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Henry Ferns was born in Calgary and was educated at the University of Manitoba (B.A.), Queen's University (M.A.), and Trinity College, Cambridge (M.A., Ph.D.). In 1940, he entered the Canadian civil service, working briefly for the Naval Department. At the end of April 1940, he was assigned to the secretarial staff of the Prime Minister. Ferns worked in the East Block. Because Mackenzie King usually worked at either Laurier House or Kingsmere, Ferns talked to him occasionally by telephone, but rarely saw him in person.
In June 1943, Ferns left the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), transferring to External Affairs. In November 1944, he left the civil service to pursue an academic career, first at United College, University of Manitoba, and later at the University of Birmingham in England.
Ferns' publications include the historical study The Age of Mackenzie King: The Rise of the Leader, written with Bernard Ostry (1955), and a memoir Reading from Left to Right (1983). The latter work includes an entertaining account of Ferns' years of service in the King PMO. The book also reveals Ferns' misgivings about the preservation of King's diary.
Library and Archives Canada holds the H.S. Ferns Papers (MG32-G16).