Farina Takes the Stage

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on September 4, 2010. Warning: black stereotypes written during the 1930s are included in this piece.

The Telegram, February 12, 1932.

Like children elsewhere across the continent, young Toronto moviegoers in the 1920s and 1930s eagerly awaited the next installment of the Our Gang series of shorts. The adventures of an ever-changing cast of rough-and-tumble kids entertained audiences during their original theatrical run from 1922 to 1944 and in reruns on televisions (often as The Little Rascals) for decades afterwards. Among the most popular performers, and one who bridged the silent and sound eras, was pigtailed Allen “Farina” Hoskins. The attention given to the Toronto stop of the vaudeville act he toured with after departing Our Gang in the early 1930s provides a glimpse into both his drawing power and the stereotypical manner in which non-white performers were depicted by the city’s media.

Legend has it that Allen Clayton Hoskins earned his stage name from an executive at Hal Roach Studios who felt the chubby toddler was as agreeable as a bowl of cereal (on set, and in scripts, he went by his normal nickname, “Sonny”). He starting acting in the Our Gang series just short of his second birthday in 1922 and became one of the series’ anchors within a few years, often being featured prominently in promotional material. Producer Hal Roach felt that Hoskins was “one of the finest natural actors we had in the gang. He could cry big tears in just a few seconds. You’d think his heart was breaking, then they’d cut the camera and he’d be back playing again.” Farina’s exact gender was not made clear for many years, a situation that was later repeated during Billie “Buckwheat” Thomas’s first few years in the series in the mid-1930s. By his final season in the series, Hoskins was the highest-paid member of the ensemble, earning $350 per week at a time when new recruits earned forty dollars.

Having grown out of Our Gang after 1931’s Fly My Kite, Hoskins and his younger sister Janey (a.k.a Mango) developed the vaudeville act that brought them to Toronto. Their engagement began on February 12, 1932 with a Friday night spot as a special attraction at the Imperial Theatre (now the Canon) amid the “Co-Eds” revue and opening night for the William Powell film High Pressure. The next morning, they performed at a matinee at the Imperial, then made brief appearances for adoring fans at two Kresge stores along Danforth Avenue.
The Star provided a teaser of their appearance:

Farina, with the eyes and corkscrew curls, the personification of inferiority complexity, who was a laugh in so many of the famous Our Gang Comedies, will be at the Imperial tomorrow in a big whoopee song, comedy and dance offering. Little sister Mango will assist the popular Farina in making this a thumb-nail whoopee spectacle. Few actors at seven can boast that they were knocking ‘em dead at three. Farina could but doesn’t.

Allen “Farina” Hoskins signs his copy of the Just Kids Safety Club membership card as his sister Janey (Mango) looks on. The Globe, February 13, 1932.

In terms of press coverage, the limited amount printed in the Globe would be considered the most palatable today. No derogatory terms were used in the paper’s brief biographical sketch, which focused on Farina’s signing of a membership card for the paper’s Just Kids Safety Club. The accompanying picture presents the siblings as two well-dressed children who could have been out for a winter walk. The Globe clearly depicted Farina as a boy, unlike the Telegram’s stance of keeping the gender of the “dark cloud of sunshine” fluid:

Yo’all remember this adorable little black fragment of that young band of hellions! For who could forget those pathetic eyes and the comic mass of kinky wool bound with muslin (or was it cotton)? It was christened Farina and they dressed it in rags and the moment it made its appearance it was hit with a lemon or custard pie.

And then there’s the Star. To modern eyes, reading the paper’s coverage makes you want to slap your head repeatedly each time reporters think phrases like “pickanniny sunshine dispenser” are a charming way to describe Hoskins. The paper’s photographers coaxed him to pose for the camera with his eyes bulging in a spooked-out way that echoes the way most black comedians had to play their roles at the time. “Darky” shows up too many times for comfort. An interview on the day of the first performance indicated that “two dark clouds descended upon Toronto today.” In that piece, Hoskins noted that he loved the previous stop, Montreal, for its “foreign atmosphere,” praised his sister’s hot dancing skills, mentioned that his favourite actors were Douglas Fairbanks and Joan Bennett, and, when asked if he had a girlfriend, noted “Yes I have. She lives in Los Angeles and she goes to school. But that’s all I’m going to say about it.”

