Memorable Manitobans: John Wesley Dafoe (1866-1944)

Click to enlarge

John Wesley Dafoe
Click to enlarge


Born at Combermere, Ontario on 8 March 1866, son of Calvin Wesley Dafoe (1842-1916) and Mary Anne Elcome (1840-1913), brother of Rance G. Dafoe, 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, Edwin Elcome “Ted” Dafoe, Dorothy Wentworth Dafoe (1895-?), John Grannis Dafoe (1897-1973, son-in-law of Herbert James Metcalfe), 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:

Early Winnipeg Newspapers: The Last 70 Years of Journalism at Fort Garry and Winnipeg
MHS Transactions, Series 3, 1946-47 Season

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: John Wesley Dafoe Plaque (1355 Mountain Avenue, Winnipeg)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: John Dafoe School (1777 Grant Avenue, Winnipeg)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Dafoe Cottage (11 Lake Drive, Ponemah, Dunnottar)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Dafoe Cottage (289 Gimli Road, Ponemah, Dunnottar)

The Politics of J. W. Dafoe and the Free Press by Ramsay Cook (1963)

Dafoe of the Free Press by Murray Donnelly (1968)

John Wesley Dafoe - Person of National Historic Significance

John W. Dafoe Prize

In Search of Canada: The Early Years of John Wesley Dafoe by Christopher Dafoe, Great Plains Publications, 2014.


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.

The Story of Manitoba by F. H. Schofield, Winnipeg: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1913.

Pioneers and Prominent People of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Canadian Publicity Company, 1925.

“King to honor many Manitoba men and women,” Winnipeg Free Press, 4 May 1935, page 1.

“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.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

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: 12 December 2021

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society. We acknowledge that the collection contains both reputable and disreputable people. All are worth remembering as a lesson to future generations.

Search the collection by word or phrase, name, place, occupation or other text:

Custom Search

Browse surnames beginning with:
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

Browse deaths occurring in:
1978 | 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989 | 1990 | 1991 | 1992 | 1993 | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020 | 2021 | 2022 | 2023 | 2024

Send corrections and additions to this page
to the Memorable Manitobans Administrator at

Criteria for Memorable Manitobans | Suggest a Memorable Manitoban | Firsts | Acknowledgements

Help us keep
history alive!