Born in Combermere, Ontario on 08 March 1866, he was the son of Calvin Wesley Dafoe (1842-1916) and Mary Anne Elcome (1840-1913), and brother of Rance G. Dafoe.
In 1890, he married Alice Parmelee (1866-1961) of Ottawa, Ontario with whom he had seven children: Mary Alice Dafoe (1891-1983), Edwin Elcome Dafoe (1894-1981), Dorothy Dafoe (1895-?), John Dafoe (1897-1973), Marcella Dafoe (1898-2000), Julia Annette Elizabeth Dafoe (1900-1960), and Phillip Dafoe (1905-1959). At the time of his death, he lived at 1325 Wellington Crescent, before which he had lived at 509 Spence Street.
He was educated at the public and high schools of Arnprior, Ontario. He commenced a life-long journalism career as a reporter for the Montreal Star (1883-1885), then was editor of the Ottawa Journal (1886), a member of the editorial staff of the Manitoba Free Press (1886-1892), editor of the Montreal Herald 1892-1895), and a member of the editorial staff of the Montreal Star (1895-1901). He became editor-in-chief of the Manitoba Free Press in 1901, holding the position until his death in 1944.
Dafoe made the Free Press the voice of Prairie Liberalism as well as an international newspaper of record. He combined advocacy of western issues (lower tariffs, lower freight rates, provincial control of natural resources) with an international perspective that favoured the Commonwealth and the League of Nations. Dafoe helped found the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, and he was highly critical in the late 1930s of Mackenzie King’s diffident foreign policy. He was a member of the Rowell-Sirois Commission on Dominion-Provincial relations and, from 1934 to 1944, was Chancellor of the University of Manitoba, from which he received an honorary doctorate. He, also, received an honorary degree from Queen’s University (Kingston). He, also, served as President of the Canadian Institute of International Affairs and Chairman of the Institute of Pacific Relations (1936-1938).
His essay Laurier: A Study in Canadian Politics (1922) and his biography Clifford Sifton in Relation to His Times (1931) are distinguished contributions to Canadian historical writing. As contributor of the chapters on the Economic History of the Prairie Provinces, 1870-1915, in Canada and Its Provinces, volume 20, Dafoe proved his knowledge of the growth of the Canadian West of which, indeed, he was himself a great part. Other written works include Over the Battlefields (1922) and Canada, An American Nation (1935). He also edited Canada Flights (1941).
Dafoe died suddenly at Winnipeg on 09 January 1944 and was buried in the Elmwood Cemetery. He is commemorated by Dafoe Road and John Dafoe School in Winnipeg, and the Dafoe Book Prize. His papers are at the Archives of Manitoba and the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections.
Reprinted with permission from Manitoba Historical Society.
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