Toronto Star, February 12, 1932.

On matinee day, the Star featured a front-page interview with both children and their mother. Reporter Archibald Lampman (the son of the 19th century poet) noted that Janey “didn’t think we were so hot.” The girl’s instincts were on target, as the printed interview with “the doggy pickanins of the movies” was a shambling, condescending, and cringeworthy affair. The occasion was deemed to be so special that the paper set up “chairs all around.” The children’s responses to questions like “do you have a man teacher?” and the number of times it was noted that their mother kept them in line, indicated boredom on their part (Janey perked up only when asked if she liked Alice in Wonderland). Lampman made lame attempts to act as if he was trying to keep up the façade of dignified reporter before giving in to a case of the cutes whenever Hoskins flashed a toothy grin.

Every time we cleared our throat and adjusted our tie, Farina unloaded a façade of juvenile porcelain to our direction. His jet hair was got up in kinky little knobs with white ribbon and he wore a tattered black and white ensemble. It got us every time.

Mrs. Hoskins hinted at the discrimination the family faced, noting that she felt far more accepted on the west coast than the east. With a voice Lampman described as flowing “like an old darky melody,” she praised the efforts of Scopes Trial lawyer Clarence Darrow to improve conditions for blacks in America (presumably a reference to the Ossian Sweet case) and believe that her children’s generation would overcome prejudice.

After a final preview which noted that “Farina fascinated because he, or rather, she, was the perfect incarnation of poor witless man’s struggles against inscrutable fate,” the Star reviewed the performance: “Seated on a flour barrel on the stage last night,” the paper noted, “he gave even further promise. The boy has a natural comedian’s drawling accent and a nicely developed sense of pantomime.”

Hoskins gradually drifted away from show business and the name Farina. After a stint in the army during World War II, he took drama classes in Los Angeles but then, as he admitted during an Our Gang reunion on the television show You Asked For It! in the 1950s, “I decided I’d like to eat regular.” He moved north to the Bay Area and eventually found deep satisfaction as a supervising director of workshop programs for people with intellectual disabilities in Alameda County. Hoskins was inducted into the Black Filmmakers’ Hall of Fame in 1975 and died of cancer five years later.

Sources: The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang by Leonard Maltin and Richard W. Bann (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1992) and the following newspapers: the February 13, 1932 edition of the Globe; the February 13, 1932 edition of the Telegram; and the February 11, 1932. February 12, 1932, and February 13, 1932 editions of the Toronto Star. Thanks to Eric Veillette for assistance with the images.


A poster for the 1926 Our Gang short Thundering Fleas, which involves a flea circus, a wedding, and appearances by many members of the Hal Roach stock company, including Oliver Hardy as a cop.


From the February 12, 1932 edition of the Toronto Star, photos of the visiting Hoskins siblings. Janey (Mango) looks relaxed on the left…while Allen (Farina) is “turning the juice on” with an expression bordering on the stereotypical pop-eyed look black comedians were expected to employ onscreen at the time. The publicity photo in the middle was likely taken in the late 1920s, around the time the series transitioned to sound.

Oakland Tribune, August 4, 1968.

An interview with Hoskins regarding his later work as an administrator of programs for the intellectually disabled in the Oakland area.

Oakland Tribune, February 14, 1975

Another interview with Hoskins, reflecting on his life the week he was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. Others inducted with him that year included Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Ruby Dee, Abbey Lincoln, Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen, and Sidney Poitier.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Casa Loma?

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on May 29, 2011.

