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A Real Companion and Friend:
The diary of William Lyon Mackenzie King

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Educational Resources

Keep or Shred?

The Amazing Story Behind Saving Mackenzie King's Diaries!

The Story

W.L. Mackenzie King writing the book Industry and Humanity

Source

W.L. Mackenzie King writing the book Industry and Humanity

The diaries are a monumental document to which Mackenzie King devoted countless hours. In the last years of his life, Mackenzie King spent much time planning the writing of his memoirs and he intended his diaries to be the main source for information. Unfortunately, before he could begin the actual writing of his memoirs, Mackenzie King died in 1950. In his will, he named four literary executors. He instructed them to "destroy all of my Diaries except those parts which I have indicated are and shall be available for publication or use." But, he never indicated the parts that were to be kept. In 1955, it was discovered that an employee of the Archives had microfilmed parts of the diaries and sold the microfilm copies. How much had been filmed and how many copies were made is still not known.

The Dilemma

Keep

  • On the very first page of his diaries, Mackenzie King wrote that one of his reasons for keeping a diary was to enable "the reader...to trace how the author has sought to improve his time."
  • Toward the end of his life, Mackenzie King gave verbal advice that parts of the diaries should be retained for use by his eventual biographers.
  • According to his private secretary, Mackenzie King intended the parts relating to his public life to be available to researchers.
  • Since parts of the diaries had been copied illegally and were now in circulation, the original needed to be kept as proof of what Mackenzie King had actually written.

Shred

  • There were also many personal sections in the diaries, which Mackenzie King clearly did not intend to be made public.
  • References in the diaries indicate that he meant them to be absolutely confidential. He wrote: "This journal is strictly private, and none should look upon its pages save with reverent eyes..."
  • His private secretary stated that, in his opinion, Mackenzie King would not want passages made public if they contained information given to him in confidence, or anything that might hurt the feelings of living persons or their descendants.

The Story as it unfolded...

Funeral train carrying the body of Rt. Hon. W.L. Mackenzie King en route to Toronto for burial in Mount Pleasant Cemetery

Source

Funeral train carrying the body of Rt. Hon. W.L. Mackenzie King en route to Toronto for burial in Mount Pleasant Cemetery

  • As time passed, the literary executors gained a deeper appreciation of how extraordinarily valuable the diaries were. For those who cared about Canadian history and about Mackenzie King, the idea of destroying the diaries became totally unacceptable.
  • In December 1971, the literary executors decided to make available to all researchers sections of the diaries up to the end of 1931.
  • With time and because of the interest shown in the diaries, the Public Archives of Canada and the literary executors received many demands to make public sections of the diaries after 1931.
  • In 1974 the Public Archives were authorized to open the diaries from 1932 to 1943.
  • On January 1, 1981, the diaries in their entirety became available to the public.
  • Today, thanks to the Web, you can easily access and consult Mackenzie King's diaries.

Teachers!!! Start a debate in your class! In one camp there can be some of Mackenzie King's friends and family demanding the full destruction of the diaries and in the other camp, Mackenzie King's literary executors and archivists pleading to preserve the diaries as an important historical source. Find more information on this story at A Real Companion and Friend: The Diaries of William Lyon Mackenzie King.