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Robert Allan Spencer fonds
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Robert Allan Spencer fonds

  • UTA 1797
  • Fonds
  • 1919-2012

This fonds documents the administrative and teaching duties of Robert Spencer, as a Professor Emeritus of History and a specialist in European history, especially German history in the 19th and 20th centuries. They also document his education and his participation in World War II; his extensive international research, publications and speaking engagements; as well as his involvement with professional associations and organizations such as the University of Toronto Contingent, Canadian Officers Training Corps (COTC), the International Studies Programme and the Graduate Centre for International Studies, Altantik-Brücke, and the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE). Included is personal correspondence, correspondence with international organizations, government departments, embassies and consulates; lecture notes; manuscripts and addresses.

Also present are two sous-fonds. The first is the personal papers of his wife, Ruth Margaret Church Spencer, who served with the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRENS) during World War II as a base librarian and afterwards as the first professional librarian at Canada House in London. The second consists of files compiled by Ralph Flenley, a specialist in German history and sometime chair of the Department of History: examination questions, student mark books, and drafts of an unpublished manuscript on Anglo-German relations.

Spencer, Robert Allan


This series covers Ruth Church’s education at Mount Royal High School; McGill University, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Library Science the same day as her future husband, Robert Spencer, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts; her subsequent graduate training in librarianship at the University of London in 1945-1946, and her stint as a special student at the University of Toronto from 1984 to 1986.

Included are certificates, programmes, correspondence, and course papers. Ms. Church’s letters home while a graduate student are replete with accounts of her life in immediate post-war London. At the University of Toronto she was a ‘senior citizen student’, part-time, registered at Woodworth College and taking English 262S (‘Detective fiction’) and English 260 (‘Varieties of Biography‘). Her course papers have been kept.

Wartime service, World War II

During World War II, Ruth Church served as Base Librarian with the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (Wrens) from September 1943 to October 1945. She was stationed at HMCS Shelburne (September 1943 – July 1944), HMCS Stadacona in Londonderry, Northern Ireland (July 1944 – May 1945), and at HMCS Niobe at Greenock, Scotland (July – October 1945).

The files include her official record of service, correspondence, base librarian reports, newsletters, memorabilia, copies of period newspapers that she annotated, and post-war correspondence, newsletters, and news items relating to the Wren Association of Toronto. The arrangement is largely chronological.


While to correspondence in this series covers the years 1943 to 1989, most of it centres on seven seminal years in the life of Ruth Church, beginning with her military service as a base librarian with the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRENS) in 1943, through her post-war employment as head librarian at Canada House in London, her marriage to Robert Spencer in June 1948, and her activities up to his receiving his B.Litt from and being accepted for his doctorate at the University of Oxford in 1950. The scattered post-1950 letters are from Ruth Spencer to her parents, letters received from Professor Robert Finch at the University of Toronto, and miscellaneous letters received from friends and relatives.

Ruth Church’s correspondence documents in considerable detail her life and activities (with a careful eye for what the censors might not like during the War). The letters received from her parents, siblings, and friends (including those in the Armed Forces) and relatives document civilian life in Canada while providing some insights on life elsewhere in the WRENS.

Canada House

Ruth Church was employed as the head librarian at Canada House in London from September 1945 to March 1950. She was the first permanent librarian hired by the Canadian High Commission and was tasked with building up the library almost from scratch, while serving the demands of the Canadian diplomatic corps and facilitating the use of the library by Canadians based in or travelling through London and interested members of the public.

She nearly lost her job when she married in 1948, as the Civil Service Commission’s policy was that once married, she would be supported by her husband and therefore would be replaced by an unmarried librarian as soon as possible. She appealed on the basis that she would be supporting her husband while he was a student at Oxford and was allowed to remain on with her full salary and allowances. In April 1949, her contract was renewed for six-months and, on request, for a further six months until 28 February 1950, which was extended to 31 March until her replacement arrived from Canada. During this period she fought back against the Department of External Affairs’ decision to reduce her allowance and the Receiver General’s clawback of portions of her salary. Forty-five years later she publicly objected to the closure of the Library and of Canada House and lived to attend its reopening in 1998.

