Robert Thomas Trivia

 ·         Although Robert Thomas Allen felt comfortable living in many different places and chose to spend his final years in the San Diego area, he was very proud of Toronto where he was born in 1911. He celebrated his native city in books like When Toronto Was for Kids (McClelland and Stewart 1961) that were described by reviewers as unique and authentic descriptions of both Toronto and a Canadian childhood in the 1920s.  


·         He was, in fact, highly regarded as a children’s author and was one of the first winners of the Ruth Schwartz Children’s Book Award for The Violin (1977).


·         Allen wrote and published 14 books in all. Two won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour: The Grass is Never Greener in 1957 and Children, Wives & Other Wildlife (1971).


·         His early career was spent in the advertizing and promotion offices of iconic Canadian department stores such as Eaton’s and Simpsons.  In similar work for publishing companies and newspapers, he made the contacts and learned the processes needed to make the leap into freelance writing fulltime. 


·         This leap into self employment was not until he was in his late thirties when married with two young children.  But Allen was soon established as a regular contributor to many major magazines like Reader’s Digest, Maclean’s, and newspaper supplements like Weekend, the Canadian, and the Star Weekly.


·         He became what was regarded as a career “Magazine Writer,” free from the daily pressures and ephemeral stories of beat journalism.  Before being recognized for his books, he won the Governor General’s Award (1956) for one of his magazine articles: a Christmas story published in the Canadian Home Journal called “I’m looking for the man we celebrate”.


·         Although he spent much of his adult, working life in the U.S., Allen and his writing became symbolic representations of what it meant to be Canadian. In fact, the bespectacled cartoon figure used for decades by the Toronto Star’s Duncan Macpherson to represent the Canadian “Everyman” in his editorial cartoons was widely known as having been based upon Robert Thomas Allen, or at least was inspired by his writings.


·         Macpherson, a member of the Canadian News Hall of Fame and winner of six National Newspaper Wards knew Allen as a friend and was illustrator of Allen’s books and articles.  He was quoted as saying that “if (Stephen) Leacock were alive, he would be lucky to win the Robert Thomas Allen  Medal for Humour.”


·         Allen died in San Bernadino in July 1990 of a heart attack after living with chronic heart disease for well over a decade. He and his wife were living nearby, and both of his daughters had settled in the U.S. as well.


·         Despite his health, Allen kept writing to the end, in a way - even beyond, publishing some stories posthumously.  One of his articles, submitted to the Globe and Mail newspaper, “Getaways Tijuana Trolly a Day Trip To Mexico Provides All the Novelties of World Travel”  G&M (December 7 1990), finally ran almost half a year after his death.


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Sources

Cathie James, “Robert Allen hailed as humourist” Toronto Star (July 15, 1990) A2

“Robert Thomas Allen Magazine Writer Was a Gentle Humourist” Globe and Mail (July 21, 1990) A9

Duncan Macpherson Obit: Brehl, Jack.  “The making of a Master”, Toronto Star (25 Apr 1993), H3
and - Scrapbooks and collections of his works are on file at the Toronto City Archives.