LITERARY LOCATION: 6429 McCleery Street

Self-described as "a British Columbian by choice, a Canadian by birth," the Winnipeg-born, England-educated anarchist George Woodcock was B.C.'s most prodigious man of letters. Here he lived as "a man of free intelligence" from 1959 to 1995 with his wife Ingeborg, raising funds for two charities they founded--Tibetan Refugee Aid Society and Canada India Village Aid--while writing and editing approximately 150 books. Here, as well, Woodcock edited Canadian Literature, the first publication entirely devoted to Canadian books. A friend and biographer of George Orwell, and a friend to the Dalai Lama, Woodcock became the first author to receive Freedom of the City from Vancouver City Council. After their deaths, the Woodcocks' little house was demolished in order to generate their bequest of almost $2.3 million to the Writers Trust of Canada to support writers in distress.


The George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for British Columbia is fittingly named for the anarchist philosopher whose unrivalled productivity was achieved in concert with consistent ideals and humanitarian actions ever since he and Ingeborg Woodcock arrived from London, England, and built a rough cabin at Sooke in 1949.

The Woodcocks remained close friends with the Dalai Lama since they first visited him in Dharamsala, India, in 1961. As the generators of two, still-functioning, non-profit organizations, TRAS [Trans Himalayan Aid Society] and CIVA [Canada India Village Age], the Woodcocks quietly and constructively influenced millions of lives, but never had children of their own and avoided the public spotlight.

During his lifetime, Woodcock was variously described as "quite possibly the most civilized man in Canada," "by far Canada's most prolific writer," "Canada's Tolstoy," "a regional, national and international treasure," and "a kind of John Stuart Mill of dedication to intellectual excellence and the cause of human liberty." Woodcock's oft-reprinted Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (1962) demystifies anarchism and views it as constructive philosophy; a biography of his dear but difficult friend George Orwell, The Crystal Spirit (1966), will also long remain in print.

Of the approximately 150 books written or edited by George Woodcock, the most vital for B.C. was his collaboration with Ivan Avakumovic for The Doukhobors (1968). Its sobriety and perceptivity obviated the sensationalism of Simma Holt's cynically packaged Terror in the Name of God (1964), the cover of which featured a large, naked woman outside a burning building and excluded its interior subtitle The Story of the Sons of Freedom Doukhobors. This omission enhanced the misconception that all Doukhobors were unruly nudists and troublemakers. The agrarian, pacifist sect was so relieved to finally have their story told with some depth of understanding that Woodcock was offered a permanent place of residence in the Kootenays if he wished to live among them. He declined.

Born in Winnipeg in 1912, George Woodcock once wrote, "I began even as a boy to realize how wide the world can be for a man of free intelligence." True to his word, he operated as a man of free intelligence, living underground during World War II in London and later fracturing relations with the University of British Columbia, where he had been the founding editor of Canadian Literature, in order to assert his independence. Woodcock commonly published several new books per year, on a wide variety of subjects, until his death in 1995. He once described himself as a British Columbian first, and a Canadian second.

George Woodcock's books pertaining to British Columbia are Ravens and Prophets (1952), The Doukhobors (1968), Victoria (1971), Amor De Cosmos: Journalist and Reformer (1975), Peoples of the Coast: The Indians of the Pacific Northwest (1977), A Picture History of British Columbia (1980), British Columbia: A Celebration (1983), The University of British Columbia: A Souvenir (1986) and British Columbia: A History of the Province (1990).

An e-book of George Woodcock's editorials for Canadian Literature has been published via UBC, with Alan Twigg's introduction, "In Praise of an Omnivorous Intelligence. Compiled and edited by Glenn Deer and Matthew Gruman, George Woodcock: Collected Editorials from Canadian Literature also includes Glenn Deer's "Alive to Unfashionable Possibilities: Reading Woodcock's Collected Editorials," written specifically for this edition.


A Man of Free Intelligence: An Introduction to the World of George Woodcock by Alan Twigg

The following summary serves as a concise introduction to George Woodcock's wide-ranging career as a public intellectual. Further down the page you can find an interview/conversation that occurred between Alan Twigg and George Woodcock, founding editor of Canadian Literature, in 1994, based on talks for the making of the documentary film George Woodcock: Anarchist of Cherry Street.



"I began even as a boy to realize how wide the world can be for a man of free intelligence." - G.W.

