George Spendlove was born in Montréal on 23 April 1897. Educated privately by tutors, he showed particular interest in art history. At the age of 19, he enlisted in the military during World War I and served in Europe, suffering a severe concussion that injured the nerves in his ears, leaving him with a hearing impairment that was to plague him the rest of his life. In 1919, he returned to Montréal but was unable to work for two years. It was during the latter part of this period that he read a book on comparative religion and became interested in the teachings of the Baha’i Faith.
He regularly attended meetings at the Maxwell home and became a devoted friend of the family, eventually accepting the Baha’i Faith. Many who knew Mr. Spendlove recall him saying that when he first began studying the Baha’i Faith, he purchased a large notebook in which to jot down, like a good scientific researcher, any question he felt could not be answered satisfactorily by the Faith. Thirty years later, he revisited the notebook and found that not a single unanswered question remained.
George Spendlove became a vital supporter of the Green Acre Baha’i Summer School in Eliot, Maine. It was during one of his summer vacations spent teaching at the school that he met Dorothy G. Spurr of Sparkill, New York. They were married in 1929 and had two children, David and Dorothy Grace. After working as a fine arts dealer for several years, he sold his business and spent a year travelling across Palestine, India and the Far East. Between 1932 and 1933, Mr. Spendlove made the first of his two pilgrimages to Haifa. The year following his trip, he went to London to study Chinese archaeology at the Courtauld Institute of the University of London. On completion of this course, he was granted a post-graduate diploma in archaeology and was recommended to the Royal Academy to assist it in preparing its catalogue for the great International Exhibition of Chinese Art, shown at Burlington House in 1935. Mr. Spendlove had prepared himself to work with Chinese art by teaching himself to read the language. He played a substantial role in establishing the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United Kingdom (the national governing council).
In November 1936, George Spendlove returned to Canada to join the staff of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, overseeing the Japanese and East Indian collections. After several years, he became the curator of the modern European collections and was appointed a special lecturer in the Department of Art and Archaeology at the University of Toronto. His remarkable memory enabled him to recall details of Chinese art, European furniture, Indian art, Japanese ceramics and lacquer, timepieces, glass, silver and Canadiana. His lectures were full of humour and precise information. He had a phenomenal memory, and he had a great impact on the people he met.
His final appointment at the Royal Ontario Museum came in 1952, as curator of the Canadiana collection. Mr. Spendlove’s first book, The Face of Early Canada, published in 1958, is illustrated with pieces from this collection. A second book, Collectors’ Luck, followed in 1960. During all these years of intense application to his chosen profession, to which his many professional honours attest, he lectured at Green Acre nearly every year, and he held a Tuesday night Baha’i fireside in Toronto for over 20 years. His firesides ignited a fire of growth in the Toronto community.
In 1962, looking forward to his approaching retirement and subsequent travels in the Far East, George Spendlove passed away peacefully in his sleep at his home in Toronto. He combined the deeply spiritual and the brilliantly intellectual in his life and work, and he was distinguished and much loved not only among Baha’is, but among his professional colleagues as well.
This article is part of a series on a few historical figures in the Canadian Baha’i Community who were instrumental in the establishment and growth of the community in Canada. Over the course of this year, the Canadian Baha’i News Service will be posting one biography every month.