Oct 5, 2018

MY GRANDFATHER'S CULT

Moore Smith’s cult operated out of St. Matthias Church on Bellwoods Avenue. Many members lived next door in the rectory
At St. Matthias Church in Trinity-Bellwoods, they spoke in tongues, went into trances and performed exorcisms. When a teenage follower complained of an earache, they tried to drive the devil out of her. Within days, she was dead.

NATHANIEL G. MOORE
Toronto Life
OCTOBER 1, 2018

My grandfather, George Moore Smith, was born in Toronto in 1911. While his brother, Brigadier Morgan Smith, became a Canadian war hero—he fought at Dieppe and landed at Normandy—my grandfather chose religion. From a young age, he was captivated by the story of Jesus and his teachings, and as an adult, he devoted his life to serving God with the Anglican Church of Canada. In 1939, he was appointed rector in Dunnville, Ontario, on the shores of Lake Erie, where he oversaw three parishes. He and my grandmother, Violet, had five children in quick succession: David, my father, was the eldest, followed by Rebecca, Ann, Patrick and Suzie.

In demeanour, my grandparents always reminded me of Thurston Howell III and his wife, Lovey, the genteel castaways on Gilligan’s Island. They were proper, with an air of sophistication and intelligence. In appearance, Violet was mousy and petite, and always subservient to her husband. My grandfather, who went by Moore, was large and imposing, just under six feet with broad shoulders and a square jaw. He had a soft voice that could accelerate to a furious boom when he delivered sermons, and when he sang, he sounded like a cross between Kermit the Frog and Leonard Cohen. Some people found him to be a charismatic leader, while others thought he was prone to histrionics. Growing up, my father rarely saw his dad. Moore was always doing God’s work.

For most of the 1940s, my grandfather and his family lived in a square cinder-block house in Dunnville. It was ill-heated—the furnace seldom worked—and there was no indoor toilet or running water. It was a difficult life and so, in 1948, when Moore was offered the job of rector at St. Matthias Church on Bellwoods Avenue in Toronto, he leapt at the chance. The family packed up and moved into the rectory next door.

In the coming decades, the major Christian institutions in Canada—the Church of England, United Church and Roman Catholic Church—found themselves in crisis. By the 1960s, as the Beatles meditated with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, as the Vietnam War eroded trust in authority, as young people leaned toward cultural revolution, the oligarchies of the past lost their power. Church memberships plummeted. Between 1961 and 1981, the number of Canadian Anglicans dropped by almost a third, from around 1.3 million to less than one million. The church had tried to modernize, changing its name from the Church of England to the Anglican Church and permitting divorcees to remarry, but it was still perceived as aloof and stodgy.

The new ideologies of the era were libertarian, anti-elitist, often radical, spurring some parishes toward new, ecstatic forms of prayer. The Pentecostal movement preached that worship had to be experiential, not just ritual or intellectual. Its cousin, the charismatic movement, espoused the notion that Christ conferred gifts upon his followers, like the ability to speak in tongues or the power to heal with one’s hands. In 1952, my grandfather discovered these new religious practices when he attended a sermon by Canon Bryan Green, a British evangelical preacher known as the “Anglican Billy Graham,” who preached at the CNE Coliseum before 5,000 people. “Man is not a pathological case, as psychiatrists would have us believe,” Green pontificated. “He is a guilty sinner.” Moore went through a conversion that day. He considered himself born again. “He became addicted to intense religious experience,” my aunt Ann later said. “We—his children and family—had to buy into it. We had no choice.”

After Green’s sermon, my grandfather embraced rituals that were wildly different from the Anglicanism he’d practised before. He spoke in tongues. He performed the laying of the hands. Sometimes, he’d whip himself into a frenzy, flailing and rolling around on the floor. During sermons, he’d shake and howl unintelligibly. This kind of preaching extended to the home, where his children were exposed to odd spiritual behaviour. His ministry was a patchwork of influences, some of them self-contradictory. He described it as “Catholic in faith, liturgy and worship, evangelical in Christian experience, biblical in teaching and witness, Pentecostal in ministry, proclaiming Christ in the inner city.”

