a waterfall: "We got into the boat and went across the lake and came to a path, and by this time it was getting dark. He clearly knew his way absolutely, and he was very sure-footed ... I felt at that moment I could follow this man - I could trust this man anywhere he led me ... And he led me to a waterfall, and it was moonlight, and it was beautiful, utterly beautiful. I realized that he had a real aesthetic sense - a real feeling for beauty and nature."
An extremely taciturn man, Irwin spoke only when he had something that needed to be said. His judgment was impeccable, and Pat found this quality admirable, especially when combined with a strong ethical sense and a practical knowledge of the world. Arthur also understood the writing process. As an editor, he had trained many journalists and writers, including Pierre Berton, Ralph Allen, Blair Fraser, June Callwood, and Peter Newman. Finally, he made Page aware that he appreciated her as a beautiful woman - "a corker," as he confided to one of his newspaper buddies.
They had met at a vulnerable time in their lives. Irwin was lonely after the death of his wife Jean - she had died suddenly in an asthma attack in the fall of 1948; and Pat was on the rebound from Scott. She told Irwin candidly that she had loved a married poet for some years. Although Irwin was concerned about a marriage on the rebound, he was willing to take his chances. Page did not reveal the name of the man in question. (Later, when Irwin had an occasion to phone Frank Scott in connection with the Film Board, he knew instantly, when he heard Scott's voice, that this must be the man she spoke of - he found their slightly English voices identical.)
Much later in their lives, in the 1970s, I asked Arthur Irwin what he had liked most about Pat Page. "I liked everything about her," he replied: "everything except her god-damned Brit voice!" Irwin had spent much of his life as a colonial struggling against the British - especially the British generals of the First World War when he had been a Canadian gunner at the front. Then, after the war, he had spent nearly twenty years as managing editor of Maclean's, attempting to modify the strongly pro-British attitudes of Colonel Maclean, the longtime owner of the magazine, and that of another Englishman, H. Napier Moore, who was parachuted into the job of editor-in-chief, a position Irwin considered rightfully his. Nonetheless, line by line, inch by inch, Irwin had converted Maclean's into the most popular and genuinely Canadian magazine of the period until, in 1945, he himself became editor-in-chief.
From the book Journey with No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page, by Sandra Djwa. ©2012. Published by McGill-Queen's University Press. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
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