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Arthur Phelps fonds: Home

Arthur Phelps fonds

Call Number: Mss 134, Pc 142, Tc 91 (A.97-45, A.97-75)

Title: Arthur Phelps fonds.

Dates: 1883-1969.

Extent: 8.22 m of textual records and other material.

Biographical sketch: Arthur Leonard Phelps was born on December 1, 1887 in Columbus, Ontario. He graduated with a B.A. from Victoria College, Toronto in 1913 before furthering his religious training. By 1915, he was an ordained minister and was married to the former Lila Irene Nicholls. He already possessed a literary and artistic flare publishing several poems and some illustrated and wildlife articles for the local Toronto newspaper and publications like The Christian Guardian and Canadian Courier. A chance encounter during a speaking engagement led to Phelps being offered a teaching position within the English Department at Cornell College in Iowa in 1920. The following year, Phelps embarked on a twenty-five year tenure at Wesley College at the University of Manitoba where he soon became the Chair of the English Department. Phelps published only two thin books of poetry: Poems in 1921 and Bobcaygeon in 1922. In 1941, material from his C.B.C. radio broadcasts were published as This Canada and These United States. In 1951, he published the critically acclaimed Canadian Writers with McClelland and Stewart. In a career that spanned over forty years on the air as both a radio and television journalist, Phelps came to be regarded as the foremost cultural critic of the era. Beginning with a series of "University on the Air" debates produced locally in Winnipeg in the late 1920s, Phelps quickly moved over to a fledgling Canadian Boradcasting Corporation. In the early 1940s, he hosted the "Canadian Pattern", expounding on the theory that Canada needed its own National Arts Board to stimulate the country's artistic community. For seven years, he broadcast "Letter to Scotland" over the B.B.C. He wrote and delivered a monthly editorial comment for "Trans Canada Matinee" as well as serving as the host for the long running Sunday morning series "The Neighbourly News." Phelps was something of a pioneer in television as well, acting as a moderator on three shows during the 1960s: "It's Debatable", "Students Themselves", and "Canadian Question Bee". In 1945, Phelps left United College (formerly Wesley College) to become the General Supervisor of the International Service, a position he held for two years before returning to academia. From 1947 to 1953, Phelps was a professor of English at McGill University. It was during this time that A.S.P. Woodhouse nominated him for entry into the Royal Society as a Man of Letters. Subsequent academic postings followed well into his retirement. He was a Special Lecturer at University of British Columbia in 1954-1955, a Special Lecturer at University of Toronto between 1956 and 1958, and taught Summer School at Queen's in 1959. In 1965, Phelps' wife Lila died. He re-married Margaret Duncan in 1968 and died in 1970.

Custodial history: The fonds was purchased from Phelps' granddaughters, Meg and Kate Hamilton, in 1997. Hugh Anson Cartwright, who brokered the Phelps fonds for the Hamilton sisters, donated two E.J. Pratt typescripts (A.97-75) that had been given to Phelps by his friend Pratt.

Scope and content: The fonds contains correspondence tracing the family history back to 1883 up until Arthur Phelps' death in 1970. The fonds is particularly strong in relation to Phelps' broadcast career.  The second series of scripts covers most of his radio broadcasts and television series. Series three has a strong component of speeches given during his prolific career as a public speaker, as well as several published and unpublished essays. There are scrapbooks containing copies of published and unpublished poetry dating back to 1905. The fourth series, Phelps' course notes, provides an interesting glimpse into what it would have been like to take one of his English courses. Series five consists of literary material sent to Phelps for his opinion. The final series consists of photocopies of newspaper articles about Phelps and some biographical information about Ann Phelps Hamilton and her husband, John David Hamilton. The photo collection is not very elaborate but does include some shots of Phelps during various stages of his academic career and some C.B.C. publicity shots. It consists of 79 photographs and 3 negatives.  The tape collection is an excellent cross section of Phelps' radio and television shows.

Restrictions: Some sensitive material has been marked confidential.

Accruals: No further accruals are expected.

Finding aid: A printed finding aid is available in the Archives reading room and on-line finding aids are available at the links below:

MSS 134 (A.97-45, A.97-75)

PC 142 (A.97-45).