Moore’s radical new dogma created a divide within the congregation. Around half of the members left the parish. But some were captivated. In 1963, he was invited to deliver a sermon at Grace Church-on-the-Hill in Forest Hill. In the audience that day were Professor William Rogers, the chair of the French department at U of T’s Trinity College, and his wife, Marjorie, who was particularly entranced by my grandfather’s faith-healing practices. The couple were fairly well off, with a large house in Moore Park. After that first sermon, they joined St. Matthias and became my grandfather’s most devoted parishioners. In turn, he confided in them about the difficulties he faced, describing in letters how busy he was with his ministry, how he often felt “off” and “on”—possessed by malignant energy—and how that resulted in cruel outbursts with his family.

As my grandfather’s ministry evolved, the leaders of the Anglican Church remained hands-off, and occasionally even seemed to indulge some of his beliefs. In 1958, he received permission to bring a British faith healer—who claimed to have cured his own son’s meningitis—to the parish, largely at the expense of the church. At one point, he was also allowed to form his own healing committee. But behind closed doors, the diocese was trying to transfer Moore away from St. Matthias. They approached seven Ontario parishes between 1959 and 1964. All of them refused to take my grandfather as their minister.

In 1964, tragedy struck. My uncle Patrick, the favoured son, was killed. He was 14 at the time, on his way home from his job at a stationery store. As he cycled past the corner of Dundas and Shaw, a car collided with him and threw him from his bike, bashing his head on the concrete. He was rushed to Sick Kids but died the next day.

Everyone in the family fell into a depression after Patrick died. “He was always in song, and carried his guitar with him, always cheerful,” my grandfather once told me. “He would say the most remarkable things about Jesus.” After he lost Patrick, my grandfather relied increasingly on faith healing to help himself and his family get through the tragedy. At hospital visits and home visits, he insisted on healing the sick, praying and laying his hands on their wounds, whipping himself into hysteria. Within a couple of years, he had become obsessed with the idea of the devil and exorcisms. He often claimed to hear voices, to which he’d turn for guidance.

By 1966, he had formed a close-knit group of followers who subscribed to his form of faith-healing Christianity. He called it the Ministry of Healing. He was assisted by Doug Tisdall, a young Anglican priest whose father, Frederick Tisdall, was one of the inventors of Pablum. Doug had been involved in charismatic Christianity from a young age, praying in tongues and practising faith healing before he was ordained as a priest in 1965. The diocese bishop had encouraged him to pursue his PhD, but my grandfather urged the church to ordain the young man. Marjorie Rogers, her brown hair in a tall bouffant, provided counsel for members and claimed to possess the ability to discern when someone was “off,” or not listening to their holy guidance.

According to some members, she would perform what the group called potting out—going into a kind of trance, howling like a dog and chanting. That behaviour indicated there was demonic energy in the room and helped her sniff out who in the group was possessed. She was reportedly only able to come out of it when other members laid their hands on her and prayed loudly until she was herself again. Once, she even suggested that my grandfather and Doug were off, and sent them to a motel for the night until they were back to normal. (I reached out to Marjorie, now in her 80s, for comment on this story. She confirmed that she possessed the gift of discernment, but denied that she ever entered trances.)

Many members claimed to be able to perceive evil: some described a “head,” which was a kind of headache that would manifest when there was a demonic presence in the room; others could sense a “bad atmosphere” when an evil spirit supposedly infringed on the Holy Spirit. They believed in bad omens—a cut on the hand or a dropped dish might indicate the presence of evil.

