John Norman Harris

Fonds number:
Title: John Norman Harris
Dates of Material:
1930–1991, predominant 1937–1964
71 cm of textual records
15 photographs
Biographical sketch

John Norman Harris (1915–1964) was an author of fiction and non-fiction. He was born in Fort Frances, Ontario, and educated in Toronto. After attending Victoria University, 1933–1936, he went to England, joining the Royal Air Force in 1937 to train as a pilot. When World War II ensued he served as the captain of a bomber; in 1942 his plane was shot down during the massive raid on Hamburg. He survived the crash, and was interred as a Prisoner of War in the Luftwaffe-run camp, Stalag Luft III, in Poland for the duration of the war. In 1943, Harris was part of a coordinated group effort to break out of the camp. Using a wooden gymnastics vaulting horse constructed from makeshift materials to hide men, tools and containers of soil, a hidden tunnel was dug which enabled three prisoners to escape. The event was re-enacted in the 1950 British film The Wooden Horse.

After the war, Harris returned to Canada with his wife Aileen Dunkeld, whom he married in 1942 shortly before his fateful mission. They had four children including a daughter, Elizabeth, born in 1943. Harris combined a career in public relations at Bell Canada, then advertising at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, with creative and non-fiction writing. The author of numerous articles for periodicals, his acclaimed mystery novel, The Weird World of Wes Beattie, was published shortly before his death. Harris passed away in 1964. He was survived by his wife, three daughters, and a son.

Scope and content

Fonds consists of records relating to John Norman Harris’s experiences in England, primarily his time in the Royal Air Force; his internment in a German stalag, and then his writing efforts back in Canada. The records consist of three series: personal correspondence 1935–1977, which also includes the correspondence of family members, predominantly his father and wife; manuscripts and other records relating to writing and publishing, 1946–1991, including attempts at posthumous publication by his widow; and memorabilia and obituaries, 1930–1964.

Source of supplied title

Title based on the contents of the fonds.

Immediate source of acquisition

Acquired from Mary Brand in 2010, 2011


Further accruals are expected

Access points

Harris, John Norman, 1915–1964