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The Centreville Socialists

 Roscoe Fillmore: From Red Radical to Green Thumb (144 k PDF)

Mabel and Charlie Macdonald got new neighbours in 1924, as Roscoe Fillmore, his wife Margaret, and their four children, Dick, Ruth, Rosa, and Alexandra, arrived in Centreville from New Brunswick. Roscoe had been an ardent communist since high school. His devotion to the cause had led him, amongst other things, to help organize a general strike in Amherst, NS, to manage a collective farm in Kuzbas, Siberia, and even to name one of his daughters after the German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg and another after Soviet luminary Alexandra Kollontai. Unfortunately, Roscoe's communism had cost him his job managing New Brunswick's largest orchard for patrician businessman Arthur Slipp. The Fillmores needed to start over.

Roscoe Fillmore's Home

That was about the time Frank Parry and Jim Simm invited Roscoe to Centreville. Parry and Sim were partners in a farm in Northville, a small town north of Centreville and they also belonged to the Socialist Party of Canada. They wanted to promote socialism in the Annapolis Valley and hoped Roscoe could help by giving speeches. Not only did Roscoe come, but he ended up staying in the area. The Fillmores bought land next door to fellow socialist Charles Macdonald, who gave them enough building materials to build a home and a greenhouse.

Woman Washing Hair

The Fillmores and the Macdonalds became close friends. The Fillmore children often slipped through the hedge and into the Macdonald house, where Mabel gave them cookies and Charlie would help them with their homework. Under that same hedge, Roscoe and Charlie buried a box filled with copies of The Worker, a banned Communist newspaper. Charlie often said that he had modelled his statue, "Woman Washing her Hair," after Ruth Fillmore.


The Annapolis Valley tended to be a conservative place, but every Sunday afternoon a small group of left-wingers would gather at Jim Simm's Northville farmhouse. A core group of Charlie, Roscoe, Simm, Parry, the farmer and poet Ken Leslie, and Otto and Asta Antoft, who published a Danish-language newspaper, formed the Centreville Socialists. The men sat in the kitchen, talking politics and drinking Sim's homemade cider. Their apolitical wives, Mabel Macdonald, Margaret Fillmore, Annabelle Sim, and Elizabeth Leslie, held their own discussion in the living room. They all gathered for dinner and singing at the end of the day. Socialists from across Canada, including Workers' Party leader Tim Buck, stopped in at meetings from time to time.

While they were a diverse collection of people, it is safe to say that all of the Centreville Socialists supported "production for use, not for profit," social ownership of industry, and the Soviet Union. They opposed social inequality, private ownership of the means of production, and fascism. Roscoe Fillmore wrote articles in publications like The Western Clarion and The Steelworker and Miner that reflect these positions. Ken Leslie did so in poems like "Moscow's Measure" and "Praise the Viet Cong." Even the advertisements that Charlie wrote for Kentville Concrete Products often talk more about politics than they do about concrete.

Roscoe's Campaign Poster

The 1930s were not an easy time to be on the radical left. The Canadian government outlawed many Communist (and allegedly Communist) organizations and publications, and deported, jailed, and spied upon people associated with them. After an alert RCMP officer spotted a portrait of Lenin in the Fillmore living room, Roscoe Fillmore, Charles Macdonald, and Jim Simm were all placed under surveillance. Apparently the RCMP was not particularly discreet and all three men soon figured out what was going on. These strong-willed men were undaunted by official disapproval. At Centreville Socialist meetings, they took to singing Christian hymns with new lyrics celebrating socialism. To the RCMP officers listening in from the road, it sounded like a hymn-sing. Roscoe Fillmore even ran for Parliament in 1945 as the Labor-Progressive candidate, albeit unsuccessfully.

The Centreville Socialists stopped meeting in the 1950s. Their host Jim Simm died in 1951. Soviet brutality, especially the 1954 invasion of Hungary, disillusioned Fillmore (although not Charlie). The escalation of the Cold War made Marxism even more socially unacceptable in Canada than it had been in previous decades. On the other hand, many of the things that the Centreville Socialists had fought for had been won. By the 1950s, fascism was no longer a viable political force in most of the world, the right to unionize had been established in Canada, and the Canadian government recognized an obligation to provide its citizens with social programs.

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