On Sunday, September 28, 1930, Gilbert Keith Chesterton disembarked from a ship into the city of Montreal. His distributist journal G.K.’s Weekly had been circulating in Canada for five years by then, and Chesterton had developed a considerable following among the Canadian intellectual set. The day after he landed, the Canadian Authors Association treated him to tea at the Ritz Carlton, and that evening he delivered his first lecture in Canada to a sizable crowd, a talk titled “The New Enslavement of Women.”
From Montreal, Chesterton traveled west. He arrived in Toronto on Thursday, October 2, and came to St. Michael’s, a college federated with the University of Toronto, to meet with faculty, staff, and reporters at 9:30 p.m. Among the notables in attendance was Etienne Gilson, the great scholar of medieval philosophy. During his stay, Chesterton gave Gilson a gift of his book on St. Thomas Aquinas, and Gilson read it through in one night, enraptured. He would later describe the book as “without possible comparison, the best book ever written on St. Thomas.”
The reception was held in the office of Fr. E. J. McCorkell, CSB, who was Superior of St. Michael’s College from 1925 to 1931. My account of Chesterton’s schedule follows that of Fr. McCorkell, who wrote about Chesterton’s 1930 North American tour in an issue of the Chesterton Review.
A fascinating detail emerges in McCorkell’s telling: “To mark it as an exceptional event in an appropriate way,” a large and sturdy rocking chair was “refurbished” for Chesterton’s use. “It had large circular legs, broad arm rests, heavy rockers, wicker back-supports, and cushion,” McCorkell tells us. “When the guest of honour was confronted with it and understood that he was to occupy it, he exclaimed: ‘Oh! A rocking throne!’”