Remembering Desmond Morton

Historian, author, and CNHS volunteer was a passionate champion of history.

Written by Mark Collin Reid

Posted November 14, 2019

Canada’s National History Society is very saddened by the passing of Canadian historian Desmond Morton. The author of more than forty books on Canadian history, Morton was a founding member of the Society’s board of directors and a long-time supporter. He was eighty-one years old.

“Desmond Morton was a champion of Canadian history and a true friend of the History Society. His loss will be felt deeply,” said Janet Walker, the president and CEO of Canada’s History Society.

Joe Martin, president emeritus of CNHS, said Morton played a key role in the early years of the history society, volunteering to serve on the editorial committee of The Beaver magazine, and supporting efforts to honour teachers through the Governor General’s History Awards. “Canada has lost a distinguished scholar, a brave soldier, and a truly remarkable individual,” Martin said. “He shared his qualities with our fledgling society, and it is truly the better for it.”

Born in 1937 into a military family, Morton was a graduate of the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean, the Royal Military College of Canada, Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and the London School of Economics. He spent a decade in the Canadian Army before embarking on a career in teaching.

Morton was the Hiram Mills Emeritus Professor in the Department of History and Classical Studies at McGill University in Montreal as well as a past director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

“He ensured McGill was on the map as a leader in Canadian studies,” Antonia Maioni, dean of the Faculty of Arts at McGill, told the Montreal Gazette.

In the mid-1990s, Morton played an integral role in the early development of Canada’s National History Society. He continued to contribute for decades afterwards, writing for The Beaver (later Canada’s History) and contributing essays to the Society’s books, including 100 Photos that Changed Canada.

Canada’s History editor-in-chief Mark Collin Reid said thatworking with the historian was both a personal and a professional honour. “Desmond’s contributions to the Society, and to history in general, are immense,” Reid said. “But for me it was the personal conversations with him that I will remember. He was a brilliant man with a deep passion for the history of Canada — and also for storytelling. He knew how to write for all Canadians, not just academics — which is why his stories resonated so greatly with our readers.”

Morton was an officer of the Order of Canada and, since 1985, a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

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This article as orginally published in the December 2019-January 2020 issue of Canada’s History.

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