George Woodcock's father Arthur Woodcock was a music-oriented second son and would-be writer who rebelled against his conservative, Shropshire coal merchant father to pursue the arts. Rejecting an offer of partnership in the family coal business, he left for Canada in 1907, via Liverpool and New York, and took a train from Montreal to Manitoba. In Winnipeg he met the vaudevillian Charlie Chaplin and took various jobs, eventually becoming a bookkeeper/accountant for the Canadian Northern railway. Obliged to send for his betrothed, Margaret Gertrude Lewis, a dour milliner's apprentice, he married her in May of 1911 but the union was never happy. When their only child was born on May 8, 1912, in Winnipeg's Grace Hospital, she disallowed her husband's inclination to call the boy George Meredith Woodcock, in honour of one of his favourite novelists, and so for the rest of his life George Woodcock would enjoy carrying an invisible middle name, one that connected him to the spirit of his adventurous father, and distanced him from his undemonstrative mother. "I suppose I am a man who psychic arrangement is Jungian rather than Freudian," he once wrote. "I loved my father and always disliked my mother."

One Manitoba winter on Portage Avenue was one too many for Margaret Woodcock who took their only child back to England in the spring of 1913, but it would be sufficient for George Woodcock to one day leave England--as his father had done--to claim his Canadian birthright. After Arthur Woodcock acquiesced to his father's offer of a junior partnership and dutifully reunited with his family in England, he led a mostly dreary and sickly existence. Prior to his death of Bright's disease at age 44 in 1926, he instilled in his sympathetic son a shared dream of going further west in Canada. "An extrovert who turned inward with misfortune is how I see him," George Woodcock wrote. The son not only revered the father; George Woodcock was inspired to succeed in Canada to recompense his father's failures and dashed ambitions.

Small wonder George Woodcock could write so knowingly about Thomas Hardy's Wessex for his introduction to a Penguin edition of Return of the Native. Woodcock fully comprehended the hereditary weight of sorrow, of disappointment, of class consciousness, of stilted emotions, jilted love and stunted ambitions. The plight of Arthur Woodcock was Hardyesque, both noble and pathetic.

George Woodcock was raised in various Shropshire and Thames Valley towns within a literate, impoverished family. At school he was particularly averse to sports. The Depression prevented him from continuing his formal schooling as he would have liked. George Woodcock ended his formal schooling in 1928. His coal merchant grandfather offered to pay his tuition for Cambridge on the one condition that he would become an Anglican clergyman. Like his father before him, Woodcock rejected his grandfather's coercive assistance. Instead he became mired for eleven unhappy years in a futureless job for Great Western Railway as a clerk at Paddington Station, a prisoner of timetables, like his father before him.

If there was a turning point in George Woodcock's life, other than returning to Canada, it was reading William Morris' socialist writings on the train to and from work. With access to books and anarchist circles afforded to him by a German exile named Charles Lahr, proprietor of Blue Moon Bookshop, Woodcock became a devotee of the British philosopher, Herbert Read, and joined a circle of friendships with young 'progressives' such as George Orwell (Eric Blair), V.S. Pritchett, W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Malcolm Muggeridge. He also fraternized and drank with Dylan Thomas and established some lifelong friendships with the likes of Alex Comfort and Julian Symons. All the while he participated in the political ferment of the 1930s by contributing to various literary and anarchist periodicals.

When his mother died in 1940, he inherited 1,398 pounds. That same year he published his first collection of verse, The White Island, and filed for exemption from military service as a conscientious objector and agreed to perform alternative civilian service with the War Agricultural Committee. Deeply influenced by the fate of idealists during the Spanish Civil War, Woodcock was initially assigned to farm labouring in Essex, but his acquiescence to alternate service was soon dissipated. Instead Woodcock used a trust fund established for him by his grandfather to try his hand at making his living as a fulltime writer in London, mainly by establishing and editing NOW (1940-1947), an eclectic mix of anarchist, pacifist and anti-Soviet socialist commentaries. He was also co-editor of War Commentary.

As he endured a precarious and frugal 'underground' existence, Woodcock became increasingly infatuated by a beautiful Italian anarchist in London, Marie Louise Berneri, who was married. She was the daughter of a recently martyred Italian anarchist named Camillo Berneri. Marie Louise, her husband and two others were charged with causing disaffection among the troops by denouncing the war effort in print. The offending handbill for which they were arrested was allegedly typed on George Woodcock's typewriter. His lifelong sympathies for outlaws such the Metis military leader Gabriel Dumont, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and Gitksan fugitive Simon Gun-an-Noot partially arose from these war-time experiences as a dissident.

