MHS Resources: Jack Houston’s Editorials in the OBU Bulletin, 1919-1921
Introduced and compiled by Dr. C. Stuart Houston
John D. “Jack” Houston was my grandfather’s brother. His wife, née Annie McLean, was the mother of his five children: Marion Houston, Christine Houston (unmarried and a friend of Nora Hallen’s in Winnipeg in the 1940s), William Houston (who left Cornwall at age 16 to move to Winnipeg with Bell Telephones, later becoming a purchasing agent for Manitoba Telephones, then a telephone line contractor, then a successful, honest, charitable and gentlemanly partner in the financial firm, Houston and Willoughby, later Pemberton, Houston and Willoughby, which eventually merged into RBC Dominion Securities), John Houston, and Alexander Houston (a Lieutenant-Colonel in charge of Canadian War Records, who died overseas in the First World War).
Jack Houston found increasingly distasteful the cruel but legal foreclosures by his prosperous employer of homes and farms belonging to the desperate poor. He therefore gave up his promising position with a Winnipeg financial firm, for the uncertain prospects of a socialist and labor organizer. He had at best a minimal and irregular income from the Socialist Party of Canada. It is known that he bunked with supporters in any city he visited, having no money to stay in a hotel. It is rumoured that on occasion he “rode the rails” on the roof of a boxcar, to get to the next city.
Houston’s wife, Annie, had no sympathy for his politics, his sudden career change, or his drastically reduced income. She left him and eventually obtained a divorce to make it official. Annie raised and educated her five children on her own, against all odds, in Cornwall, Ontario – reportedly and understandably without appreciable financial or other assistance from Jack. It is notable that an official four-page biography of his son, William Houston; the 46-page history of the Houston Willoughby company; and William’s memorial pamphlet to his dear Elsie (née Elsie G. Howe), said not one word about his father Jack Houston nor the maritally troubled and economically radical family background.
Volume 1, Number 1 of the OBU Bulletin is dated 12 August 1919, about seven weeks after the tumultuous strike ended with brutal force. Houston’s name appeared on the masthead as editor with Volume 6, Number 6, 20 September 1919, and appeared thereafter [sometimes with Wm. Ivens of Winnipeg and W. W. LeFeaux of Vancouver listed as associate editors] until the posthumous issue of 12 March 1921. Some of Jack’s editorials, especially during his hospitalization for his fatal illness in early 1921, appear to have been “lifted” from his voluminous notes he had compiled and given over many years, as mentioned in his obituary above. The source of other editorials, signed only by “S.” has not been determined, but if they are from his series of articles, Stage Setting of the O.B.U., they may also have been written by Jack Houston.
It appears that Houston was able to continue writing a weekly editorial from his sick bed during the last 11 weeks of his life, as always using upper case letters for emphasis. He died at the St. Boniface Hospital, of pneumonia and pleurisy, on Friday, 11 March 1921.
Upon Houston’s death, Frank Woodward took over as editor of the OBU Bulletin. Price was five cents per issue. Circulation was 10,000. The OBU Bulletin contained a surprising number of advertisements from small businesses sympathetic to, or looking for business from, labour supporters.
Microfilms in the University of Saskatchewan library, which were the source for the editorials that follow, were difficult to read, but were in the final group transcribed by Kate Hounjet. Her electronic version was not saved but a hard copy was printed then scanned by Dr Richard Ehman in Rochester, Minnesota. A few obvious typos have been corrected. Through the genius of Ian Song at Simon Fraser University the illegible portions of the University of Saskatchewan microfilms (and University of Manitoba microfilms) were restored into a readable electronic format. Final transcriptions were keyboarded by Stephane Gerard.
Editorials (in chronological order)
Page revised: 9 February 2023