Casa Loma, 1925. Baldwin Collection of Canadiana, Toronto Public Library, PICTURES-R-6824.

How many headaches can one millionaire’s folly cause? If the rich person was Sir Henry Pellatt and his folly was Casa Loma, the answer is a century’s worth. When the City agreed to take control of operating the castle from the Kiwanis Club in 2011, it took on a landmark that has long caused imaginations to fill with ideas on utilizing its unique charms or daydream about tearing it down. If you have a fantastic suggestion for running Casa Loma, chances are good it was pitched to the City or investors between Pellatt’s move out of the castle in the mid-1920s and the first admission fee accepted by Kiwanis in 1937.

As Pellatt retreated to homes in Rosedale and King Township, the fate of Casa Loma fed the local rumour mill. Pellatt long stated that he wanted to turn the property over to the military for use as a hospital or museum (“Should I sell my home, I would rather see the soldiers there than anyone in the world”), but failed negotiations with various levels of government in late 1923 to create a home for incapacitated soldiers was the first of a long line of related schemes that fell though. The Toronto Board of Education thought the building had potential as a technical high school until the numbers were crunched. The Orange Order denied rumours it was interested in the site for its North American headquarters. During the winter of 1924, Pellatt turned off the heat, which led to extensive water damage when the pipes burst.

Casa Loma auction sale, June 23, 1924. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 2959.

To regain some financial losses from his role in the collapse of the Home Bank, Pellatt auctioned off the fruits of his lavish spending in June 1924. It wasn’t a profitable venture, as antiquities and curios he had spent over $1.5 million on brought in $250,000. Bargains abounded, especially if you were in the market for 1,500-pound bronzed buffalo heads that required eight men to move them. Though Pellatt claimed he paid $1,000 for such a special item, the first bid was for the princely sum of zero dollars. The winning bid of $50 was submitted by a Mr. Gorman, who decided his new treasure would make an embarrassing gift. The lucky recipient probably kept quiet, which is too bad as re-gifting a massive bronzed buffalo head among the city’s rich might have become a wonderful Toronto tradition.

What emerged as a new tradition were the endless battles during the rest of the decade between those who wanted to operate Casa Loma as an apartment hotel, City Hall bureaucrats, and local NIMBYs. The fun began in March 1926, when architect William F. Sparling (whose works included the Masonic Temple at Yonge and Davenport) and Pellatt asked the City’s civic property committee to remove residential restrictions so that new wings could be built onto the still-unfinished castle to house paying guests. When nearby residents campaigned against this proposal, Sparling warned that “the city will be left with a ruin on its hands instead of an active, revenue producer in the shape of considerable rates and taxes.” Despite numerous obstructions over permits allowing dancing and dining, Sparling pushed ahead and opened the Casa Loma Hotel to the public on April 19, 1927.

Lady Pellatt’s former suite, converted into a billiard room during Casa Loma’s period as a hotel, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 4067.

Among those who opposed the luxurious hotel was Casa Loma’s architect (and nearby resident) E.J. Lennox. He threatened to sue the operators to restrain them from using the castle as a spot to dine and dance, due to the potential effect of loosening restrictions on those activities on the neighbourhood. Reading Lennox’s testimony during his appearance at an Ontario Municipal and Railway Board (OMRB) hearing during the summer of 1927 leaves the impression that his actions were motivated by a lingering grudge against Pellatt for altering his original placement of the building on the property during its construction. Lennox admitted he wouldn’t have minded owning Casa Loma and operating it as an apartment building.

Another opponent who testified was temperance crusader Reverend Ben Spence, who believed “the evils of drink and all-night dancing together make it a dangerous proposition for a residential district.” He shared the concern of other dry zealots that Americans were using the hotel to get rip-roaring drunk in a way they legally couldn’t south of the border. Police officers who testified indicated that they hadn’t noticed any problems, nor had they received any complaints from the neighbours about rowdy guests—a special patrol set up when the hotel opened was quickly abandoned for lack of activity. Local ladies who lunched testified in favour of the hotel, as its tea room provided a nearby gathering spot. The OMRB (which soon dropped the “R” from its initials) ruled in favour of the Casa Loma Hotel’s continued operation—an occupied building was better than an empty one.

