Friday, 4 October 2013

A.M. Chisholm - Author, Lawyer, Judge, Coroner

A.M. Chisholm was one of the mainstays of the Popular Magazine. As far as I know, he did not create any series characters, but my knowledge in this area is limited as I don’t collect or read Popular Magazine. I recently read his book, Fur Pirates, which was recently reprinted as Pirates of the Pines by Murania Press. It is an excellent book and I highly recommend it. While the reprint is excellent, the introduction lacks biographical information except for a few tidbits; and that prompted me to go on this expedition in the wilds of the internet.

A.M. Chisholm, Canadian author
A.M. Chisholm, Canadian author
Arthur Murray Chisholm was born on Jul 23rd, 1872 (as per his death certificate, which was all I had to go on as I didn’t have access to birth records). He was the son of Daniel Black Chisholm and Cynthia Adelaide Davis. Daniel Chisholm was a lawyer and Cynthia was the daughter of Milton Davis, an American-born business man and banker in Hamilton, Ontario.

As a young woman, Cynthia Davis studied at the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary in Lima, N.Y, and after graduation she taught in one of Hamilton’s Methodist Sunday schools. The school superintendent there was Daniel, a prominent barrister, whom she married in 1864. Although they shared many interests, including temperance and public life – Daniel was a councilor (1869-1870) and mayor (1871-72) of Hamilton, and then an MP (1872-1875) – their marriage was not a happy one.

In September 1883 Daniel fled town due to his large business losses, estimated in the neighbourhood of $100,000. The papers reported that a lot of people suffered the loss of all their savings. It was guessed that he lost the money speculating in grain in Chicago. He took his son and fled to Evanton, Illinois, just outside Chicago, where he was found and arrested.

By 1885, Cynthia had moved to Ottawa and seems to have been renting out rooms in her residence. One of her lodgers was George E. Foster, a temperance advocate and a Conservative MP. A relationship soon started between the two, but in a society where divorce was a scandalous event, Cynthia faced some hard choices. She went to Chicago, where a brother lived, and obtained a divorce from Daniel in 1889, following it up with her marriage to George E. Foster in the same year. Her friends and acquaintances shunned her, and until 1893 she did not reenter “polite” society.

All of this excitement does not seem to have had much impact on Arthur, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Toronto University in 1895. This was another tumultuous year for Arthur – the University of Toronto had its first student strike in 1895, and Arthur was considered one of the leaders of the students. The main leader, James Tucker, was expelled, but Arthur survived this as well.

Following graduation, he seems to have taken up the profession of law, and became a barrister. He practiced law in Ottawa for several years, afterward becoming manager of the Western branch of a trust company, and lived in Regina, Saskatchewan. Sometime between his graduation and 1907, he married Ethel May Stoddart, a nursing graduate from Columbia University, N.Y. He probably met her thanks to his mother, Cynthia, who was the first president of the Ottawa district board of management of the Victoria Order of Nurses.

In the summer of 1907, he resigned his position as manager and went to live in Windermere, British Columbia. Arthur loved outdoor pursuits (especially hunting) and Maude’s brother Edgar owned and managed the Windermere Hotel. (Her other brother James had died in 1908.)

It’s no wonder he decided to move, see below for a picture of his house in Windermere:

A.M. Chisholm's house in Windermere, British Columbia, Canada
A.M. Chisholm's house in Windermere, British Columbia, Canada
Having found a market in the Popular Magazine, he decided to become a full time author, and Windermere furnished the raw material he needed. It is set in a valley between the Rockies and the Selkirks, and there is an abundance of big game, with "Indians, cayuses, pack trains, prospectors, and infernal liars — all the 'props,' in fact, usually found in the Western Story, which as a rule seems to be written by confirmed Easterners. Scenery is there to burn, to look at, or to climb, as you please." This is where he got the characters, the settings and plots for his stories, which were mainly westerns and north-westerns.

A.M. Chisholm out hunting with his dog
A.M. Chisholm out hunting with his dog
While working as an author, he also became the president of the Lake Windermere District Rod & Gun Club in 1924, a position he held for the next 21 years. He was also a local magistrate and coroner, and held a position as a government agent as well. Between 1907 and 1929, more than a hundred of his stories appeared in the Popular Magazine, at an average of nearly five stories a year.

He also had contributions published in the Metropolitan, the Smart Set, the Red Book, the Blue Book, and other publications. He had a preference for the outdoor story, with action, and if possible, a tragedy or the hint of one behind it, and much of his the material for his logging stories was drawn from his acquaintance with the lumbermen of the Ottawa river and its tributaries.

Having other jobs probably cushioned him when his primary market, the Popular Magazine, stopped publication in October 1931. And that’s all I could find out about him till his death on January 24, 1960. He had outlived his wife, and I did not find any record of children.

Links to books in print:





  1. A.M. Chisholm has been unjustly forgotten and I've read many of his stories since I collect POPULAR MAGAZINE. He did write two or three series but his main series was about the citizens of Yellow Horse. The stories were written with wit and humor and had a mining background. Most appeared in POPULAR and were definitely his best work. Some of the stories were collected in the hardcover, YELLOW HORSE.

    1. I liked the Fur Pirates a lot. I've also read a few short stories by him - all of them were good fun.

      I've also purchased the Yellow Horse collection, and will probably review them sometime.

    2. By the way, congratulations on passing the 10,000 visitor mark. I'm fascinated by the visitors and pulp readers from all around the globe. This website if a big favorite of mine.