Classification scheme: 

Title: David Waltner-Toews fonds

Dates of creation: 1966-2019

Physical description: 1.12 m of textual records ; 45 photographs ; 11 recordings (cassette and optical disc)

Biographical sketch: David Victor Toews was born in 1948 in Winnipeg, one of five children of John Aron and Nettie (Willms) Toews. John and Nettie had both arrived in Canada in 1926 as part of the Russlaender immigration from the Soviet Union. John A. Toews was a prominent Mennonite Brethren churchman and author, and had a lengthy association with Mennonite Brethren Bible College as a teacher and president.

In a 2009 issue of Rhubarb, David recalled of his upbringing, "my mother...told my siblings that my bad, spoiled behaviour was because I was 'artistic'.... and in a family of historians, made room for another kind of narrative, more complex, ambiguous, and real than the official histories that surrounded me and tried to define me." In 1967 David Toews, having completed one year of university in Winnipeg, embarked on an extensive tour including Expo '67 in Montreal, Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Returning in 1968, he spent a year working in a sawmill in British Columbia before enrolling at Goshen College were he completed a BA in 1971. The same year he married Kathy Waltner and took the name David Waltner-Toews.

Looking for a career that would allow him to work across cultures in a practical and meaninful way, he decided on veterinary medicine and completed his training at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in 1978. Waltner-Toews practiced as a veterinarian in Alberta and Ontario before pursuing a PhD in Epidemiology at the University of Guelph. Upon completion of his degree, David, Kathy and their two children lived in Indonesia for two years (1985-1987) while David worked on epidemiological projects. He returned to the University of Guelph as a professor in the Department of Population Medicine (1987-2011). During his career he collaborated on numerous ecosystem health research projects in different parts of the world.

Meanwhile, Waltner-Toews pursued writing in a number of genres. His first book of poety as sole author, That Inescapable Animal, was published in 1974. He has also had poems published in many periodicals and anthologies. He has written novels, short stories, and several nonfiction popular science books, in addition to scholarly works in his field. His writing frequently attempts to break down barriers between literature and science. In 2022 he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada for his work in ecosystem health and development.

Custodial history: Donated to the Archives in 2022 by David Waltner-Toews

Scope and content: Contains materials collected and created by David Waltner-Toews as a student, veterenarian, professor, poet, writer, traveler, son, husband and father.

Numerous clippings featuring the writing of Waltner-Toews in common Mennonite periodicals, such as The Canadian Mennonite, Mennonite Reporter, With, Rhubarb and Festival Quarterly were not kept. Copies of these publications can be found in the Milton Good Library.

A copy of the musical recording Radio Favorites by The Children's Gospel Light Hour Choir, [195?], of which David Toews was a member, was transferred to the Milton Good Library.

Original archival description created 2023 by Laureen Harder-Gissing.

File list:

Series 1: Education

  1. Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute yearbook, 1966
  2. United College/University of Manitoba essays
  3. Goshen College study-service term (SST) journals and sketchbooks, 1970 (in oversize box)
  4. Goshen College class notes
  5. Graduations
    Goshen College, 1971
    Western College of Veterinary Medicine, 1978
  6. Poetry, 1960s-1970s
  7. Stratford Seminar, Conrad Grebel College, 1970

Series 2: Travel

  1. "Stanford's General Map of Asia," 1963 (in oversize box)
    Includes a tracing of his 1967-1968 travel route
  2. Scrapbook of 1967-1968 trip (in oversize box)
  3. Travel, 1967-1968
  4. Travel journal, 1967-1968
  5. Indonesia, 1985-1987
  6. Nepal, 1992, 1993, 1995, 2001, 2008
  7. Kenya, 1997, 1999, 2000
  8. Central and South America, 1992, 1998, 1999
  9. Cambodia, 2007-2008

Series 3: Teaching, talks and sermons

  1. Academic talks and papers
  2. Sermons given at Rockway Mennonite Church, and "Humming in the Wilderness" poems
  3. Sermons at Rockway "plus other pieces"
  4. List of Harrowsmith letters and articles
    Waltner-Toews had a regular column, "The Stock Exchange," from about 1979-1983 and occasionally in the late 1980s that dispensed veterenary and philosphical advice.

