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W.O. Mitchell on his home, High River, Alta.

The Story


High River, Alta., was always home, says W. O. Mitchell, one of Canada's most distinguished and charismatic novelists. Known for his poignant treatment of the prairies, Mitchell tells the CBC's Peter Gzowski that he was probably the only person in Canada to commute from High River to Montreal. Canada's beloved writer also admits High River and its residents have influenced his work. Turning the tables, Gzowski surprises Mitchell by inviting his Alberta neighbours to tell their stories about the author. One pokes fun, recalling the time Mitchell left his wife, Merna, stranded on the roof of their house.

Medium: Radio
Program: This Country in the Morning
Broadcast Date: Feb. 16, 1973
Guest: W.O. Mitchell
Host: Peter Gzowski
Duration: 7:04

Did You know?


• William Ormand Mitchell was born on March 13, 1914, in Weyburn, Sask. He died in Calgary on Feb. 25, 1998.

 

• Like many of his most memorable characters, he grew up in the prairies. But he also spent four years in California and Florida in order to recover from a childhood case of tuberculosis.

• In 1944, Mitchell settled in High River, Alta., where he remained until 1968 except for the three years he spent in Toronto as fiction editor for Maclean's magazine (1948 to 1951).

 

• Mitchell's first novel, Who Has Seen the Wind, was published to critical acclaim in 1947. The book, portraying the beauty and power of the prairie and the wind, remains a Canadian classic and Mitchell's most famous novel.

• Mitchell cemented his popularity in Canada with his weekly radio series, Jake and the Kid, for the CBC. It was broadcast from 1950 to 1956, producing a total of 320 episodes. (None is yet available on the CBC Archives website pending union negotiations.)

 

• His other well-known works include The Kite (1962), How I Spent My Summer Holidays (1981), and According to Jake and the Kid, which garnered him the Stephen Leacock Award (1989).

• Mitchell took great pleasure in being a troublemaker, often saying things that made people uncomfortable but made them laugh as well. The self-described raconteur once read a letter to Alberta Premier Ernest Manning, chastising his government for attacking J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye.

• Between 1968 and 1987, Mitchell taught creative writing and was the writer-in-residence at University of Calgary, University of Alberta, Toronto's Massey College and University of Windsor.

 

• In 1973 he was named a member of the Order of Canada. He was also named an honorary member of the Privy Council in 1992. The Privy Council is the secretariat of the federal cabinet and provides non-partisan advice to the prime minister.

• After his death, the W.O. Mitchell Literary Prize was established to recognize individuals with a substantial body of work and who have acted as mentors to new writers.

 

• In 2000, the Canadian government commemorated W.O. Mitchell by putting his image on a postage stamp.

 


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