My grandfather had a standard recruiting process. First he’d identify a troubled parishioner and counsel him or her late into the night. After a few sessions, he’d invite the parishioner to join his group. It seemed like a credible operation: it was associated with a real church, and there were two Anglican priests at the helm. Many members moved into the rectory, next door to the church. Others moved in with Marjorie and her husband, William, in Moore Park. William, however, was starting to have his doubts. He was disturbed by his wife’s fierce devotion and especially by the constant presence of my grandfather and Doug. In October 1966, he moved out, telling a friend their activities had driven him away. A few months later, Marjorie moved into Doug’s house on Gloucester Street, which became a second headquarters for the group. They later married and had a daughter.

In its first months, Canon Moore Smith’s ministry attracted around 50 vulnerable young men and women. Several of them were theology students Doug had met at the University of Toronto. My grandfather never called his group a cult, but that’s what it was. He would insist that new members commit themselves fully to God’s will, as he and his cohorts interpreted it, in exchange for the group’s protection and support. They’d often have to cut off contact with their families—their fellow cult members would be their new family—and reveal all their secrets and sins to foster a sense of trust. They were encouraged to maintain a sense of serenity and good will to all their fellow members, but urged to be wary of outsiders. Many members suffered from depression or came from troubled homes. The more disturbed they were, the more opportunity they had to be healed.

One woman, a 19-year-old mother of two, brought her kids to live with Marjorie and Doug after my grandfather convinced her that living with her parents was evil. “He prayed all of the hell and atmosphere out of my clothes and belongings,” she later said. During her first night at the house, she woke up convinced the devil was in her bedroom, which Marjorie confirmed. Right then and there, at 4 a.m., Doug baptized her with holy oils.

Another young woman had been married at 14 and later separated from her husband and two children. She’d attempted suicide by shooting herself, and the bullet had lodged in her spine, causing her to limp. Her ex-neighbour, a cult member, told her the residual pain indicated that there was evil in her body and introduced her to Doug. When he touched her leg, she claimed, the pain went away. While living at the rectory, she coughed up blood one night. “That’s hell coming through you,” Doug told her.

At a vestry meeting, my grandfather spoke openly about his new venture. He had become irrational after Patrick’s death, and the members of his group had saved him. “I keep telling you that God rescues us when we are in trouble. You should believe me because I certainly needed help myself,” he said. “The group came because they needed help, and the help was there…they saw the trouble I was in and they stayed to help me.”

The Anglican Diocese of Toronto was aware of the strange and mystical activities at St. Matthias, yet they seemed unwilling or unable to stop them. In March 1966, an archdeacon was assigned to investigate the ministry. He spoke candidly to the bishop about the “dangers” he perceived under my grandfather’s leadership. But without concrete evidence of wrongdoing, the diocese was at a loss about what action to take. So they took none.

My aunt Ann, then 17, had been away from home for two years, teaching at a residential school near James Bay. While she was gone, she’d received strange letters from her father, proselytizing about the wonders taking place at St. Matthias. When she came home to Toronto, she found the doors bolted at the rectory. The church secretary passed on a message from her father: if she wanted to see her family again, she’d have to give herself over with complete dedication to the group and report to Marjorie Rogers. She had no choice but to acquiesce. Living at the rectory, she was often told she was off, and no one would speak to her for two or three weeks at a time. One time, during an off period, she ran to the basement, where her father and Doug stopped her. “You’re filled with the devil!” they kept shouting until she went limp.

My grandfather often arranged romantic partnerships between members of his cult. He paired Ann with a young man at the rectory who was struggling with his homosexuality. One day, her father accused her of being cold to her new boyfriend. She was ordered to go to her room and take off her clothes. Moments later, Moore walked in. He was also naked, carrying a chalice and some bread and wine. He anointed her body with oils and celebrated the Eucharist. Later that evening, her assigned boyfriend came to her room and she was urged to have sex with him.