After the war George Woodcock married Ingeborg Linzer Roskelly, a like-minded German-born member of the Berneri circle, and obtained a Canadian passport. In 1949, he and 'Inge' left behind his uncomfortable niche in the London literary scene in order to emulate Doukhobor pacifists who had sought freedom in Canada. The Doukhobors had been encouraged and subsidized by Tolstoy near the turn of the century. "I realized that the Doukhobours were something more than nudist shovellers of snow when I began to read Tolstoy and Kropotkin," he later wrote, "who regarded them as admirable peasant radicals and Nature's anarchists." More specifically, the Woodcocks were directly influenced to start anew on the West Coast of Canada by a young Canadian anarchist in London, Doug Worthington, and as a boy George Woodcock had been impressed by depictions of Western Canada that he'd found in a Frederick Niven novel called The Lost Cabin Mine. Coming to Canada also entailed a revival of his father's doomed idealism.

As the Woodcocks arrived in Halifax, he had a premonition that something terrible was happening to Marie Louise Berneri. As they rode the CPR train to Victoria, she died at age 31 of a heart attack. Although he was trained only as an intellectual, George Woodcock gamely tried his hand at homesteading near Sooke on Vancouver Island, clearing some land for a market garden and building a small home with Inge. The nearest Doukhobour settlement was at Hilliers, near Parksville. Not suited for subsistence farming, George Woodcock tried to eke out a living by shovelling manure and contributing to CBC and some periodicals. With the crucial assistance of Earle Birney, Woodcock came to Vancouver to lecture at UBC, where he would later teach both English and French literature. He had never attended university in England and liked to refer to himself in late years as an 'autodidact', someone who is self-taught, giving rise to his affinity and correspondence with poet Al Purdy. One night in 1951 Woodcock was at a party when someone passed along the news that George Orwell (Eric Blair) had died. It was a shock. It was as if a bridge had been removed behind them.

In 1952, Woodcock published the first of his many books pertaining to British Columbia, a travelogue called Ravens and Prophets: An Account of Journeys in British Columbia, Alberta and Southern Alaska. He would publish The Doukhobors (with Ivan Avakumovic, 1968), Victoria (with Ingeborg Woodcock, 1971), Amor De Cosmos: Journalist and Reformer (1975), Peoples of the Coast: The Indians of the Pacific Northwest (1977), A Picture History of British Columbia (1980), British Columbia: A Celebration (1983), The University of British Columbia: A Souvenir (1986) and British Columbia: A History of the Province (1990).

In 1955 Woodcock was barred from continuing a teaching job at the University of Washington in Seattle when he was denied an immigration visa due to his connections to a 1944 anarchist pamphlet, Anarchy of Chaos. As an alien who had advocated "opposition to all organized government," Woodcock was banned from United States entry by the McCarran Act in the wake of McCarthyism. His vigorous lobbying efforts to overturn the decision were to no avail. He was rescued from his predicament with a teaching post from the Extension Department of UBC in January, 1956. That year he increased his affiliations with CBC and befriended the essayist, conservationist and lay magistrate Roderick Haig-Brown of Campbell River. He later wrote, "For Rod strikes me as one of the wisest men I have known, and sometimes, when I have committed some gross verbal irresponsibility, I see his ghost rising to admonish me with a quiet, smiling remark between puffs on the pipe that was rarely away from his mouth."

In 1959, Woodcock accepted the part-time position of founding editor of Canadian Literature, the first periodical to be entirely devoted to Canadian writing. He did not instigate the publication that he edited until 1977, as is sometimes assumed. Canadian Literature was created largely under the auspices of Roy Daniells, head of the UBC English department. Woodcock's role would lead to a deep schism with the university many years later when he went to sell his personal papers. UBC took the position that all papers pertaining to Woodcock's tenure at Canadian Literature were not saleable because they had been derived from his UBC employment. Woodcock had resigned his Associate Professor status in 1963 to concentrate on writing, but the university had retained his services as an independent editor for the publication. Greatly disappointed, Woodcock sold most of his literary papers to Queen's University in Ontario. Only after his death were some of his books and personal effects, including his typewriter, donated to UBC Special Collections. George Woodcock edited 73 issues of Canadian Literature. W.H. New edited 72 issues after him.

At age 60, Woodcock described himself in the preface to his collection of essays, The Rejection of Politics, "I began as an internationalist anarchist. I have ended, without shedding any of my libertarian principles, as a Canadian patriot, deeply concerned with securing and preserving the independence of my country (which cannot of course be divided from the individual freedom of its inhabitants), and within that country the integrity--physical and aesthetic--of my mountain-shadowed and sea-bitten patria chica on the Pacific Coast."