But Casa Loma wasn’t occupied for long. The hotel quickly ran into financial trouble and was unable to raise funds to build a new wing. By December 1927, Sparling was borrowing money from the wife of vanished impresario Ambrose Small to keep the hotel running. New owners that took over in early 1928 worked with Pellatt to convert parts of Casa Loma into an exclusive club. Too much time was diverted from hotel operations to run an unsuccessful membership drive. Guests were given a day to vacate the premises when the doors were shut on June 18, 1928.

Apart from emptying the pockets of investors, the hotel left a mark on the music world. In the summer of 1927, one of several orchestras jazz bandleader Jean Goldkette ran out of Detroit played an extended residency at Casa Loma. When Goldkette left, many of the younger members of the band stayed and, under the leadership of saxophonist Glen Gray, gradually became known as the Casa Loma Orchestra. The band moved to New York City after the hotel closed and became one of the first successful swing groups. In his book Too Good To be True: Toronto in the 1920s, Randall White described the band’s first hit, 1930’s “Casa Loma Stomp,” as sounding “a little like something a Toronto militia band might have invented if it had suddenly learned how to swing. Today, I think it qualifies as an authentic artefact of the city in the 1920s, in all its still-muted but already- kaleidoscopic ambiguity, irony and variety.”

The Globe, July 29, 1929.

Undeterred by the hotel’s failure, Pellatt lined up a new group of investors for another try. Despite measures modern guests might appreciate such as sourcing meat and vegetables from Pellatt’s estate in King Township, unwise spending such as providing the chef with a chauffeur-driven Packard once again killed the Casa Loma Hotel. When the doors shut for good in early December, manager E.G. Borden was blunt when asked why the hotel failed: “No business.”

Seven years of vacancy followed. As Kiwanis tourist literature later described this period, “For years, Casa Loma stood like some haunted mansion with locked doors and ghostly emptiness. People daily saw it silhouetted against the sky and wondered what lay behind those massive walls. Few ever entered the stately castle with its baronial towers like battlements guarding the heights.” Pellatt’s finances were further weakened after the stock market crash in 1929 and the City grew tired of waiting for him to pay the $27,305 in back taxes he owed on the property. Civic patience ran out in February 1934 and the City assumed ownership of Casa Loma and the headache of what to do with it. Some city councillors who saw the castle as a white elephant that did nothing to enhance the City wanted to tear it down, but several construction firms determined the demolition cost outweighed the profit from selling off the rubble. Blowing it up was suggested, but dynamite experts pointed out the blast would blow in nearby buildings and shatter every pane of glass in the west end of the city. Despite the opinion of local architects that it was a visual disgrace (Eric Arthur told the Star that “I do not approve of more than one architectural joke in the city. I think Casa Loma is enough”), it was clear that “Pellatt’s Folly” wasn’t going to vanish anytime soon.

Casa Loma’s library. Casa Loma: Canada’s Famous Castle (Toronto: Kiwanis Club, 1938).

One scheme after another, including old standbys like military museums and elite clubs, generated brief bursts of excitement at city council and in the press. A consortium of health and social agencies, including the Canadian Medical Association, Ontario College of Physicians, Red Cross, and Victorian Order of Nurses, would have turned Casa Loma into a medical centre. The Hospital for Sick Children might have used it to ease overcrowding. A CCF-affiliated youth centre was discussed. A business lobby saw it as an exhibition hall. A woman promised American investment if she was allowed to operate a tea room and live in a luxury suite for a year. It could house a rare art museum or serve as a movie studio (rumour had it Mary Pickford was interested in shooting a film). The site could decay into a European-style ruin, though one with grounds maintained by the unemployed. Holy possibilities included a monastery, a new home for the Pope (in Orange Toronto?), and a compound called “Heaven” run by American spiritual leader Father Divine.

