Who was Herbert Norman?

[ E. Herbert Norman ]

E. Herbert Norman, Unknown, Library and Archives Canada, PA-134317

“Life is a highway,” Tom Cochrane sings. His lyric captures the sense of change that occurs in a lifetime, as the traveler passes through varied scenes and landscapes. Yet seeing life as a highway may put too much emphasis on change and too little on continuity. A better analogy might be to see life as a river. It is the same water molecules, after all, that begin their voyage in rivulets in the Rocky Mountains and wind up in Hudson Bay, thousands of kilometers away.

Like such a river, Herbert Norman carried certain defining traits from his birth in Karuizawa, Japan, in 1909 to his death on a Cairo street in 1957. But along the way, life’s experience augmented, reorganized, and reshaped those elemental characteristics.

In this section we follow a man who because of the unique circumstances of his birth was Canadian … but not Canadian. Moreover, he was an outsider to the Canadian political scene, but his talents and privileged upbringing gave him reason to believe he could become an insider. He took up communism, an ideology that caused most of its adherents to be scorned by polite society. Yet at the height of his power he interacted with heads of state, instructed a prince, and gave advice to a triumphant general.

Who was Herbert Norman? Officials at the time, and historians since, have wrestled with that question. Was he a man too sensitive for the rough-and-tumble world he chose? A stalwart Stalinist? A critic of communist excesses? A shy academic who could never bring himself to stand on a street corner passing out leaflets but who might pass secrets to the Soviet Union? An innocent victim of others’ political ambitions?

Documents in this section speak directly to these questions, as indeed do many located in other parts of the site (see especially In Pursuit of Norman. What is your assessment?

Government Documents


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