Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

May 14, 2010

The Other Thing I’ll Be Doing This Weekend

(Because, you know, BookCamp T.O. isn’t enough to keep me busy. I need another major book event the next day!)

The twice-yearly Toronto Book Fair and Paper Show will be this Sunday, May 16th and me, I have a mission: to find and acquire any of the works of George Taylor Denison III. Why him? Who’s he? He’s my great-great-great uncle (fun fact: he is also the great-grandfather of Oberon Press founder Michael Macklem, making Macklem my 3rd cousin, once removed – did you know they have calculators for this kind of thing?)

Uncle George (George Taylor Denison III)

The politics of George Taylor Denison stand in stark contrast to my own, but nevertheless he was in his time a fairly influential politician, military officer and writer. His works ranged from the polemical (Canada, is she prepared for war? or, a few remarks on the state of her defences, pamphlet, 1861) to the historical (Reminiscences of the Red River rebellion of 1869, Toronto, 1873) and contain a good amount of local Toronto flavour (Recollections of a police magistrate, Toronto, 1920).  It’s this latter title that set me on my search.

The Toronto Book Fair and Paper Show can be, in a lot of ways, a sad little show, but there’s no question it’s a brilliant place to find works of local history.  I have always known I had “writers in the family”, so to speak – family legend has it that the library of Rusholme (the old “family estate” which would have been bounded by what is today Dovercourt Road, St. Anne’s Road, Rusholme Street, and College Street) contained not just George Taylor’s works but those of my great-great grandfather, Frederick Charles Denison (Historical record of the GovernorGenerals Body Guardand its standing orders, Toronto, 1876).  But by the time Rusholme was sold and bulldozed in 1953 the library had vaporized.  Certainly my family retains some books as well as other keepsakes – I’m sure the same can be said of other descendants – but as for a comprehensive collection there is none.

At last year’s book fair I happened to stumble across a copy of Recollections of a police magistrate. It was inscribed by George to some unknown, and priced at $60.  I was sure someone in the family had a copy so I let it pass, thinking I’d just track down whoever it was that inherited Uncle George’s books and take responsibility for them.  Silly me.  The family seems largely agreed that if any books had remained at Rusholme by the time Uncle Harold (Harold Edmund Denison, son of Frederick Charles) sold it, they were either sold or absconded with by some distant and unscrupulous relation.  Nobody has any copies of anything.  Suddenly that $60 Magistrate looks like one that got away.

But if collecting were easy, it wouldn’t be any fun.  After a year’s reflection I’ve decided to get snapping and track the family books down in some shape or form.  Any copies would be nice, but wouldn’t it be fine to find the family copies from Rusholme?  I’m seized with the thrill of the hunt.  In any case, I feel after my unfriendly review of the Book Fair last year I owe it a second go.  It’s worth mentioning that Heritage Antique Shows has lowered the entrance price from $7 to $5 – maybe they read my post?  Perhaps this indicates some thoughtful planning on the part of the show organizers.  So off I go, in search of my bookish heritage.

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