The Strangest Dream: Canadian Communists, the Spy Trials, and the Cold War, Revised Edition by Merrily Weisbord

As Merrily Weisbord points out several times in her book The Strangest Dream: Canadian Communists, the Spy Trials, and the Cold War, the history of communism in Canada are still shrouded and avoided in both discussion and study, and her book sheds light on that specific history. Originally published in 1983, this 2022 revised edition includes a new preface and additional content, now that many of the people Weisbord spoke to for the writing of the book have died, or over time, have become more comfortable with the idea of their communist convictions and party membership becoming known. I found this book quite fascinating, though fairly dense. Weisbord is thorough in recreating the conditions under which communism blossomed, grew, and went underground through repeated attacks by the state, as well as the conflict of the Canadian party’s relationship with the Soviet Union. All of the communist parties in countries around the world had affiliations with the Soviet Union, and it was ultimately this relationship which would cause the collapse of the party in Canada, after the denunciation of Stalin by Nikita Khruschev.

I came to The Strangest Dream with almost no knowledge of the history of communism in Canada. Weisbord swiftly corrected that for me; the daughter of prominent communists, she was able to interview many of those who were heavily active in the party, including the only communist MP ever elected to the House of Commons, Fred Rose. Ultimately arrested for spying for the Soviet Union, imprisoned, and expelled from the House of Commons, Rose went to find work in Poland, where he had been born. While abroad, Rose’s Canadian citizenship was revoked, and he was repeatedly refused permission to return to the country. Rose’s story was the most famous, but Weisbord details the difficulty of many of the party members: hiding their activities for fear of prison, barred from entering other countries for being on a list of known communists for decades after their membership, and to this day, viewed with some suspicion by the state.

This 2022 revised edition is a key text for anyone interested in the history of communism in Canada, the forces which worked to suppress it, and the reasons that the party crumpled in the late 1950s. Weisbord’s history of the party ends after this serious blow, marking it as a watershed moment for the party. Overall, Weisbord’s work paints a picture of a lively, dedicated group of people, bound by their convictions, as well as their belief that centring the party in their lives would help them make the difference they wanted. This was an interesting read, really fleshing out my knowledge, and I’m glad this revised edition will draw more attention to the history of communism in Canada.

Merrily Weisbord is a Canadian literary non-fiction writer, documentary screenwriter and broadcaster. The Love Queen of Malabar, a memoir of her longtime friendship with the late Indian writer Kamala Das, was a finalist for the 2010 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, the QWF Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-fiction, and the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Véhicule Press; 3rd ed. edition (May 2 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 280 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 155065599X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1550655995

Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.