The files in this series contain correspondence, salary stubs, poetry, reports, a manuscript, and articles.

University of Toronto. Department of History

When Professor Flenley retired to England, he took his personal papers with him, though a few files have survived on this side of the Atlantic. Some relating to his teaching were left with Professor Spencer who took over some of his courses. This series contains many of the exam questions he compiled over 30 years, along with the mark books for his courses.

Manuscripts and publications

This series contains notebooks for and drafts of Professor Flenley’s unpublished work, “Anglo-German Relations”, written in 1959 and 1960 and aimed at the general reader.

Radio and television

This series contains the texts of Spencer’s CBC radio broadcasts from Canada and Germany, his radio documentaries and his television performances, and the related correspondence. Also included are files of correspondence and notes re television appearances on CTV’s “Canada AM” program and on radio stations in Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver (1983-1991).

Conferences, seminars, roundtables

This series consists of files on conferences, seminars, roundtables, and panel discussions that Robert Spencer attended, was due to attend but had to cancel, or participated in, but at which did not give formal presentations. See Series 13 for documents relating to his formal addresses, talks and speeches.

Research projects

This series contains files on research leave grants, research notes and correspondence relating to three separate research projects which were never completed, but led to talks and papers written by Professor Spencer over his career. ‘Deutsche Bund: German confederation, 1815-1866’ was a project in German history begun in 1959. It led to several papers [see: 1962 (B2010-0024/013(17); 1967 (B2010-0024/021(24)-(25); and 1970 (B2010-0024/022(02)]. ‘Evolution of the Social Democratic Party of Germany: Foreign policy before and after the Godesburg Programme, 1958-1960’, was an uncompleted project begun in 1983. ‘Canada and the Federal Republic of Germany’ was a projected book length study.

Manuscripts and publications

This series documents the activities relating to the Professor Spencer’s writings, including correspondence, draft of manuscripts, offprints, and reviews, arranged in chronological order by date of publication. At the end of this series are files on a number of uncompleted books, for which research notes and partial manuscripts exist. Research notes have been selectively retained, primarily where there is attached correspondence regarding and notes on photocopied material.

Professor Spencer did research and some writing for three books that were never published. For The SPD Godesburg Program, 1959, the research files included photocopies of issues of News from Germany (October 1959 through 1960), many documents from the Archiv der Sozialen Demokartie and other archives in Germany, and hundreds of press clipping from the German press between 1958 and 1961. Photocopies of the newsletters and the press clippings from German archives and other sources have not been kept. For the archival sources, only the covering lists for photocopies have been retained. Published material with annotations and/or with attached notes, correspondence, and bibliographic cards have also been kept. Accompanying them are two audiotapes of interviews done in May of 1983 with Sigmund Miller, Stefan Thomas and Willie Brandt.

For the second proposed book, Deutsche Bund, 1815-1866, a small sampling of material with covering notes from German and Austrian archives has been kept, along with notes on 5” x 8” file cards, and bibliographic cards.

The third project was Professor Spencer’s uncompleted PhD thesis, the working title of which was ‘Great Britain and Egypt, 1878-1885’. The research files consist of a small selection of British Blue Books for the years 1878-1882. Photocopied material from Foreign Office records was discarded, though the references were kept.

Personal and biographical

This series documents a range of Ruth Spencer’s activities from her birth in 1919 until just before her death in 2000. Included are some events from her childhood, her marriage and wedding anniversary, later social activities and birthdays late in her life. Included is some correspondence, postcards, notes, notebooks, greeting cards, certificates, and press clippings.

Ruth Spencer’s professional training was as a librarian and she retained an interest in books all her life. She read widely and was a member for at least a quarter-of-a-century of the University Arts Women’s Club, until her health forced her move to Sunnybrook Hospital in 1999.


The letters at the beginning of this series (in accession B2013-0005) consist of Spencer’s letters home while on military training and active duty (1941-1946), beginning with letters sent from Canada (June 1941 – March 1943) and then from overseas (June 1943 – July 1946). Spencer began numbering his letters home on 28 February 1943 when he was about to be stationed at Camp Debert, Nova Scotia. Between then and 23 March 1945 he wrote at least 312 letters home; then started, but did not maintain, a new numbering system.

