FOR A TINY number of Nova Scotia Marxists, July 10 is special. Every year on that day they gather together somewhere in the Annapolis Valley to hold a picnic celebrating the birthday of Roscoe Fillmore. For years I had heard about the event, but knew very little -about the man being honoured. Indeed, like most Canadians who had heard of him, I recognized Fillmore as a noted horticulturalist, author of several best-sellers on gardening, -and the developer of many varieties of plant that could survive the harsh Maritime climate.
But from The Life and Times of Roscoe Fillmore (Between the Lines, 300 pages, $19.95 paper), a fascinating, loving biography by his grandson, the journalist Nicholas Fillmore, emerges a different persona. Here we meet not a country gardener, but a hard-bitten social activist - a committed Communist at a time when being a Red was dangerous in Canada and a radicalism born Out of the desperate conditions of the backwoods farmer in rural New Brunswick. Converted at the age of 16 by a soapbox orator he chanced upon in Portland, Maine, the youthful Roscoe signed on as the Maritime organizer for the nascent Socialist Party of Canada. Though he achieved little - socialism, he discovered, was far less adaptable to the difficult Maritime climate than some of the flowers he would later work on - Fillmore never gave up. He travelled to the Soviet Union immediately following the Revolution of 1917 to help build a Communist state. He failed there, too. For the next 50 years he was a loyal follower of the Party in Canada, even standing, on occasion, for Parliament. But he left it, too, when eventually the Party failed him. Only in his horticultural endeavours did he achieve success. Yet, as Nicholas Fillmore points out, his grandfather has left an important legacy to Canadian socialists: despite all the obstacles and failures, socialists must stay the course and remain true to their convictions.
Fillmore was a remarkable Canadian. It is sad that aside from his famous rhodo-dendrons in Nova Scotia, his only recognition is a picnic. He deserves better.