Arthur Phelps:

An Inventory of His Photographs at the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections

Inventory prepared by Lewis Stubbs
University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Finding aid encoded by Julianna Trivers (September 2002)
Finding aid written in English.

Revision History

  • July 26, 2005 - PC 142 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).

Collection Summary

University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections
Elizabeth Dafoe Library, Winnipeg MB R3T 2N2

Arthur Phelps

Arthur Phelps fonds


8.22 m of textual records. -- 79 photographs. -- 3 negatives. -- tapes.

MSS 134


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Biography of Arthur Phelps

Arthur Leonard Phelps was born on December 1, 1887 in Columbus, Ontario. His Father Leonard was a Methodist minister, a calling that briefly attracted young Arthur. He graduated with a B.A from Victoria College, Toronto in 1913 before furthering his religious training. By 1915 he was an ordained minister and was married to the former Lila Irene Nicholls. He already possessed a literary and artistic flare publishing several poems, some illustrated and wildlife articles for the local Toronto newspaper and publications like The Christian Guardian and Canadian Courier .

A chance encounter during a speaking engagement led to Phelps being offered a teaching position with the English Department at Cornell College in Iowa in 1920. He was a popular staff member and was heavily involved with the campus English Club. The following year Phelps embarked on a twenty-five year tenure Wesley College at the University of Manitoba. He quickly rose to Department Chair developed a thriving English Club and still found time to act and direct with the local amateur theater troop the Contemporary Players.

Although a close friend of many leading literary figures like Frederick Phillip Grove, William Deacon and B.K Sandwell, Phelps published very little. He published two thin books of poetry Poems in 1921 and Bobcaygeon in 1922. In 1941 material from his C.B.C. radio broadcasts were published as This Canada and These United States . In 1951 he published the critically acclaimed Canadian Writers with McClelland and Stewart.

What Phelps lacked in a literary career, he more than made up for as one of Canada's pre-eminent broadcast journalists. In a career that spanned over forty years on the air as both a radio and television Phelps came to be regarded as the foremost cultural critic of the era . Beginning with a series of University on the Air debates produced locally in Winnipeg in the late 1920s, Phelps quickly moved over to the fledgling Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In the early 1940's he hosted the Canadian Pattern expounding on the theory that Canada needed its own National Arts Board to stimulate the Country’s artistic community. For seven years he broadcast “Letter to Scotland” over the B.B.C. He wrote and delivered a monthly editorial comment for Trans Canada Matinee as well as serving as the host for the long running Sunday morning series the Neighborly News. This latter series played to huge listening audience in Quebec and Ontario with its tidbits of local news culled from the weekly newspapers and over ninety dedications to the elderly. Phelps was also something of a pioneer in television as well acting as a moderator on three shows during the 1960s: “It’s Debatable”, “Students Themselves” and “A Canadian Question Bee.”

In 1945 Phelps left United College, (formerly Wesley College) to become the General Supervisor of the International Service, a position he held for two years before returning to academia. From 1947-1953 Phelps was a professor of English at McGill University. It was during this time that A.S.P. Woodhouse proposed him for entry into the Royal Society as a Man of Letters. Subsequent academic postings followed well into his retirement. He was a Special Lecturer at U.B.C. in 1954-1955, a Special Lecturer at University of Toronto, 1956-1958 and taught Summer School at Queen’s in 1959.

The final series of the fond pertains to material sent to Phelps by other authors and poets for his opinion. The most prominent of which are the Grove manuscripts but there are also poems from E.J. Pratt, Watson Kirkconnell, Arthur Lower and Tom Saunders as well as lesser known individuals who sent submissions of their work along with their “Fan” letters praising Phelps radio series.

In 1965 Phelps’ wife Lila died. He re-married Margaret Duncan in 1968. Following his death in 1970, Arthur Lower a long time friend had this to say about Phelps in the Royal Society of Canada transactions: “To those who knew him personally, Arthur Phelps was a constant delight - and exasperation ! In the countless conversations of the years sparks invariably flew. Creative Sparks.”

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Scope and Contents of the Papers

The Arthur Phelps fond contains correspondence tracing the family history back to 1883 up until his death in 1970. While the vast majority of the letters pertain to his family and “fan” letters from the many C.B.C. shows that he broadcast, there are also some interesting correspondence from Canadian and international literary figures. Phelps was long a friend to and champion of the writings of Frederick Phillip Grove. There is considerable correspondence in Series one between the two men as well as several unpublished manuscripts, in Series five, sent to Phelps to read. He also has a lengthy correspondence with the poet E.J. Pratt including several poems and limited edition publications. There is in depth correspondence with Watson Kirkconnell. The fonds contains single letters from Margaret Mead, William Butler Yeats, John Masefield and letter about Phelps from Carl Sandberg.

