PARKHURST, EDWIN RODIE, music and drama critic; b. 3 June 1848 in Walworth (London), England, son of Rodie Parkhurst, a post office clerk, and Phoebe See; d. unmarried 10 June 1924 in Toronto.
Edwin R. Parkhurst’s early music training included studies with George Hart, of Hart and Son, a London firm of violin makers. George Hart was not only an excellent violinist; he possessed literary abilities that resulted in an internationally acclaimed book on the violin. It is likely that Parkhurst, only nine years younger, was inspired by Hart’s musical talents and literary interests. Albert Ham*, an English-born Toronto musician, recalled that during these years in London Parkhurst played his violin at all important services in the Italian Church in Hatton Garden (St Peter’s) and at the Sunday concerts in the Royal Italian Opera House and Her Majesty’s Theatre. An obituary claimed in addition that he had been decorated by Emperor Napoleon III for his prowess in fencing in a competition between Britain and France.
Prior to emigrating, Parkhurst worked for the Grand Trunk Railway in London. There is no reason given for his arrival in Canada in 1869 or 1870 to become a stenographer with this company, first in Montreal and later in Toronto. He would continue his interest in swordsmanship, helping to found the Toronto Fencing Club, of which he was secretary for many years. By 1872 he had managed to find work as a reporter with the newly founded Toronto Mail, where he received his first assignments to review entertainments. He then became parliamentary reporter in Ottawa for the Globe in 1873 and shortly afterward city editor. By 1876 he had returned to the Mail, attracted by the offer of becoming music and drama critic, a position he held until 1898 when he retraced his steps to the Globe to serve as editor of the Weekly Globe and music and drama critic of the daily edition; the latter post he held until his death.
To earn a livelihood as a critic with a daily newspaper, he had to review a large number of events in the city. In addition, he selected articles from other newspapers to be reprinted and determined which performers would receive advance promotion. At least part of the time in the early years he maintained this hectic schedule while living with his brother and sister on the east bank of the Don River, where they managed a market garden and poultry farm. Because the cottage was beyond the city limits, he had to walk several miles to attend performances. Generally, however, he resided at various addresses in the central city, making his routine as critic more manageable. Around 1905 he and his sister would move to a home on D’Arcy Street, which became a regular location for private concerts and for social evenings with local and visiting musicians.
Parkhurst’s literary contributions extended beyond the Mail and the Globe. His articles were also published in the Canadian Monthly and National Review (Toronto, 1870s), the Week (Toronto, 1880s), Arcadia (Montreal, 1892-93), and Saturday Night (Toronto, 1909-10). His most important contributions appeared in the Violin, which he founded in 1906, possibly acknowledging George Hart’s earlier influences. Parkhurst renamed it Musical Canada a year later and launched one of the longest runs of a musical journal in Canada. It would appear until 1933, Parkhurst being editor until 1920. His aims for the publication were clear: it was to be “a journal of musical news and comments” about performers and concerts both local and international.
Contemporaries declared Parkhurst to be “the dean of Canadian critics,” a distinction earned for several reasons. John Daniel Logan, in a review of Canadian critics, noted that Parkhurst practised a “technico-literary” type of criticism, a blend of technical commentary with “general aesthetic and artistic appeal, spiced with humanized comments on the charms, mannerisms, idiosyncrasies, or personality of a soloist, and on the display of dexterous musicianship.” Hector Willoughby Charlesworth*, the Toronto journalist who succeeded Parkhurst as Canada’s leading critic, pointed out in 1924 that throughout his career Parkhurst had demonstrated an “ability to deal with technical detail lucidly, and in a manner that the layman could understand.” Parkhurst’s early reviews that criticized many aspects of performances gave way to a style of writing that encouraged most artists, but still provided clear clues to the reader about the quality of each performance. After Parkhurst’s death in 1924, Augustus Stephen Vogt, principal of the Toronto Conservatory of Music and founder of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, summed up the views of many performers: “He was one of the most erudite and sympathetic of Canadian critics. To the end he retained his fine literary style, and his critical judgment was at all times highly respected by the profession and by the musical public.”
Committed to 19th century values, and personally favouring classical chamber music, Parkhurst was witness to radical changes in musical and theatrical entertainments. These shifts in taste as well as his onerous workload can best be captured by examining a typical month of reviews. During 24 days of “Music and the Drama” columns in the Globe of May 1913, he wrote or edited more than 150 items, many of them original commentaries resulting from attending performances. The repertoire included traditional Victorian plays, vaudeville, melodrama, comedy, early film, touring classical artists, and local musicians in concert. Among the people and works featured were Annie Russell and the Old English Comedy Company; Rose Sydell, “Queen of Burlesque,” at the Gayety Theatre; the Paulist Choristers of Chicago; the vaudeville Madame Sherry at the Grand Opera House; Sheridan’s The rivals at the Royal Alexandra; and Frank Squire Welsman* and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. In addition, Parkhurst reprinted commentaries about composers Satie, Debussy, and Schoenberg, all of them still too “contemporary” for Toronto tastes in programming in 1913. Regardless, he felt it important to educate his readers and to print reviews of performances in other major cities, such as a critique of Debussy’s “new symphonic poem” (Printemps), which had premiered in Paris on 18 April, as well as articles on “music of the future,” discussing new rhythms and scales being used by composers. At the same time he continued to edit Musical Canada. Parkhurst saw this journal as a pedagogical tool, informing the nation about instruments, styles, and materials relevant to both the amateur and the professional musician. As he had in his newspaper columns, he published articles on contemporary composers and performers.
Described by Charlesworth as “an alert, bright-eyed little man of many interests,” Parkhurst made significant contributions to the criticism of music and theatre. Not an avid nationalist, he often failed to promote Canadian composers and writers. But he remained committed to the education of the general public and in all of his reviews never lost sight of his audience. No other living critic in North America could claim the longevity of Parkhurst’s career. Although he was dismissed as conservative by some of his peers, other contemporaries recognized that his writings constituted the most substantial record of commentary in Canada for a period spanning nearly a half century.
In addition to his many contributions to newspapers and magazines, Parkhurst compiled and edited Royal song folio: a collection of standard American vocal gems, with biographical sketches of celebrated composers and vocalists ([Toronto?], 1886).
AO, RG 22-305, no.50366; RG 80-8-0-949, no.4093. GRO, Reg. of births, St Peter Walworth (Surrey), 3 June 1848. Globe, 2 June 1923: 17; 11 June 1924: 11, 13. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912). H. [W.] Charlesworth, “Music and drama: the death of E. R. Parkhurst,” Saturday Night, 21 June 1924: 6. Encyclopedia of music in Canada (Kallmann et al.). C. L. Hartwell, “Musical Canada: a study of music criticism and journalism in an early twentieth century Canadian music periodical” (ma thesis, McMaster Univ., Hamilton, Ont., 1991). Ross Stuart, “The critic as reviewer: E. R. Parkhurst at the Toronto Mail and Globe, 1876-1924,” in Establishing our boundaries: English-Canadian theatre criticism, ed. Anton Wagner (Toronto, 1999), 95-106.