The Canadian Rhodes Scholarships

Astrid Guttmann (Quebec and New College 1987)
— with a great debt to Douglas McCalla’s chapter in “The History of the Rhodes Trust” (ed. Anthony Kenny)

Douglas McCalla (Alberta and Oriel 1965) documented much of the history of the Canadian Rhodes Scholarships in Sir Anthony Kenny’s “The History of the Rhodes Trust”. He describes the complexities of the politics of the early days of the Rhodes Scholarships in Canada and Newfoundland (a separate British colony in that era). Sir George Parkin, a Canadian graduate of Oxford and former principal of the venerable Upper Canada College , was charged with much of the organization and implementation of the Scholarships throughout North America . He was responsible for convincing the initial Trustees to include Canadian Scholars from more than just Ontario and Quebec . There was initially a complex assignment of Scholarships to specific universities, alternating between denominational and non-denominational, and with provisions that at least one Quebec Scholar be from the French-speaking University of Laval . Six of the first Rhodes Scholars of 1904 were Canadians. Of the early generation of Canadian Scholars ten died and a number were wounded during the Great War.

After the First World War the allocations became provincial (although still alternating in years for the smaller provinces). Alberta was assigned one of the forfeited German Scholarships. Although the Rhodes Trustees in the early 1920’s tried to change the Scholarship selection in a number of jurisdictions including Canada to be done nationally, the provincial selection committees continued. The current allocation of eleven in total – two from each of Ontario and Quebec, one each from British Columbia and Newfoundland with the rest of the country divided by region – with two for the Maritimes and three from the Prairies took shape with the class of 1976. Arthur Scace, (Ontario and Corpus Christi 1961) General Secretary since 1972 managed the transition to this new model and has been a stabilizing force for the Canadian Scholarships throughout his tenure.

The most significant change to selection throughout all jurisdictions saw Canadians contributing four to the first contingent of women in the class of 1977. One, Eileen Gillese ( Alberta and Wadham) boasts the distinction of having been the “first woman first” of the Rhodes Scholars with her BCL degree. She has gone on to have a distinguished legal career, currently a Justice on the Ontario Court of Appeals and former Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Ontario, and perhaps most impressively while having had four children. We have also appropriated as one of our own Sheila Niven (South-Africa-at Large and Hertford) from that class of 1977 – she has worked at the Bank of Canada since 1987 and will be President of Canadian Association of Rhodes Scholars in the Fall of this year. Some provinces did not see the election of women for a number of years after the inaugural class of 1977 – Saskatchewan in 1987 and Prince Edward Island in 1992 (the first Scholar from that province since 1925!) On the other hand of the eleven Scholars of the Canadian class of 1997 nine were women.

Although Sailing dinners started in 1926 and a newsletter was published in 1927 the Canadian Scholars were not as quick to organize themselves as their American counterparts. The Canadian Association of Rhodes Scholars (CARS) was founded in 1951, likely spurred on by the activities of its American counterpart, and in part to raise the profile of the Scholarships in Canada . J.M.MacDonnell (Ontario and Balliol 1905) was the first president. The early activities included organizing the sailing dinners, production of a periodic newsletter and the publication of a book called “Oxford Today and the Canadian Rhodes Scholarships” by Hugh Morrison (Alberta and Merton 1930). The book was intended to raise the profile of the Scholarships within Canada . The other important initiative in the early days of CARS was Ralph Henson’s (Nova Scotia and Exeter 1928) establishment of a Scholarship for Oxford students to pursue postgraduate studies in Canada (under the separate auspices of the Canadian Rhodes Scholars’ Foundation). This so-called “reverse Rhodes” was Hensen’s expression of gratitude to Oxford . Michael Howarth (Ontario and Queen’s 1949) who has served on the Board of the Foundation since its creation has informally documented its history as well continuing to take a personal interest in all of the Foundation Scholars. The Canadian Rhodes community has been generous in their support of the Foundation and Hensen’s final bequest has ensured the Foundation’s financial sustainability. Over sixty Foundation Scholars have studied in Canada and a number now make Canada their home.