Although something of a workhouse-hermit in his later years, Woodcock developed an extensive range of contacts among writers and other artists, particularly visual artists in Vancouver such as Jack Shadbolt, Toni Onley, Gordon Smith, Joe Plaskett, Jack Wise, Pat O'Hara and Roz Marshall. In particular, the Woodcocks were close friends with Jack and Doris Shadbolt. Neither couple had children so they often spent Christmases together. The Shadbolts had provided the Woodcocks with a roof over their heads in Burnaby in the early 1950s.

The Woodcocks also enjoyed an abiding friendship with the Dalai Lama after they had taken it upon themselves to visit the Tibetan leader in Dharamsala shortly after he had fled Tibet in 1959. This liaison arose from a chance and fortuitous meeting with the Dalai Lama's niece in India. Upon seeing the wretched conditions faced by the fleeing Tibetans in northern India, the Woodcocks created the Tibetan Refugees Aid Society [TRAS], a mainly volunteer-administered, Vancouver-based agency that has continued to provide support for Tibetans outside of Tibet for more than a half-century. Consequently, when Ingeborg Woodcock was ill in the 1990s, the Dalai Lama assigned his personal physician to administer to her needs. The Woodcocks and the Dalai Lama met privately when he visited Vancouver in 1993, and the Dalai Lama was making arrangements to see Ingeborg Woodcock a second time in 2004, prior to her death in December of 2003.

Ingeborg Woodcock, who maintained a Buddhist perspective, was an enormous directional influence on her husband, mainly as a severe-minded compass. Whereas George Woodcock, like every writer, could be fuelled by vanity and ego, she cautioned him to respond to higher purposes. To this end, George Woodcock chose not to vote, believing the world should be managed by non-profit organizations. Together they supervised a writing contest for charity that resulted in the anthology, The Dry Wells of India (1989). Woodcock credited her as being a terrific organizer. Together the Woodcocks pioneered at least two significant and ongoing philanthropic organizations, Canada India Village Aid (CIVA) and the Woodcock Trust, a fund they created in 1989, in conjunction with the Writers Development Trust, in order to supply emergency support to Canadian writers in need. From 1989 to 2003 the ongoing fund paid out $346,000 to 94 authors. The Woodcocks were involved in countless 'garage sale' events through the decades to sell excess belongings, particularly books. In 1981, the Woodcocks and a few like-minded individuals and friends also started CIVA to chiefly help build wells in India. All funds raised, including more than $200,000 in royalties from a travel collection edited by Keath Fraser called Bad Trips, are matched by the Canadian government. With as little hierarchical structure as possible, and no paid staff, CIVA continues to effectively and earnestly provide grassroots aid, largely coordinated by Woodcock co-executor Sarah McAlpine, who formerly took classes from Woodcock at UBC. "The Woodcocks are very compassionate towards little people without a voice," McAlpine told Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun.

The major beneficiary of the Woodcocks' charity is the Toronto-based Writers Development Trust, now simply called The Writers Trust. It administers a little-publicized fund to provide emergency grants to writers in financial distress. By 1998 the Fund had reportedly allocated more than $135,000 to 43 writers in 'straightened circumstances', a condition Woodcock understood only too well, both in England and during his brief homesteading stint in Sooke. The Fund reportedly stood to benefit upon the sale of the Woodcock's property in the fashionable district of Kerrisdale after Ingeborg Woodcock moved into a senior's care facility. For more than 40 years the Woodcocks had lived in an old Craftsman-style cottage at 6429 McCleery Street, formerly called Cherry Street. Woodcock was particularly fond of an ancient cherry tree in their backyard, likening it to Malcolm Lowry's relationship with his beloved pier in Deep Cove. The Woodcocks once made arrangements to meet the Lowrys, their cross-town literary counterparts, in a downtown lounge but the authors mostly ignored each other, leaving their wives to manage forced conversation. After Lowry died, Woodcock was not averse to editing a reprint of Malcolm Lowry: The Man and his Work (1971).

To honour George Woodcock in conjunction with his 82nd birthday and the 10th annual B.C. Book Prizes, hosted by Pierre Berton, B.C. BookWorld instigated and coordinated a series of events in 1994. The city conferred 'Freedom of the City' to George Woodcock on April, 12, 1994. "Thank goodness for Vancouver," wrote Mark Abley in the Montreal Gazette, "which has recognized -- and none too soon -- that it's home to a regional, national and international treasure." Greetings were sent by the likes of Julian Symons, Ursula Le Guin, Jan Morris, Timothy Findley, Mel Hurtig, Svend Robinson, the spokesperson for the Doukhobors in Canada and a representative of the Dalai Lama. The B.C. Minister of Culture, Bill Barlee, addressed the B.C. Legislature on May 6th and invited all MLAs to join in recognizing George Woodcock's achievements. A two-day symposium was held at Simon Fraser University, May 6-7, to examine George Woodcock's career. The Bau-Xi Art Gallery hosted an exhibit of original art honouring George Woodcock.

