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Egan, Jim (1921-2000)  
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One of Canada's first gay activists, Jim Egan began demanding respect and equal rights for homosexual citizens in the late 1940s. In his later years he mounted a challenge to Canada's law on spousal retirement benefits, pursuing his case all the way to the nation's Supreme Court.

James Leo Egan was the elder son of James Egan, a maker of piano cabinets, and Josephine ("Nellie") Egan, a homemaker. The Egans married rather later in life than was usual, and they were 56 and 41, respectively, when Egan was born on September 14, 1921 in Toronto. His brother, Charles, also gay, arrived fourteen months later. Egan doubted that the age of their parents had anything to do with his and his brother's sexual orientation, but, he noted, "it is rather interesting, considering the number of gay men I've known who came from a similar situation."

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Egan stated in his memoir, "I have nothing but the happiest memories of my childhood." He enjoyed an excellent relationship with his father, with whom he often "would walk for miles on a Saturday in Toronto" and who, when Egan was nine, took him to the beach where he himself had learned to swim in the 1870s. Skinny-dipping was the custom of the men and boys who frequented the beach, and Egan recalled "an undefined excitement" upon seeing them although he did not interpret it as a sexual attraction at the time.

At around the age of thirteen, Egan came to recognize that he was gay, but despite the fact that he felt "somehow different from the other boys" in his neighborhood, he was always comfortable with his sexual orientation. "I never spent so much as ten seconds agonizing over the fact that I was attracted to other males," he wrote.

Encouraged by his mother, Egan became a voracious reader at an early age. He "gobbled up books at the library," reading biographies and all sorts of fiction from classics like the novels of Dickens to numerous murder mysteries and "everything that Edgar Rice Burroughs ever wrote." He also developed an interest in poetry, savoring the works of Shakespeare, A. E. Housman, and Walt Whitman, among others.

The teen-aged Egan found little about homosexuality in his reading. He appreciated Whitman and said of Housman, "I had the distinct impression that he was talking about what I felt. I found some of [his poems] to be absolutely breathtaking."

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, which Egan read at around the age of fifteen, "really triggered gay awareness for me," he wrote. He resolved "to find out who this man Oscar Wilde was" but was frustrated in his attempts because although "there were books written about him, . . . they were all so carefully veiled."

Despite the fact that he was an avid reader, Egan was not a particularly enthusiastic student. His education began at Holy Name grade school in Toronto at the insistence of his mother, a convert to Catholicism. At Holy Name, stated Egan, "I acquired a life-long aversion to formal education." His experience as a student of the Sisters of St. Joseph was not a happy one.

After completing grade school in 1936, Egan elected to go to the public Eastern High School of Commerce for a general commercial course, a practical choice. He had a strong interest in science and had hoped to become a doctor, but since his father had died earlier in the year and the Great Depression was in full force, the family's straitened financial circumstances extinguished any hope of a college education.

Egan found his first year at Eastern "just excruciating" since he was only interested in two courses, English literature, in which he had "a supplementary reading list that was pages long," and a general science class. He excelled in both but failed everything else. He came back to repeat the year but quit in frustration after two months.

An uncle helped him get a job on a farm, where he worked for two years to help support his family.

Egan turned eighteen shortly after Canada's entry in World War II in September 1939, and he attempted to join the army but was rejected because of a small corneal scar, the result of an automobile accident.

Released from military obligation, Egan took a job as a technician in the zoology department of the University of Toronto, where he worked for about a year before moving to Connaught Laboratories, a pharmaceutical company.

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