Irene (Todd) Baird

Irene (Todd) Baird, novelist, columnist (b at Carlisle, England 9 Apr 1901; d at Victoria, BC, 19 Apr 1981). Born in England, Irene Baird immigrated to Vancouver with her parents in 1919, where she later met and married Robert Baird. In 1937 she and her family moved to Victoria. It was here that Baird wrote her first novel, John (1937), and was exposed to the struggles of the WORKING CLASS when thousands of unemployed workers in Victoria protested the strike-breaking techniques of Vancouver police in what would become known as Bloody Sunday. The experience had a profound effect on Baird, and her next novel, Waste Heritage (1939), revolves around the struggling Canadian working class. Through 1940 and 1941 Baird gave a series of radio addresses concerning the importance of Canada's involvement in WORLD WAR II; several of these addresses were published in the pamphlet The North American Tradition (1941). Baird began working as a columnist for the Vancouver SUN that same year, and also published the patriotic war novel He Rides the Sky (1941).

In 1942 Baird moved to Ottawa to work at the NATIONAL FILM BOARD (NFB). She subsequently worked for the federal Department of Mines and RESOURCES and the Department of INDIAN AFFAIRS and Northern Development, where she served as chief of information services, retiring in 1967. At the time of her retirement Baird was the first woman to head a federal information division. During her time in Ottawa, Baird wrote extensively on Canada's NORTH. She published poems, articles and stories in SATURDAY NIGHT, the Beaver, North, Canadian Geographical Journal, and the UNESCO Courier. After her retirement Baird moved to London, England, where she completed her fourth and final novel, The Climate of Power (1971). The novel is based on Baird's experience in government, and the "shifting currents of policy and power" that occur within its institutions. In 1973 Baird moved back to Victoria, where she remained until her death in 1981.

Irene Baird published numerous articles, poems and stories during her lifetime, including 4 novels. Waste Heritage (1937), however, is by far the most famous and acclaimed. In subject matter, tone and theme, Waste Heritage is a classic example of a modernist novel in that it champions individualism and scepticism toward established institutions. A novel of protest, Waste Heritage chronicles the lives of Canadian men struggling to find work during the 1930s; what makes Waste Heritage unique for its time is that it focuses on the Canadian working class and uses historical events as its backdrop. Received very well at the time of its publication, Waste Heritage faded into obscurity at the onset of World War II as the eyes of the nation turned to Europe. The novel was out of print by 1942 and remained so for 30 years until Canadian writers, including poet Dorothy LIVESAY, championed its revival. Waste Heritage was re-published in 1973 and a critical edition of the novel was released in 2007.