More than 1300 people attended a celebratory gathering at the Vancouver Law Courts, on May 7th that included an unprecedented display of 152 different titles bearing George Woodcock's name, making it one of the largest exhibitions of books by one living author. The Mayor of Vancouver attended and proclaimed George Woodcock Day. In a speech read on his behalf by Margaret Atwood, Woodcock recognized how the climate for literature had changed since his coastal arrival. "When I reached Vancouver at the beginning of the 1950s, one could count on one's fingers the serious writers here: Earle Birney, Dorothy Livesay, Ethel Wilson, Roderick Haig-Brown, Hubert Evans and a few younger people. There was virtually no publishing going on locally, and the one literary magazine was Alan Crawley's historic Contemporary Verse. Now, as tonight's gathering gives witness, there are hundreds and hundreds of writers working west of the Great Divide, there are scores of local publishing houses, large and small, and there are dozens of literary magazines, some of them of national and international importance...I think the conjunction of the literary arts and the concept and practice of freedom is an essential one; in fact, I believe it is the key to my own work, which has always moved between the poles of imagination and liberty."

CBC Radio's Peter Gzowski devoted one half-hour of Morningside to the Woodcock celebration on May 11, 1994. Lilia D'Acres and the West Coast Book Prize Society established a fund for donations to help establish a George Woodcock Centre for Arts and Intellectual Freedom in Vancouver. More than $20,000 was raised for the fund by BC BookWorld. When a heritage building couldn't be obtained for a Woodcock Centre, all monies raised were donated to the University of British Columbia to establish a permanent George Woodcock exhibit and the George Woodcock Canadian Literature and Intellectual Freedom Endowment Fund. In 1992 Macleans magazine recognized George Woodcock as one the country's ten most significant citizens.

Woodcock remained indefatigable, attempting to realize his long-held ambition to complete a new translation of Swann's Way, the first volume of Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, and also working on a novel. After George Woodcock died at home on January 28, 1995, Ingeborg Woodcock undertook retyping the manuscript of the Proust translation, possibly completing some of it on her own, but it was never published. Woodcock wrote and edited more than 140 books. The exact number has been difficult to determine. Biographer Don Stewart listed "145 freestanding books and pamphlets." Antiquarian bookseller Don Stewart of Vancouver has compiled the most comprehensive list of Woodcock's overall work after purchasing Woodcock's valuable collection of anarchist publications from the estate.

Since the publication of his first collection of poetry, The White Island (1940), George Woodcock remained an unheralded but earnest poet. In the mid-1970s he wrote, "Clearly my eagerness to publish poetry again sprang from a desire to show that the poet who was my first literary persona had not died but was merely sleeping." His works included The Centre Cannot Hold (London: Routledge, 1943), Selected Poems (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1967), Notes on Visitations: Poems, 1936-1975 (Toronto, Anansi, 1975), Anima, or, Swann Grown Old: a Cycle of Poems (Coatsworth, Ont.: Black Moss P, 1977), The Kestrel, and Other Poems of Past and Present (Sunderland: Ceolfrith P, 1978), The Mountain Rad: Poems (Fredericton, N.B.: Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1980), Collected Poems (Victoria, B.C.: Sono Nis P, 1983), Tolstoy at Yasnaya Polyana & Other Poems (Kingston, Ont.: Quarry P, 1991) and The Cherry Tree on Cherry Street: and Other Poems (Kingston, Ont.: Quarry P, 1994).

George Woodcock took it as a matter of professional pride that he could write a book on almost any subject that required his services. His omnivorous intelligence led to an invitation from Mel Hurtig in 1974 to edit Hurtig's then-proposed Canadian Encyclopedia, an invitation that Woodcock relunctantly declined. His first important book was a biography of William Goldwin (1946), followed by the first book-length study of England's first professional female novelist, The Incomparable Aphra: A Life of Mrs. Aphra Behn (1948). History, travel, biography, literary criticism, politics and poetry were his main subject areas. He was ideologically and temperamentally in favour of writing for small and obscure publications. He once wrote, "The really independent writer, by the very exercise of his function, represents a revolutionary force." It has proved impossible to trace and compile all the freelance articles he published. He was known to use the pseudonym Anthony Appenzell. For several years he contributed an As I Please column to the Georgia Straight and later served as the poetry columnist for BC BookWorld. George Woodcock once cited his Welsh ancestry and his Taurian astrological status as reasons for being able to operate outside the mainstream for so long, aside from his anarchist principles.

