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Ramsay Cook passes away

Published on July 19, 2016

The CHA/SCH is saddened to hear of the passing of one of Canada's foremost historians who pioneered and transformed the writing of Canadian history since the 1960s. Ramsay Cook was President of the CHA/SHC in 1983-1984.


Ramsay Cook (1931-2016)

In Memoriam Ramsay Cook

ramsay_cook.jpegIt is with great sadness that I must inform you that Ramsay Cook, a distinguished member of the History Department from 1969 to 1996, passed away on 14 July 2016. 

Born in Alameda, Saskatchewan, Ramsay Cook began his academic career by taking his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Manitoba in 1954. He then went on to Queen’s to complete a Master of Arts thesis in 1956, under the direction of Arthur Lower, on civil liberties. In 1960, he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Toronto with a dissertation on John W. Dafoe. The revised thesis became his first book, The Politics of John W. Dafoe and the Free Press (1963), a study which reveals some of the basic characteristics of his scholarly work. He looked at an individual, John Dafoe, who was not a traditional politician but rather an inveterate prairie journalist who played an influential role in shaping ideas in the public domain, including the West, Ottawa, and Canada’s role in the international community. This first study revealed his fascination with ideas and the process of nation building, themes that would occupy him throughout his career.

In the 1970s, Ramsay Cook focused his attention on the social reform and social criticism movements which emerged in English speaking Protestant Canada at the turn of the century. His research into the history of the ideological origins of these movements and the proposals of some of their most prominent leaders appeared in a study entitled: The Regenerators: Social Criticism in Late Victorian English Canada(1985). This study demonstrated how and why many of the thinkers who promoted ‘social regeneration’ contributed in unforeseen ways to the various forces promoting secularization. This influential study contributed to launching a debate on the impact of the scientific and social revolutions on Protestant theology in Canada and the responses of various Protestant clergy and Christian socialist labour militants to the crisis that ensued.

Author of some fifteen books, editor of eleven books, and author of more than sixty articles in refereed and non refereed journals, Ramsay was editor of the Canadian Historical Review from 1963 to 1968, became the executive editor of the Canadian Centenary Series between 1983 and 1988, and was the executive editor of the multi volume Dictionary of Canadian Biography/Dictionnaire biographique du Canada from 1989 to 2006. Several of his books have been translated into French and Japanese.

Throughout his academic career, Ramsay Cook’s many accomplishments were widely acknowledged. In 1986 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and an Officer of the Order of Canada. He won the J. B. Tyrell Medal from the Royal Society of Canada in 1975, the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non Fiction in 1985 for his book The Regenerators, which was released in a second edition this year, and the Molson Prize in the Social Sciences and Humanities in 2005, a prize that marks a substantial and distinguished contribution over a significant period of time to the cultural or intellectual heritage of Canada. Twice, he received the President’s Medal from the University of Western Ontario for the best scholarly article. In 2005 he was named a member of York University’s Founders Honours Society. He was a Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies at Harvard University in 1968-69 and Visiting Professor at Yale University in 1978-79 and 1997.  He was also the recipient of six honorary doctorates as well as being named to the Order of the Sacred Treasure by the government of Japan in 1994. On his retirement thanks to generous donations from colleagues and friends of Ramsay, as well as some important foundations, the department established in his honour the Ramsay Cook Research Scholarship for graduate students.

For 36 years as a professor of Canadian history, first at the University of Toronto and then at York University, Ramsay Cook motivated countless numbers of undergraduate and graduate students to take up the study of Canada. He also sought out and offered encouragement and mentorship to scholars of Canadian history in Canada and beyond whose work he admired. As a visiting professor to universities in the United States, the former Soviet Union, Japan, India, Austria and China, he introduced dozens of international students and professors to Canada and its past. Not least Ramsay was a historian who believed that it was important to speak to multiple audiences about Canada and its history. Throughout his career he engaged in broad debates about Canadian identity and Canadian nationalism through his writings and other media appearances.

As a colleague, he participated vigorously in departmental life and, when he deemed it necessary, intervened in characteristically feisty manner at departmental meetings. He also had a great love for the Canadian outdoors; he was a gifted swimmer and dedicated birdwatcher, and was an informed admirer of Canadian painting and Northwest coast native art.

He will be greatly missed.

A memorial service will be announced in due course and the Department will hold an event in the Fall to mark Ramsay's distinguished career.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Edmondson
Professor and Chair
Department of History
York University

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