George Godwin (1889-1974) wrote most of his twenty-one books from 1928 to 1957. All except two, The Eternal Forest and Why Stay We Here?, are out of print. This is unfortunate because Godwin does much to celebrate and constructively criticize Canada. The Eternal Forest is an analysis of Canada through the microcosm of a B.C. village; Why Stay We Here? (the sequel to The Eternal Forest), is Infantry Lieutenant Godwin’s outspoken critique of World War I; Columbia, or The Future of Canada, is Godwin’s vision of Canada’s future from the perspective of 1928; Vancouver, A Life: 1757-1798, is one of the first integral biographies of Captain George Vancouver. Japan’s New Order (1942) explains some of the complexities of the traditional Japanese menta

Godwin’s writing reveals expertise in an unusually wide range of disciplines (history, religion, faith-healing, psychology, economics, sociology, medicine, criminology, law, agriculture, literature) which accounts for the multifaceted nature of his books.

Note: for an in-depth article on George Godwin and his books see Alan Twigg’s huge site: ABCBookWorld. This site contains over 5000 B.C. authors.


George Godwin has been practically unknown in Canada for the past seventy years, yet he spent at least four years in Canada, seriously considered making it his permanent home, served with the Canadian Infantry in France, and wrote four books in which Canada plays a key role.

Godwin was born into a large middle-class family (four brothers, three sisters) in London, and attended Glenrock (Surrey) then St. Lawrence College (Kent). He was listless at school so his family sent him off to Dresden, chaperoned by an older sister, in an effort to settle him down. Two years later he returned to England, worked in a bank for a few years, then set out for Canada. Within a year he had sent for his fiancee (Dorothy, née Purdon, from Belfast) and married her.

For reasons unknown the Godwins detrained at Whonnock (part of today’s Maple Ridge), purchased land, and built a house. However, they failed to make a decent living at small farming and Godwin soon found himself reduced to casual labor. We know now from local historians that Godwin’s economic ruin was typical for Whonnock in that time frame. Godwin laid much of the blame for his ruin at the feet of government mismanagement and crooked elements in big business e.g. oil, lumber and real estate. He also resented the mendacious promises of the Department of Immigration (the “Last Best West,” etc.) which had given him (and many others) false expectations about live in Canada.

At the same time, there was much he loved about Canada: the neighborliness, the relative lack of class snobbery, the power and beauty of the nearby forest. Godwin’s experience in Canada also helped him to sort out the perplexing muddle of his own life and his views on society. As he writes in The Eternal Forest:

“When we came (to Canada) we were little, weren’t we? I mean our outlook on life was petty and overlaid by the things that don’t really count at all. I don’t think that in England I ever thought straight, really, though sometimes I tried to. Life was overlaid with so many small things that the great issues were all in shadow. But out here one can see great principles at work. Life sticks out. You know what is real and vital.”

So speaks “The Newcomer” (Godwin himself), the protagonist of the novel, to his wife about their four years of slogging in Whonnock (called “Ferguson’s Landing” in the novel). Godwin was ambivalent about Canada and whether to remain; he was also ambivalent about the War. Nevertheless, the Godwins returned to England in 1916, and Spring, 1917, found Godwin in the trenches at Vimy. He bonded with his platoon and tried to soldier well, but the things he observed convinced him that the war was badly run and tragically wasteful. Besides, he knew the so-called “Boches” first hand and could not hate them. For Godwin the only good things that seemed to come of the war were camaraderie and close friendships. All this he recorded in a second novel, Why Stay We Here? (1930). Gassed and invalided out with tuberculosis, he was sent to recuperate for a year at Balfour Sanatarium, on the Arrow Lakes. Then he returned to England, this time for good.

This writer knows little of Godwin from this point on, except that he was called to the bar in the early 1920’s and practiced law on and off throughout his life. His attachment to the Middle Temple must have been strong because he wrote a book on it, The Middle Temple: the Society and Fellowship (1954). If one can judge from Godwin’s considerable (and varied) output of books, writing and journalism were his major interest. Godwin also raised a large family (four boys, one girl). George Godwin died in 1974 and is buried at Leatherhead, Surrey.

Again, apart from Godwin’s private journal, (much of which has been attached to our 1994 edition of The Eternal Forest), not that much is known about him. Unanswered questions abound. When did Godwin’s books go out of print? Why so many different publishers? How well travelled was Godwin? Did he have noteworthy connections with other British intellectuals? At the present stage of research one is reduced to conjectures for the most part, e.g. Godwin did publish Columbia, or the Future of Canada (1928) in the “Today and Tomorrow” series (an intriguing collection of books which engaged the minds of some very famous people: Bertrand Russell wrote The Future of Science; R. Trevelyan wrote Is There a Future for Poetry?; Liddell Hart wrote The Future of War, etc.) and this could be an indication that in Britain Godwin was considered an important expert on Canada.

Detailed research on Godwin and his life has only just started. It will interesting to see what is unearthed. Here are some of his titles:

Cain or The Future of Crime. London: Paul Kegan, 1928. 108 p.
Columbia, or The Future of Canada. London: Paul Kegan, 1928. 95 p.
The Disciple (a play in three acts). London: Acorn Press, 1936. 88 p.
The Eternal Forest Under Western Skies. New York: Appleton, 1929.
The Eternal Forest 
Vancouver: Godwin Books, 1994. With notes, illustrations, introduction by George Woodcock and 25 pages of extracts from Godwin’s personal journal.

The Great Mystics. London: Watts, 1945. 106 p.
The Great Revivalists. London: Watts, 1951. 220 p.
Japan’s New Order. London: Watts, 1942. 32 p.
The Mystery of Anna Berger. London: Watts, 1948. 226 p.
Peter Kurten. A Study in Sadism. London: Acorn Press, 1938. 58 p. Reissued by Heinemann in 1945.
Priest or Physician? A Study of Faith-healing. London: Watts, 1941.
Trial of Peter Griffiths, The (The Blackburn Baby Murder). London: Hodge, 1950. 219 p.
Vancouver, A Life: 1757-98. London: P. Alan, 1930. 308 p. With maps, etc.
Why Stay We Here?. London: P. Alan, 1930. 320 p.
Why Stay We Here? Victoria: Godwin Books, 2002. With notes and illustrations.

With the exception of The Eternal Forest Godwin’s books have become rare and hard to get. Of the ten I have read I think the best are his two novels: The Eternal Forest and its sequel, Why Stay We Here?. Both are essentially Canadian. Two others will interest Canadiana enthusiasts: Columbia, or the Future of Canada, and Vancouver, A Life: 1757-98.h