“A visitor to Casa Loma surveys a Casa Loma balustrade, crumbling after years of inattention.” Photo dated May 29, 1937. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, Toronto Public Library, TSPA_0109739F.

By March 1937, the City ran out of patience with the crumbling castle. After civic officials determined the structure was too sturdy to bring down, the Board of Control decided to settle its fate. New proposals rejected by the board during the next month included moving Ontario’s lieutenant-governor from Chorley Park to the castle and turning it into a travel information centre to serve the entire British Empire. Several controllers blinded by dollar signs pitched a plan to rake in tourist dollars by offering it to the province as a winter home for the Dionne Quintuplets—Controller Fred Hamilton enthusiastically noted that the exploited children “would be worth more to Toronto than 50 industries.” Calmer heads, including Mayor William Robbins and Dionne physician Allan R. Dafoe, dismissed the plan, which was defeated in a tight vote on April 20. A week later, an agreement was reached with the West Toronto Kiwanis Club to operate Casa Loma as a summer tourist attraction.

Sir Henry Pellatt signs Casa Loma guest book, 1937. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 4013.

Several months after Kiwanis assumed operation of Casa Loma, Pellatt was invited to speak to its members at his former home. Pushing 80 and reduced to sharing a home in Mimico with his chauffeur’s family, Pellatt appeared to be, in the words of biographer Carlie Oreskovich, “a sad old man, not too sure of himself, unsteady, frequently unsmiling, often preoccupied, and forgetful.” He told the audience that Casa Loma was built as a place for visitors to enjoy themselves. “Your club is now using it for that purpose and bringing enjoyment and happiness to countless people,” he noted. “It could not be put to a better use. I am satisfied.”

Sources: Casa Loma: Canada’s Famous Castle (Toronto: Kiwanis Club, 1938), Casa Loma and the Man Who Built It by John Denison (Erin: Boston Mills Press, 1982), The King of Casa Loma by Carlie Oreskovich (Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1982), Too Good To Be True: Toronto in the 1920s by Randall White (Toronto: Dundurn, 1993), the May 1, 1950 edition of Maclean’s, and the following newspapers: the May 25, 1935 edition of the Globe; the April 17, 1937 edition of the Globe and Mail; the June 24, 1924 edition of the Telegram; and the November 7, 1923, April 26, 1926, April 25, 1927, May 3, 1927, July 6, 1927, December 3, 1929, March 16, 1934, April 21, 1937 editions of the Toronto Star.


In 2014, the city awarded a long-term lease to Liberty Entertainment Group. It has continued to operate as a museum, restaurant, and event venue.


The Telegram, June 24, 1924.

A humorous minute-by-minute account of the exciting action during the first day of the auction. The joke at 4:34 p.m. refers to former Ontario premier E.C. Drury, who was accused of spending $100 of government money on a coal shuttle for personal use, a point successfully used against him during the 1923 provincial election campaign.

Toronto Star, March 14, 1927.

Globe and Mail, March 30, 1937.

Judging from this front-page opinion piece, journalist Judith Robinson was no fan of Casa Loma in its 1937 form.

York South or Bust: The Failed Comeback of Arthur Meighen

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on April 16, 2011.

Arthur Meighen at the CNE, 1930s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 3690.

Whenever Canada’s prime ministers are ranked, Arthur Meighen is never found near the top of the list. Though some historians praise his debating skills and hard-working nature, Meighen’s flaws are quickly catalogued: inflexibility, arrogance, reactionary tendencies, inability to learn from past mistakes, a cold public persona, alienating colleagues, alienating entire regions of the country, and so on. The former schoolteacher never learned one particular lesson: never underestimate your most hated rival, who for Meighen was Liberal leader William Lyon Mackenzie King. A 1942 by-election proved remedial for Meighen: a working-class suburban Toronto riding rejected his last attempt to lead the Conservatives to political glory in favour of another schoolteacher.

