PAST TIMES BY JOHN ASHTON
Donald Murray Fraser
This Stellarton born son was called “Canada’s greatest unknown writer and a brilliant unsung author, who became an underground hero. He wrote sentences that made you want to take him (and them) home with you.”
He was called a “tiny ancient man at the age of twenty-six and there was not a moment in any given 24-hour period when he wasn’t available for a chat.” This Stellarton native turned literary heads before and well after his untimely and young death. He himself agreed that when living in Stellarton he was “the small boy with big ears and the precocious vocabulary.”
Donald Murray Fraser was born to parents Rev. Murray Y. Fraser and Viola Jean (Huggan) in 1946. Rev. Fraser was minister at the First Presbyterian Church in Stellarton from 1944-1958. Young Donald grew up on the corner of Stellar St. and Acadia Ave. Donald’s cousin, Gloria (Huggan) Hiltz affirmed that he was a “brilliant student and was well liked by all, but a little unconventional.”
Retired surveyor, George Bruce of New Glasgow was a childhood friend of Donald’s and had many adventurous and interesting stories to tell while growing up in Stellarton.
“At grade four Donald had quite a library in his house. We loved books. In grade seven Donald saved his money and bought the Encyclopedia Britannica collection.”
When Donald was nine-years-old and he was writing to Time Magazine, George asked him “why do you sign your name with an Esquire after it?” Young Donald replied, “it’s the only way they’ll pay attention to me.”
“Even as a kid, I was fascinated with the way he talked,” explained his old friend. The two childhood buddies would eventually meet up at Acadia University, one in arts and the other in engineering.
In 1959, Rev. Murray Fraser moved from Stellarton and was given the Presbyterian charge in Glace Bay, Cape Breton. The family moved back to Pictou County in 1963 where Rev. Fraser became minister at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Pictou.
Education and higher learning were very important in Donald’s upbringing; he would enroll at Acadia University, Wolfville and receive his Bachelor of Arts degree before moving to Vancouver to pursue graduate work. This is where D.M. Fraser challenged all that nurturing of the Presbyterian faith. In a 1983 interview, two years before his death D.M. stated “I am a Nova Scotia Scot Presbyterian on both sides of my ancestry, but not by conviction. Our household was surprisingly conservative and progressive at once. I could read anything I wanted. I could read (Karl) Marx and (Sigmund) Freud. I came from an intelligent household.”
This early character maturity would lead to independent thinking and to an acclaimed writing style all of his own. D.M. would leave university studies at University of British Columbia to basically challenge the establishment and to set about the connection with everyday people.
Often living in poverty, he relished and often wrote about the disenfranchised and hard life, but always with a deep flare that gave and treated the topic and reader with great respect.
In 1972, D.M. Fraser helped form Pulp Press, along with several of UBC friends. This small independent publishing company with no fixed address catered to the untested editors and unpublished writers. The venture survived, albeit meager. D.M. Fraser became known as a brilliant fiction writer, often preparing articles for many inexpensive “pulp” magazines in the British Columbia region including: “3 cent Pulp,” “Alive,” “Rough Beast” and “Georgia Straights.”
Some of the publications had subscribers across Canada. He was once asked why he didn’t finish his university studies. D.M.’s comment was “I decided that working and writing at Pulp Press was a lot more interesting then working with academics.” Stephen Osborne, one of the co-founders of Pulp Press writing a memorial for D.M. affirmed, “Nowhere in Canada, or in North America, they were certain, had anyone encountered sentences and paragraphs like the one emerged from the keyboard of D. M. Fraser.”
In 1974 D.M. Fraser wrote his first short story collection called “Class Warfare.” This critically acclaimed book became an underground cult classic. A critic described this presentation as “a remarkable story collection about radical anti-establishment of the 1970s, by D.M. Fraser, one of Canada’s most unappreciated writers. Comprised of assertive missives and richly hued character studies. ‘Class Warfare’ is gloriously written call to arms firmly rooted in the politics of culture in the 1970s.”
D.M. Fraser published another celebrated collection of stories in 1983 called “The Voice of Emma Sachs.” D.M. himself described this publication as “less self-conscious, I would also like to think it’s more accessible One does tend to change a bit. Life has changed to the point where it’s not necessary to be defensive.”
Two years later Donald Murray (D.M.) Fraser passed away in Vancouver. In his honour, editors and friends at Pulp Press, now Arsenal Pulp Press, published two more volumes of Fraser’s works, “Prelude: D.M. Fraser The Collected Works. Vol. 1”; (1987) and “Ignorant Armies” (1990).
John Ashton of Bridgeville is a local historian and the province’s representative to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.