Personal Letters of a Public Man: The Family Letters of John G. Diefenbaker


255 pages
Contains Illustrations, Index
ISBN 0-385-25005-3





Edited by Thad McIlroy
Reviewed by D.M.L. Farr

D.M.L. Farr is a professor emeritus of history at Carleton University in


J.L. Granatstein, in his introduction to this collection, writes that the Diefenbaker Papers housed in Saskatoon are “of first-rank importance” (p.10). This is undoubtedly true, but the same cannot be said about these family letters. There are 250 of them, selected from 65,000 documents in the Family Series of the Diefenbaker Papers. For the most part, the letters are trivial exchanges between Diefenbaker, his wives Edna and Olive, his mother, father, and brother. They contain little discussion of political events or, from Diefenbaker, appreciations of the important personages he met or with whom he worked. There is a great deal on the weather, on crop conditions in Saskatchewan, on friends, on brother Elmer’s business and love affairs, on travel arrangements, on Conservative Party activities. The subjects, and more especially their treatment, are of modest value to historians, although they may be of interest to the many devoted admirers of John Diefenbaker.

Mr. Mcllroy, a Toronto editor, does not tell us the basis on which he made his selection except to say that the collection is “representative” (p.7). He groups the letters around periods of Diefenbaker’s life, and his introductions to the sections furnish a context for the succeeding correspondence. A few notes are supplied, although not all references are explained.

J.L. Granatstein’s seven-page general introduction gives a pen picture of the members of the Diefenbaker family. He makes the point (new to this reviewer) that Diefenbaker suffered prejudice when he first came to Ottawa in 1940 because of his Germanic-sounding surname. This may have reinforced his concern for civil rights and helped to focus his vision of “One Canada.” The general introduction is a useful brief assessment of Diefenbaker. It ends, charitably, with the observation that this collection of family letters allows us to “see the Chief complete” (p. 15). Unfortunately, Diefenbaker the family man is not as interesting as Diefenbaker the public figure.


Diefenbaker, John G., “Personal Letters of a Public Man: The Family Letters of John G. Diefenbaker,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 27, 2024,