A Man of Influence from UBC

Group photograph of students at Fairview campus of UBC. (Left to right: Jack Clyne, Alan Hunter, Norman Robertson, Ab Richards, Bob Hunter, Keith Shaw). University of British Columbia. Archives.

Group photograph of students at Fairview campus of UBC. (Left to right: Jack Clyne, Alan Hunter, Norman Robertson, Ab Richards, Bob Hunter, Keith Shaw). ca 1922. University of British Columbia. Archives.

The undergraduate pictured third from the left in the UBC photo above would become an Ottawa ‘mandarin’ within a few years of the date this exposure was made. In 1929, Norman Robertson joined the Department of External Affairs in Ottawa, and by 1941 he was appointed to the highest post within that department: Undersecretary of State for External Affairs. In the intervening years, Robertson was a student at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, and later at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C.

Robertson was the recipient, in absentia, of an honorary doctorate from UBC on October 31, 1945. The UBC Senate regretted that “duty in England” prevented him from being present in person to receive the degree. I’m not sure what were the specifics of this duty, but we know that Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King was in England for much of October and that Robertson accompanied him. This visit included, no doubt, post-war meetings; another subject of the visit, likely, was the then-secret Igor Gouzenko defection, which happened around this time (although it wasn’t made public until February 1946).

Vincent Massy with Norman Robertson during visit to UBC campus 195- . University of British Columbia. Archives.

Governor-General Vincent Massey with Canadian High Commissioner to England Norman Robertson (right) at London Airport. ca1952-57 . University of British Columbia. Archives.

Judging from the caption on a duplicate of the image above in a profile of Robertson (in a 1956 issue of Alumni Chronicle), Robertson was greeting Governor-General Vincent Massey (1952-59) upon his arrival for a visit to London, England, presumably during Robertson’s second appointment as Canada’s High Commissioner there (first appointment, 1946-49; second, 1952-57).

A couple of excellent sources of information on Norman Robertson and his Ottawa mandarin colleagues are:

The Ottawa Men: The Civil Service Mandarins 1935-1957 by J. L. Granatstein.

and

• A Man of Influence: Norman A. Robertson and Canadian Statecraft 1929-68 by J. L. Granatstein.

Norman R, WLMK, Brooke Claxton, Arnold Heeney 1 Aug 1946 at Paris Peace Conf., Palais du Luxembourgv Library and Archives Canada C-031312

Library and Archives Canada C-031312. L-R: Norman Robertson (Under Secretary of State for External Affairs), Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King, Defence Minister Brooke Claxton, Arnold D. P. Heeney (Clerk of Privy Council and Secretary to Cabinet). Paris Peace Conf. at the Palais du Luxembourg. 1 Aug 1946. (Note: Everyone in this photo (politicians and mandarins alike) appears to be bored stiff!)

Note: Robertson’s father, Lemuel Robertson, was Professor and the first Chair of the Classics department at UBC. He appears in the group portrait shown below.

port-p1688-presentation-ceremony-to-j-m-chappell-esq-chairman-point-grey-board-of-school-trustees-1915

CVA Port P1688 – Point Grey Board of School Trustees. 1915. Lemuel Robertson is in front row far left (with his and Norman’s characteristic bald pate).

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