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January 9, 2018

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Fred Loft was an early 20th century visionary

January 6, 2017

Barbara A. Martindale- For What It's Worth April 29, 2014

One wonders about their ancestry and how the genes carry on from one generation to another.


 Over the past few months – perhaps in part because of this column about Bernice Loft Winslow – Robert Loft has been researching his ancestry. Robert (Rope) has amassed an amazing amount of history on the Loft family, but he is still trying to connect the dots.


Education was a prime factor in members of his ancestry. Frederick Ogilvie Loft, uncle to Bernice Loft, is one example. This ancestor's life from February 3, 1861 to July 5, 1934 was a famous native, a benefactor of his people.


Fred Loft was educated at Caledonia public school following a year in a residential school in Brantford. His mother Ellen Smith and father George Loft supported his decision not to return to the Brantford school.


Desperate for a full education at 13, Fred walked eight miles a day (round trip) to the Caledonia public school. The next year he moved to Caledonia and worked for his board and lodging while in school. He attended Caledonia High School from 1878 to 1881. Although there were negative encounters in Caledonia, it did not deter him.


Following a few years as a lumberjack in Michigan, he returned to school and received a full scholarship to study bookkeeping at the Ontario Business College in Belleville. He also worked as a reporter for the Brantford Expositor.


His parent's support and encouragement led to Fred Loft's confidence in what he did. He was soon appointed as an accountant under the Liberal government of Oliver Mowat in the bursar's office of the Asylum for the Insane. He remained in this position for 36 years all the while continuing to take an interest in native issues.


In 1898, Fred Loft married Affa Geare of Chicago, a former Torontonian of British ancestry. They were parents to twin daughters in 1902 – one of whom died at two years old. Another daughter was born in 1904.


Being raised in a Christian family, Fred and his wife attended the Anglican church regularly, and they led a busy life. Their social circle was extensive. Fred took part in masonic affairs, was a billiard player, sang, played the piano and, with his wife, hosted musical parties.


In the years before WWI, Fred continued to draw attention to native affairs, writing articles for the Globe, Saturday Night and other Toronto newspapers, advocating an end to residential schools, for example, as well as on a lighter topic, snow-snaking.


Affa bought and sold houses, rented to roomers and owned stock, often moving as a result of Affa's engagement in the local real-estate market.


Fred never owned a car and was in good shape because he always walked and exercised every morning.


Following his return to Canada after serving in WWI as Lieutenant in the forestry draft, Fred dreamed of how he could help the First Nations by building more day and high schools on reserves – a main objective when he founded the League of Indians of Canada in December 1918. The first meeting was held at the Council House in Ohsweken.


Despite his appeals, he received little financial support, and at his own expense, traveled extensively advocating compulsory enfranchisement and other matters pertaining to the interest of natives in Canada. With minimal resources, particularly after he retired from the civil service in 1926, the League of Indians was held back from expansion. A move to Chicago for four years (1926-30) also made it difficult to coordinate league activities.


Although the League of Indians had effectively become defunct when Loft died in 1934, except for branches in Alberta and Saskatchewan, other leaders took up Fred Loft's cause of a nationwide Indian organization – the National Indian Brotherhood formed in 1968 as well as its successor, the Assembly of First Nations chartered in 1985.


Fred Loft, an early 20th century political visionary was known in the farthest reaches of all provinces as the protector friend of his people.

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