Wednesday, January 04, 2017

David Farr 1922-2016 RIP

I never met David Farr, historian and professor, but I used to ... encounter his tracks.
  • I was once hired by Microsoft's CD-ROM encyclopedia Encarta -- who remembers when that was a thing? -- to update some of its article "Canada." And the text they were working with, from an older encyclopedia, was by David Farr.
  • His name used to be on the list of directors of the Carleton Library, that pioneering publisher of Canadian documents and scholarship, still in existence at McGill- Queen's Press.
  • I needed to pursue some wrinkle about the confederation process, and the likeliest source seemed to be Farr, The Colonial Office and Canada, published by the University of Toronto Press way back when UTP books were essentially bound typescripts. (1955.) It was damn good: immensely researched, carefully argued, well written.  Somebody knew just what I needed.
  • I was looking for the reconstructed Canadian parliamentary debates for the 1867-75 period when there was no official Hansard. Not that long ago, a team of scholars built an unofficial one from newspaper transcripts and such, and there was David Farr again, one of the guiding lights.  
So I googled David Farr. Still active? Still alive? How old would he be? What else had he written?

Up popped Duncan McDowell's admiring "Lives Lived" from barely six weeks ago in the Globe and Mail:
There was something quintessentially old-fashioned about Professor David Farr, as if he had emerged from a novel by Kingsley Amis or Stephen Leacock. Clad in tweed jacket, shirt and tie, he puffed on his pipe and answered the phone with a brisk “Farr here.” Some misread him as an echo of a bygone academic culture. He had, after all, done a doctorate at Oxford on the British Colonial Office, hardly the stuff of trendy, modern historiography. But beneath this veneer lay an intellectual integrity and meticulousness that typified Canada’s postwar universities.
He died at 93 in Ottawa, last October.
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