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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, 2021 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.