Passing of J. Donald Wilson

It is with sadness that the Department of History shares that J. Donald Wilson passed away on 22 December 2019.

Following his graduation from the University of Western Ontario in 1959, Don joined the Department of External Affairs, working as a Foreign Service Officer until 1960. He returned to his studies, first completing a Master of Arts in History at the University of Toronto and afterwards beginning a PhD in History at UWO under the supervision of J.J. Talman.

After some experience teaching secondary school in London, Ontario, Don arrived in then Port Arthur, Ontario, in 1964 to take up a position as a Lecturer  teaching for a year in history and politics at Lakehead College of Arts, Science and Technology. A popular professor, he also quickly became part of the social scene in the city. He was on staff when Lakehead University was established in 1965 and, had he remained, would have  been one of the original faculty members.

Despite the urgings of many to remain, Don returned to UWO to complete his PhD. While completing his studies, he held Assistant Professorships at UWO and the University of British Columbia. He eventually came back to Lakehead University when he completed his PhD in 1971.

Don's courses from the period contained many "firsts" being taught in Canada and universities around the world, courses that, in larger institutions, would have never seen the light of day at the time but are now mainstays in post-secondary education. Don was at least a decade ahead in his thinking about Canadian and world history.

During his time at Lakehead in the early 1970s, Don established himself as one of the leading experts in Canadian educational history, contributing to the field with pioneering publications in nineteenth and early twentieth century education in Ontario and as one of the first historians to examine residential schools. While at Lakehead, Don also began a life-long personal and profession interest in Finland and Finnish Canadian history, holding a Visiting Fellowship at the Institute for Migration at the University of Turku, Turku, Finland in 1974.

At the same time Lakehead University experienced financial troubles in the mid-1970s, the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia approached Don and he was offered a position. Don taught at UBC from 1975 until his retirement as full Professor in 1999, and he then moved back to Thunder Bay. During that period, he continued to make a profound impact on the field of Canadian history, publishing more that 10 books and 65 book chapters and journal articles. He supervised and served as an examiner for dozens of graduate students over his career with many of his students becoming leading members of the field, both in Canada and internationally.

Don's work shed new light on various aspects of education in rural British Columbia and Ontario, of multiculturalism, women in education, separate schools, and residential and industrial schools. Don also established himself as a leading expert on Finnish Canadian history, particularly the lives of Matti Kurkka and A.B. Maakela and the settlement of Sointula, British Columbia.

Don also served the historical profession in a variety of capacities, significantly as a member of the Canadian Historical Association's council and as President of the Canadian History of Education Association. During his career, his publications were recognized by numerous national awards and, in 2016, the Canadian History of Education Association honoured him with its Distinguished Contribution Award for his contribution to scholarship.

Don's national and international reputation, though, always had its roots in Thunder Bay. Throughout the years, he always found his way home. It was during his periodic visits to the region during his career that much of his work was written. He also gave advice freely and never stopped acting as mentor to generations of historians in our community.