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Conacher, James Blennerhasset
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James Blennerhasset Conacher was one of Canada’s most distinguished historians who specialized in the study of British history. He was born in Kingston on Oct. 31 1916, the son of Madeleine (nee Cashal) and William Morrisson Conacher, professor of English at Queen’s University. He earned his B.A (1937). and M.A.(1939) from Queen’s University and began his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1939. World War II however interrupted his studies as Conacher enlisted in the Canadian Army Signal Corps. In 1944, he moved to the Historical Section, and worked under the direction of Col. C.P. Stacey. In 1946, he left the Army and came to the University of Toronto as a lecturer in history while still pursuing his Ph.D. which he obtained from Harvard in 1949.
Through the following decade and a half, Prof. Conacher rose through the ranks, becoming a full professor in 1963. From 1972-1977, he was Chairman of the Department of History and at the time of his normal retirement in 1983 was appointed Professor Emeritus. After 1983, he continued his academic pursuits and teaching. He was visiting professor at the University of Sydney, Australia and at Queen’s University and gave many special lectures at various universities in Great Britain and the United States.
Early in his career at the University of Toronto, Prof Conacher honed his administrative skills on various University committees. A few significant ones include the Plateau Committee, 1955-1956, the Presidential Advisory Committee 1957-1959, two stints on the Haist Committee on appointments, promotions and tenure in 1964-1965 and 1968-69 and the Presidential Search Committee in 1970-1971. Within the Department of History, he was Departmental Secretary 1948-1949 and held two terms as Graduate Secretary 1955-56 and 1958-62. He was an active member of the Committee on Teaching Staff, serving as its V.P. in 1965-66 and was the first president of its successor, the University of Toronto Faculty Association, in 1971-72. He was also a founding member of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. As Chairman of the Department of History (1972-1977) he served on several committees including the Faculty of Arts and Science Committee on Academic Standard (1973-1977), School of Graduate Studies Council, Division I (1972-1977) and the University Research Board (1972-1975). In the late 1970s and early 1980s his expertise was exercised on the President’s Budgetary Advisory Committee 1978-1980, as chairman of the Committee on Academic Affairs 1979-1980 and on the Executive Committee of Governing Council 1980-1981.
Prof. Conacher was a prolific researcher, writer and editor. His first book, The Aberdeen Coalition 1852-1855, published in 1968, established Conacher as a leading 19th century British historian. He published three other major books, edited two other books including a translation of Francois De Creux’s History of Canada, by P.J. Robinson. He also published numerous articles. He was joint editor of the Canadian Historical Review from 1949-1956, general editor for the Champlain Society 1950-1962 and an associate editor in the Disraeli Project 1982-1993.
Throughout his life Conacher was active in the Roman Catholic community. At various times, he was a board member of the St. Vincent de Paul’s Society and was on the parish council of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church (1967-68). Other catholic organizations include the Committee on Higher Education for Catholics which he initiated and the Canadian Catholic Historical Association.
James B. Conacher died at the age of 77 on October 3 1994. He was survived by his wife Muriel, whom he married in 1943, their two children Desmond and Patricia, along with their families. Mrs. Conacher died in 2005 soon after these papers were donated to the University of Toronto Archives.