The fonds is particularly strong in relation to Phelps’ broadcast career with scripts, series three, covering most his radio broadcasts and television series. Series three has a strong component of speeches given during his prolific career as a public speaker as well as several published and unpublished essays. There are scrapbooks containing copies of published and unpublished poetry dating back to 1905. Phelps course notes, series four, provide an interesting glimpse into what it would been like to take one of his English courses.

Series five consists of literary material sent to Phelps for opinion. The final series, consists of photocopies of newspaper articles about Phelps . Some biographical information about Ann Phelps Hamilton and her husband John David Hamilton.

The photo collection, PC 143 is not very elaborate but does include shots of Phelps during various stages of his academic career and some CBC publicity photos. The tape collection TC 91, while in need of restoration is an excellent cross section of Phelps radio and television shows.

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Organization of the Papers

This collection is organized into

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Restrictions on Use

There are no restrictions governing the fonds; however some material deemed sensitive has been marked confidential.

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Custodial History

The Arthur Phelps fonds were purchased from Phelps’ granddaughters Meg and Kate Hamilton in 1997. Hugh Anson Cartwright, who brokered the Phelps Collection for the Hamilton sisters, donated two E.J. Pratt typescripts, A. 97-75 that had been given to Phelps by his friend Pratt. The Collection A. 97-45 arrived in 33 boxes (28.6 metres) and was in very poor condition from being stored under Phelps' home at Chaffey Locks, Ontario for twenty-five years. The boxes contained some water damage and mouse droppings. In the spring of 1998 Jeffrey Long produced a preliminary inventory of the Collection placing the material in acid free folders and attempting to cleanse some of the dirt and feces from the documents.

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Other Finding Aids

Manuscript Collection (MSS 134)

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Detailed Description of the Collection

Photographs of Phelps and Family [ca. 1890]-1967
11 Portrait of Phelps’ father Leonard’s family, [ca. 1890]
1 Photographs of Phelps’s father, [ca. 1890]
1 Photographs of the English Club Cornell College, Iowa, 1920
1 Ann Phelps and grandmother? [ca. 1924]
1 Portrait of Mrs. Phelps? [ca. 1930]
1 Mrs. Phelps and Ann reading, 1935
1 12-14. Portraits of Phelps father Leonard, [ca. 1935]
1 Arthur Lower with slingshot, [ca. 1935]
1 Portrait of Arthur Lower, [ca. 1935]
1 Professors D. Owen, D.C. Masters, A. Phelps and ? [ca. 1939]
1 Bobcaygeon, Ont., [ca. 1935]
1 Hungerford, England, [ca. 1935]
1 John Masefield in N.Y., 1936
1 Sketch of Phelps home the “Old Mill” at Chaffey Locks, Ont., 1942
1 English Club members at United College, 1943-1944
1 Mrs. Phelps on a holiday, [ca. 1945]
1 John and Margaret Kilpatrick, 1949
2 Phelps out walking, [ca. 1915]
2 Phelps canoeing, 1924
2 Phelps, with wife and daughter, [ca. 1926]
2 Phelps at Wesley College, [ca. 1930]
2 Phelps in 1890's costume with student, [ca. 1935]
2 Phelps in front of Wesley College, [ca. 1935]
2 Phelps C.B.C. publicity photos, 1945-1962
2 Phelps judging quilting contest for “Neighbourly News”, 1962
2 “It’s Debatable” C.K.W.S. T.V. [ca.1962]
2 Phelps receives Honorary Degree from Dr. Lockhart, Unniversity of Winnipeg, 1967.

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Photographs of Grove and Family [ca. 1920]-1927
13 Grove’s daughter Phyllis May, 1920-1927.
3 . Grove during illness, 1920
3 Grove, 1922
3 Grove cutting wood, [ca. 1925]
3 Mrs. Grove and May. [ca. 1925]
3 Mrs. Grove, [ca. 1925]
3 Grove family picnic at L. Winnipeg, [ca. 1920]
3 McArthur Falls on the Winnipeg River, [ca. 1925]

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Negatives of Phelps, Phelp’s Family and Grove [ca. 1925], [ca. 1935]
13 Phelps and Lila at Lake of the Woods, [ca. 1925]
3 Phelps at Wesley College, [ca. 1935]
3 Grove at Beach, [ca. 1925]

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