Monday, June 05, 2023

Julian R.D.J. Gwyn 1937-2023 RIP, scholar of Atlantic history

This one is personal. At the very origins of my historical career with Parks Canada, I wrote an article entitled "The Maritime Economy of Ile Royale," my first publication, in fact. And no time later, Julian Gwyn, professor of history at the University of Ottawa, economic historian of Nova Scotia and much else, enthusiastic consultant to the Louisbourg reconstruction project, breezed into my office at Louisbourg, told me the article was terrific and that I should immediately proceed to graduate studies with him at the University of Ottawa.

Which I eventually did. Except he was on sabbatical the year I was there, so he did not supervise my thesis, and we became friends instead. We even published a little book together, in French, no less.

That was Julian -- endlessly active in historical work, keen to make connections, quick to make things happen, a generous mentor and encourager (while also being no mean polemicist). That most of his career he was about the only Canadianist seriously engaged with the economic history of eighteenth and nineteenth-century Atlantic Canada seemed to spur rather than inhibit all that activity.

Julian retired years ago and became a gentleman farmer in rural Nova Scotia, and we didn't see him often.  Things I learned from his obituary: he had a notable military career in his youth; he helped run about half the historical and cultural organizations in eastern Canada; he had more marriages and more children than I knew; he was a devout Christian; and his full name was Julian Reginald Desgrand Jermy Gwyn, which tells all one needs to know about his British roots.

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