One of Canada's Greatest Authors, Margaret Laurence

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The Early Years: The Beginnings of a Writer

Sunday, July 18th 1926, at 7:30pm at the Neepawa General Hospital, one of Canada's greatest authors, Margaret Laurence, was born to proud parents Robert and Verna Wemyss. Verna's father, John Simpson, was a self-made man. Born in 1853 in Middletown Ontario, John attended school, training to be a cabinetmaker. In the 1870's John, with only his change in his pocket, made his way towards Portage la Prairie Manitoba, in an attempt to unite with a cousin who sold clothing there. While working in the clothing store, John met his future wife, Jane Bailey. Four years after marrying Jane the Simpson family decided to move north, towards to the newly founded town of Neepawa.

Margaret's Laurence's grandmother, Margaret Weymss, whom she was named after, came from a proud family. Margaret Weymss' great-grandfather was the Minister of Agriculture, and at one point the Premier of Manitoba. Margaret Laurence's grandfather, John Weymss, came from England to Neepawa in 1883. John Weymss, Neepawa's first lawyer, was a bright aristocratic man dying tragically, two weeks after the birth of his granddaughter Margaret.

This was only the beginning of the many tragic deaths that Margaret's family endured in her first twenty years of life. At the young age of four, Margaret's mother Verna Simpson died. The death of Margaret's mother had a profound effect on the once bright and bubbly girl. It was Verna who first nicknamed her daughter Margaret, "Peggy", a name by which Margaret was addressed as for almost 40 years. After Verna's death, her older sister, Margaret Simpson, quickly moved in with Peggy and her father. A year after moving in, Margaret Simpson married Robert Weymss, becoming "mother" to Peggy. In 1935, another tragedy shook the Weymss household. Peggy's father Robert died after catching pneumonia. Margaret's last family death in her early years was in 1936 when Peggy's grandmother Jane, contracted Polio. It was around this time that Peggy began to write, in an attempt to escape the horrible nightmare she was living, by creating imaginary worlds. Margaret found that writing was the only way she could control external events, such as life and death.

At the age of thirteen Margaret Laurence's first story "Pillars of a Nation" was published in the newspaper TheWinnipeg Free Press. The fictional town name Manawaka first appeared in this story. Her second work published in the Winnipeg Free Press was "The Case of the Blond Butcher" only a few months after the first.

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