This Week in History


Birthday of Writer Mazo de la Roche

This story was initially published in 2000

On January 15, 1879, Mazo de la Roche was born in Newmarket, Ontario. Little did her parents know that she would grow up to be a world-famous author, known best for her Jalna series.

Mazo de la Roche and a friend

Mazo de la Roche and a friend
© Library and Archives Canada / C-5482

Mazo led a fairly reclusive life. As a child, she had no close friends save her orphaned cousin, Caroline Clement, who remained her life-long companion. Mazo studied Art and English at the University of Toronto, but did not pursue a career until several years later. She wrote several stories while in her thirties, and by the age of 40, Mazo was completely dedicated to her writing.

Mazo's first novels, Possession (1923) and Delight (1926), sold well, but in 1927 she received worldwide recognition for her talent as a novelist. Jalna told the story of an Ontario family in the 1920s, the Whiteoaks, who lived on an estate named Jalna. For this, Mazo won both the Atlantic Monthly $10 000 award for the best novel of 1927 and international acclaim. Her success prompted her to continue the Jalna series, with prequels and sequels, altogether depicting 150 years of Whiteoak family history.

The series, comprising a total of 16 novels, was translated into a dozen languages. Plays based on Jalna were performed in London, New York, Dublin, Budapest and Toronto. In 1935, the series inspired a Hollywood movie and, in 1972, CBC-based a television series on this popular saga.

Mazo de la Roche, December 18, 1927
Mazo de la Roche, December 18, 1927
© Archives of Ontario, F 1075-13, H 1786, M.O. Hammond fond
In the 1930s, Mazo and Caroline moved to Devon, England, but returned to Canada with the outbreak of the Second World War. Mazo continued writing after the war, but her later novels were heavily criticized for following the "romance formula" too closely and for not meeting the standards of her previous work. Nevertheless, Mazo persisted, and at her death in 1961, at the age of 82, she had published more than 20 books which are still in print today.

Mazo de la Roche was a successful Canadian writer whose work included novels, short stories, plays, a history of Quebec and an autobiography entitled Ringing the Changes. In 1976, Mazo de la Roche was designated a National Historic Person.

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