Magazines, Travel and Middlebrow Culture in Canada 1925-1960

Robert Stead

Biographical link


Grain. Serial. Maclean's 1 Aug., 15 Aug., 1 Sept., 15 Sept., 1 Oct., 15 Oct. 1926: 3+; 17+; 19+; 19+; 19+; 18+

Fed Up. Short story. Canadian Home Journal July 1928: 12-13, 24

Holy Night. Short story. Canadian Home Journal Dec. 1928: 10-11, 20, 69-71

[as R. J. C. Stead] Why I Prefer Lawn Bowling to Golf. Article. Maclean's 15 July 1929: 19+

We Are Born Single. Short story. Canadian Home Journal Oct. 1929: 12-13, 104

The Copper Disc. Serial. Maclean's 15 May, 1 June, 15 June, 1 July, 15 July[?] 1930: 3+; 20+; 15+; [?]; [?]

The Berkley Diamonds. Maclean's 15 July 1931: 12+


Editorial Commentary

'On August 1 there will stride into Canadian literature a character who, in the opinion of this writer, is destined to be a much talked about person. His name is Gander Stake. He darted across the pages of “Smoking Flax," but in “Grain," Robert Stead's latest novel, he looms boldly and lingers.

                    When Stead and I first discussed publication of this work I said in the pitiful manner of an editor: “Who's the hero?"

                    Stead pondered a moment before replying. “Well, I don't know that there is a hero. There is and there isn't. Some folks would hardly call Gander Stake a hero. Yet I'm pretty certain that others will."

                    After reading the manuscript I had to confess that Stead was right. The verdict depends entirely upon what is one's conception of a hero. At all events, Gander Stake is the predominant character. He had his virtues. He has his faults. But seldom have I met in the pages of a book a more human youth than this farmer lad who worked out his own destiny against a background of waving two-dollar wheat. Nor can I recall a more faithful picture of Canadian prairie life than is presented in “Grain."

“Being a Canadian author," announces Stead, “and writing mainly for Canadians, I have to work as well as write." He is the director of publicity in the department of Immigration and Colonization in the Dominion Government and, as a result, he must, perforce, do all his literary work after the average well-known tired business man has gone home to the bosom of his family. Therefore, he works on a plan whereby he pokes a typewriter two or three hours a night two nights a week. He considers himself in luck if he finds himself among strangers on a railway journey; it is a valued opportunity for writing. As Stead puts it: “I think that among a trainload of strangers one enjoys solitude that almost is abysmal, and I know of hardly any other environment so conducive to concentration."

                    Mr. Stead was born in Ontario and educated in Manitoba. Many and varied have been his occupations. He began his youth as a clerk in a store. Then for many years he published “The Review" at Cartwright, Manitoba. During 1910-12 he was in the automobile business in Alberta. Following that he was in the publicity department of the C. P. R. at Calgary, from which position he was promoted to take charge of the railways colonization publicity. In 1918 he entered the service of the government in his present capacity.

                    All these experiences have stood him in good stead. Which is the sort of pun which only appears in print when an editor is responsible for it.'(In the Editor's Confidence. Editorial. Maclean's 15 July 1926: 56)

'Interesting, too, to hear the farmer's opinion of “Grain." “This chap, Stead, must have been a farmer," said more than one wheat raiser. Which is the highest form of praise.' (In the Editor's Confidence. Editorial. Maclean's 15 Sept. 1926: 76)

'“Fed Up"! and most of us do get that way once in a while. Robert Stead, the outstanding Canadian author, who by the way is also from Ottawa, tells us under this title the story of one housewife who had the courage of her convictions to solve her problem. (Editorial. Canadian Home Journal July 1928: 76)

'Still another reminder as to what a topsy-turvy business this is appears in Robert J. C. Stead's explanation of why he prefers lawn bowling to golf. One bitterly cold night last winter we sat together in front of a blazing fire. “Dear, oh dearie me," said the editor, or words to that effect, “how I long for the summer, and the nice, sweet-smelling turf. Think of being able once again to wield the hooker, the slicer and the misser!" And we got up to show him a new mashie we got last year.