His oft-reprinted Anarchism (1962) remains a standard history of libertarian movements, readable and important for the way Woodcock demystifies anarchism and views it as constructive. Co-authored with fellow UBC professor Ivan Avakumovic, his fair-minded The Doukhobors (1968) is the definitive study of the Doukhobors in Canada. The agrarian sect was so relieved to finally have their story told with some depth of understanding that Woodcock was offered a permanent place of residence in the Kootenays if he wished to live among them. His studies of the 18th century 'revolutionist' William Godwin, Oscar Wilde, Aldous Huxley, Mahatma Gandhi, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Aphra Behn, Peter Kropotkin and the Trappist Thomas Merton (who Woodcock never met) are less well-known than his biography of his dear but difficult friend, George Orwell, The Crystal Spirit, that earned him a Governor-General's Award in 1967. Woodcock liked to say he rejected honours bestowed by governments but he was willing to accept juried awards and grants determined by his peers. In fact, he accepted three Canada Council travel grants (1961, 1963, 1965), a Canada Council Killam Fellowship (1970-71, a Canadian Government Overseas Fellowship (1957-58) and Canada Council Senior Arts Award. He also won a Molson Prize in 1973 and a Canadian Authors Association Award in 1989. He twice won the UBC Medal for Popular Biography (1971, 1975). He enthusiastically accepted Free Man status from the City of Vancouver, linking the roots of the word civitas to the development of freedom.

Preferring not to be known too well, the sometimes prickly George Woodcock published three works of autobiography. The first was Letter to the Past: An Autobiography (1982), mainly about his life in England. It was followed by Beyond the Mountains: An Autobiography (1987) and Walking Through the Valley (1994). George Fetherling, writing under the name Douglas Fetherling, produced the only book-length biography of Woodcock to date, The Gentle Anarchist (Douglas & McIntyre 1998; Subway Books 2003). A CBC-aired half-hour television documentary, George Woodcock: Anarchist of Cherry Street, was made in 1994 by director/producer Tom Shandel, one of Canada's foremost documentary filmmakers, and interviewer/producer Alan Twigg.

Possibly the most generous and inspiring description of George Woodcock was offered by his oldest friend, Julian Symons, in 1994. "I know of nobody who has been of more generous help to others, or has pursued good ends in life more unswervingly."

The proceeds from the sale of the Woodcocks' home on McCleery Street in Vancouver went toward establishing a $2 million endowment that provides aid to working writers struggling to complete projects during times of unforeseen financial hardship. The Woodcock Fund was established in 1989. The Writers' Trust of Canada, formerly known as the Writers Development Trust, received $1 million from the Woodcock estate in 2005, followed by $876,000 in 2006, and a final installment of $683 in 2009. These bequests, overseen by estate executor Sarah McAlpine, constitute one of the largest private donations to the literary arts in Canada, if not the largest. Between its activation in 2005 and 2009, the Woodcock Fund dispersed approximately $100,000 per year, providing a total of $642,000 to 147 writers who applied. To be eligible, the writer must be working on a book that, without the grant, would be imperiled or abandoned, and the writer must have already published a minimum of two works, as well as face a financial crisis that exceeds the ongoing, chronic problem of making a living. The fund chiefly serves writers of fiction, poetry, plays and creative non-fiction.

In 2007, British Columbia's lifetime achievement award for an outstanding literary career in British Columbia was renamed the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award. Each year a new recipient of the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award receives a cash prize and a marble plaque honouring the winner is added to the Writers' Walk -- or Woodcock Walk -- outside the main entrance of the Vancouver Public Library on Georgia Street.

Compiled by UBC Special Collections


Amor de Cosmos: Journalist and Reformer
Toronto: Oxford University Press (Canadian Branch), 1975.
Canadian Lives series.

Gabriel Dumont: The Metis Chief and his Lost World
Hurtig, 1975. Reissued by Broadview Press, 2004. Edited by J.R. Miller.

The Anarchist Prince: A Biographical Study of Peter Kropotkin
By George Woodcock and Ivan Avakumovic.
New York: Schocken Books, 1971.
First published in 1950.

Aphra Behn: The English Sappho
Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1989.
Previously published under the title The Incomparable Aphra. London: T.V. Boardman, 1948.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: A Biography
Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1987.

William Godwin: A Biographical Study
Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1989.


The Crystal Spirit: A Study of George Orwell
Boston: Little, Brown, 1966.

Dawn and the Darkest Hour: A Study of Aldous Huxley
New York: Viking Press, 1972.

