WSCM 5: Watson Kirkconnell

Watson Kirkconnell (1895-1977), a professor of English and Classics in Winnipeg, was a family friend of the McLuhans who is mentioned repeatedly in the Cambridge correspondence between McLuhan and his mother. McLuhan would have known him growing up in the 1920s. Later, Kirkconnell and McLuhan became correspondents themselves. Kirkconnell sent an offprint of his article ‘Icelandic-Canadian Poetry’ from the 1934 Dalhousie Review to McLuhan in Cambridge:

Published in the same issue was Rupert Lodge’s ‘Philosophy and Education‘, a paper on which McLuhan worked with Lodge (as Kirkconnell may well have known) — an essay providing a threefold theory of education that McLuhan would flesh out with a 2000 year history of the trivium in his PhD thesis a decade later.

At the Manitoba Historical Society website, Kirkconnell’s entry among ‘Memorable Manitobans‘ describes him as follows (click to enlarge):

He was Professor of English at Wesley College in Winnipeg from 1922 to 1930 and head of the classics department there from 1930 to 1940. He then led the federal government’s “Nationalities Branch” (which became the Citizenship Bureau) during the Second World War. He also headed the Humanities Research Council in 1943 and the Baptist Federation of Canada in 1944.
After a period at McMaster University [immediately after the war], he was President of Acadia University from 1948 to 1964. He wrote 40 books, 130 brochures, and 600 articles, as well as innumerable translations from some of the 50 languages with which he was familiar. He was particularly important in translating Ukrainian and Icelandic poets into English.

A NYT article from August 20, 2022, reported  on ‘Canada’s Growing Linguistic Diversity‘. But a full century before this, Kirkconnell, at Wesley College  (later United College and ultimately the University of Winnipeg) was already investigating and celebrating this mosaic.

Following his presidency of the Humanities Research Council of Canada, he remained an influential figure in the organization, authoring its 1947 history and contemporary overview, The Humanities in Canada, with A.S.P. Woodhouse, chair of the UT English department. Between 1937 and 1965 Kirkconnell contributed an annual review ‘Publications in Other Languages’ to the University of Toronto Quarterly.

The Kirkconnell room at the WSCM includes blowups of many of his books along with photos of him. Correspondence between Kirkconnell and McLuhan from the Kirkconnell papers at Acadia (some of which is cited in Gordon’s Escape into Understanding bio) and from the McLuhan letters at York is featured. The University of Manitoba also has some Kirkconnell materials.

One Hundred Poems Chosen and Translated from European Literatures in Fifty Languages. Watson Kirkconnell, 1928.

Canadian Overtones: An anthology of Canadian poetry written originally in Icelandic, Swedish,  Norwegian, Hungarian, Italian, Greek, and Ukrainian, and now translated and edited with biographical, historical, critical, and bibliographical notes by Watson Kirkconnell. Published in Winnipeg in 1935.