SFU given J.S. Woodsworth letters and photos spanning a century

Simon Fraser University has acquired a collection of letters, photos and manuscripts linked to the founding figure.

British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University has acquired a collection of letters, photos and manuscripts linked to one of the founding figures of Canada’s social reform movement.

The school’s library will house a collection from J.S. Woodsworth, a Winnipeg pastor who was co-founder and first leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the precursor to the New Democratic Party.

Woodsworth was a mentor to Tommy Douglas, the father of universal health care.

Woodsworth’s grandson and his wife donated the 1,300 letters, 200 photographs, and 50 printed pamphlets and manuscripts to the university to preserve them and make them more accessible to researchers. The photographs include historical events, such as the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919.

“We’re honoured that the Woodsworth family has entrusted their rare and intimate collection of photographs and correspondence to us,” Melanie Hardbattle, acting head of the university’s library special collections and rare books, said in a news release. “J.S. Woodsworth had a significant role in shaping the Canada we know today and this collection provides insight into his personal life and the foundations of his political beliefs.”

The private collection is valued at $65,000.

Woodsworth was a Methodist minister who helped form the Manitoba Independent Labour Party. He was elected to the House of Commons in 1921 and five years later bargained his party’s two votes for a promise by prime minister Mackenzie King to enact an old-age pension plan.

He died in Vancouver in 1942 at age 67.

Glenn Woodsworth, Woodsworth’s grandson, and his wife Joy spent several years since 2006 transcribing, describing, and making digital copies of the material, the university said. Before that in the 1990s, 150 letters were transcribed by J.S. Woodsworth’s son, Ralph.

The unpublished letters were written between 1890 and 1990, but most of the letters are dated between 1906 and 1963. They discuss everything from political, socialist and humanitarian beliefs to domestic affairs in the Woodsworth house, the university said.

The core of the family archive was passed down from Lucy Woodsworth to her daughter Grace MacInnis, who organized the correspondence and referred to them while writing the biography “J.S. Woodsworth: A Man to Remember.” MacInnis added around 400 of her own letters to the collection and passed them down to Glenn and Joy Woodsworth with a provision that they not be examined until after her death.

Other collections of Woodsworth and MacInnis material are held at the National Library, the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto.

 

The Canadian Press

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