In the summer of 1966, Katherine Globe, a high school student from Burlington, joined my grandfather’s cult. Her older brother Alex was already a member of the ministry; he credited it with curing his epilepsy. Their father, an engineer, had recently suffered a heart attack, and her mother had a history of mental illness. Alex worried his parents wouldn’t be able to take care of Kathy, so he suggested she join Canon Moore Smith’s group and finish high school in Toronto. My grandfather visited her father in the hospital, where he signed over Kathy’s legal guardianship. (He later claimed Moore blackmailed him, threatening to ruin him in court if he protested.) The next day, Kathy moved to the rectory on Bellwoods Avenue, where she roomed with my aunt Ann. At 17, she was one of the cult’s youngest members.

Kathy had short brown hair, dark eyes and a ski-slope nose. She was a typical teenager of the 1960s: she loved the Beatles, and according to her high school yearbook, she dreamed of running her own household. Like other cult members, she was forbidden to speak with her parents, and my grandfather continuously reminded the Globes of the papers they had signed.

Soon after she joined the group, Moore set her up with my father, David, then 25. My dad had always been a proud and dutiful son, loyally supporting my grandfather’s teachings. He was tall and thin and clean cut, with bushy eyebrows that threatened to join in the middle. His eyes were hazel and deeply set in his head. Within a few months of meeting, my father and Kathy were engaged.

At the end of May 1967, a year after joining the group, Kathy developed an earache. At first, it seemed like nothing out of the ordinary. She had chronic ear infections and had been seen by doctors at Toronto Western Hospital several times. On her last visit, they’d found hearing loss in her left ear, a thick discharge from her ear canal and a bloody post-nasal discharge. She was prescribed antibiotics. When she started complaining of new pain, her friends at the rectory thought she was exaggerating—many believed she was prone to melodrama—and her brother figured she was responding to tension from her high school finals. But the earache wouldn’t go away.

Over the next week, her pain got worse. By mid-June, Kathy was mostly bedridden, moaning in agony. On Monday, June 19, Moore visited her room. Kathy told him how much she wanted to beat the illness, and he agreed to pray for her. As her complaints persisted, the other cult members assumed she was off and, as was the custom, they ignored her, intending to give her the silent treatment until she returned to normal. By the next morning, her moans had intensified. That day, according to several cult members, Doug and my father went into her room and spanked her across the behind. “It is our belief that illness is caused by Satan,” my grandfather later said by way of explanation.

Her cries continued all night, and by morning, they’d turned into one prolonged shriek. It was so excruciating that my grandmother, Violet, ran upstairs, where a cult member heard her slapping Kathy across the face. (Violet later claimed that the sound must have been Kathy slapping her own face.) Then my grandmother calmly walked downstairs and prepared lunch. She never took Kathy’s temperature or found out when she’d last eaten. When my grandfather went up to Kathy’s room later, she was in hysterics. “God help me,” she screamed out the window. He threatened her, saying that if she didn’t calm down and get out of bed, he’d have to cancel an appointment he’d made with the ear specialist for that day. The noise continued, so my grandmother called Marjorie, who sent over Doug and Alex. No ambulances were called. No doctors consulted. No painkillers administered. On the way from the Rogers home on Gloucester to the rectory on Bellwoods, the men stopped to pick up dry cleaning and at the church to pray. By the time they’d finished running their errands, Katherine Globe was dead.

Alex discovered his sister’s body at the rectory. She was lying in bed, dressed only in her underwear. After a failed attempt at mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, he called the police, and Detective-Sergeant Patrick Donovan arrived at the scene. When he entered the church, he saw members of the cult lying in the chapel’s aisles. In Kathy’s bedroom, the wall and floors were streaked with vomit. Her discarded clothing and bed linens were also soaked in vomit, tossed in a heap on the floor. In her hysterical pain, she had removed the contents of her drawers and thrown them on the ground. There was a broken water glass on the floor and a second glass under the bed containing a greenish liquid, likely vomit or bile.