The Meeting of Time and Space: Regionalism in Canadian Literature
Edmonton: NeWest Institute for Western Canadian Studies, 1981.

Northern Spring: The Flowering of Canadian Literature in English
Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1987.

The World of Canadian Writing: Critiques and Recollections
Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1980.


Canada and the Canadians
With photos by Ingeborg Woodcock.
Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1973.
2nd edition, revised and updated.

Peoples of the Coast: The Indians of the Pacific Northwest
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977.

The Hudson's Bay Company
New York: Crowell-Collier Press, 1970.

100 Great Canadians
Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1980.

A Social History of Canada
Markham, Ont.: Penguin Books, 1989.

British Columbia: A History of the Province
Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1990.


George Woodcock
The Doukhobors

By George Woodcock and Ivan Avakumovic.
London: Faber & Faber, 1968.

Into Tibet: The Early British Explorers.
New York: Barnes & Noble, 1971.

Who Killed the British Empire?: An Inquest
London: Cape, 1974.

The University of British Columbia: A Souvenir
George Woodcock and Tim Fitzharris.
Don Mills, Ont.: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Marvellous Century: Archaic Man and the Awakening of Reason (Black Rose, 2008).


Ravens and Prophets
Victoria, B.C.: Sono Nis Press, 1993.
First published in London: A. Wingate, 1952.

Faces of India: A Travel Narrative
London: Faber and Faber, 1964.

Victoria (photo essay)
Victoria: Morriss Printing, 1971.
With Ingeborg Woodcock

South Sea Journey
Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1976.

Caves in the Desert: Travels in China
Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1988.


George Woodcock
Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements
Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1962.

Anarchism and Anarchists: Essays
Kingston, Ont. : Quarry Press, 1992.

Anarchy or Chaos
Willimantic, CT : Lysander Spooner, 1992.
First published London: Freedom Press, 1944.


Powers of Observation
Kingston, Ont.: Quarry Press, 1989.

Rejection of Politics and Other Essays on Canada, Canadians, Anarchism and the World
Toronto: New Press, 1972.


Canadian Literature
Vancouver: University of British Columbia.
Edited by George Woodcock from 1959-1977.

London: Freedom Press, 1943.
1st series: 1940-1941.
2nd series: 1943-1947.

George Woodcock: Collected Editorials from Canadian Literature (2012), introduction by Alan Twigg, edited by Glenn Deer and Matthew Gruman.

Poetry & Plays

Anima, or, Swann Grown Old: A Cycle of Poems
Coatsworth, Ont.: Black Moss Press, 1977.

The Cherry Tree on Cherry Street: And Other Poems
Kingston, Ont.: Quarry Press, 1994.

Tolstoy at Yasnaya Polyana & Other Poems
Kingston, Ont.: Quarry Press, 1991.

Two Plays
Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1977.
The Island of Demons.
Six Dry Cakes for the Hunted.


The Purdy-Woodcock Letters: Selected Correspondence, 1964-1954
Edited by George Galt.
Al Purdy and George Woodcock.
Toronto: ECW Press, 1988.

Taking It To The Letter
Dunvegan, Ont.: Quadrant Editions, 1981.

About George Woodcock

The Gentle Anarchist: A Life of George Woodcock
Douglas Fetherling.
Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1998.

George Woodcock
By Peter Hughes.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1974.
New Canadian library: Canadian writers series no. 13.

A Political Art: Essays and Images in Honour of George Woodcock
Edited by William H. New.
Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1978.

[Portrait of George Woodcock is by Tom Smith.]

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2015]

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Beyond the Blue Mountains: An Autobiography
British Columbia: A History of the Province
British Columbia: A Celebration
Canada and the Canadians
The Doukhoborsa
A Picture History of British Columbia



George the Great

by Alan Twigg

For decades it was far easier for people to suggest George Woodcock wrote too much rather than to read everything he wrote. The late Pierre Berton acknowledged as much when he came to Vancouver to participate in festivities to honour George in 1994.  Not a lot has changed since George’s death. He remains a titanic asterisk in the realm of Canadian literature, perhaps not fully appreciated because of the sheer scale of his writing. Sure he was born in Winnipeg, he co-founded Canadian Literature and he lived most of his life in Canada, but wasn’t he really, at heart, a transplanted Brit?

George Woodcock wrote and edited 150 books, co-founded two ongoing charities that have benefited millions of people, he wrote the world’s fundamental text on the philosophy of anarchism, and he also played an essential role in shaping the discussion of Canadian culture through eighteen years of his editorship at Canadian Literature. So here we are in 2012, contemplating his legacy while Canadian Literature has the admirable gumption to issue an ebook.

