In this month’s Founders and Builders Series, we introduce you to an influential Friend and early contributor to the CFHA. Our fourth essay features Fred Haslam and is written by Dorothy Trimble. Dorothy passed in 2014 at the age of 91 but remembers the life of Fred Haslam here in her 2012 essay written for the 40th anniversary of the CFHA.
Remembering Fred Haslam
By Dorothy Trimble
Fred was a vital part of the Toronto Meeting where my family found its spiritual home. We first started attending Meetings for Worship at the end of 1957. Fred had retired the year before from the Canadian Friends Service Committee, and he and his wife Maud were living at Inglewood in the Caledon Hills, about equidistant to the Meetings of Toronto, Newmarket, Hamilton, and Kitchener. They had hoped that it would be of help to Quarterly Meetings, but sadly, Maud died of cancer in 1958. Unable to maintain the home alone, Fred moved to an apartment in Toronto.
I remember Fred as reserved and quiet-spoken, but I soon came to appreciate the depth of thought and wealth of experience behind his well-chosen words. It took me longer to realize how many ways his life spoke of Christian faith.
Fred Haslam’s early years were spent at the Providence School in Middleton, Lancashire, run by the Providence Congregational Chapel where the family attended two services and two Sunday School classes each week. Fred left school right after his thirteenth birthday and took a job at a cotton mill to support his family. He continued his education at night school and read extensively.
Fred first came in contact with the Society of Friends in 1917 during the First World War. After spending three months in detention for refusing to take any part in combat, he was assigned to the Work Centre at Wakefield. One of the men at the centre invited him to go to the Adult School held at the Friends Meeting House. He also started to attend morning and evening meetings there, and to study Quaker literature.
After the war, Fred worked for Friends’ Emergency and War Victims Relief Committee, which was concerned with the repatriation of German citizens who had been interned during the war. Fred also volunteered for service overseas and joined the Friends Relief Mission in Vienna where he was in charge of the twenty-one food depots. While there he was also instrumental in persuading the government to improve conditions for prisoners, many of whom had been incarcerated for stealing food for their families.
In June 1921, Fred heard from his family, who had emigrated earlier, that his father had had an accident that ended his work as a carpenter. Fred came to Canada the next month. By the next year, he was not only helping his family but also serving Toronto Meeting as its treasurer.
One of the letters of introduction that Fred carried to Canada was to Albert S. Rogers. This was the beginning of a deep friendship and collaboration that lasted until Albert’s death in 1932. One of the projects they worked on was the Boys and Girls Clubs, held at Toronto Meeting on Maitland Street, where a bowling alley was installed in the basement for the purpose. Fred directed the Boys Club for many years. In 1930 Albert offered to purchase a property to provide a summer vacation for the children in the clubs and Fred helped find a suitable ten-acre property on Sturgeon Bay. In 1940 Fred purchased the adjacent property to the camp to increase its size. His vision of Camp NeeKauNis as a place for communal education and recreation helped to bring together the three separate yearly meetings in Canada in 1955.
When Albert’s son, Ted, developed “Rogers Batteryless” and started a radio tube company in 1924, Fred was appointed the secretary-treasurer. He resigned in 1940, when, a year after Ted’s death, the products were in demand for war purposes.
Fred served as the treasurer and general secretary of the Canadian Friends Service Committee from its beginnings in 1931 through 1956. During World War II, drawing on his own experiences as a conscientious objector (CO), he was able to counsel and assist COs in Canada. His 1940 letter to the Prime Minister resulted in expanded opportunities for meaningful alternative service, including conservation, road maintenance, social service work, and participation in post-war rehabilitation. He was later instrumental in Canada’s recognition of work in the British Friends Ambulance Unit as a form of alternative service, and he helped organize the first group of twenty Canadians to serve in China. His work included assisting Japanese-Canadian evacuees from the west coast who had moved to Toronto, and providing post World War II relief.
Ellen Johnson, whose parents Margaret and Reg Smith served as Resident Friends, remembers Fred Haslam as “like a grandfather to me. I was born in 1952 and have a sense that he was always around. In fact, a major snowstorm blew across Toronto on the day I was born. Dad was at school and couldn’t get home fast enough, so Fred drove mom to the Women’s College Hospital. It was Fred who taught me my colours sitting at the window of the library and watching the world go by. One day he came to my mom’s rescue when she discovered that I was sitting on the window ledge of what is now the daycare with my legs dangling outside. Fred went outside ready to catch me if I startled when mom approached me from behind.”
When I was serving as Superintendent of the First Day School, Fred would sometimes speak to the older class. One day after Meeting, I was mulling over something related to the First Day School and realized that I needed to speak to Fred. He had already left Friends House, so I dashed out the front door and down Bedford Road, managing to reach him before he stepped on the streetcar. But I was huffing and puffing so much I couldn’t speak. Fred reached out and gave me a big steadying hug, enabling me to catch my breath and relate what was on my mind.
Fred’s compassionate hug is a symbol for me of the many ways that Fred reached out to help those in need. His many efforts included frequent visits to the Toronto Jail, work with the John Howard and Elizabeth Fry Societies, work with the Canadian Council of Churches to abolish capital punishment, and support of relief work and projects of the Right Sharing of Resources, UNESCO, and the Friends Service Council of British Friends. Fred maintained that properly caring for the people of the world is essential for peace.
Fred also reached out to coordinate efforts of a wider circle, serving as full-time treasurer and general secretary for Canadian Yearly Meeting from 1960-1972, representing Friends on the Canadian Council of Churches, and representing Canadian Friends on the board of Friends United Meeting and on the World Committee for Consultation. Through example, he answered the question he posed: “Why try to do the job with a teaspoon when by cooperation you can use a bulldozer?”
I am especially grateful for Fred’s selfless service to Toronto Meeting. I have been told that he could be uncompromising at times, but I think we all knew that we were near and dear to him, and he took a real interest in our activities. During the three years that Bill and I spent in Lesotho, Africa, he sent three letters, expressing appreciation for Bill’s Letters from Lesotho book, and for his work in education. He took a special interest in my work with Canadian Save the Children Fund because of his long connection with the organization (which earned him the Canada Medal in 1977).
A letter written in January 1976 included a note on his health:
For me 1975 was a hard year with the discovery of cancer and operations on both eyes. However, the doctors involved agree that progress is being made, and the cancer doctor at Princess Margaret Hospital has now suggested that I take a trip to San Carlos near San Francisco. I had no idea that I would be able to take such a trip at this stage, but the medical people, including personal friends in the meeting, are all encouraging the idea. It has now taken hold of me and I hope to go for a month on February 5th. My sister and all my other immediate relatives are in San Carlos, I am all excited and hope it will be useful in keeping me to a more normal life.
Back in Canada, not long before Fred died in 1979, I visited him at the Salvation Army’s Grace Hospital in Toronto. He was very weak but enjoyed singing some of the hymns of his favourite poet, John Greenleaf Whittier.
Dorland, Arthur. The Quakers in Canada, A History. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1968.
Haslam, Fred. A Record of Experience with Canadian Friends (Quakers) and the Canadian Ecumenical Movement 1921 – 1967. Woodbrooke College, Birmingham, England, 1970.
Muma, Dorothy. “Fred Haslam (1897-1979): “Mr. Canadian Friend” – A Personal View.” Canadian Quaker History Journal 66 (2001): 23 – 34.
Toronto Monthly Meeting of the Religions Society of Friends. “A Testimony to the Grace of God in the Life of Fred Haslam.” March 1980.
Zavitz-Bond, Jane. “CFSC Records.” The Canadian Friend 107, no. 2 (2011): 40.