Kathy’s body arrived at the morgue that evening. Standing around her corpse, my father, my grandfather, Alex and Doug formed a tight circle. Moore anointed her with oils. Then, as the detective looked on in astonishment, the four of them clasped each other’s shoulders. My grandfather incanted a prayer, asking if it was God’s will that Kathy be brought back to life. They were trying to revive her. Later, Alex admitted he didn’t think the ritual would work. “But I do believe the power of prayer is strong enough to bring a person back to life,” he said. “It’s recorded in the New Testament.”

When police interviewed members of the cult, many of them said Kathy’s illness had been an emotional one, the result of demonic possession. According to the post-mortem report, it was something much more prosaic. Frederick Jaffe, the pathologist who performed the autopsy, determined Kathy had acute meningitis and an abscess near her left inner ear, which had ruptured hours before she died. Ontario’s chief coroner, Beatty Cotnam, later asked my grandfather if anyone had considered calling a doctor. “I realize it should have been done,” Moore said. “Our judgment was clouded.” An inquest was ordered to look into Kathy’s death. The cult spent days trying to pray it away, to no avail. It began on September 28, 1967.

At the time, Kathy’s death was the biggest story in Toronto. Front-page newspaper headlines described the downtown cult, the girl who’d died and the exorcism attempts that had killed her. People were shocked that such a thing could happen in Toronto, where the best hospitals in the country were just a few blocks away. Originally, the inquest was to be held at the city morgue on Lombard Street, but due to the massive amount of attention from media and the public, it was moved to the city council chambers at Old City Hall, where hundreds of spectators sat in the gallery. They heard testimony from the doctors who had treated Kathy’s ear infections and the pathologists who performed the autopsy, then from members of the cult. My father testified that he believed Kathy was trying to get his attention, and that she only seemed to scream when someone walked past her door. He had spanked her across the behind several times the day before she died, claiming that if she was going to act like a child, he was going to treat her like one. During his testimony, my grandparents looked on with doting affection, proud of his loyalty to the family. He had stuck to the script.

I can’t help but sympathize with him. All the attention was on the cult leaders and the Globe family. I never read so much as a single keystroke of sympathy directed at my grieving father. And yet he had lost his fiancée, and was himself a victim of the cult. In a piece for Saturday Night magazine, the journalist Barbara Frum took an ill view of my dad. “He is dour, rigid, straight-laced, with an icy, glowering intensity,” she wrote.

Toward the end of the inquest, Moore took the stand. He denied ever hitting Kathy and claimed he loved her very much. By way of defence, my grandfather presented himself as a deeply troubled and weak man, susceptible to the influences of others. He also confessed that he’d believed he could bring Kathy back to life at the morgue, and had hoped to just take her home with them as if nothing had happened. Doug, for his part, called the whole inquest a witch hunt.

After a few hours of deliberation, the inquest jury delivered their findings. They concluded my grandfather and his wife had been negligent to not seek medical care or hospitalization for Kathy. “We find their judgments were so clouded by the religious beliefs of the healing group within the parish of St. Matthias that they failed to give her adequate personal attention and similarly failed to recognize the obvious symptoms that she was suffering severe physical pain.” They recommended an inquiry into the presence of this and other faith-healing groups in Toronto. A few hours later, the Anglican Church released a statement. “The Anglican hierarchy must decisively dissociate itself from the unusual faith-healing practices which border on exorcism.” My grandfather was asked to resign from the church, but was permitted to remain in the rectory until the end of the year. No criminal charges were ever laid.