The Telegram, March 25, 1940.

Following R.B. Bennett’s defeat in the 1935 federal election, the Tories hit a rough patch. The party’s old guard, including Meighen (who had been appointed to the Senate in 1932), never warmed to Bennett’s successor as party leader Robert J. Manion, especially when the new guy made noises about instituting progressive social reforms and vowed not to enforce conscription when war came. Manion resigned after a disastrous election campaign in 1940, during which the party was unsuccessful in selling voters on the concept of forming a “national government” along the lines of the First World War–era Union government. The party turned to R.B. Hanson to lead the caucus in the House, but he had no desire to be a full-fledged party leader.

In November 1941, the party held a conference to resolve their leadership problem. After a failed attempt to persuade Manitoba Premier John Bracken to run for leader, Meighen found himself drafted for the job he had lost in 1927 after two brief stints as prime minister. As a letter to his son Ted indicates, Meighen wasn’t sure he wanted the position:

They are determined to name me leader and to come out for a total war, national Gov’t and conscription. I have worried over this—feeling for months that just such a situation would arise. Hanson I am sorry to say has failed. The job is too big. I really thought he would do better. Cannot go into a long review but I am in a terrible position. If I refuse under the desperate circumstances of this time I will unquestionably lose the regard of the party and in large degree of Canadians, at least I fear that. If I agree—well the consequences are so many and so awful I simply shrink from reciting them. Not unlikely at my age and taking things as hard as I do the turmoil and strain will—well shorten my life. Truly dear son I have never felt so distressed as I do now.

Nearly a week after the convention offered the leadership to him, Meighen accepted. One problem solved.

Globe and Mail, November 13, 1941.

Next problem: the party needed him to lead them in the House of Commons, not the Senate. While the Tories had governed the country with leaders sitting in the upper chamber back in the 1890s, the results had been less than awe-inspiring: John Abbott didn’t want the job, while Mackenzie Bowell should have never been given the job. Somebody in the elected caucus had to sacrifice their seat, so York South MP Alan Cockeram volunteered to resign. The riding had been held by Conservatives under various banners since its establishment, so it seemed like a safe seat for Meighen to contest, to ride to an easy victory. The governing Liberals were even going to play nice and, as per tradition for party leaders attempting to enter Parliament via a by-election, not to run a candidate…or so it appeared publicly.

That move should have set off warning bells for the Tories, since Meighen and Prime Minister King were anything but friends. As veteran journalist Bruce Hutchison put it, “King could not tolerate Meighen’s presence as a man near him in Parliament. He could not manage the war with Meighen’s presence as a statesman and as a conscriptionist.” Upon Meighen’s return, King felt that he was “getting past the time when I can fight in public with a man of Meighen’s type who is sarcastic, vitriolic, and the meanest type of politician.” The prime minister feared that if Meighen pushed a hard pro-conscription platform, the country would be split even worse than it was in 1917, especially given that the Tories had no MPs in the one province that wouldn’t support enforced service: Quebec. If King could find a way to scuttle Meighen’s chances by any means possible, he would.

Weston Times and Guide, February 5, 1942.

In Toronto, the editorial pages of pro-Tory newspapers the Globe and Mail and the Telegram praised Meighen to the point that a reader might believe a deity had sent him as an avenging angel to restore democracy to a House of Commons demonized by a Liberal government prone to keeping secret information and passing laws via orders in council. One can sense the irritation that must have been in the Globe and Mail’s boardroom when a front page article on December 2, 1941 opened with a declaration that Meighen was “barred” from being acclaimed in York South after the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF, the predecessor to the NDP) held a nomination meeting at Massey Hall. Chosen to face Meighen was high school English teacher Joseph Noseworthy, who told the audience that he believed “the voters of South York should be given the democratic right to determine whether they wanted Senator Meighen to replace a man they had formerly elected in the person of Major Cockeram.” The Globe and Mail was outraged by the audacity of the no-good socialists in the CCF to run a candidate:

The electors of South York, we think, will resent the refusal of the CCF to give Right Hon. Arthur Meighen an acclamation…Obviously the only object of the CCF in opposing the return to the House of Commons of Mr. Meighen is to use the hustings for Socialist propaganda. That is its privilege. But in seeking to bar Mr. Meighen from the House of Commons, where his brilliant talents are urgently needed to spur the Government and the country to a greater war effort, it is not necessary for the CCF spokesmen to misrepresent the position of the Conservative Leader.

Globe and Mail, February 9, 1942.

The “position” under debate was the CCF charge that the Tories would only conscript people for the war effort and not force Meighen’s allies in the business community to give up some of their wealth to battle the Axis. When asked about this, Meighen replied, “If we have to conscript wealth to win the war we will, but people of common sense don’t advocate that until the last gasp.” As the campaign wore on, the CCF continually attacked Meighen for being in the thrall of mining magnates, Globe and Mail owner George McCullagh, and, as the Canadian Forum put it in an anti-Meighen editorial, other “frustrated Toronto megalomaniacs.” Noseworthy also conducted an intense door-to-door campaign in the riding.

Meanwhile, in Liberal backrooms, moves were afoot to provide Noseworthy with all the help he needed. At least $1,000 was directly provided to the CCF by high Liberal officials as a campaign donation. When the throne speech was read to the House of Commons on January 22, 1942, King’s government revealed that it intended to hold a plebiscite on the issue of conscription (the question would ask voters if they would allow the government to go back on past promises not to invoke mandatory service, which lead to King’s famous phrase “not necessarily conscription but conscription if necessary”). This move took some wind out of Meighen’s sails and, as his biographer Roger Graham noted, may have caused voters in York South to ask themselves “was it reasonable…to condemn a government that was willing to consult the people in this democratic fashion.”

Weston Times and Guide, February 5, 1942.

One person the proposed plebiscite angered was Ontario Premier Mitch Hepburn. Under Hepburn, the provincial Liberals had broken with their federal counterpoints to the point where the Premier’s relationship with King was similar in dynamic to that between the prime minister and Meighen. Hepburn felt that “the calling of a plebiscite on the question of conscription is the most dastardly, contemptible, and cowardly thing ever perpetrated on a respected and dignified country by any government.” He soon wrote to Meighen to offer his assistance in York South. Hepburn, too, campaigned with provincial Conservative leader George Drew against the Liberal candidate in a concurrent by-election in Welland. In a radio broadcast, Hepburn promised that “with Mr. Meighen its leader in the Commons, it will be an inspired force to see that the Government gives Churchill and our allies a total effort and our enemies a total war.” Hepburn’s actions had disastrous consequences: his support for Meighen drove some Liberal supporters to back Noseworthy, while his more general antics deepened rifts within the provincial government. By the end of 1942, Hepburn was out as premier.

On the campaign trail, Meighen focused on promoting a total war effort, complete with conscription. He attacked the plebiscite as a way of wimping out on Canada’s duty (the country “cannot dawdle with plebiscites and compete for popularity while the world around us is in flames”) and the CCF’s tradition of pacifism. It doesn’t appear that he discussed local issues much, as the focus of his wrath tended to be King, not Noseworthy. Nor did he show much concern for the problems of working-class constituents who had survived the Great Depression, being of the school that any move toward social welfare was code for dictatorship in waiting. As he told a group of businessmen during a speech in early 1941, one that haunted him throughout the campaign, “if property, profit, the reward of toil, the fundamental instinct of the human race to gain, to acquire, to have, to reach somewhere is taken away, then I, for one, do not feel that we have anything worth fighting for. Wherever socialism prevails today, the sword, the hangman, the axe prevail.” As election day neared, Meighen and his newspaper allies found themselves defending daily against perceived and real character assassination from the CCF and Liberals.

