Memorable Manitobans: John Marlyn (1912-2005)


Born at Debrecen, Austria-Hungary (now Hungary) on 2 April 1912, son of Adam Mihaelovitcz (c1885-1974) and Paula Kindl (c1891-1976), he came to Winnipeg with his parents as an infant. The family surname Mihaelovitcz [misspelled variously in different sources] was changed to Marlyn by 1931 and they lived at 455 College Avenue (c1914-1916), 450-450½ Henry Avenue (1916-c1935), and 28 Cathedral Avenue (c1935-1976).

Of his youth in Winnipeg, he would later say that “I grew up … on the edge of the North End. We were very poor, but not in the important things. We felt that our family was a rampart against the fire which was raging outside—the poverty, crime, and prostitution. Learning was encouraged; it was important in almost all immigrant families, not only in order to get a job, but for its own sake. Teachers were not only respected but venerated. My brothers went out on the street, but I sat at home and read books … Dickens, Scott, Tennyson, Gray.”

Marlyn completed his early education at Dufferin School (1918-1924) but had to withdraw from further schooling to support the family when his father became ill. He worked at Holt Renfrew for five years while finishing high school and attended the University of Manitoba in the early 1930s. During the Great Depression, when jobs were hard to find, he secured a position as a script reader for a film studio in England. Just before the Second World War, he returned to Canada and worked as a writer for the Canadian government in Ottawa, Ontario. He later taught creative writing at Carleton University (1963–1967).

His early writings were in the form of science fiction stories, which he published under the pseudonym Vincent Reid. His first novel, Under the Ribs of Death (1957), won critical acclaim and earned a Beta Sigma Phi award. The book is set in Winnipeg’s North End and tells the story of the life of a poor immigrant in the 1920s and his self-reinvention. Marlyn was one of the first Canadian writers to dramatize the social dislocation and alienation experienced by newcomers, his novel being described as one of “genuine social protest.” He would later publish Putzi, I Love You, You Little Square (1981) and The Baker’s Daughter (2000).

In later years, he retired to the Canary Islands and died there on 16 November 2005. His papers are held by the University of Calgary.


Birth registration [Karl Marlyn, Paula Marlyn, Frank Marlyn], Manitoba Vital Statistics.

1916, 1926, and 1931 Canada censuses, Library and Archives Canada.

Manitoba School Records Collection, Winnipeg School District No. 1 (Dufferin School) - Daily Registers, GR4527, Archives of Manitoba.

School division half-yearly attendance reports (E 0757), GR1628, Archives of Manitoba.

The Changing Isolation of the Outsider: A Time-Based Analysis of Four Canadian Immigrant Writers by Marilyn Huebener Osborn, MA thesis, University of Ottawa, 2013.

Under the Ribs of Death by John Marlyn, 1957 original edition. [Winnipeg Public Library, Local History Room, Fiction Mar]

Obituary [Karl Charles Marlyn], Winnipeg Free Press, 6 January 1968, page 30.

Obituary [Adam Marlyn], Winnipeg Free Press, 14 March 1974, page 38.

Obituary [Paula Marlyn], Winnipeg Free Press, 2 November 1976, page 32.

“An Interview with John Marlyn”, Beverly Rasporich, Canadian Ethnic Studies, 1982.

Under the Ribs of Death by John Marlyn, 1990, re-publication. [Winnipeg Public Library]

The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, Second Edition, 1997, pages 742-743. [Winnipeg Public Library]

Under the Ribs of Death by John Marlyn, 2010, re-publication. [Manitoba Legislative Library, General Collection PS 8526 Mar]

Henderson’s Winnipeg and Brandon Directories, Henderson Directories Limited, Peel’s Prairie Provinces, University of Alberta Libraries.

“Vincent Reid”, Antiqbook.

We thank Gordon Goldsborough for providing additional information used here.

This page was prepared by Nathan Kramer and Lois Braun.

Page revised: 11 February 2024

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

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