Ah, so right in the thick of things, then. Right-oh, carry on. McMaster University, 1947.
For all that my parents bragged about their boys having a pure English bloodline, and England being the origin of all good things, my parents were hosers. They’d never been to England. They spoke the same, brutally mispronounced, Western Canadian closed-teeth English as the rest of us. You could give them twenty chances a piece, and not once would either of them have come close to pronouncing “Worcestershire.” I don’t even know if it’s useful to call my mom’s family English. I think of them more as English-Canadians. The Dadsons had been in Upper Canada since the 1840s. They’d emigrated from Cranbrook, in Kent, and settled in Toronto. They were so long removed from England that England had long stopped being an aspiration; it was just a symbolic heirloom, like a tapestry you pass in the hall. Even my grandmother, Dorothy Dadson, who received a BA from McMaster University in the 1930s and was extraordinarily well-educated for a Canadian woman of her era, died without seeing England. She did not experience this as a loss. The beach before Big Ben. This wasn’t her policy, but it would be a pretty good policy; if anyone would like to use it, feel free. Dorothy was a Hawaii kind of girl; that's the only place she holidayed.
Dorothy—known to me always as Granny, Dottie to her friends—had left her home in Manitoba to finish the last two years of her undergrad at McMaster. It was always going to be McMaster, and not because Hamilton, in the 1930s, was the intellectual hub of this country. Dorothy’s grandfather (my great-great grandfather) was one of the key players in the foundation of McMaster University, and the decision—divisive and controversial at the time—over where the school should be built: Toronto, the cultural and intellectual centre of Upper Canada, but filled with wickedness, vice and temptation for susceptible students; Hamilton, which was responsibly distant from culture and vice, both unwanted distractions from study and spiritual development.
Ebenezer William Dadson was born in England but emigrated at the age of four. The Dadsons had been Baptists when they arrived and, in Toronto, Baptists they remained, especially “Ebby” (as he was known) who got religion in a big way. He got himself baptized, joined the ministry, pastored around the countryside a good while, tried to save some Catholics in Quebec, even published some pamphlets. By 1882, Ebby had made a big enough name for himself that he got to move back to Toronto, having been appointed editor of the Canadian Baptist, the denominational journal of record, which had recently been purchased by William McMaster, a Senator and church-going Baptist.
It was a poison pill the appointment because Toronto’s Baptist community was at war over where to build the city’s Baptist university. I think the strain of attempting to keep the peace between two fundamentally opposed sides took its toll. He resigned the post after just seven years, and moved his family to Montreal, where he immersed himself in French-Canadian history and culture until his death in 1900, at the age of 54.
In my career, I’ve come across McMaster-trained profs several times. I had a brilliant professor once, who came out of their Cultural Studies program. I feel like she was the exception, though. Over and over again, I’ve found their graduates corrupted by having been cloistered in a place that replaces free-thinking culture with close-minded indoctrination. Hamilton was a bad place to build. Pretty sure Ebby knew that, and that’s why he left. Ideologically indoctrinated and culturally ignorant—bad combo.
Ebby Dadson accepted the position of head pastor of Olivet Baptist Church in Montreal in 1896. It was the city's largest Baptist church, built just eighteen years earlier, in 1878. The city had grown up around it quite a bit since then. Dadson complained to Sir William van Horne, Montreal manager of the CPR, that the trains on the tracks behind the church caused an unholy commotion, " 'Sunday after Sunday, as l speak, one engine is stationed twelve yards behind me, eruptive and diabolic; another, peripatetic, belches and thunders with aggravated diabolism. What is the man on the platform to do?" (God's Mobile Mansions: Protestant Church Relocation and Extension in Montreal, 1850-1914. Rosalyn Trigger Department of Geography McGill University, Montreal , p.277)