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James Bacque '47

Old Boy James Bacque gives UCC Barton Lecture

James Bacque ’47 has primarily made a name for himself as an editor, publisher and best-selling author, but it’s his involvement with Frontiers Foundation that earned him an invitation to give Upper Canada College’s annual Barton Lecture to Upper School students in Laidlaw Hall on the morning of Oct. 18.

Bacque founded The Trent Native Series, the first Canadian initiative to publish books exclusively by First Nations Canadians, in 1970. That interest aligns well with Frontiers Foundation, a non-profit aboriginal voluntary service organization that promotes the advancement of economically and socially disadvantaged communities.

Bacque said the last time he addressed a large audience at UCC was as a nervous Seaton’s House boarding student during “the days of the British empire.” He recalled his Battalion training at the school, quipping “By the time I was 15, I was a terrorist.”

But it was also at UCC that he was introduced to the work of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, which inspired Bacque to become a writer. He went on to write novels and short stories in the 1970s before turning his attention to non-fiction books dealing with the Second World War. Other Losses, about death camps for prisoners of war maintained by the French and Americans after the Second World War, has sold more than 200,000 copies in 11 countries.

Bacque’s lecture then turned its attention to Garfield Bembridge, a young Jamaican man who travelled to the Northwest Territories to volunteer for Frontiers Foundation’s Operation Beaver program and wasn’t only shocked by the cold, but by the abysmal living conditions and alarmingly high suicide rate of the aboriginal people living in Fort Good Hope and other remote northern reserves. Bembridge’s efforts to counsel kids as well as build houses for communities helped save lives because he gave them hope and kept them engaged in positive ways. This extended anecdote highlighted the spirit and importance of service and volunteering, which Bacque emphasized the relevance of.

Bacque also stressed that it’s important to like and have fun at what you do so it doesn’t seem like work, and he urged boys to create a world view for themselves and understand things as they are by learning about philosophy and history before they specialize in certain areas after graduation so that they may be more inclined to help others who haven’t been as fortunate as them.

Frontiers Foundation helps build communities, both physically and spiritually, and Bacque would like people to make similar positive contributions to society.