                    “Golf!" sneered Robert J. C. Stead. “Poof! You'd never get me on a golf course again. Now if you want a real game, try lawn bowling."

                    Several hours later we suggested to him that he put what he had said into an article. He did. and here it is.' (In the Editor's Confidence. Editorial. Maclean's 15 July 1929: 76)

'Still another story for the younger set (and older) is the one by Robert Stead: “We are Born Single" tells a beautiful love story of a boy and girl whose marriage was opposed by one of the parents for good reason. All ends happily, however, though not as you would think.' (Editorial. Canadian Home Journal Oct. 1929: 112)

'In one respect, mystery stories are a bit of a trial to us. In introducing them in the chairmanesque fashion of this page, we always have to exercise great restraint lest, perchance, we knock over a screen and give the show away.

                    If we just didn't care what we did it would be easy to stimulate excitement over “The Copper Disc," which commences in this issue. We could begin by pointing out what a great many authors, in what were in their day considered to be fantastic flights of fancy, really made uncannily accurate forecasts of devices and inventions that are now almost commonplace. To back this up we could quote Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and others. Then we might continue by asking what your father (or you, for that matter) would have said twenty years ago has be (or you) been told that in 1920 he would have a small cabinet which, at the twiddle of a knob, would instantly gather out of the air, voices and music actually originating a thousand miles away.

                    The next step would be to ask you to consider what the future might hold in man's delving into the possibilities of the ether. And then we would be all set to being in Robert Stead and say: “Here is a Canadian author who has let his imagination soar, and who has visualised just such a dramatic possibility."

                    The trouble would be, of course, that we'd probably let the cat out of bag and spoil the first and fifteenth of the next three months for those readers whose motto is: “Don't tell me – let me guess." So we shall just let “The Copper Disc" alone.  Robert Stead, author of “Grain" and several other well-known novels, wrote it. He lives in Ottawa, heads a government department, writes in his spare time, has a grown-up family, and spends all the winter longing for the coming of the lawn-bowling season.

The illustrator who has given visible form to the characters in “The Copper Disc," is none other than W. V. Chambers. He is particularly well fitted to illustrate a novel of this nature because he once had a radio mystery of his own. A burglar broke into his house and walked off with his set.' (In the Editor's Confidence. Editorial. Maclean's 15 May 1930: 92)

'Senatore Marconi, a few weeks ago, on his yacht in the harbour of Genoa, pressed a button and turned on the current in a new lighting system in Sydney, Australia – by wireless. Doing so, he said: “This points the way to a future day when there will be no electric wires, and all current of electric power will be transmitted directly through the air, in any direction and quantity desired."

                    Just before Marconi confirmed it, a United States electrical wizard said: “At no distant day, airplanes and dirigibles may get their power by wireless from ground stations, instead of carrying fuel."

Now then, will you be good enough to re-read the second and third paragraphs of “The Copper Disc," on page three of our May 15 issue. Describing his hero, Robert Stead wrote: “Kent's dream it was ... that vision of a key which would unlock the secret of the transmission of power without the aid of wire or any metallic connection ... Already a tiny air-plane, suspended by a string from the ceiling of his office, buzzed all day long with power from a battery concealed beneath his desk."

                    Stead set that down on paper a year ago, and if he isn't very, very careful, future generations will regard him as the prophetic Jules Verne of Canada.' (In the Editor's Confidence. Editorial. Maclean's 1 June 1930: 88)

'One of the surprising things about authorship is that writers of crime and detective tales are the quietest and most gentle people one could wish to meet ... Robert J. C. Stead, who planned the daring theft of “The Berkley Diamonds," exposed on page twelve, is a civil servant in Ottawa. His stories of prairie life are well known. It is only in recent months that he had donned false whiskers and learned to say “Hist!"'(In the Editor's Confidence. Editorial. Maclean's 15 July 1931: 68)
   Search our site:
Arts and Humanities Research CouncilUniversity of Strathclyde CWRC