Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Michael Frederick (Fred) Tobias, Taddle Creek’s first cover star. A lifelong resident of Saint John, New Brunswick, Fred was the son of Solomon Tobias, a Lebanese immigrant who travelled to Canada by boat, in 1906, at the age of 16, and Jean (Kourhy) Tobias, a Syrian from Damascus. Fred was born on May 20, 1914, the eldest in an eventual family of six brothers and two sisters.
As a young man he attended St. Vincent’s school, and developed a love of the outdoors, in particular canoeing, hiking, and especially swimming. He became involved with the Boy Scouts of Canada at an early age, an association he continued throughout his life, becoming a cubmaster in 1935, a scoutmaster in 1949, and a sea scoutmaster in 1957.
He served with the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War, continuing in the Naval Reserve for several years afterward. In 1943 he married Laura Violet Wright, the daughter of a fishing family (her father was a herring and lobster fisherman) from Beaver Harbour, a small village near Saint John.
Shortly before the war ended, Fred and Laura became parents. Their first son, Tony, was born in 1944, with a second son, Ken, following fourteen months later. In 1973, at the age of fifty-nine and forty-nine, respectively, Fred and Laura adopted and raised their only grandson, Conan.
Post-war, Fred served as physical director of the Saint John Catholic Youth Organization, or CYO, providing counselling and recreation to local youth, with a focus on teaching gymnastics. In 1956, that job parlayed into his being appointed provincial director of water safety for the Canadian Red Cross Society, a position he remained in until his retirement, in 1980. He is credited with inventing several water safety aids still in use across Canada, and was affectionately known as “Mr. Red Cross.” Through his years of water safety instruction, he taught hundreds upon hundreds of students not only how to swim, but how to save lives. He is acknowledged publicly as being responsible for personally saving fourteen lives, the first when he was only fourteen years old.
Following his retirement, he served briefly as the director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Saint John before starting a second career as the head of security for the University of New Brunswick’s Saint John campus, via the Corp. of Commissionaires, a job he held for the remainder of his life. In 1985 Fred was appointed the first New Brunswick governor of the Royal Life Saving Society of Canada. He also served as a director of the New Brunswick Mental Health Association, a term as president of the Canadian Lebanese Association in Saint John, and as a member of the Simonds Lions Club. Fred was the recipient of many awards and honours during his life, including Saint John Recreation Department Sportsperson of the Year, the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association Award of Merit, and the Royal Life Saving Society Service Cross.
Fred was diagnosed with prostate cancer in mid-1989, and died on March 19, 1991. Sadly, this made him unable to enjoy the rise of his third career, as a literary magazine cover star. He first appeared on the winter, 1995, issue of Acta Victoriana, a literary journal published out of Victoria College at the University of Toronto, under the art direction of Taddle Creek’s future founder. In 1997, he appeared on the cover of the debut issue of Taddle Creek, appearing again in 2001 on issue No. 7. In 2007, Fred made a final appearance, on the magazine’s last photo cover (No. 18), and his photo from issue No. 1 inspired the magazine’s first illustrated cover the following issue.
Below are some of these original cover photos, accompanied by some previously unseen outtakes and other photos from throughout Fred Tobias’s life.