The bishop, an ultra-conservative Anglican called George Snell, selected a commission of seven men to investigate Canon Moore Smith’s ministry. It included an Anglican priest, a canon and a rector, as well as the head of psychiatry at Sunnybrook Hospital, a U of T medical professor and a lawyer from the Bay Street law firm Strathy, Archibald, Seagram and Cole, which would later merge with Gowlings. In May 1968, the commission published the results of its inquiry. They noted that Marjorie had held the reins of power and was regarded as an “all-wise matriarch,” the person everyone—including the two priests—would consult before any action was taken. My grandfather, who was then living with his family in a rented house in the east end, was deemed a “mere straw figure.” He was to submit to a psychiatric evaluation, and was placed under close supervision for two years before he could run his own congregation again. “What began as a bold experiment in Christian outreach gradually degenerated into a mystic cult,” the report stated. “Satanic influence was believed to be incorporated into objects as well as persons. Given this premise, the need for exorcism followed as a logical consequence.” My grandfather’s only statement that day: “I have never left the church.”

By January 1969, my grandfather was a visiting pastor to the Church of St. Michael and All Angels on St. Clair West, and regularly administered Eucharist at St. John’s House, a community centre on Portland Street. He was in dire financial straits, and dealing with the lingering trauma of Kathy’s death. He decided his only solution was to leave the country. That year, he and my grandmother settled in the mountains in Jamaica. For seven years, he ran three thriving congregations. He never practised faith healing again.

After Kathy died, my father enrolled in the history program at the University of Toronto and later entered the insurance business. He renounced Anglicanism but couldn’t shed religion altogether, and he eventually became a member of the United Church of Canada. In 1969, the same year his parents fled to Jamaica, he met my mother, Diane, who was 27 and working as an administrative assistant at U of T. As they got to know each other, she perceived the lasting scars the cult and Kathy’s death had left. Soon after their marriage, he and my mom saw a psychiatrist several times to assess the damage. My father was haunted by guilt and shame, by the brutal shock of someone he loved dying because of his father, a man he worshipped. For years, he had recurring nightmares, and he’d often burst into uncontrollable sobs.

I was born in 1974, and my younger brother followed four years later. In 1981, the four of us settled in a modest detached house near Laird and Eglinton. Leaside will always be my Tatooine, minus the sand and droids. It’s where I played out the years of my childhood with bike rides and toboggan runs in Serena Gundy Park, where I once put my Han Solo action figure in a cup of water in my freezer to re-enact his carbonite freeze moment on Cloud City. To outsiders, we appeared to be the perfect nuclear family. But my relationship with my dad was always strained. Sometimes he could be kind, teaching me basic carpentry and electric skills for my Cub Scout badges. Other times, he could be unpredictably hostile. Once, when I was eight, he broke my hockey stick in half to teach me a lesson about cleaning up after myself. To get back at him, on the way to church one morning I shouted at the top of my lungs, “DAVID GEORGE MOORE SMITH IS AN ASSHOLE!” He was so humiliated that he skipped the service and went home. I hated him.

I first met my grandparents in the early 1980s. They were stern but never cruel. They’d shout at my brother and me about tracking mud on the floors or about shutting up our noisy electric toys. Whenever they pulled up to our house, my mom would do her best Poltergeist impression: “They’re heeeeere.” Occasionally, they stayed the night, but mostly they preferred to live in rural hideaways outside the city. “Grandfather doesn’t like to spend too much time in Toronto,” my mom would say, cryptically.

By this point, they had left Jamaica and moved to Wilberforce, Ontario, where my grandfather ran a ministry at St. Margaret’s church. Whenever we visited our grandparents, we would participate as guests at their Anglican parish. I can still remember my anxiety of taking communion and walking up in a line with my mother. She told me I didn’t have to drink the wine, that she’d told my grandfather I was just to take the wafer. I looked back to see my mom sipping Christ’s blood with a mixture of fear and curiosity. No one ever mentioned the cult. “You aren’t to speak about that in front of my children,” my mom told all our relatives.

Once, I attended a family reunion in Wilberforce. My grandfather was already going deaf at this point, and most sentences would either begin or end with a slightly elevated “Hmmmmmmmmm?” I was about eight years old, and the Star Wars craze was in full force. He presented my brother and me with matching Yoda action figures, and explained how being a good Christian and believing in God were similar to the Jedi and the Force.

