If I said Charles GD. Roberts was the Canadian Ernest Thompson Seton, this might not mean a thing to people unfamiliar with the former’s nature books. Now Sir Charles G.D. Roberts is something else. He is recognised immediately. A great Canadian poet, a Maritimer with Valley connections who taught for 10 years at Kings college, Windsor, and wrote poems about rural life and the scenery of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
There is another writer named Roberts whom you may not recognise, however. Born in New Brunswick (as was Sir Charles) in 1877, he was a prolific writer of romantic fiction and a minor poet. Between 1900 and 1936, George Edward Theodore Goodridge Roberts wrote over 30 novels, many of which were set in the Atlantic Provinces. His novels and short stories were often woven around historical events and legends of the Micmacs and Acadians.
In his books and short stories, Roberts used Theodore Goodridge Roberts as a byline. When I first came across Robert’s name in articles about the Annapolis Valley in apple blossom festival magazines through the ’40s, I thought I detected some similarity with the work of Sir Charles and I wondered if they were related. To my untrained eye, their topics and writing style were similar.
In 1958, I picked up a book by Theodore Goodridge Roberts called Brother of Peril. In the office one day I showed the book to the Advertiser’s general manager, Frank Burns, and to my surprise I learned that the author had once worked at the newspaper. Burns also confirmed what I had suspected – that Theodore Goodridge and Sir Charles were brothers. There is a bit of mystery here, however, and a note I wrote for my Roberts file explains it.
“Check out what Mr. Burns told me: that Theodore was related to Sir Charles G.D. Roberts. Were they really brothers as Burns said? Theodore worked under Burns at the Advertiser in Kentville for a short period as a reporter and typesetter. In the series of booklets published by the Kings Historical Society (volume 2?) a story on Charles said he had a brother, Goodridge, who died of influenza in 1892. The book I have by Theodore was published in 1905, well after the death of Sir Charles’ brother. Rhodensizer’s Canadian Literature in English gives Theodore Goodridge Roberts’ date of death as 1953.”
There is no doubt that the Roberts who worked at the Advertiser is also the author of the 30-plus novels mentioned in Rhodenizer and the man who penned many Valley-based short stories. Frank Burns recalls discussing Brother of Peril with Roberts and was told the author had written the book over a yearlong period while in Newfoundland. Theodore also told Burns that he was the brother of Sir Charles.
Theodore Goodridge Roberts spent his last years in Digby, where he passed away 43 years ago. Unlike his famous brother, his works are largely forgotten. His romantic novels with a Maritime flavour, his book about the persecution and eventual elimination of Newfoundland’s Beothuk Indians have long been out of print.
When I opened a file on Theodore years ago, I titled it “The Forgotten Roberts” and that was going to be the theme of an eventual column. It took a long time to get around to it and I still don’t know if Theodore was related to Sir Charles.