Memorable Manitobans: Frederick Philip Grove (1871-1948)
Born Felix Paul Greve in Prussia, he lived a wandering life and privately published several books (including Fanny Essler and Mauermeister Ihles Haus, as well as a collection of poetry entitled Wanderungen) after being convicted of fraud in 1903 and imprisoned for a year. Upon his release he was unable to make a living with his pen, and he fell ever deeper into debt. He first fled to Sweden and then in 1909 to North America, ending up in Manitoba via North Dakota as schoolteacher Fred Grove. His knowledge of German led to his appointment, in 1913, to teach at Kronsfeld School in the Mennonite village of Haskett near Winkler.
On 2 August 1914, he married fellow teacher Catherine Wiens (?-?) of Winkler, at Swift Current, Saskatchewan. They had two children: Phyllis May Grove (1915-1927) and Arthur Leonard Grove (1930-2006).
After attending the Central Normal School for a short time, he became Principal of the Winkler Intermediate School, then moved to Virden Collegiate and in 1916 to Gladstone School, where he was Principal of the high school. Two years later he resigned to teach at Ferguson School No. 1841, a small rural facility near Falmouth School where his wife was teaching. The bushland country of this area northeast of Gladstone was an environment that appealed to Grove, and it became the setting of his finest novels as well as the basis of Over Prairie Trails (1922) and The Turn of the Year (1923). In 1919, he taught for a few months at Eden Consolidated School, later returning there before moving on to a teaching position at Rapid City School (1922-1924).
In 1924 he retired to devote himself to writing, and he published his first Canadian novel, Settlers of the Marsh, in 1925. The partly autobiographical A Search for America came in 1927, and Our Daily Bread in 1928. Grove continued to be plagued by lack of material success, although he was becoming increasingly recognized as a major writer. He failed in publishing, then as a dairy farmer, and his family was supported by his wife’s teaching through most of the Great Depression.
He continued to write until his death, to increasing Canadian recognition for his unsparing depiction of Prairie reality. His later fiction included The Yoke of Life (1930), Fruits of the Earth (1933), Two Generations (1939, set in Ontario), The Master of the Mill (1944, also set in Ontario), and Consider Her Ways (1947). His autobiography, In Search of Myself (1946), won the Governor General’s Award in 1947. The title was ironic, and the work should probably be regarded as fiction much like the novels, since it created a Swedish aristocratic background for Grove that was quite untrue and that muddied accounts of his life until Douglas Spettigue published F. P. G.: The European Years (1973), setting the record straight.
Grove’s prose in English was always somewhat awkward and ponderous. One of his favourite themes was that of the harsh patriarch, another the oppressed younger woman seeking autonomy, and a third the older male failure seeking to understand his life. Grove has long attracted both critical and biographical attention from Canadian scholars. Desmond Pacey’s Frederick Philip Grove appeared in 1945, Ronald Sutherland’s Frederick Philip Grove in 1969, and Margaret Stobie’s Frederick Philip Grove in 1973. His Letters were edited by Pacey and appeared in 1976.
He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Manitoba in 1946.
He died on his estate at Simcoe, Ontario on 19 August 1948 and was buried in the Rapid City Cemetery. The Grove papers and D. O. Spettigue’s papers on Grove are at the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections.
In Search of Myself by Frederick Philip Grove, 1946.
“Frederick Philip Grove, Russian-born Canadian novelist, passes at 77,” Lethbridge Herald, 20 August 1948, page 2.
We thank Nathan Kramer for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 8 August 2023