VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It’s a book more than 80 years in the making. A Canadian veteran of the Spanish Civil War is sharing his story in a new memoir completed by his daughter, nearly four decades after his death.
Fighting for Democracy: A Canadian Activist in Spain’s Civil War is a first-hand account by Jim Higgins.
Born in England in 1907, Higgins sailed to Canada at the age of 21. In 1937, he became one of approximately 1,500 Canadians who broke Ottawa’s Foreign Enlistment Act to fight alongside Spanish Republicans in a losing cause against Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces. Jim was a member of the Mac-Paps, the nickname given to the all-Canadian Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion.
“My father signed on as an anti-fascist, explains Jim’s daughter Janette Higgins. “He saw it as a cause worth fighting for.”
She picks up the tale, finishing off his decades-old manuscript.
“I guess you could call me a co-author because I wrote the prologue and the epilogue,” she offers.
Janette did a lot more than that, from fact-checking to filling-in certain blanks in the story.
“I was very surprised my father was a good writer. He had an economy of words but he knew how to put words on paper, what kind of detail to include,” she says.
Though not seen that way at the time, Higgins was a hero.
“My father was no threat to Canada. He lived a life of honour and integrity. He was a proud Canadian and he participated fully in our democracy from the grassroots and I think he sets a really good example for all of us.”
Janette does admit her father had a history of what police at the time called “agitating” — even before he went to Spain. A union organizer during the Great Depression, he was blacklisted by employers for his activities.
“The fact that the RCMP, whether my father knew or not, they had a file on him. He certainly was well aware that they were aware of him.”
A Spanish boy whose life Higgins saved even wrote a book about him, entitled, .
“That boy, now a man named Manuel Alvarez, was living in Vancouver, and who had a very successful [car] dealership there, some people might remember Grand Prix Motors. Manuel had come to Canada in 1958 and he was determined to find the man who saved his life. He vowed to his father that he would find this tall soldier who had come into a raging current to rescue him.”
Higgins wrote part of Fighting for Democracy upon his return in 1939, then the bulk of it in 1977, at the urging of his four children.
“And it’s a good thing he did because after that he became frail and it was harder for him to do the rewrites and so on.”
Higgins died in 1982. Janette says he’d be very proud to see his memoir in print today.
“This book and everything my father went through is such a great example for what can be done. Yes, it’s hard work. And, yes, you have to persevere. Sometimes, your life has to go on the line.”
Fighting for Democracy: A Canadian Activist in Spain’s Civil War is available from Friesen Press.
This content was originally published here.