The Association’s activities have evolved somewhat in the past few years. With the death of James Gibson (British Columbia and New College 1931) in 2003 we lost our unofficial historian, whose interest in the lives and careers of the community was gracefully captured in the Association newsletters. John Fraser (Quebec and Magdalen 1955) had long since taken over the reins of the Newsletter and four times a year we are taken back to Oxford with his photographs that grace the cover. A recent initiative spearheaded by Arthur Kroeger (Alberta and Pembrooke 1956) and run by Graham Flack (Nova Scotia and University 1988) provides mentors in the Rhodes Community to young Scholars returning to Canada and has provided new impetus for the Association. Laurie Dunbar (Nova Scotia and Wadham 1976) took us into the twenty-first century with the launch of our website.

McCalla reviews many of the distinguished Canadian Scholars in his chapter. Historically Scholars chose paths predominantly within law, education and politics. In the legal circles there has been an impressive representation of Scholars at all levels of the courts and in most faculties of law. In the late 1970’s three of the nine Supreme Court Justices were Rhodes Scholars and W.R. Jackett (Saskatchewan and Queen’s 1934) was Chief Justice of the Federal Court. Within education Scholars have founded both universities ( Brock University by James Gibson) and faculties (Medicine at McMaster by John Evans [Ontario and University 1953]). They have been University presidents (Ian MacDonald [Ontario and Balliol 1952], John Evans and soon to be David Naylor [Ontario and Hertford 1979]), chancellors (Arthur Kroeger) as well as many Deans of Faculties. According to McCalla in the 1960’s and ‘70’s as many as nine universities were headed by Scholars.

The road from Oxford to Ottawa was a well known one. For many years “ Rhodes on the Rideau” described the hub of activity of Scholars in government, both in office and in the civil service, in particular the Department of External Affairs. In 1959 Ottawa was the Canadian city home to the most Scholars — Toronto has since become the more popular destination. According to McCalla the prominence of Rhodes Scholars in public office peaked in the 1970’s although our first (to date) Scholar Prime minister, John Turner (British Columbia and Magdalen 1949) was elected in 1984. The trend away from government careers after the 1970’s was no doubt the result of a number of complex forces. Of note the last four years has seen the launch of the Government of Canada Targetted Recruitment Initiative (influenced by Scholars such as Graham Flack) which has resulted in twenty Scholars in the past four years taking civil service positions in Ottawa , as compared with two in the previous two decades.

Although the tradition route to Ottawa may be partially restored, McCalla documents the recent trends away from some of the established career paths in government, law and higher education to a more diverse base in the arts, sciences, and the private sector (not only the “McKinsey phenomenon”). Rex Murphy (Newfoundland and St. Edmund Hall 1968) is arguably the most articulate (and witty) voice in Canadian journalism with the majority of Canadians “checking in” to “Cross Country Checkup”. No doubt Scholars are leading more diverse careers. What is perhaps striking is how this may reflect a different expression of similar impulses of the earlier generations of Scholars. It is largely unanswerable as to whether as a community we have lived up to the notion of public service imposed either by ourselves or by external expectations. The face of public service seems to be evolving. Of more recently returned Scholars, two are leading Canadian-based international NGO’s: Eric Hoskins (Ontario and Balliol 1985) War Child Canada and Marc Kielburger ( Ontario and Hertford 2000) Free the Children . John McArthur (British Columbia and Brasenose 1998) is the Manager of the United Nations Millenium Project and serves concurrently as Associate Research Director at Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development at Columbia . An-Wen Chan (Alberta and Hertford 2000) has published studies from his D.Phil at Oxford that have fuelled the international initiative to register randomized controlled trials in medicine to increase the transparency with which results are interpreted and important decisions on new therapeutics made. Jennifer Welsh (Sasketchewan and St Anthony’s 1987) is an academic at Oxford but her recent book on Canada “At Home in the World” is aimed not only at an academic audience and at policy makers but more importantly the Canadian public. Bob Rae (Ontario and Balliol 1969) traditionally listed in our community for having been the Premier of Ontario, has recently lead a recent policy review of higher education for Ontario (but cited nationally) and is now turning to the question of whether a national commission to review the trial in the Air India bombing is necessary. Within the private sector Jonathon Wilkinson (Sasketchewan and Exeter 1988) is the CEO of a company developing alternative fuel cell energy and Martin LeBlanc (New Brunswick and Pembrooke 1988) is a founder of a pharmaceutical company developing innovative cancer therapeutics. These are just a few examples of the way in which Canadian Scholars are leaving their mark on Canada and beyond.