Call Number: Mss 64, Pc 151, Tc 97 (A.90-11, A.96-23,
A.01-22, A.02-64, A.03-109, A.07-55, A.07-64)
Title: Margaret Avison fonds.
Extents: 2 m of textual records and other material.
Biographical sketch: Margaret Avison was born
in Galt, Ontario in 1918. Her father was a Methodist minister. She
moved to Regina with her family in 1920, and then to Calgary a few
years later. The Avisons moved to Toronto in 1930, where Avison
attended high school. She entered Victoria College at the University
of Toronto in 1936. When she completed her B.A. in English in 1940,
she was already a published poet; her poem "Gatineau" had appeared
in the Canadian Poetry Magazine the previous year. Avison
had a wide and varied professional career that commenced when she
worked as a file clerk at North American Life Insurance (1940-1942)
and, for a few months, proofreader at Gage Publishing. Avison then
worked at the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, selecting
from the R.I.I.A. "Review of the Foreign Press" excerpts
for the local press, and editing a pamphlet titled"The Nations
Have Declared" about documents issued at the time the United
Nations was taking form.
After the Second World War Avison worked in the Registrar's Office
at the University of Toronto and then in the Library (1946-1954).
In 1951, Avison's History of Ontario, a high school textbook,
was published. She was awarded a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation
Grant in 1956, enabling her to spend eight months in the United
States writing poetry and attending creative writing classes at
the universities of Chicago and Indiana. She then undertook freelance
work editing, indexing, and ghostwriting a book entitled A Doctor's
Memoir. Her first book of poetry, Winter Sun, was
published in 1960 and won the Governor General's Award.
The year 1963 marked a major milestone in Avison's life. She had
drifted from her Methodist religious upbringing since young adulthood,
but early in 1963 she reaffirmed her Christian faith. When Avison's
father died in 1963, Avison's mother moved in with her. She died
in 1985 at the age of 102. Deeply moved by the Hungarian Uprising
of 1956, Avison translated eight Hungarian poems, which appeared
inThe Plough and Pen: Writings from Hungary 1930-1956.
The work was edited by Illona Duczynska and Karl Polanyi and published
in 1963. It brought recognition to many of the great twentieth-century
Hungarian poets. The following year The Research Compendium
was published. It consisted of precis, written by Avison, and theses
of students in the School of Social Work at the University of Toronto.
In 1963 Avison returned to the University of Toronto for graduate
work. She wrote her M.A. thesis on "Byron and the Newspapers," which
examined how the style of Don Juan reflected the news journalism
of Byron's day.
Avison began doctoral studies in 1964, but never earned her doctorate
because she did not write a thesis. The Dumbfounding, her
second book of poetry was published in 1966. From 1966-1968 she
taught at Scarborough College, University of Toronto. During this
time, she volunteered as a women's worker for a Presbyterian mission
called Evangel Hall. In 1973 Avison spent eight months as writer-in-residence
at the University of Western Ontario, after which she took a position
in the CBC Radio Archives. In 1978 she returned to charitable work,
working as a secretary for the Mustard Seed Mission. In 1978 her
third book of poetry, sunblue, was published. It was the
product of her profound religious convictions.
In 1986 Avison retired from the Mustard Seed Mission. She received
her second Governor-General's Award in 1990 for No Time,
which had been published the previous year. An anthology of her
work titled Margaret Avison: Selected Poems was published
in 1991. It contained selections from previous volumes interwoven
with new material and adaptations of poems by the Hungarian poets
Gyula Illyés and Ferenc Juhász, from the literal translations
by Illona Duczynska.
In 1994, A Kind of Perserverance was published, consisting
of two lectures delivered at the 1993 Pascal Lecture on Christianity
and the University, at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. The
lectures describe the tensions she experienced when trying to live
out her Christian values in secular society, specifically within
a university setting. A further book of poetry, Not Yet but
Still, was published in 1997. Her book of poetry Concrete
and Wild Carrot, which was published in 2002 by Brick Books,
won the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize in 2003. One of the poems
from the unpubliched manuscript of Concrete and Wild Carrot
was published in The Presbyterian Record and won a
Canadian Church Press Award in 2000. Between 2003 and 2005 the Porcupine's
Quill published Always Now: The Collected Poems, Volumes One
to Three. In 2006 her book of poetry Momentary Dark
published by McClelland & Stewart won The Griffin Poetry
Prize. In addition to her two Governor-General's awards, Avison's
contribution to Canadian literature has been recognized through
the bestowal of honorary degrees from Acadia University (1983),
York University (1985), and Victoria University (1988). Avison was
made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1985. In 2003 she received
the Canadian Authors Association Literary Award, Jack Chalmers Award,
and in 2005 the Leslie K. Tarr Award. Margaret Avison died on July
31,2007 at age 89.
Custodial history: The fonds was donated to University
of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections in February 1990
after a series of meetings between the author and Dr. Richard E.
Bennett, who was Head of the Department of Archives and Special
Collections. Margaret Calverley, a graduate student at Victoria
College in Toronto, had physical possession of the papers -- with
Margaret Avison's consent -- until the final transfer to the University.
A second accession, A.96-23, arrived in 1996 and was designated
Cultural Property by the National Archives Appraisal Board in 1997.
A third accrual, A.01-22, was donated in 2001. A fourth accrual
(A.03-109) was donated by Margaret Avison in the fall of 2003. Accruals
(A.07-55, A.07-64)) were donated in 2007 by Joan Eichner.
Scope and content: The initial collection consists
of several hundred unpublished
poems written by Margaret Avison between 1935 and the late 1970s.
The second accession, received in 1996, consists of correspondence
from various literary associates between the 1950s and the mid-1990s.
In several instances other writers and poets send samples of their
work for Avison's comments. There is a lengthy correspondence between
Avison and the American poet Fredrick Bock. The Collection includes
two theses about the works of Margaret Avison and several of her
unpublished essays and poems.
The third accrual consists of photographs, audiotapes, and material
relating to Avison’s work such as worksheets, manuscripts,
published copies, and reviews. It also includes correspondence from
the 1980s to 2001, material relating to the honours and awards that
she had received, and lectures and readings. This accrual contains
Avison’s Bible study notes created between 1967 and 2001.
The accrual also includes articles written between 1987-2001, drafts
of poems and correspondence.
The fourth accrual (A.02-64, A.03-109) consists of Avison's curriculum
vitae, correspondence, draft poetry and publications, 29 photographs
dating 1921-2003 and six audio cassettes dating 1987-2003.
The fifth accrual (A.07-55) donated in 2007 contains 24 cm of textual
records and mostly relates to recent publications, production and
publicity of Margarite Avison's work.
The six accrual (A.07-64) consists of Margaret Avison's correspondence
arranged A-Z, book reviews, her manuscripts "Momentary Dark"
and "Concrete and Wild Carrot"; the photograph and audio
Restrictions on access: Some folders are restricted.
Restrictions on use: a) Open to all; b) Quotations
of excerpts allowed but no unpublished poem or Margaret Avison correspondence
in full may be published; c) All quotations are to provide the source
and to convey Margaret Avison's judgement that the quotation is
unpublishable; d) Any publishing in full or in part can not proceed
until twenty years after the author's death; e) Use of the collection
is governed by this Department; f) It is the user's responsibility
to abide by all Canadian copyright legislation as amended by Parliament
from time to time.
Accruals: Further accruals are expected.
Finding aid: Printed finding aids are available
in Archives reading room and online finding aids are available at
the links below:
64 (A.90-11, A.96-23)
64, PC 151, TC 97 (A.01-22, A.02-64, A.03-109, A.07-55, A.07-64)