Elizabeth Hillman Waterston, B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, University of Guelph
Being a Montrealer (born there in 1922) I naturally enrolled at McGill University when I turned seventeen, in 1939. In 1942, three years into World War II, the English Department at McGill was decimated, and in order to complete an honours English degree I transferred to University of Toronto (Trinity College: B.A., 1944). From there I went to Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania for a Master’s degree (M.A., 1945), and then back to Montreal for two years’ teaching at Sir George Willliams College (now Concordia University). Among my students at Sir George Williams College in the late 1940s, I numbered Mordecai Richler – and if that didn’t make for wry humour in the classroom, nothing would!
Back to graduate school in Toronto, 1947, for doctoral studies (Ph. D., 1950), and in the process I met and became engaged to Douglas Waterston. Married in November 1949 and back in Montreal with Doug, by then an editor of the Family Herald and Weekly Star, I combined teaching at “Sir George” (1949-1958) with raising a family of three children. When Doug was offered the job of editor–in-chief of the Farmer’s Advocate, in London, Ontario, we moved there, and I began teaching at the University of Western Ontario (1958-1966). Another job called Doug to Guelph, to join the administrative staff of the new University which was emerging from the old Ontario Agricultural College, the Vet College, and Macdonald College. So we moved again (with five children now, one boy and four girls). I joined the English Department at the University of Guelph (1966-1987), and eventually became Chair of the Department in the 1970s and was elected Professor Emeritus in 1989.
Doug and I both retired in 1987, and in 1992 moved back to London Ontario, where we had been so happy in our younger days. We are still happy here and my novel At the Corner of Hope(2008) reflects the pleasure of living in this small city. Conversely, since we spend our winters in Bradenton, Florida, another of my novels, Passion Spent (2007), reflects life in an American retirement community, with emphasis on late-life romance.
My more serious writing was less romantic. As a university teacher, I contributed from the 1960s on to Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, Dictionary of Literary Biography and other cyclopedias; in 1964 I published, with Munro Beatty, Composition for Canadian Colleges, the first of three text books on grammar and rhetoric. I contributed a critical essay on L.M. Montgomery to The Clear Spirit, a book on notable Canadian women, that turned out to be the opening of renewed interest in an underestimated novelist. At Sir George Williams and at the University of Western Ontario, I taught courses in Canadian Literature, and published Survey: A History of Canadian Literature in 1973, soon widely adopted in schools and colleges in the phenomenal growth of CanLit courses across the country.
Reading to our five children, Dan, Jane, Christy, Charlotte and Rosemary, I renewed an early interest in children’s literature. In 1975 I became a founding editor of Canadian Children’s Literature / La littérature canadienne pour la jeunesse, and my book Children’s Literature in Canada (1992) has been used in the United States as a basic history. In 1982 I began co-editing (with Mary Rubio) five volumes of The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery (1985-2004) and perpared Anne of Green Gables: A Norton Critical Edition (2006). Together Mary and I wrote a brief biography, titled Writing a Life (1995), as well as five “Afterwords” to some of Montgomery’s other novels. Again on Anne of Green Gables, I wrote Kindling Spirit (1993). This long focus on Montgomery climaxed in Magic Island: The Fictions of L.M. Montgomery (2008). En route to the magic island, I read hundreds of children’s books to our grandchildren (eleven of them, eventually).
Earlier, again in the academic line, I had produced a study of travel books (Canada to 1900: The Travellers, 1989), and one on Scottish-Canadian literary connections (Rapt in Plaid, 2001). My first novel, a historical romance set in the Montreal of 1804 (Plaid Around the Mountain, 2001), was a by-product of the two long-lasting interests suggested in those books: travel literature, and Scottish literature. I had taught courses in these fields, and also in Victorian literature, American Literature, and Canadian literature, usually with an emphasis on the nineteenth century.
I have pioneered in critical studies of early women writers, with articles on Isabella Valancy Crawford, L.M. Montgomery, Sarah Jeannette Duncan, Marshall Saunders, and with a book (co-written with Lorraine McMullen and Carrie Macmillan) called Silenced Sextet, on women, now forgotten, who were best-sellers in the past. I am now working on a play about the five women who changed the legal status of women in Canada by carying their case to the Privy Council in England – and winning the right to be considered “persons.”
Finally, I return to my college days for a new book on McGill University in the opening phase of World War II, from my perspective as a McGill Daily reporter (1939-1942) and Editor of the annual Old McGill, 1942. I write with equal pleasure whether I'm at my London desk looking out the window at lilacs and peonies or in our Florida villa lifting my eyes to palm trees and hibiscus.
1945-58 Assistant Professor;
1958-66 Assistant Professor Department of English, University of Western Ontario
1966-70 Associate Professor;
Fiction by Elizabeth Waterston
Elizabeth Waterston's non-fiction