Memorable Manitobans: John Wesley Dafoe (1866-1944)
Born at Combermere, Ontario on 8 March 1866, son of Calvin Wesley Dafoe (1842-1916) and Mary Anne Elcome (1840-1913), he was educated at the public and high schools of Arnprior, Ontario. He commenced a life-long journalism career as a reporter for the Montreal Star (1883-1885), then was editor of the Ottawa Journal (1886), a member of the editorial staff of the Manitoba Free Press (1886-1892), editor of the Montreal Herald (1892-1895), and a member of the editorial staff of the Montreal Star (1895-1901). He became editor in chief of the Manitoba Free Press in 1901, holding the position until his death in 1944.
Dafoe made the Free Press the voice of Prairie Liberalism as well as an international newspaper of record. He combined an advocacy of western issues (lower tariffs, lower freight rates, provincial control of natural resources) with an international perspective that favoured the Commonwealth and the League of Nations. Dafoe helped found the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, and he was highly critical in the late 1930s of Mackenzie King’s diffident foreign policy. He was a member of the Rowell-Sirois Commission on Dominion-Provincial relations and, from 1934 to 1944, was Chancellor of the University of Manitoba, from which he received an honorary doctorate. He also received an honorary degree from Queen’s University (Kingston). He also served as President of the Canadian Institute of International Affairs and Chairman of the Institute of Pacific Relations (1936-1938).
His essay Laurier: A Study in Canadian Politics (1922) and his biography Clifford Sifton in Relation to His Times (1931) are distinguished contributions to Canadian historical writing. As contributor of the chapters on the Economic History of the Prairie Provinces, 1870-1915, in Canada and Its Provinces, volume 20, Dafoe proved his knowledge of the growth of the Canadian West of which, indeed, he was himself a great part. Other written works included Over the Battlefields (1922) and Canada, An American Nation (1935). He also edited Canada Fights (1941).
In 1890, he married Alice Parmelee (1866-1961) of Ottawa, Ontario with whom he had seven children: Mary Alice Dafoe (1891-1983), Edwin Elcome “Ted” Dafoe, Dorothy Wentworth Dafoe (1895-?), John Grannis Dafoe (1897-1973), Marcella Parmelee Dafoe (1898-2000), Julia Annette Elizabeth Dafoe, and Phillip Van Rensellar Dafoe (1905-1959). At the time of his death, he lived at 1325 Wellington Crescent, prior to which he had lived at 509 Spence Street.
Dafoe died suddenly at Winnipeg on 9 January 1944 and was buried in the Elmwood Cemetery. He is commemorated by Dafoe Road and John Dafoe School in Winnipeg, and the Dafoe Book Prize. His papers are at the Archives of Manitoba and the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections. His maroon leather chair remains a fixture at the Winnipeg Free Press newsroom, having accompanied a move from the 300 Carlton location to the new location in 1991.
His articles for the Manitoba Historical Society:
1901 Canada census, Automated Genealogy.
Birth registration [P. V. R. Dafoe], Manitoba Vital Statistics.
Who’s Who in Western Canada: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Men and Women of Western Canada, Volume 1, edited by C. W. Parker, Vancouver: Canadian Press Association, 1911.
Pioneers and Prominent People of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Canadian Publicity Company, 1925.
“J. W. Dafoe, Dean of Canadian journalism, dies suddenly,” Winnipeg Free Press, 10 January 1944, page 1.
“J. W. Dafoe’s estate valued at $168,174,” Winnipeg Free Press, 1 March 1944, page 7.
“A man 'starred with greatness,” Winnipeg Free Press, 15 November 1957, page 3.
“John W. Dafoe,” Winnipeg Free Press, 15 November 1957, page 3.
Obituary [Alice Dafoe], Winnipeg Free Press, 19 December 1961, page 26.
Obituary [J. G. Dafoe], Winnipeg Free Press, 28 February 1973, page 39.
“Dafoe honored as great Canadian,” Winnipeg Free Press, 19 June 1976, page 3.
Obituary [M. A. Dafoe], Winnipeg Free Press, 24 November 1983, page 89.
Obituary [M. P. Dafoe], Winnipeg Free Press, 28 March 2000, page 35.
“New perspectives editor builds on proud legacy,” Winnipeg Free Press, 9 August 2014.
Fowler family tree, Ancestry.
We thank Nathan Kramer for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 10 April 2020
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