McLuhan in Nova Scotia

In his 2-page ‘Autobiography’, McLuhan mentions

a year of early childhood spent on the Bay of Fundy. The scent and action of the sea has permeated my being ever since.1

This must have been in 1915-1916 since Elsie, Marshall and Maurice were with Herb in Montreal, when he was discharged from the military in November 1916.2 Aside from ties and memories going back to Elsie’s childhood, the particular occasion of the Nova Scotia stay may have been the death of Elsie’s paternal grandfather, John Henry Hall (1836-1915), the previous year. In addition, her maternal grandmother, Susan Starratt Marshall (1835-1914) had died the year before that. Her maternal grandfather, Theodore Harding Marshall (1837-1934) and paternal grandmother, Naomi Ogilvie Hall (1834-1928)3 remained alive and Elsie and the boys, probably also with Elsie’s mother, Margaret Marshall Hall (1861-1931), would have visited with both and with their other numerous Hall and Marshall relatives in the Annapolis Valley.

It must have been in happy remembrance of that time, along with his Distributist convictions, that led McLuhan to write to Elsie 20 years later from Cambridge:

I am eager for some mundane experience simply that I may use it as a weapon to call the bluff of the “practical”, “no-nonsense”, cads and grafters who have put us where we are. (…) If I felt no vocation in this direction I could think of no more pleasing alternative than to take a 30 acre orchard-dairy farm in the Maritimes. (…) As soon as I have a job I intend to purchase such a small farm (near the sea) which shall have a worthy tenant who shall pay no rent beyond partly providing board and lodging for me and my family (if any) during the holiday months. (McLuhan to Elsie, June 8, 1935, Letters 71)


  1. Eliot’s Four Quartets were an important part of McLuhan’s intellectual life and of his courses for three decades and more. Here he may have been thinking of ‘The Dry Salvages’, the third of the four:
    the sea is all about us;
    The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite
    Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
    Its hints of earlier and other creation
    (…) The salt is on the briar rose,
    The fog is in the fir trees.
  2. At the LDS Family Search site, there is a picture of Herb in uniform with his two boys labeled ‘Montreal 1916’. Herb was discharged from the army in November 1916 due to illness, although he had served only since August that year.
  3. Elsie Naomi Hall was named after her Naomi Hall grandmother.