Is Fred Rose, MP, alive and well and living on Regent Street?

Fred Rose, Communist Member of Parliament for Cartier from 1943 to 1947, unfortunately never lived in the Glebe.

by John Smart

The December issue of the Glebe Report carried a letter on page 5 headed “Development needed” and signed “Fred Rose, Glebe resident and former MP for Cartier, 1943-1947.” The author provided a telephone number (which does not work) and an address on Regent Street. Fred Rose doesn’t live at that address and never did. He died in Poland in 1983. I live on Regent Street, in fact next door, and I’ve checked the records.

Fred Rose was, however, a real and an interesting person and an actual Member of Parliament from 1943 to 1947 (elected twice for Montréal-Cartier as a Labour Progressive candidate – the renamed Communist Party of Canada). Might’s Ottawa Street Directories for the 1940s, though, show him living at 30 Beechwood Avenue while he was a Member of Parliament and it was there, while he was talking on the phone to a Canadian Press reporter, that the RCMP came and arrested him on March 14, 1946. He was among the 21 individuals arrested after Igor Gouzenko defected from the Russian Embassy in Ottawa with a cache of incriminating documents. So Fred is notorious in Canadian parliamentary history for being expelled from Parliament in 1947 after he was found guilty of sharing secrets with the Soviet Union during the war. He was tried and convicted of conspiracy to violate the Official Secrets Act and sentenced to six years in prison. After his release from prison he was unable to find work in Canada and moved to Poland. His Canadian citizenship was revoked in 1957.

Rose had a hard life but seems to me to have had some good qualities as a person so I don’t think I would mind him as a neighbour. Rose was born Fred Rosenberg at Lublin, Poland on December 7, 1907, and moved with his parents to Montreal as a child. In the 1920s, he became a member of the Young Communist League (YCL) and organized unions of unemployed and unskilled workers. As a YCL member he spent six months in Moscow learning about the Soviet Union. He was arrested in 1929 and again in 1931 at a meeting of the unemployed, and was convicted and sentenced to a year in jail for sedition. He was first elected to Parliament in a by-election in 1943 and re-elected in the general election of 1945.

I read a lot about Fred Rose while working at Library and Archives Canada as a labour records archivist, including his prison file, which was turned over to the Archives in the 1980s. The Canadian atom spies, of whom he was certainly one, did give information to people they met at the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, but it wasn’t atomic secrets they were passing on but relatively low level technical and strategic information they thought the Soviet Union had a right to have as a wartime ally. (Some historians take a harsher view of their actions.) Once Rose and the others were arrested, the War Measures Act allowed the authorities, up to and including the Supreme Court, to deny them their civil rights. No access to a lawyer or to the press was allowed until after they had been found guilty. The evidence of their wrongdoing was in most cases slight and the ones who got into the worst trouble were those who argued with the police and incriminated themselves in the process. The 10 individuals who got off were largely those who refused to talk to the police at all except to say they wanted a lawyer; a lesson for us all.

For the record, the house on Regent Street was owned by at least three successive generations of the Brown family until it was sold to a holding company in June 2017. I remember the senior Browns as staunch Conservatives; one son ran unsuccessfully for the Conservatives in a federal election. The Glebe Report editor is still interested in knowing who actually sent the original letter which the Glebe Report was glad to publish but which espoused pro-business views Rose never held. So, if you wrote it, own up.

John Smart is a retired archivist living on Regent Street. He says the neighbours he knows on the street already include two daycare workers, four lawyers, a doctor, an urban planner, two retired professors, a retired businessman, a member of the Order of Canada and a Canadian ambassador now on foreign assignment. He says that Fred Rose, dead or alive, having paid his debt to society, is welcome to move to Regent Street any time he wants.

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