by George J. Dance

Tom Macinnes

Tom MacInnes (1867-1951). Courtesy ABC Bookworld.

Tom MacInnes
Born Thomas Robert Edward McInnes
October 29, 1867
Dresden, Ontario
Died February 11, 1951 (aged 83)
Vancouver, British Columbia
Occupation lawyer
Nationality Canada Canadian
Citizenship British subject
Alma mater University of Toronto, Osgoode Hall Law School

Thomas Robert Edward MacInnes (October 29, 1867 - February 11, 1951) was a Canadian poet and prose author.[1]



MacInnes's writings ranged from "vigorous, slangy recollections of the Yukon gold rush" (Lonesome Bar, 1909) to "a translation of and commentary on Lao-tzu's philosophy" (The Teaching of the Old Boy, 1927).[1] His narrative poetry was highly popular in his lifetime.[2]

Youth and educationEdit

MacInnes was born Thomas Robert Edward McInnes in Dresden, Ontario,[1]. He moved to New Westminster, British Columbia, with his family in 1874, and grew up there. His father, Thomas Robert McInnes, served in the Canadian Senate from 1881 to 1897, and as Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia from 1897 until 1900.

Tom McInnes was educated at University College, Toronto, graduating with a B.A. from the University of Toronto in 1887.[3] He studied law at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Ontario, and was called to the bar in 1893.[4]


McInnes served as secretary to the Bering Sea Claims Commission in 1896 and 1897, and for part of 1897 was a member of the Yukon special police and customs force at Skagway, Alaska. He acted as private secretary to his father, the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, from 1898 until 1900[3] (when the elder McInnes was dismissed from office).

Tom McInnes was commissioned by the Canadian government in 1909 to "investigate and report upon the nature and present status of the Indian Title to certain lands known as 'Indian Lands' in Canada, with special reference to British Columbia." His report, On the Indian Title, is historically significant as an early acknowledgement that B.C. natives were unfairly and illegally dispossessed from the lands they'd occupied for millennia. The government did not release the report, though, nor accept its conclusions.[5]

He was still spelling his surname "McInnes" as of 1916.[3]

MacInnes spent long periods in China, where he had business interests, between 1916 and 1927.[2] In China, he worked to develop a tramway system in Canton;[5] he was the only foreign director of the Kwontong Tramway Company from 1919 until 1924, when the company was expropriated by the Communist Chinese.[4] As MacInnes put it, his company was "seized by Bolsheviks and blackguards."[5] A source says that he "returned to Canada with a lifelong hatred of Communists and Chinese."[6]

MacInnes wrote a series of articles on his Chinese experiences, published in 1926 in the Vancouver Morning Star and Vancouver Province, that became the basis of his 1927 book, Oriental Occupation of British Columbia. According to some sources, the book proposes that British Columbia adopt apartheid-like policies in dealing with what MacInnes perceived to be an undesirable influx of Chinese immigrants.[4] [6] Another source, though, calls Oriental Occupation "a pamphlet," says that MacInnes had "developed a sympathy for Orientals living in British Columbia," and says that the pamphlet reflects his "views of British Columbia prejudice" against Orientals.[2]

MacInnes joined the Canadian Union of Fascists.[4] He became a leading activist in the fascist scene, founding the Nationalist League of Canada, and broadcasting his views in a weekly radio show.[6] The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (which not only ran but governed broadcasting in those days) tried to ban MacInnes in 1937, but he was able to resume broadcasting after he threatened legal action. He was also active in the Asiatic Exclusion League, although he later claimed he had joined that as an agent provocateur.[5]


MacInnes's poetry was highly popular in Canada in the early 20th century. He wrote "light, easy verse that dismissed smugness and respectability with unconcerned humour ... an amused detachment underlies his work, as though poetry were merely one form of expression, as good as any other." He believed "that joy and delight, rather than the prevalent melancholic outpourings of the soul, were essential to poetry."[2]

MacInnes can be compared to Robert Service, not least in the fact of their popularity in Canada at the time. Like Service in his Yukon and war poems, MacInnes, "was especially interested in examining man within a natural landscape, on the fringes of society." Also like Service, "his rhythms are often forced and pedantic, his rhyme-schemes careless and rough."[2]

In some ways MacInnes seems to have modeled his career on that of Service. His earliest published work, A Romance of the Lost (1908), is a long yarn in rhyme about the Klondike gold rush, in the manner of the poems in Service's 1907 breakthrough work, Songs of a Sourdough. In 1913 MacInnes released Rhymes of a Rounder, on the heels of Service's 1912 Rhymes of a Rolling Stone.

