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Memorable Manitobans: Jean Margaret “Peggy” Wemyss Laurence (1926-1987)


Born at Neepawa on 18 July 1926, daughter of Robert Harrison Wemyss (1894-1935) and Verna Jean Simpson (1896-1930). Her paternal grandfather, lawyer John Wemyss, died shortly after she was born. Her mother died when she was four years old, and her father was remarried to her mother’s sister, Maggie. Her father died when she was nine, so Margaret was raised from that point by her maternal grandparents, Jane and John Simpson.

In 1944, she left Neepawa to attend United College (now the University of Winnipeg). Her first literary experience occurred during her assistant editorship of the College’s Vox newspaper. She graduated with a degree of Arts in 1947, and married civil engineer John Laurence later that year. Three years later, after a brief residence in England, the Laurences moved to British Somali, then Ghana in 1952. Their daughter Jocelyn was born that year. Son David was born in 1955. The family returned to Canada in 1957 to live at Vancouver, British Columbia. Laurence separated from her husband later that year, and moved to England for a period, where she wrote a series of stories based in the fictional town of Manawaka, based loosely on her Neepawa hometown.

In 1974, Laurence moved to Lakefield, Ontario where she lived for the remainder of her life. Her last Manawaka story, The Diviners, was published that same year. She was awarded honorary doctorates by Brandon University (1975) and the University of Manitoba (1986).

She committed suicide on 5 January 1987 and her ashes were interred in Neepawa’s Riverside Cemetery, near the monument immortalized in her book The Stone Angel. In 2018, she was selected by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada as a person of national historic significance, with a commemorative plaque unveiled at her childhood home, which is operated as a museum.

Some of her works included:

  • This Side Jordan (1960)
  • The Prophet’s Camel Bell (1963)
  • The Tomorrow-Tamer: Short Stories (1963)
  • The Stone Angel (1964)
  • A Jest of God (1966)
  • Long Drums and Cannons: Nigerian Dramatists and Novelists, 1952-1966 (1968)
  • The Fire-Dwellers (1969)
  • A Bird in the House (1970)
  • Jason’s Quest (1970)
  • The Diviners (1974)
  • Heart of a Stranger (1976)
  • Six Darn Cows (1979)
  • The Olden Days Coat (1979)
  • The Christmas Birthday Story (1980)
  • Dance on the Earth: A Memoir (1989)

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Margaret Laurence House (312 First Avenue, Neepawa)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Laurence House (265 Vivian Street, Neepawa)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Riverside Cemetery (Neepawa)

Book Review: Nora Foster Stovel, Divining Margaret Laurence: A Study of Her Complete Writings by Sarah Klassen
Manitoba History, Number 62, Winter 2009

Margaret Laurence: An Annotated Bibliography by Susan J. Warwick (1979).

The Life of Margaret Laurence by James King (1997).


Government of Canada Honours National Historic Significance of Margaret Laurence (1926-1987),” Government of Canada Press Release, 10 August 2018.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 10 August 2021

Memorable Manitobans

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