Letters from a Young Emigrant in Manitoba


156 pages
ISBN 0-88755-126-2




Edited by Ronald A. Wells
Reviewed by Wesley B. Turner

Wesley B. Turner is an associate professor of History at Brock
University and author of TheWar of 1812: The War That Both Sides Won.


The author of this book was Edward ffolkes, a young Englishman who came to Canada in 1880 and wrote letters to his mother as well as his father, grandmother, uncle, and aunt. They were written between 7 October 1880 and 23 September 1882 in Toronto, Guelph, and other Ontario locations and from 23 November 1881, in Manitoba. His mother and uncle had the letters as well as excerpts from his diary published in London in 1883. Almost one hundred years later, the University of Manitoba Press decided they were worth reprinting along with a lengthy introduction by Ronald A. Wells, who is Professor of History at Calvin College, Michigan, and editor of Fides et Historia. His contribution to this collection appears to be only the introduction, for the letters show no signs of connections on alterations.

In the introduction, he discusses motives for emigration from Europe and, in particular, those which caused the change in direction of British emigration from the United States to Canada in the last twenty years of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth. The ideas presented are intellectually stimulating although not new or radical. A reader more interested in ffolkes’s story than in migration theory need not dwell on the introduction.

Wells also explains about ffolkes and why his letters were originally published. Edward came from a clerical family in Norfolk. He was determined to undertake a farming career and, to this end, went to the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph, Ontario. He describes his studies, the practical work, and the most suitable apparel for the changing seasons. His letters from Manitoba began in Cyprus Lodge, the home of an experienced and hospitable farmer, Graham Boulton, who employed Edward while also advising him about how to establish his own farm. Finally, the letters came from “Shore Lake Farm” and reveal an extraordinarily ambitious and hard-working twenty-year-old who was almost a veteran pioneer!

Edward’s uncle and mother published the letters because they contained practical information which might be “useful to other young Englishmen, who may be thinking of following a like career” (p. 41). As well, the uncle believed that the letters had moral value by demonstrating that the harsh pioneer experience could elevate a man’s character rather than harden it.

The letters provide interesting glimpses of local society in Toronto and at the Agricultural College. They reveal something of the hardships of pioneering in southern Manitoba in those years. It was not easy even when the pioneer had significant financial backing. These letters, therefore, do fulfill the editor’s hope of making a contribution to Canada’s social history. The book can be enjoyed as a narrative-descriptive account of one pioneer’s experiences. It could also be useful to specialists in immigration and social history.


ffolkes, Edward, “Letters from a Young Emigrant in Manitoba,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/38068.