Valerie Knowles

By Samantha McGowan - photo credit

February 14, 2022


Growing up in Montreal, Quebec, Valerie Knowles loved to read. She loved both fiction and non-fiction books. Her journey of post secondary education first started in 1956 when she attended Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts and obtained a B.A. in Honours History. Then in 1957 she went back to Montreal and earned her M.A. for History.


Knowles had a love for teaching and became a history instructor at Prince of Wales College in P.E.I. Then the following year, in 1961, she travelled to Ottawa and taught history at Elmwood.elementary school located in Rockcliffe and a history instructor at Carleton University. She also got married the summer of 1961 to her husband, David, and decided to stay in Ottawa where she now calls home.


In 1972, after eight years as discussion group leader and bibliographer in the history department of Carleton University, Knowles decided to retire and focus more of her time on freelance writing.


From then on she began writing for publications like Legion magazine and for federal government departments as well as writing articles for local and national newspapers and devoting time to editing and research assignments.


At the time Knowles never thought she would write a book. “The last thing I thought of was embarking on a book writing career,” recalled Knowles. The idea never came to mind until a committee of the Ottawa Civic Hospital School Of Nursing Alumnae Association asked her to write a history about the Civic Hospital’s School Of Nursing. Since Knowles was a history instructor she was well qualified to take on the tasks necessary for that assignment. So she agreed and started researching and writing. After spending a lot of time doing the endless amount of work required, Knowles only ended up making a little money, but it was all worth it as her book – Leaving With a Red Rose: History of the Ottawa Civic Hospital – was well appreciated.


Knowles believes that first book, published in 1981, was probably one of the biggest achievements in her writing career. “I was very excited to have a book published,” she recalled. Since then Knowles has written and published 12 works of non-fiction, four of which are trade books. They include First Person, A Biography of Cairine Wilson, Canada’s First Woman Senator, published in 1988 by Dundurn Press; Through the Chateau Door: A History of the Zonta Club of Ottawa; and Making Waves: A History of the Riverside Hospital, published in 1997. Knowles’ book, From Telegrapher To Titan: The Life of Williams C. van Horne, won the University of British Columbia Medal of Canadian Biography in 2004 and the City of Ottawa Non-Fiction Book award in 2005. The most recent book published by Knowles was in 2016 when she wrote Strangers at Our Gates: Canadian Immigration and Immigration Policy, 1540-2015.


Now, in 2021, Valerie and David Knowles still live in the same house they built almost 40 years ago in Ottawa, with their dogs Katie and Robbie. Valerie Knowles is currently working on an 8,000-word piece on Canadian Immigration policy from Confederation to the present. It is intended for inclusion in a book dealing with Canada’s refugee protection system that is aimed at a European audience. The paper has been commissioned by the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS), in Montreal.


Books by Valerie Knowles:

1981 – Leaving With a Red Rose: A History of the Ottawa Civic Hospital
Making Waves: A History of the Riverside Hospital
Through the Chateau Door: A History of the Zonta Club of Ottawa
Andrew Fleck Child Care Services: A Local Success Story Celebrating 100 Years
People, Partnership, Community: The First 15 Years of the Community Foundation of Ottawa
1988 – First Person
1992 – Strangers at Our Gates
2000 – Forging Our Legacy: Canadian Citizenship And Immigration 1900-1977
2004 – From Telegrapher To Titan
2005 – Capital Lives
2010 – William Van Horne: Railway Titan
Capital Lives, volume 2


2004 – University of British Columbia Medal for Canadian Biography
2005 – City of Ottawa Non-Fiction Book Award




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