We went to Northlea United Church in Leaside every Sunday. We wore itchy sweaters, and my brother and I were never allowed to sit beside each other because we’d start fighting or making jokes. I was involved in the social aspects of church: the choir, the Christmas pageant where I played one of the wise men. If my father was home, we prayed before every meal, blessing our fish sticks and meatloaf with the Lord’s Prayer. But as I grew older, church and God became annoying chores I had to endure. I had no interest in the prehistoric ramblings of religious characters who were terrified of damnation and crops turning to dust. Deep down, religion also unsettled me. I was convinced that God wasn’t really looking over us. Once I was so mad about something that I ripped a cross—given to me by my grandfather—off my neck and threw it out the car window. Another time, I took a gaudy wooden crucifix my father had given me and drove a nail into Jesus’ stomach, then tossed it at my father’s feet. “You’re not hurting me when you do that,” was his only reply.

I only knew snippets of my father’s past. I knew that as a child he’d walked miles to go to school. I knew he’d had a dog and that he’d lived in a farmhouse with his parents and sisters before moving to Toronto when he was seven. He loved to sing and was in the church choir, but no one seemed to like his voice. He would sing off-key, which he seemed to do as a way of being heard. Most people try to stand out so they can reveal themselves to others. When my father did it, he was just alienating himself. He had few friends—the only people he knew were his family and the odd neighbour—and he never told us what he was thinking or feeling. He was always preoccupied and distant.

By 1995, my parents had split up and my dad was living in a one-bedroom apartment above the funeral home where he was working. That February, I got a phone call from my brother, telling me to read page A1 of the Toronto Star. My aunt Ann, who’d become a minister in the Anglican Church, had given an extensive interview to the paper about her father’s cult. My grandparents commented for the story, too. “I take responsibility for the mistakes that were made,” my grandfather said, adding that exorcisms should be avoided. On the subject of cults, he described “the separation, the isolationism, the pride and arrogance that goes with it. It happened to me. It was a dreadful time.” My grandmother’s take was eerier. “It happened in a gradual way; going into it, you feel God is guiding you, but you have to be very careful—it may be the other party.” She meant Satan, of course. It was the first I’d ever heard of my father’s ordeal, my grandfather’s sins and the death of Katherine Globe. It sounded like some twisted made-for-TV movie. At first, I was horrified, both by the story and at my aunt for airing it to the paper. The family figured she just wanted to drum up publicity for her new congregation. My father refused to talk about it.

And yet the Star piece was ultimately a blessing. I finally understood my grandfather. I thought about his fear of evil and endless regrets at being so weak. I recognized a genuine sadness at what had happened, the incredible remorse he must have felt. As for my father, everything made sense: his obsession with religion, his need to belt out a solo in the choir to impress his father and his simultaneous fear of him. A whole universe of tragedy seemed to predate my arrival in my father’s life. How did he sweep it all under the table and start a family? After the article came out, my father and I never had any more confrontations. I saw him as a man burdened by his past. Our war was over.

These days, I live in Fredericton with my wife, Amber, and our daughter. My grandfather died in 2003, and my dad lives in Elgin, Ontario. We don’t speak often. The last time I visited, earlier this year, my brother and I replaced his floors. I could sense that my father felt vulnerable—the process seemed invasive, and my brother wouldn’t let him help. He was 76, suffering from emphysema, with a rake-thin Woody Allen physique. As he smoked in his lair, I found it hard to believe that this was the same man who’d seemed so overpowering when I was a kid.

In my father’s bedroom, I saw the dresser he had bought in 1981 from the Art Shoppe, originally part of a set that included the bunk beds my brother and I slept on. Resting on the dresser was a tiny brass picture frame containing a black-and-white school photo of a pretty young girl with dark hair and a friendly smile. It was Kathy Globe.

This story originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Toronto Life magazine.

https://torontolife.com/city/my-grandfathers-cult/

No comments: