GENERAL ARTICLES

Joe Noseworthy

A quick sketch of the man who beat Meighen

MARY LOWREY ROSS April 1 1942
GENERAL ARTICLES

Joe Noseworthy

A quick sketch of the man who beat Meighen

MARY LOWREY ROSS April 1 1942

Joe Noseworthy

A quick sketch of the man who beat Meighen

MARY LOWREY ROSS

IN THE Labrador summer the huskies that draw the winter dog teams are turned loose to forage for themselves. Travelling in packs they soon revert to their original wolfish state, and any traveller unlucky enough to meet them in the Labrador wastelands had better stand his ground. If he turns to run the pack will set on him instantly and tear him to pieces.

Eighteen-year-old Joe Noseworthy met such a pack one day while on his way to a teaching station on the Grenfell circuit. He was alone and the bare Labrador landscape offered nothing by way of either weapon or protection. So he charged straight into the pack, stooping to pick up an imaginary stone as he ran. This he had discovered was the best way to meet trouble—take it head on, and seize what advantage you can, imaginary or real. It worked then, and it has worked pretty well for him all his life.

He was born the eldest son of a Newfoundland fisherman. And though fishing is still his passion he didn’t get much time for it in his boyhood. From spring till fall Noseworthy senior was off on the Newfoundland banks with the fishing fleet, and from the time he was ten years old young Joe acted as interim man of the family. He earned his first money—forty cents a day—carrying water for the men working in the Lewisport lumberyards. By the time he was seventeen he had learned all he needed to know about the handling of timber, and in the intervals had picked up for himself all the formal education that Newfoundland had to offer.

It was then that he joined the Grenfell Labrador mission, as teacher and local preacher. The Labrador teaching system was even sketchier at the time than the Newfoundland one. Young Noseworthy taught on a hundred-mile circuit, from Red Bay to Hamilton Inlet, spending two weeks in each school and then passing on to the next. Transportation was strictly the problem of the teacher. In summertime he walked, or if he happened to be on the coast, travelled by sailing vessel. In wintertime he went by dog train.

There were, naturally, no sailing schedules. The Labrador coast traveller had to make his way by a system of hitchhiking on anything that was sailing in the direction he wanted to go. He would wait till a sailing vessel came in sight, then row out to it and haul himself aboard the moving ship. Once he missed a dangling hawser, and the sailing vessel moved on while he went, as he says, straight to the bottom of the Atlanticlike a good many fishermen, he had never learned to swim. They hauled him out and resuscitated him, and when he came to he was safely aboard the lugger and headed in the general direction of his next appointment.

Travelling inland was even more precarious, especially in winter. All the longer stretches were

covered by dog team; and the Labrador husky can be almost as treacherous as the Labrador winter. Joe Noseworthy was naturally a good hand with a dog team, and he had a trained eye for weather. He knew how to get the best out of his huskies on the long haul and he knew when to leave them alone —more than one Labrador driver who has rashly interfered in a dogfight has had the pack turn on him. He knew, too, how to trust them in an emergency, and when on the trail a fierce Northern blizzard would swirl down from the Arctic circle, he would stop the team, dig a big hole in the snow and crawl in, dragging the huskies in after him. Then they would turn as confiding as collie pups, and drivers and dogs would huddle together, sometimes from dark till dawn, till the storm subsided and they could take up the trail again.

It was a pretty good life for a hardy coast-bred lad. But it wasn’t what Joe Noseworthy wanted. More than anything else he wanted to learn, and he wanted to teach. So when the Grenfell apprenticeship was over he headed west for more education.

He had the money for his train fare and nothing over. So to pay his way at Albert College at Belleville, Ont., he started on another circuit, this time going through the rural Ontario districts selling “Hurlburt’s Story of the Bible.” The story of the Bible paid for his tuition and his books, but unfortunately the returns left very little for maintenance. He wore the clothes in which he had travelled, and ate when and how he could. A good deal of the time he scarcely ate at all. He pulled in his belt and went on studying in the daytime, and in the evenings went on peddling his Hurlburt and pedalling his bicycle through rural Ontario.

Later he began to sell insurance, for he had discovered that he could sell almost anything as long as he believed in it thoroughly himself. He beljpved in insurance, as simply and solidly as he had believed in “Hurlburt’s Story of the Bible,” and as he was later to believe in the promotion of education and the policies of the C.C.F. He wasn’t a fast-talking salesman. His technique was that of the immovable object rather than the irresistible force. He let his prospect present all the arguments and when he had worn himself down he closed in and sold him a policy.

He had married in his second year at Victoria College, Toronto, the insurance business was going well, and presently he found that he was prosperous for the first time in his life. Then he decided suddenly and characteristically that while money was fine it wasn’t what he wanted. It left him no time for the things he had set his heart on — to study and to teach. So he quit the insurance business and went back to carpentry, which, like fishing, is second nature to a Newfoundlander.

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Joe Noseworthy

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A little later he got his chance to go north to Hudson’s Bay as a Reading Camp instructor. It was the opportunity he had been looking for, since it gave him a chance both to teach and to live the hard outdoor life he was accustomed to. He went west and made a six-weeks’ trek by canoe from Lake Winnipeg to Fort Nelson, which had been decided upon as the terminus for the new Hudson’s Bay Railroad.

A railroad gang of five hundred men had been working at Fort Nelson since the preceding summer. They had had no mail or fresh supplies since navigation closed in the fall, and they were in no mood for a course in supplementary reading.

He let them talk themselves out, and when they were through he told them he had come north to teach and work on the docks and that was what he figured on doing. He then went off and set up the tent that served as schoolroom, library and reading room and settled down to work. During the day he worked as a dock laborer and at night he spent his time teaching his fellow dock laborers the rudiments of knowledge. It was hard overtime work, but he kept it up till August when the ice broke up in Hudson’s Bay and the news came that Canada was at war.

When the first cattle boat nosed its way into Fort Nelson two hundred railroad workers went aboard, among them Joe Noseworthy. They were going back to enlist and they were so eager to be off that they were on board an hour after the cattle had been taken off. It took almost a month for the boat to make its way through the Straits and down the coast, and it was far from being a luxury cruise.

He didn’t get to the War. He was a big husky backwoodsman by this time, but he was rejected on medical grounds. There was no going back to Fort Nelson, however.

He took another Reading Camp job then, this time in a mining camp at Timmins. Working as a mine laborer by day and teaching by night he finally completed the hard last lap of his University schooling. He was over thirty years of age before he, literally, got his hands free for the job he had set his heart on—an appointment in the History Department of North Toronto Collegiate. He was there seven years and was then promoted to be head of the History Department in Vaughan Road Collegiate.

While he was teaching at North Toronto years of hardship caught up with him and he found himself in the Toronto General Hospital, with a bad case of duodenal ulcer. There followed months of unavailing treatment, and it began to look as though Joe Noseworthy’s fighting days were over. Then one of the brilliant junior surgeons decided on an operation. It was a highly drastic operation and offered little better than a fifty-to-one chance of recovery, but he took it and three months plater was rather waveringly on his feet once more.

He had got his schooling the hard

way, and it had cost him a large part of his strength and the whole of his youth. He doesn’t believe education should be acquired that way, he thinks it should be as freely available as any of the other simple necessary things that men live by. So he began a study of educational inequalities across Canada, and made a survey which is now a standard textbook on the subject. He worked hard in the Canadian Teachers’ Federation and on another survey for the Rowell Commission.

He had joined the C.C.F. in January, 1940, and was put up for York South in the Federal election in March, but was defeated. Joe Noseworthy had never been an extremist—he simply believed, tenaciously rather than fanatically, in some sort of social security for the kind of obscure hard-working people with whom he had spent his life. He figured that the C.C.F offered his kind of people their best hope and opportunity, and when he was asked to run again, this time against Senator Arthur Meighen, in the York South by-election, he accepted promptly. He had always liked a fight and this looked like a good one.

Most of his life he had fought on his own. What he hadn’t counted on was the sudden overwhelming support that now came to him from every side. Pupils he had taught, people he had worked with in the hard depression period in South York, people who had known him through the years and people who had known people who knew him—all joined together in a volunteer organization a thousand strong. Even his “paid” workers—two stenographers at his political headquarters—arrived at work before eight o’clock in the morning and worked till midnight and on Saturdays all through the hard driving weeks of the campaign. No one, not even among his political opponents, could have been more surprised than Joe Noseworthy at the wave of enthusiasm and energy that suddenly swept York South. He will tell you, and honestly believe it, that his campaign workers were enthused by a cause rather than by a candidate. What is probably closer to the truth is that his supporters identified candidate and cause, and believing in both, sent him on to Ottawa at the end of one of the most sensational by-elections in Canadian political history.

Joe Noseworthy is in his fifties now, a big rugged man with craggy eyebrows and a face that looks as though the modeller had worked over it rather carelessly with the flat of his thumb. But there is no mistaking the fighting quality in the Noseworthy face, or the hard integrity behind it. When the South York fighting was over, his campaign workers (unpaid) had one standard witticism: “How about that job in Ottawa, Joe?” He had his slow grin for that—a very human grin and not a political one. The Noseworthy grin doesn’t say, “Come and get it.” It says, “Try and get it”; and anyone who knows him knows better than to try.