These are followed by various family letters, including some sent by Spencer (1943-1947), letters to and from third parties, letters to and from his parents between 1946 and 1950, and letters (1946-1948) between Robert and Ruth Church whom he married on 22 June 1948. Bob’s letters to Ruth were always mailed to the Office of the High Commissioner at Canada House where she worked. The family correspondence, which included some from Robert’s parents (his father, Charles Allan, died on 2 August 1972), his brothers (Colin and Wilson), and later his and Ruth’s children (Charles, Valerie, and Katherine) continues until 2010. From the mid-1990s, there are no letters from Ruth.

The arrangement in this section of correspondence is grouped by correspondents but is largely chronological. Fax paper has been photocopied and the original faxes have been destroyed.

The correspondence in accession B2010-0024 relates mostly to professional, not family, matters. It includes Professor Spencer’s ongoing correspondence and dealings with various government departments, embassies, consulates, international, national and local organizations other than the COTC and Atlantik-Brücke. For more information, also see Series 9, which includes information on Spencer’s extensive roster of speaking engagements, and Series 11, which documents his attendance at various conferences, seminars, roundtables and panel discussions. The arrangement for this section is alphabetical by organization.

Included with the letters are numerous postcards and a few photoprints.


This series contains files on addresses delivered by Professor Spencer at various educational institutions (including the University of Toronto), to the public meetings and groups, and to government and professional groups. Included is covering correspondence, course material, notes, drafts of addresses, programmes and associated conference material. The addresses noted as being with the Department of History at the University of Toronto were not departmental lectures but public addresses given in the Department.

Professional associations and organizations

This series contains correspondence, invitations, programmes, and associated material relating to professional associations and organizations that Professor Spencer belonged to or was in contact with that are not included in the other series. There are numerous files on the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, including correspondence with its director, John W. Holmes; minutes of meetings of the library committee and of the journal advisory (from 1970 the International Journal) committee, which oversaw the publication of International Journal. Elsewhere, there are assessments of manuscripts for grant applications and/or for publishers. Other files document Professor Spencer’s involvement with the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) for twenty years beginning in 1970. Also documented are three of the International Congress of Historical Sciences conferences that he attended between 1960 and 1975.

Professor Spencer volunteered with a number of organizations, including the Bloor Street United Church in Toronto, where he served as an elder for many years, and the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

The arrangement is alphabetically by name of group. The files contain a range of materials, including correspondence, notes, memoranda, notes, minutes of meetings, reports, some drafts of manuscripts (especially for the Canadian Institute of International Affairs), flyers, brochures, newsletters and press clippings. Conference files may contain correspondence, programmes, invitations to events, and proceedings.


Robert Spencer received his elementary, high school, and undergraduate education in Montreal, at Kensington School, the High School of Montreal, and McGill University respectively. The files relating to these stages of Professor Spencer’s education contain correspondence, report cards and certificates, term papers, programmes for student dinners and graduation ceremonies, short stories, student newspapers and yearbooks, flyers and other material relating to student organizations, and social activities.
The basic arrangement is by the institutions that Professor Spencer attended, with some files on teacher training during and after his undergraduate years at McGill.

Professor Spencer was on military service in Europe from 1942 to 1946. Once back in Canada, he decided to undertake post-graduate work in history. C.P. Stacey, Director of the Historical Section of the General Staff at Canadian Military Headquarters in London, England, for which Spencer had been working since the beginning of 1946 under the direction of Eric Harrison, could not find funds to assist him. Harrison, who in civil life was a professor of history at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, supported Spencer’s applications for scholarships; he was successful in getting the James C. Cumming Fellowship from Trinity College in the University of Toronto. From 1946 to 1950, he also received ‘university training” funds from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Spencer spent a year (1946-1947) at the U of T, studying under Professors Ralph Flenley and G.P. de T. Glazebrook and reading widely. His MA thesis, “History of the Fifteenth Canadian Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, 1941-1945”, was essentially the study he had written while with the Canadian Forces in the Netherlands in 1945; 1,000 copies of which had been printed by Elsevier in Amsterdam.

