Calgary’s Literary Celebrity

Mrs. Winnifred Eaton Reeve in California | Photographer Unknown | c. mid-1920s | Glenbow Archives NA-4320-6

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Winnifred Eaton Reeve was a Canadian novelist and screenwriter born in 1875 in Montreal to an English father and a Chinese mother. She was one of the first successful Asian North American novelists. She began writing at a young age, having her first story published in a Montreal newspaper when she was only 14. Her writing career took off quickly and her writing appeared in Ladies’ Home Journal and eventually the Saturday Evening Post. She moved onto novels and became a bestselling author.

Portrait of Winnifred Eaton Reeve (Onoto Watanna) | Courtesy of Brian Brennan


Despite having British-Chinese ancestry, Eaton Reeve was known to her readers by her Japanese pseudonym, Onoto Watanna, and she mostly wrote ‘Japanese romances’. These were novels that explored Japanese culture, history, and Japanese-white relations. She also wrote a Japanese- and Chinese-themed cookbook in 1914, followed by two fictionalized memoirs that hinted at a Japanese heritage. Prejudice against Chinese people was rampant during her lifetime and this may explain why she chose to write under a Japanese pseudonym.

Ranch owned by Frank Reeve near Morley, Alberta | Photographer Unknown | Morley, Alberta, 1920s | Glenbow Archives NA-4320-18


Winnifred Eaton Reeve moved to southern Alberta in 1917, trading her literary life in New York City for a ranch near Morley with her second husband, Frank. After three years of physical labour on the ranch, she moved into a small rented house in Calgary to reignite her literary career. In 1923, she published Cattle, her first novel set in and inspired by Alberta. Focusing on the culture, climate, and character of Alberta and Albertans in the interwar era, Eaton Reeve became a pioneer writer of the Canadian West. Lady Lougheed was among the first to receive a copy of the new book inscribed with a personal message from the author.

Cover of Cattle by Winnifred Eaton Reeve


After her time in Calgary, she lived in the United States from 1924 to 1931, where she worked as an editor for Universal Pictures and wrote stories and screenplays for several film companies, such as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Fox Films, and Universal Pictures.

Want to learn more about Winnifred’s fascinating literary life and her contributions to Alberta? Visit the Winnifred Eaton Reeve archive to read her work.

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