My father was my hero. I only knew him to become angry once, when Ontario Premier George Drew accused him of being a Communist. His face got white, he was so angry. He was a democratic socialist. Whenever we were in Regina he’d go to the soup kitchens and speak with the people there.
My father was M.J. Coldwell, the last leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. He was an early organizer, in 1933, and wanted to call it the Social Democratic Party. He’d known poverty. His father was a butcher, and we lived in Saskatchewan in the Depression years. He thought all people were entitled to a decent life, that no one should suffer from poor housing and poor health. His whole life was devoted to improving conditions for the common man.
We had a happy household, I think. I never heard my parents exchange bad words. My mother Norah was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1930 and was in constant pain. She was confined to a wheelchair and rarely left our apartment. When we visited friends, my father would carry her up the stairs in her wheelchair. He was strong.
We lived in an apartment on Bank Street in Ottawa. My father liked to take us for drives, and an occasional movie. He liked playing cards, hearts and cribbage. I remember those days fondly. He was Anglican, but not particularly religious.
I think my parents had a good marriage. They were very fond of each other. My father told me once, “There will never be another woman in my life.” When he was away, I would care for my mother. We had to hire a housekeeper when I left home to study for nursing in 1940. It was very expensive for my father. The Commons pay was $3,000 a year. He had no real savings.
My father was an easy-going man. He loved to laugh. He would tease the grandchildren and he’d laugh and laugh til his shoulders shook. And he enjoyed a good meal. His favourite dinner was roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, and roast turkey. Whenever he visited after I left home, the first place he’d head for was the kitchen to see what was in the oven.
My father was offered cabinet posts by the Liberal Party. They wanted to appoint him to the cabinet in 1945, but he declined. The Liberal Party used a lot of our ideas, I think, but my father never wanted to be a Liberal. He always maintained he wanted to achieve his purpose through democratic socialism. He felt there was an element of capitalism in the Liberal Party that he didn’t want to be involved with.
He was a democratic socialist; that’s what he was. That’s how he lived.
(Editor’s note: Margaret Carman, daughter of CCF leader Major Coldwell, in 2009 gave her last interview to Blacklock’s publisher Holly Doan. Carman died eighteen months later, at 89. This commentary is a transcription of Carman’s remarks. Her father served six terms in the Commons as MP for Rosetown, Sask., and died virtually penniless in 1974)