Unlike Service, though, MacInnes "was intrigued with elaborate poetic forms, such as the villanelle," and actually invented "a five-line stanza of his own he called the 'mirelleâ'."[2]

Katherine Hale, reviewing Macinnes's 1st book in the Mail and Empire, pronounced that "the best poem is 'The Damozel of Doom,' an eerie, dreamlike, passionate piece, suggested by the teaching of old Tao, who believed that there are regions where dead souls may be awakened by desires so strong that they are drawn outward again to Earth, where, through finer desires, they again pass into Paradise. Then 'the peace of a thousand years may be theirs in Limbo'.... The coming of this desire, which shall ultimately free, or banish the soul to ages of 'utter vanishment' is depicted in 'The Damozel of Doom' - a poem worthy of the genius of Poe."[3]

John Garvin included 3 MacInnes poems, including "The Damozel of Doom," in his 1916 anthology Canadian Poets , and wrote of MacInnes's poetry: "Originality, constructive imagination, felicitous fancy, and delightful humour (if sometimes grim), combined with philosophic subtlety, much experience of life, and skilled artistry, are the outstanding qualities of this poet, so little known to Canadian readers, so worthy of their appreciation."[3]

In a 1933 talk, on Canadian poets who had become prominent in the early 20th century, Charles G.D. Roberts said: "Preeminent among these is Tom MacInnes, standing somewhat apart from the stream of our poetry, and tracing the inheritance of his very individual talent to Francois Villon and Edgar Allan Poe, with an occasional dash of Keats."[7]




  • Chinook Days. Vancouver: Sun Publishing, 1926.[8][2]
  • Oriental Occupation of British Columbia. Vancouver: Sun Publishing, 1927.
  • The Teaching of the Old Boy. London, Toronto: J.M. Dent, 1927.



  • "The Damozel of Doom," "Illumined," "Underground," Canadian Poets (edited by John Garvin). Toronto: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, 1916, 247-258.[3]
  • "Amber Lands, I," "The Tiger of Desire," "To Walt Whitman," "Zalinka," Book of Canadian Poetry (edited by A.J.M. Smith). Toronto: W.J. Gage, 1957, 220-226.[9]

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy Open Library.[10]

See also Edit

References Edit

  • Hamar Foster, "A Romance of the Lost: The Role of Tom MacInnes in the History of the British Columbia Indian Land Question," Essays in the History of Canadian Law, Vol. VIII. Ed. G. Baine Baker and Jim Phillips. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999, 171-212.
  • Peter Ward, White Canada Forever: Popular Attitudes and Public Policy Toward Orientals in British Columbia, 3rd ed. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2002.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Tom MacInnes," Encyclopaedia Brittanica,, Web, May 25, 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Donald Stephens, "Tom MacInnes Biography," Encyclopedia of Literature, 8275,, Web, May 25, 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 John W. Garvin, "Tom McInnes," Canadian Poets (Toronto: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, 1916), 248, Web, May 25, 2011.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 "Macinnes, Tom," ABC Bookworld, Web, May 25, 2011.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3, Web, May 26, 2011.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "The Fascist History of the Lumbermen's Building," Past Tense, Mar. 13, 2008,, Web, May 25, 2011.
  7. Charles G.D. Roberts, "Canadian Poetry in its Relation to The Poetry of England and America", Canadian Poetry: Studies/Documents/Reviews No. 3 (Fall/Winter 1978),, UWO, Web, May 10, 2011.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Search results = au:Tom MacInnes, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Nov. 23, 2014.
  9. A.J.M. Smith ed., "Tom MacInnes,"Book of Canadian Poetry,Toronto: W.J. Gage, 1957), 220-226, Google Books, Web, May 25, 2011.
  10. Search results: Tom MacInnes,, Web, May 25, 2011.

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