Weston Times and Guide, February 12, 1942.

Heavy snow was among the factors blamed for a lower-than-expected turnout at the polls in York South on February 9, 1942. When the ballots were tallied, Noseworthy defeated Meighen by just under 4,400 votes. The CCF captured 93 out of the 117 polls in the riding. Most of those won by Meighen were found in Forest Hill.

When Noseworthy arrived at an assembly at Vaughan Road Academy the next morning, he was greeted with applause by 400 senior students. He told the crowd he was pleased to find out many of his former students had been out on the streets on election day, urging voters to choose him. After the assembly ended, the new MP was surrounded by students wanting his autograph before they were let out for an afternoon holiday. As Maclean’s magazine noted, “It is obvious that Mr. Noseworthy had won the confidence of the young people with whom he was in contact. That may cause the older parties to do some thinking.” Noseworthy represented the riding until he was defeated by Cockeram in 1945. Four years later, Noseworthy was re-elected and served as an MP until his death in 1956.

Postage stamp honouring Arthur Meighen, 1961.

Despite accounts that Meighen took his loss well on election night, he found his defeat humiliating. In his mind, he had served his country so well in the past, still had so much to give the national war effort, had earned the support of two-thirds of Toronto’s daily press—didn’t he deserve the seat? But his track record, his opposition’s ability to play upon his weaknesses, and a fundamental disconnect with his potential constituents sealed his fate. Meighen continued as party leader for the rest of the year, before being succeeded by John Bracken. He seemed increasingly out of sync with more progressive elements in the party, as he continued to push a conscripted war effort at any cost.

When King heard the results in York South, he wrote in his diary that evening. “I felt tonight that public life in Canada had been cleansed,” he scribbled, “as though we have gone through a storm and got rid of something that was truly vile and bad, and which, had it been successful at this time, might have helped to destroy the effectiveness of our war effort.” For the last time, he had outmanoeuvred his longtime rival.

The final word goes to Bruce Hutchison, who summed up Meighen’s defeat for the Vancouver Sun:

When the leader of the Conservative Party is defeated by a Socialist in the Conservative “pocket borough” of Ontario all observers must recognize a profound portent in Canadian affairs. Mr. Meighen obviously was defeated because his economic views, his extreme Toryism, his hatred of socialistic methods and his long association with big business are no longer acceptable to the people of this country—not even to the people of Tory Toronto. Today leaders of the CCF in Ottawa rightly claimed the greatest victory for their theory of society in the history of this country. They see in the astounding eclipse of Mr. Meighen the close of an era in our politics, the beginning of the Conservative Party’s end and the emergence of a Leftist party as the true alternative to the Liberal Party. Conservative politicians, dazed by the unimaginable disaster of Mr. Meighen’s fall, realize that their party will die over a period of years unless it discovers a new idea different from the government or a new leader who can outshine Mr. King. At the moment neither is in sight.

Sources: Arthur Meighen Volume Three: No Surrender by Roger Graham (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1965), Mitch Hepburn by Neil McKenty (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1967), King’s War: Mackenzie King and the Politics of War 1939-1945 by Brian Nolan (Toronto: Random House, 1988), Blue Thunder by Bob Plamondon (Toronto: Key Porter, 2009), and the following publications: the January 1942 edition of the Canadian Forum; the December 2, 1941, December 3, 1941, and February 7, 1942 editions of the Globe and Mail; the March 1, 1942 edition ofMaclean’s; the February 10, 1942 edition of the Toronto Star; and the February 10, 1942 edition of the Vancouver Sun.


Weston Times and Guide, February 5, 1942.

Globe and Mail, February 10, 1942.

Toronto Star, February 10, 1942.

Toronto Star, February 11, 1942.

Maclean’s, March 1, 1942.