‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Montreal’s Not-So-Yellow Press 1
‘ABDU’L-BAHÁ HAD BEEN warned about Montreal. “The majority of the inhabitants are Catholics,” he had been told, who “are in the utmost fanaticism,” covered by “impenetrable clouds of superstitions… .” Percy Woodcock, a Canadian who had traveled with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to North America aboard the SS Cedric, had advised him in these terms against traveling to Montreal. Yet the concerted response of the Montreal press to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá during his stay in Canada’s largest city proved Percy Woodcock wrong.
Montreal’s newspaper industry was highly competitive by 1912. At least fourteen newspapers, in both English and French, were published daily. Another fourteen weekly magazines, which focused on smaller, special interest groups within Montreal, provided the city’s inhabitants with plenty to read. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited Montreal during Labor Day and the visit of Prime Minister Robert Borden. Still, as Will C. van den Hoonaard recorded in his book, The Origins of the Baha’i Community of Canada, 1898-1948, twenty-five English language articles, and nine French language articles were published, a substantial number for a nine-day stay.
It wasn’t only the quantity of the articles that distinguished them, but their content as well. The English language publications of Montreal lacked the sensationalism that characterized several major American newspapers of the time. Literacy rates in America had rapidly increased, meaning that newspapers no longer had to rely on a small, educated readership for revenue. They began to sell the masses stories of adultery and crime, often told in hyperbolic, charged language and intentionally controversial. This became known as the Yellow Press.
It was in this climate that journalists were challenged to write about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
On the evening of September 6, Mrs. Maxwell reminisced with ’Abdu’l-Bahá, “’At the time when I was visiting ‘Akká I despaired of the blessing of ever possessing children. Praise be to God! My desire and your prayer at the Holy Tomb of Bahá’u’lláh were accepted and I was blessed with a dear baby [Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum].’”
Children are the ornaments of the home. A home which has no children is like one without light. 3
’In the morning ‘Abdu’l-Bahá came into our room. When He saw the pile of newspapers which had been collected to send to the friends in the East, He asked, with surprise, ‘What have you done? What are all these newspapers for?’ We replied that they were the signs of the power and influence of the Cause of God. After leaving the church last night, the Master had caught a cold and His voice was hoarse, so even though He had planned to leave Montreal, His departure was delayed for a few days. During this time He went nowhere except to the home of Mr and Mrs Maxwell. However, many came to visit Him at the hotel.
Mrs Maxwell said to Him, ‘At the time that I visited ‘Akká I despaired of ever having the blessing of children. Praise be to God! My supplications and your prayers at the Holy Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh were accepted and I was blessed with a dear baby.’ Bestowing His grace and kindness upon her and the child, the Master said, ‘Children are the ornaments of the home. A home which has no children is like one without light.’
Mrs Maxwell said that her husband had used to say to her: ‘You have become a Bahá’í. Very well, you are responsible for this yourself. I have no hand in it. You must not speak to me about it anymore.’ But now, she added, he was so proud of the Master’s visit that if kings had come to their home he would not have felt so exalted. The room in which the Master stayed was considered by him to be holy and he would not allow anyone to enter it.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s advice to Mr Maxwell and others was this:
You must cling to those things which prove to be the cause of happiness for the world of man. You must show kindness to the orphans, give food to the hungry, clothe the naked and offer help to the poor so that you may be accepted in the Court of God.
Here is a quotation from one of the Tablets that was revealed today:
It is because the friends of California, and particularly those of San Francisco, have so frequently called and pleaded, expressed despair and wept and sent incessant supplications, that I have determined to go to California.
5 September 1912, Talk at St. James Methodist Church, Montreal, Canada 4
… In order that human souls, minds and spirits may attain advancement, tranquillity and vision in broader horizons of unity and knowledge, Bahá’u’lláh proclaimed certain principles or teachings, some of which I will mention.
First, man must independently investigate reality, for the disagreements and dissensions which afflict and affect humanity primarily proceed from imitations of ancestral beliefs and adherences to hereditary forms of worship. These imitations are accidental and without sanction in the Holy Books. They are the outcomes of human interpretations and teachings which have arisen, gradually obscuring the real light of divine meaning and causing men to differ and dissent. The reality proclaimed in the heavenly Books and divine teachings is ever conducive to love, unity and fellowship.
- Jones, Caitlin Shayda. “‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Montreal’s Not-So-Yellow Press.” 239 Days in America, 6 Sept. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/09/06/abdul-baha-in-montreals-not-so-yellow-press/. [return]
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 136. [return]
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=7#section166 [return]
- ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 314. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/22#006273504 [return]