I wish to introduce this collection with a trumpet blast of didacticism: George Woodcock’s greatness is unparalleled.  I hope the appearance of this posthumous volume can mark the onset of a convivial period of re-reading Woodcock, to enjoy and celebrate the artfulness and hard-won integrity of Canada’s most remarkable man of letters.


Envy, they say, is one of the seven deadly sins. There has been no shortage of sinners when it comes to considering George. First, there was that prodigious output. The joke was that he had succeeded in cloning himself and there must be several George Woodcocks clacking away on Underwood typewriters in the little house on McCleery Street, the house with the cherry tree in the backyard—but no, he just worked harder than everyone else.

When bookseller and anarchist Don Stewart assembled a public display of George’s approximately 150-plus titles at the Robson Square law courts in 1994, in keeping with civic festivities to mark George Woodcock Day, it was akin to visiting Hay-On-Wye in Wales and seeing all those bookstores. This was the biggest array possible.

In accordance with George’s eighty-second birthday, the tenth annual B.C. Book Prizes gala summoned likely the largest gathering of Canadian writers in history, more than 600, but it went almost unreported in the national press.

Toronto is Moscow; Vancouver is Vladivostock.  Our George was a committed Vladivostockian. He operated from the edge and never courted the centre of power. Therefore, the depth of his contributions—not just the breadth—has never been adequately gauged and championed.  The enormity of Woodcock's accomplishments has been highlighted by a few literary historians, critical scholars, and some of our best writers, including University of Saskatchewan English professor Len Findlay, his Vancouver-based biographer George Fetherling, former pupil Margaret Atwood and long-time editorial colleague and friend Bill New, but the so-called general public remains largely in the dark.

Far more people have simultaneously envied George Woodcock’s stalwart independence, his omnivorous intelligence, his close connection to Orwell, his consistent idealism (adherence to anarchism, foreign aid initiatives) and his unparalleled ability to function so well in so many genres (except fiction).  And, let’s face it, there was also something intimidating about his egoistic claim that he was capable of writing a book on any subject. That boast sounds like something Samuel Johnson might have said, not something seriously suggested in the twentieth century.


Personally, I respect his range and admire his valour. I envy that mellifluous style. Reading George’s editorials for Canadian Literature, I am struck by some of his sentences so obviously forged prior to the incursion of the computer. I also appreciate his skill as a polemicist, invariably arguing on behalf of the underdog, the minority. Whenever I see someone on the street, outside a building, banished to the cold, smoking, I think fondly of George defending the rights of persecuted smokers.

Most of all, I am inspired by his elegant egalitarianism, evident from his opening statement: “Canadian Literature wishes to establish no clan, little or large. It will not adapt a narrowly academic approach, nor will it restrict its pages to any school of criticism or any class of writers.” (Those words could aptly serve as my credo for B.C. BookWorld. In 1987, George instinctively understood the concept of a non-elitist, educational newspaper about books by or about British Columbians—he considered himself a British Columbian first and a Canadian second—and so he happily consented to serve as a founding board member and poetry columnist.)

Before the onset and onslaught of emails, if George wrote to you, you knew in one second that the envelope had to be from him. How I loved to receive those distinctively typed letters and reviews, even though we lived only a five-minutes-drive apart. George wrote his poetry columns hastily but reliably, and I hastily and reliably rejigged every one of them—he never objected or mentioned it. He was not a fastidious ‘artiste.’ It was all about making progress. Ours was simply a productive relationship for the public good.

Not long before he died, I made a little documentary about George for CBC. There is a still photograph that I like. I’m escorting him on my sidewalk after interviewing him. He is a bit fragile and I am holding him up. This image is poignant to me because I am fully aware that George Woodcock held us up, first. He uplifted us. He helped convince us that Canadian literature could exist.

Now this e-volume (I dislike the term) uplifts George Woodcock. Now it’s our turn to pay him back, with respect, and with attention to the many fine things he had to say.

He gave more than he got. He wouldn’t have it any other way.


[An introduction written in 2012 for George Woodcock: Collected Editorials from Canadian Literature (2012), introduction by Alan Twigg, edited by Glenn Deer and Matthew Gruman.

[Alan Twigg has also written a book that contains some intimate recollections of George and Ingeborg Woodcock by others, Tibetans In Exile: The Dalai Lama & The Woodcocks (Ronsdale Press, 2009), as well as 17 other books. Ingeborg Woodcock bequeathed him her Toyota Tercel; and George Woodcock bequeathed him his signed first edition of Animal Farm.]