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W.O. Mitchell

W.O. Mitchell is a famous Canadian writer, teacher and playwright. His work has earned him a considerable number of honors including having his image placed on a  postage stamp; becoming a member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and having two Canadian schools named after him. His work Jake and the Kid (1950-56) won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and his novel Who Has Seen the Wind (1947) sold close to a million copies in Canada alone when it appeared. Mitchell has been referred to as the Mark Twain of Canadian literature and has received honorary doctorates from several Canadian universities.

William Ormand Mitchell was born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan on March 13th, 1914. That is where he developed his incredible ability to describe the prairie landscape which he often paired with themes of loneliness and destruction. One  focus of Mitchell’s stems from “the energy of death” which is a theme heavily influenced by the death of his father when he was seven years old.  Another influence in his early life which added to his interest in motifs of mortality and death was his contraction of bovine tuberculosis of the wrist. In 1926 he was removed from school and sent to California and then Florida during the winter months in attempts to cure his tubercular wrist. Once summer returned in Saskatchewan, Mitchell and his family would return to Canada and spend the season at White Bear Lake. W.O. Mitchell attended the University of Manitoba between 1931-1934 where he majored in Philosophy and then attended the University of Washington where he spent two years taking courses in journalism and playwriting before moving to Edmonton to attend the University of Alberta. While attending the U of A he completed his B.A. and received a teaching certificate (1943). He also met Merna Hirte, whom he  married in 1942 and later took on teaching jobs in composite schools around rural Alberta. Under the influence of his creative writing mentor F.M. Salter, Mitchell began to write short stories, two were published in both Maclean’s and Queens Quarterly.  In 1945 he took a huge risk and gave up teaching to write full time. He moved his family to High River, Alberta and spent the next year writing Who Has Seen the Wind which is now known as the classic Canadian prairie novel and is considered one of the best Canadian novels ever written.

After the publication of Who Has Seen the Wind, Mitchell took a job as fiction editor for Maclean’s Magazine in Toronto, Ontario. There he began writing for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for the radio program, Jake and the Kid from 1950-56. He wrote over two hundred episodes for the series which also won him two Stephen Leacock Medals for Humour. His television play Back to Beulah (1974) won an ACTRA award for best script in 1977.  He wrote nine television plays altogether with The Black Bonspiel of Wullie MacCrimmon being the most popular. Along with writing full time, Mitchell had an urge to help younger writers so he started writing workshops with the first one taking place in 1952 at Qu’ Appelle for the Saskatchewan Arts Board. He also founded the creative writing program at the Banff Centre, and taught creative writing at York University, Calgary, Windsor, U. of Alberta and U. of Toronto. Later in his life, Mitchell moved to Calgary, Alberta where he died on February 25th, 1998. He has received the Lifetime Award for Excellence in the Arts from the Saskatchewan Arts Board and his novels How I Spent My Summer Holidays (1981) and The Vanishing Point (1973) added to his overall success and recognition as being one of Canada’s greatest writers. (J. McKay)


  • 1973 - Made an Officer of the Order of Canada
  • 1977 - Won the Chalmers Prize for Back to Beulah
  • 1989 - Lifetime Award for Excellence in the Arts from the Saskatchewan Arts Board
  • 1993 - Named to the Queen’s Privy Council
  • 2000 - Image placed on a Canadian postage stamp
  • Won two Stephen Leacock Awards for Humour
  • Received eight honorary degrees
  • Two schools named after him


Updated February 12 2015 by Student & Academic Services

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