Manitoba Historical Society
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Memorable Manitobans: Charles William Gordon [Ralph Connor] (1860-1937)

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Charles William Gordon
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Cleric, publicist, author.

Born at Indian Lands, Glengarry County, Ontario on 13 September 1860, son of the Reverend Daniel Gordon and Mary Robertson, he was educated at public schools at Athol and Harrington, Ontario (1871), St. Mary’s High School (1879), University of Toronto (1883), Knox College (1887), and the New College, Edinburgh (1887-1888). He took a bicycle tour of Europe in 1888.

He taught school in early life, as Classical Master at Chatham High School (1887) and Master at Upper Canada College, Toronto (1886-1887). He did postgraduate work at New College, Edinburgh, Scotland and travelled as a missionary in the Canadian Rockies (1890-1894). In August 1894, he was called to serve as pastor at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church. He would later be Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

He was one of Canada’s most popular authors, writing under the pen name of Ralph Connor, of the following books:

  • Black Rock, 1898
  • Sky Pilot, 1899
  • Beyond the Marshes, 1900
  • Ould Michael, 1900
  • Man from Glengarry, 1901
  • Glengarry School Days, 1902
  • The Pilot at Seven Creek, 1903
  • The Prospector, 1904
  • The Doctor, 1906
  • The Angel and the Star, 1907
  • Life of James Robertson, 1908
  • The Foreigner, 1909
  • The Dawn by Galilee, 1909
  • The Recall of Love, 1910

The proceeds of his writing made him wealthy. In 1910, he was listed by the Winnipeg Telegram as one of Winnipeg’s 19 millionaires.

An ardent imperialist, he was an enthusiastic patriot in the First World War, and undertook many fundraising and speaking tours during the conflict. He went overseas with the Canadian Expeditionary Force as a member of the Chaplain Service.

On 28 September 1888, he married Helen Skinner King (1875-1961, daughter of John Mark King) with whom he had seven children: John King Gordon, Mary Robertson Gordon (1902-1948, wife of Humphrey Stephen Carver), Gretta Helen Gordon, Lois Isobel Gordon (1906-2003), Ruth Gordon, Margaret Helen “Marjorie” Gordon (1911-1982, wife of Edward Kenneth Smart), and Alison Iona Gordon (1915-1988, wife of Ronald Cox).

His grand home at 54 West Gate was designed by architect George William Northwood. His recreations included driving, canoeing, and camping. He was an early cottager at Lake of the Woods. He served as President of the Canadian Club of Winnipeg (1909-1910). In recognition of his community service, he received the King George V Jubilee Medal (1935) and an honorary doctorate from the University of Manitoba (1937).

He died at Winnipeg on 31 October 1937 and was buried in the Kildonan Presbyterian Cemetery. His papers are at the Univerity of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections. His autobiography was published posthumously as Postscript to Adventure (1938).

Scholars study him today less for his craftsmanship as an author than for his attitudes, many of which were quite typical of much of middle-class Anglophone Canada in his day.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Ralph Connor House (54 West Gate, Winnipeg)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Ralph Connor School No. 1769 (Municipality of West Interlake)

The World of Helen Gordon by J. King Gordon with introduction by Marjorie Gordon Smart
Manitoba Pageant, Volume 24, Number 1, Autumn 1978

Commemorating Ralph Connor House
Manitoba History, Number 69, Summer 2012

The First Women of 54 West Gate: Helen Gordon and her Six Daughters by Jan Christie, Agnes Collins, Lorraine Cook, Diane DeGraves, Irene Legg, and Dianne Shefford, Friends of Ralph Connor House, 2014.

Sources:

1901 and 1911 Canada censes, Automated Genealogy.

Birth and death registrations, Manitoba Vital Statistics.

1916 Canada census, Ancestry.

“King to honor many Manitoba men and women,” Winnipeg Free Press, 4 May 1935, page 1.

Who’s Who in Western Canada: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Men and Women of Western Canada, Volume 1, edited by C. W. Parker, Vancouver: Canadian Press Association, 1911.

The Leading Financial, Business & Professional Men of Winnipeg, published by Edwin McCormick, Photographs by T. J. Leatherdale, Compiled and printed by Stone Limited, c1913. [copy available at the Archives of Manitoba]

Pioneers and Prominent People of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Canadian Publicity Company, 1925.

Obituary [Marjorie Smart], Winnipeg Free Press, 25 May 1982, page 69.

Obituary [Alison Cox], Winnipeg Free Press, 9 August 1988, page 31.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

We thank Sam Coghlan and Agnes Collins for providing additional information used here.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 10 June 2021

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

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