Fonds F7 - Wilfred Watson fonds

Identity area

Reference code

CA ON00389 F7


Wilfred Watson fonds


  • 1941-1998 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

13.8 cm of textual material
2 bound notebooks
3 sound recordings
17 drawings ; ink, gouache and pencil
1 photograph : col. ; 12.9 x 9.3 c

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Wilfred Watson was born in Rochester, England in 1911 and at the age of fifteen immigrated to Canada with his family, settling in Duncan, British Columbia. Watson attended the University of British Columbia from 1940 to 1943, earning a B.A. in English literature. During the Second World War, he served in the Canadian navy and after the war he continued his education at the University of Toronto, receiving an M.A. in 1946 and a Ph.D. in 1951. In 1949, Wilfred Watson was employed as a special lecturer in English at the University of British Columbia and from 1951 to 1953 he was a professor in the Department of English at the University of Alberta, teaching at the Calgary campus. In 1954, he transferred to the Edmonton campus, remaining there as Professor of English until his retirement in 1977. In 1980 Watson moved to Nanaimo, B.C. with his wife, author and professor, Sheila Watson. He passed away in Nanaimo in 1998, at the age of 87.

Wilfred Watson's writing career was prolific and continuously evolving and developing. T.S.Eliot accepted his first volume of poetry, Friday's Child, for Faber and Faber, publishing it in 1955, and Watson received the 1955 Governor General's Award for it. Between 1955 and 1956, Watson lived in Paris as the recipient of a Canadian Government Overseas Fellowship. Here he was introduced to the theatre of the absurd, and in the following years explored this interest with his own writing and directing activities. In the early 1960s, Watson made contact with Marshall McLuhan and developed a growing interest in McLuhan's theories, culminating with their collaboration on the study, From Cliche to Archetype. Watson started work on his first major play, Cockcrow and the Gulls, in the mid-1950s, and it was first performed at the University of Alberta's Studio Theatre in March 1962.

During the 1960s Watson had his most prolific period of playwriting; Trial of Corporal Adam was produced in 1963; Wail for two Pedestals in 1964; and Let's murder Clytemnestra according to the principles of Marshall Mcluhan in 1969. A play for Canada's centennial, O holy ghost, dip your finger in the blood of Canada, and write, I love you was produced in 1967. During the 1970s, Watson concentrated on writing poetry, and his second volume of poetry, The Sorrowful Canadians and Other Poems, was published in 1972. This volume of poetry experimented with using different typefaces and repetitions, and Watson later introduced number-grid verse in a volume titled I Begin With Counting. A second volume of number-grid verse, Mass on Cowback, was published in 1982.

The 1980s also saw Watson return to writing for the stage; The Woman Taken in Adultery, a short play, was performed at the Edmonton Fringe Festival in 1987 and a major play trilogy, Gramsci x 3 was produced by Studio Theatre in 1986. Wilfred Watson also wrote some short stories, essays, and a novel, although most went unpublished.

Archival history

Wilfred Watson’s records were donated to the John M. Kelly Library as part of a Sheila Watson accession (accession number 2006 01). Sheila Watson identified her friend Dr. Fred T. Flahiff as her literary executor and sent her archives to him between 1994 and 1998. In 2006, Flahiff donated Sheila Watson’s archival material, a portion of which was accumulated and created by Wilfred Watson and later formed into the Wilfred Watson fonds, to the John M. Kelly Library, Special Collections.

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Content and structure area

Scope and content

Fonds consists of correspondence, manuscripts, sound recordings, drawings and diaries created and accumulated by the poet and playwright Wilfred Watson, husband to Sheila Watson. Material has been arranged to align with the Wilfred Watson fonds held by the University of Alberta Archives.

Fonds is comprised of 8 series:

  1. Journals and Notebooks
  2. Literary Drafts/Writings
  3. Sketches/Artwork
  4. Correspondence
  5. Student Records-Watson (held within the University of Alberta’s Wilfred Watson fonds)
  6. Reference Material
  7. Personal Papers
  8. Audio-Visual Records

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


No further accruals expected.

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Title based on contents of the fonds.

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Access is restricted on some material.

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Dates of creation revision deletion

Revised by S Rogers, 25 September 2019.




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