LITERARY LOCATION: Simon Fraser Unversity, Burnaby.

When Simon Fraser University opened in 1965, the only B.C.-born member of the English faculty was Gordon Elliott. Other charter faculty members of the department included Ralph Maud, Jerry Zaslove, John Mills, Fred Candelaria, Stanley Cooperman, Geoff Molyneux and Dale Sullivan. With the arrival of Robin Blaser on the faculty in 1966, American influences were increasingly stressed. But as an editor and as a friend, Gordon Elliott played an integral, behind-the-scenes role in the career of Margaret Laurence in much the same way that UBC's Ira Dilworth had served as the primary literary influence on Emily Carr.


Gordon Elliott was at UBC when Watson Thomson, an old friend of Margaret Laurence's husband, introduced Margaret Laurence to him. She was a struggling writer raising two young children in Vancouver. In late 1957 the manuscript for her first novel This Side Jordan had been rejected and her husband Jack was hospitalized due to infections following surgery for kidney stones. The Laurences needed money. Gordon Elliott offered her a job marking essays.

"At UBC nobody wanted anything to do with the new people," he said. "One of the new people was Margaret Laurence. She worked with me for five years. I typed her first manuscript. Halfway through, I wrote to Jack McClelland, and I said, 'I've run across a manuscript that I think you should see. You should get in touch with this woman Margaret Laurence.' I was involved in most of her books, except the very last ones. I liked her very much. I admired her as a person, and as a writer. She had guts to the very end."

When Margaret Laurence finished making her revisions for This Side Jordan in the spring of 1959, she gave the manuscript to Gordon Elliott. He retyped a clean copy for her and mailed it to Jack McClelland, accompanied by a letter, whereupon Margaret Laurence's career as a novelist was underway.

Deeply British Columbian, Gordon Raymond Elliott was born at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver on April 19, 1920, and was raised in Vancouver, Squamish, Williams Lake and Revelstoke. According to an obituary in the Globe & Mail, "In WW ll he served as a Lancaster navigator in the RCAF, and after spending two years in Shaughnessy Hospital recovering from wounds, graduated with a MA in history from UBC. He went on to earn a second Master's from Harvard, only to return to UBC to teach English."

As one of the inaugural professors at Simon Fraser University when it opened in 1965, he served for many years as a judge for the Eatons B.C. Book Award, the precursor of the B.C. Book Prizes. He also edited many books such as Klondike Cattle Drive: The Journal of Norman Lee (Mitchell Press, 1968), which recalls Lee's attempt to drive 200 cattle over 1,500 miles of rough terrain to Dawson City and the Klondike. Elliott's behind-the-scenes presence in B.C. writing and publishing spans more than 50 years.

"The first editing job I did was for R.E. Watters, for the B.C. Centennial Anthology," recalls Elliott. "I did research and editing for him. At the same time I was doing research and editing for Margaret Ormsby [for her British Columbia: A History (1958)]. When those jobs were finished, I had nowhere to go. Suddenly the department of English asked me to teach engineers and foresters how to write a sentence. I concluded that to write you have to have brains. You have to have ideas. You have to have knowledge. And I realized very soon that I didn't have that skill. I had the ability to see if something should be edited. I don't pretend to have any great skill, or a great mind, but I can see where other people are falling down in their written expression."

Elliott was greatly influenced by Reginald Eyre Watters. "Watters came here in 1957, as a teacher at UBC. He'd been teaching in the States somewhere. He came here to teach Canadian literature. Who'd ever heard of Canadian Literature? If the literature's not American, or it's not English, there's no such thing. We didn't have a flag until around 1962, so how could you be interested in any Canadian writing? Watters changed that with his Checklist of Canadian Literature.

"I was in Watters' class during my first year of university. I was maybe 30 years old. I walked into class one day, late. I'd been out drinking with my friends. Classes in those days were only fifty minutes long. I showed up for the last ten minutes. Watters said, 'Class dismissed. All except that man who came in late.' He came up to me and said, 'What do you mean coming to my class this late?' I answered, 'I figure you always have something to say. That's why I came for the last ten minutes.' He hadn't thought of it that way. He invited me to his house for a cup of tea. I ended up doing several books with him."

Gordon Raymond Elliott retired as Professor Emeritus in 1985. A lover of good food and wine, and good company, he was long active in the B.C. Historical Society and much-valued as an editor. He died in Vancouver on December 14, 2006. He was the son of Raymond Elliott, who died in 1962, and Margaret (nee Mellish) Elliott, who died in 1988. Following his death, in accordance with his wishes, a party was held at St. George's Senior School Campus, 4175 West 29th Ave., on Saturday, January 6 at 2 pm.

Following the sale of his apartment in April of 2007, in accordance with his specific instructions for his estate, various scholarships were created or enhanced to benefit students. Funds were added to benefit existing awards at UBC including the Margaret A Ormsby Scholarship, the N.I.T.E.P. Scholarship (for Indigenous students studying to become teachers), the Dorothy Blakey Smith Prize, and the Dr Gilbert Norman Tucker Prize. A new UBC scholarship fund called the Dr Gilbert Norman Tucker Scholarship was also generated.

A major beneficiary in his will was the Union Gospel Mission. Friends and admirers separately donated monies to create an annual scholarship in his name at the Williams Lake High School to benefit a Grade 12 student heading for higher education in Vancouver or Victoria. [Cheques can be sent to Jeannette Gobolos, Williams Lake Secondary School, 640 Carson Drive, Williams Lake, BC V2G 1T3.] Margaret Horsfield organized the publication of a booklet of memories, anecdotes and stories in Gordon Elliot's honour [c/o 1908 Estevan Road, Nanaimo BC V9S 3Z1].

Gordon Elliot's ashes were buried alongside his mother's at Ocean View Cemetery in Burnaby.

[Image: Margaret Laurence's house in Vancouver]


Barkerville, Quesnel and the Cariboo Gold Rush. Douglas & McIntyre, 1978.
Quesnel, Commercial Centre of the Cariboo Gold Rush. Cariboo Historical Society, Quesnel Branch, 1958.

Guide to the Neighbourhood Pubs of the Lower Mainland (1983)

Pick of the Neighbourhood Pubs of B.C. (1986)


Slavery Among the Indians of North America (Victoria: Victoria College, 1966) by Julia P. Averkieva; editor and translator, Gordon R. Elliot. Originally published as Rabstvo u Indietsev Severnoi Ameriki (Moscow, 1941).

The Klondike Cattle Drive: The Journal of Norman Lee (1960)

Pemberton: The History of a Settlement. Frances Decker, Margaret Fougberg, Mary Ronayne; consultant and editor, Gordon R. Elliot (Pemberton Pioneer Women, 1977)

Memories of the Chemainus Valley: A History of People. Compiled by Lillian Gustafson (Chemainus Valley Historical Society, 1978)

[BCBW 2015] "Local History" "Cariboo" "Editor"