Emily Pauline Johnson was a Canadian poet and entertainer. She was born March 10, 1861, the daughter of a Mohawk chief. Her Mohawk name, Tekahionwake, means “double-life.” Pauline Johnson and Her Friends by Walter McRaye, was published in 1947 by The Ryerson Press. The 1945 catalogue reads as follows: “This is the story of Pauline Johnson, that everyone has eagerly awaited. The writing of this book is the fulfillment of a promise made her as she lay dying. “Tell them something of the real me, of my father’s people, my hopes, my dreams, and my aspirations.” Friend and fellow-artist for many years, Walter McRaye here sets down in simple and sincere form the story of the Mohawk poet, her rise to fame, and the tours they shared together, across Canada, and into almost every hamlet and city, from the Cariboo Trail to Halifax, and from Ottawa to London, England.”
The catalogue copy for 1945 reads in part, “This biography is much more than a formal life of the almost legendary Mohawk princess. It is a living likeness of the poet, and it is placed over against her time, the time they both knew best, people, growing towns, a pioneer country growing up, with side glances at the romantic world of London, its great houses, celebrated writers, Steinway Hall, the Watts-Duntons, Swinburne, and a world far removed from the Grand River Reserve – and now all but dissolved away and become history, legend, a lovely vanished dream.”
Pauline Johnson lived before Canadian authors had come into their own, as they have today. There were no book drives or “Canadian Book Weeks” or “Book Fairs” given by associations, no authors speaking before Canadian or other clubs in an effort to arouse Canadian enthusiasm for Canadian literature.
As Pauline Johnson travelled across the country, reciting and entertaining the Canadian public, she was inspired by its vastly changing landscapes as depicted in this stanza of her poem The Sleeping Giant:
You have locked your past, and you keep the key
In your heart ‘neath the westing sun,
Where the mighty sea
And its shores will be
Storm-swept till the world is done
Pauline Johnson died in Vancouver, March 7, 1913.
Walter McRaye was born in Merrickville, Ontario, 1876. While on a tour in Winnipeg in 1897, he met Pauline Johnson, at the height of her career. By 1901 they were touring together, McRaye acting as her business manager, and sharing the billing with her. They toured together for nine years and gave their final performance together in Kamloops, B.C. in 1909. They shared fame together.
Following service in the First World War, McRaye resumed his entertainment touring and billed his tours as “entertainment with a punch.” McRaye, a staunch Canadian, deplored the fact that most of Canada’s pulp went to the Hearst empire and other American papers, but he was even more concerned by the fact that “the children of today have but a superficial knowledge of any of the great epochs in Canadian history that should never die.”
His book, Town Hall Tonight, was published by The Ryerson Press in 1929. The 1929 Fall Announcements states that “This Odyssey of the well-known entertainer, Walter McRaye, sets forth in sprightly fashion the colourful incidents of some thirty years’ wandering across Canada, with an occaisional excursion elsewhere – the United States, Great Britain and France. Thirty years ago “Town Hall Tonight” was the usual heading for all concert and lecture programmes and Mr. McRaye has chosen this as an appropriate title for his book of reminiscences.”
In the introduction to McRaye’s book, Town Hall Tonight, Lorne Pierce, Managing Editor of The Ryerson Press from 1920 to 1960, quotes McRaye as saying, “The main work has to be done in our schools, if we are to become a nation of thinkers and executors, rather than a conglomeration of dumb followers.” He goes on to say, “ Teach citizenship.” “Boost Canadian literature.” We should say “Not Canada for Canadians, but Canadians for Canada.” These were sentiments akin to Lorne Pierce’s own heart. Pierce played a huge role in support of Canadian literature and Canadian culture throughout his life.
Walter McRaye died in 1946, just after his manuscript Pauline Johnson and Her Friends was delivered to The Ryerson Press.