Following his graduation from the University of Toronto, Spencer applied to study modern history at Oxford University and was accepted by St. John’s College. He received funding from McGill University (Moyse Travelling Fellowship worth $350), the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (Overseas Scholarship, $800), and part (₤30) of a scholarship from the British Council. In September, 1947 he sailed on the Queen Mary to Southampton. He studied under W. Norton Medlicott and A.J.P. Taylor, receiving his B.Litt in 1950. He was then accepted to do a Doctor of Philosophy.

The files relating to his graduate studies contain correspondence, official documents, essays, programmes, flyers, press clippings, booklets relating to Oxford, St. John’s College, and the Bodleian Library, greeting cards and other souvenirs of his time at Oxford.

University of Toronto: Administration

This series contains some administrative files relating to Spencer’s tenure as a Professor of History and director of the Centre for International Studies. Included are materials on the School of Graduate Studies reviews of the Centre in 1980-81 and 1985-86, the attempt to close the Centre in 1986, and lectures sponsored by the Centre. The series is divided into three subseries: University of Toronto; Department of History; Centre of International Studies; and the Canadian Institute of International Affairs.

The files contain a range of material, including correspondence, minutes of meetings, memoranda, notes, flyers, reports, addresses, conference programmes, and press clippings. The arrangement is generally chronological within each area of activity.

Canada. Canadian Officers' Training Corps, University of Toronto Contingent

This series consists of the financial and administrative records of the Board of Trustees, including photographs of special events. It also includes documentation of a project to publish the history of the COTC that was never completed. Spencer subsequently wrote his own history of the COTC, the notes and correspondence of which are included under Series 10: Publications.


Established in 1952 on the initiative of the Hamburg Jewish banker, Erich M. Warburg, the purpose of Atlantik-Brücke (Atlantic Bridge) was to strengthen ties between United States and the Federal Republic of Germany in the post-World War II years. Canada developed its own branch in the 1980s, in an initiative led by Professor Spencer and others. It sponsored annual conferences, alternately between Canada and Germany, which were attended by politicians, officials, business and professional people, journalists, and academics.

The files contain administrative matters (including correspondence with Allan J. MacEachen, Canadian co-chair from 1989-2003), and the preparations for and proceedings of successive meetings.

Personal and biographical

This series contains material relating to Professor Spencer’s birth, childhood and later birthdays; childhood stories, plays, and poems; reunions and other post-graduate activities at McGill University and the University of Oxford; honours received; and files relating to the residences that he had owned. Also present are copies of his curriculum vitae, security documents regarding the Department of External Affairs, and material reflecting his long association with the Canadian military in the form of Remembrance Day ceremonies and VE-Day and other celebrations related to World War II.


This series documents Professor Spencer’s travels, both for pleasure and for academic and other professional purposes. The first of his trips documented here is to New York City in 1946; the last is to Europe in 2011.

The files contain an assortment of flight information, correspondence, itineraries, invitations, notes, postcards, diaries and reports (indicated below where they exist), programmes for a wide variety of events, menus, tickets, passenger lists, booklets, maps, photographs, press clippings, and other memorabilia. The arrangement is chronological by trip. Beginning in April, 1977 and continuing while he was director until his retirement in 1986, a lot of Professor Spencer’s travel was done as an extension of the work of the Centre for International Studies. For the first of these trips, he wrote a detailed report of his activities. The often extensive correspondence in these files ranges from that with Canadian government, consular, and military officials to military officials at NATO and elsewhere in Europe and England, to academic and government personnel in Western Europe. Included are files on Professor Spencer’s involvement with the Atlantic Council of Canada, the Committee on Atlantic Studies, and the Canadian Studies Association.

Some of the folders in this series contain correspondence, postcards, reports, and other items that are well outside the dates of the activities being described.

The photoprints, postcards, and artifacts (pin buttons) have been retained in the relevant files. Files containing receipts only (such as transportation, car rentals, luggage, and accommodation) were not kept and the retention of such material in other files is selective. Fax paper, where present, has been photocopied and the original faxes, most of which had deteriorated badly, have been destroyed.

Additional information about some of these trips can be found in Series 7: Correspondence.