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The Mysterious Case of Frederick Philip Grove

History often holds mysteries from past centuries. Virden Pioneer Home Museum certainly does.
Curator's Corner
A copy of Frederick Philip Grove’s “The Master of the Mill” dated 1944.The book is about mill master John Thornton and his life on the Canadian Prairie.

Canada has produced many great writers who have captured the essence of Canadian life. Such as Lucy Maud Montgomery and her story of Anne in PEI or Maureen Jennings and her historical detective William Murdoch in 1900s Toronto.

Of the many Prairie writers to illustrate Prairie life, one has connections to Virden! Frederick Philip Grove was a well-known Manitoba educator and writer that taught in Virden! His story is not as simple as it appears to be. Once you have read the whole story, you can decide for yourself who Frederick Philip Grove was.

Philip Frederick Grove (1879-1948) was born to a Swedish father and Scottish mother but was born in Russia, as his parents were travelling abroad. His family home was a Swedish manor, Castle Thurow, where he lived with his parents and eight sisters.

His parents would divorce sometime after his birth, and Grove would spend summers travelling in Europe with his musician mother. He would continue his travels after studying in European universities and would visit North America. After his trip to California, Grove travelled to Toronto to go back home in 1892. Grove realizes he needs more money for his journey, and he telegraphed his father to wire the funds.

His father tells him the family is in debt and must sell their home and possessions, which was the story he told everyone, but it was not the truth. He was named Felix Paul Greve and was born in Germany. He was a translator for books (as he was interested in writing) and did seem to have travelled Europe.

He left Europe to escape fraud charges and debt and fled to America with his wife, known famously as Elsa Hildegard the Baroness von Freytag-Loringhoven (a Dadaist artist). He would leave his wife in America and come to Canada to, again, escape his debts.

Grove, now stranded in Canada, would take up odd jobs to survive. All the while he would write at any chance he could. While waiting for a train in Fargo, North Dakota, he met a priest from St. Boniface, who suggested Grove would make an excellent teacher in Manitoba due to his skills in German and other languages.

With that in mind, Grove would meet the Deputy of Education of Manitoba, Dr. Robert Fletcher, in 1912, who was impressed with Grove’s skills and charisma and hired him as a teacher. From 1912 to the late 1920s, Grove would teach and be principal for schools in many small Manitoba towns, which fueled his imagination and help create many of his books.

One such place Grove worked was in Virden at the Collegiate in 1915. He worked in the math department, which did not deter him, as he was up to the challenge. Grove lived across the hospital (as his wife, Catherine Weins, was about to give birth to their daughter, Phyllis May) in a “makeshift” shack, then moved to a house by the Collegiate.

He wanted to be principal but, he got pneumonia and was too sick to work. Unable to work at the Collegiate, the family moved to Gladstone. In the 1930s, he and his wife would leave Manitoba to focus on his writing career in Ontario.

Virden Pioneer Home Museum has decided to extend the season from Sept. 1 to Sept 25 with hours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  With limited staff, the door is open to walk-ins but it’s best to call ahead.