Series 4: Scripts

  1. Nobody Said It Was Easy
  2. First Christmas
    Compiled by Ron Reed and Morris Ertman, and including poetry from David Waltner-Toews
  3. Our Own Destruction
  4. Mennonite Blues
    Poems by David Waltner-Toews, script by Larry Danielson. Also includes items relating to The Complete Tante Tina: Mennonite Blues and Recipes.

Series 5: Stories and novels

  1. "Needle's Eye" (in oversize box)
  2. Fragments of old novels, including The Sasquatch Memorandum manuscript
  3. Cheiko's Gift manuscript
  4. Unpublished stories
  5. Stories, "Needle's Eye," etc.
  6. Notebooks, 1976
  7. The K Group manuscript, an Abner Dueck novel
  8. Scribblers, 1970s
    Includes "The Day a Mennonite Swore," "Uncle Ed," "The Mennonite Gorilla," "Needle's Eye," "Vet Student Incidents," "The Cost."
  9. "On Call at Christmas: The Dedicated Vet," ill. by D.S. Geary.

Series 6: Poetry

  1. Published poems (clippings)
  2. Poems
  3. Poetry scribblers
  4. Songs and cards

Series 7: Notebooks (misc.)

Six notebooks (miscellaneous content)

Series 8: Family history and fatherhood

  1. First time fatherhood journal
  2. May, Katharyn Antle. "From Partner to Parent: The Experience of First-time Expectant Fatherhood." Diss., Department of Family Health Care Nursing, University of California, 1979.
  3. Family correspondence, 1966, 1982-1999
  4. Biographical materials
    Curriculum vitae, 2005; Waltner-Toews, David. "My Tapeworm, My Guru." Rhubarb (Fall 2009); Froese-Tiessen, Hildi. "Portrait of an Epidemiologist as a Young Man." Hamilton Arts and Letters 2, n. 13 (2020-21): 1-23; "David Waltner-Toews...Receives Order of Canada." Waterloo Region Record, August 16, 2022.
  5. Certificates (in oversize box)

Series 9: Correspondence

  1. Earth is One Body, 1974-1985
  2. Pulp Press, 1977
  3. Good Housekeeping, 1978-1984
  4. "Of Despair and Comfort," 1978
    Waltner-Toews poems set to music by Leonard Enns
  5. One Foot in Heaven, 1987-2005
  6. One Animal Among Many, 1991-1996
  7. James Harriot biography, 1993-1994
  8. Food, Sex and Salmonella, 1993-2009
  9. Fear of Landing, 1997-2008
  10. The Ragtime Biosphere Symphony, 1998-2002
  11. Lovely Weather, 2004
    Art collaboration with Diane Maclean, Peterborough, UK
  12. The Chickens Fight Back, 2006-2007
  13. The Origin of Feces, 2007-2014
  14. Eat the Beetles!, 2017
  15. Amnesty International
  16. General correspondence, [19--], 1966-2017

Series 10: News clippings

[19--], 1965-2019

Series 11: Photographs

Series 13: Recordings

  1. Interview with Eleanor Wachtel, 19 Apr 1995 (audio cassette)
  2. Readings from One Foot in Heaven and "Tante Tina" (audio cassette)
  3. Poetry reading at "Peace and the Arts" conference, Conrad Grebel College, 12 Nov 1983 (audio cassette)
  4. David Toews and Kathy Waltner wedding, 1971 (audio cassette)
  5. Readings of "Tante Tina's Lament and other poems" (audio disc)
  6. Readings from The Complete Tante Tina: Mennonite Blues and Recipes, Waterloo North Mennonite Church, 2 Dec 2004 (audio disc)
  7. Interview on CBC Radio's Quirks & Quarks for The Chickens Fight Back, 7 Apr 2007 (audio disc)
  8. Interview on Shaw TV's Studio 4 for The Chickens Fight Back, 13 Jun 2007 (audiovisual disc)
  9. Interview on CBC Radio's Morningside about the Dirk Gently Group on Decision Making in Complex Systems, [between 1982 and 1997] (audio cassette)
  10. Interviews on CBC Radio's Basic Black and Gabereau, [ca. 1992]; reading at the Association for Commonweath Literature and Language Studies conference, Singapore, Jun 1986 (audio cassette)
  11. Readings from Three Mennonite Poets, Endangered Species, The Impossible Uprooting, "A Sunny Day in Canada," [after 2005] (audio cassette)


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Mennonite Archives of Ontario
Conrad Grebel University College
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