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Desmond Morton, historian and McGill University professor, dies at 81

Blackadder1916

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https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/desmond-morton-historian-1.5271672
Desmond Morton, historian and McGill University professor, dies at 81

Author who chronicled Canada's history remembered for intellect, sense of humour

CBC News · Posted: Sep 05, 2019 1:41 PM ET | Last Updated: 2 minutes ago

Desmond Morton, a renowned historian, author and longtime professor at McGill University, has died.

His wife, Gael Eakin, said he passed away on Tuesday. He was 81.

Morton authored more than 40 books on Canadian history and was a frequent commentator in the media on current events.

In a reflective essay written in 2011, he ruminated about an epitaph for himself: "History is another word for experience."

He was careful not to claim that phrase as his own, but wrote that "my versions of history have been powerfully influenced by my own experiences as a student, a soldier, a writer and especially as an unashamed political activist and an academic administrator."

About the experiences of his life, he wrote, "I wish, when it is almost too late, that I had sought out more of them."

The son of a brigadier-general, Morton was born in 1937 in Calgary and moved often as a child, following his father to military postings across the world.

He served 10 years in the military himself, retiring as captain in 1964.

He was a graduate of the Collège Militaire Royal de St-Jean, the Royal Military College of Canada, Oxford University and the London School of Economics.

He was founding director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, and professor in McGill's history department from 1998 to 2006.

Ed Broadbent, former leader of the federal NDP and a longtime friend, said what set Morton apart from other historians was his talent as a writer, and his interest in telling the stories of regular people.

"He was never interested in the so called 'great men' of history, but rather the working people, the soldiers and their families, always including the women. Inclusive and unpredictable, he always reached out to people with whom he personally disagreed," he told the McGill Reporter at Morton's 80th birthday celebration in 2017.

In an interview Thursday, Eaken said Morton, to whom she was married for 24 years, had "a brilliant mind; he also had a great sense of humour."

She said he loved his students, and the couple would often host them in their home.

"He was a very hard worker," she said. "He always lived for his work."

Eaken said Morton had developed dementia in recent years and had a bad heart.

By the end, she said, "he could remember the War of 1812 and he could he remember the First World War but he couldn't remember what day it was or people."

She said that Morton died peacefully at home.

 

exspy

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I took Professor Morton's Canada and War course while he was teaching at the U of T in Mississauga. I believe he was President of Erindale College at the time. This would have been about 1985. I was a part-time student and on the verge of dropping out, but he convinced to stay and gave me some freedom on an essay deadline. I finished and passed the course. A great man and a veritable walking dictionary of Canadian military history. His other passion was Canadian socialist history. He was unashamedly left of centre, and alternated his published works between military subjects and the social history of Canada.

He was a great-grandson of Sir William Dillon Otter, of whom he wrote a biography. Dillon was also Professor Morton's middle name. His father, REA Morton, was temporarily promoted to Major-General and placed in command of the peacekeeping mission to Indo-China after the French-Indochina War. REA Morton was also late of the Fort Garry Horse which led to Professor Morton sitting as a member of the FGH executive committee.

Professor Morton's uncle, ROG Morton, was the CRA of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division that Major-General Simonds fired in Italy. ROG Morton had a successful post-war career and was promoted to Major-General.

Professor Morton's military service was in the RCASC, just like another RMC graduate who became a military historian, Jack Granatstein. Morton retired in 1964 with the rank of Captain.

While not the first RMC graduate to obtain a Rhodes scholarship, he was the first to attain one while still enrolled at the College. This was done without the technicality of his receiving a BA from the College.

Just a few pieces of trivia I've learned over the years about a person I was proud to say I had met.

Cheers,
Dan.

Des-Morton.jpg
 

Strike

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Although I was an engineering student at RMC, like everyone else, history was one of those topics that was mandatory for the first 2 years and an option for an arts elective in the last two. I vividly remember the textbooks we used specifically because of how well they were written and how much they pulled the reader in. They were all textbooks written by Morton. He had an ability to turn a history book into an interesting story and I found myself reading ahead sometimes.

I never had the pleasure of meeting the man but his work did have an impact on me.
 

daftandbarmy

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Strike said:
Although I was an engineering student at RMC, like everyone else, history was one of those topics that was mandatory for the first 2 years and an option for an arts elective in the last two. I vividly remember the textbooks we used specifically because of how well they were written and how much they pulled the reader in. They were all textbooks written by Morton. He had an ability to turn a history book into an interesting story and I found myself reading ahead sometimes.

I never had the pleasure of meeting the man but his work did have an impact on me.

The most important part of History is the story. Historians, like Morton, intrinsically understand that fact: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXbi_H064yU
 
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