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Harold Gordon Skilling fonds Series
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"Human Rights and the Helsinki Process", afternoon session, 2-4 pm, Association for the Advancement of Baltic
studies, 8 November 1986.

Manuscripts and publications

Professor Skilling began writing at an early age; his first attempt at publication, a short story 'Trapping in the Rockies’, was submitted to the Toronto Evening Telegram in 1923. While this series documents his prodigious output over a period of almost 80 years, the focus is on his youth and his early career (before 1960) and from the early 1980s until his death.

The series begins with a file of correspondence regarding offprints (1984-1985), followed by three files of book notices and reviews (1940-1999). Professor Skillings writings are arranged by the title of the manuscript or publication and are filed chronologically. The files contain drafts of manuscripts, sometimes with notes and often with covering correspondence, reviews and offprints. Much material relating to Skilling’s writings may be found in other accessions in this fonds.

The earliest entries were written while a public, high school and university student. Skilling managed one publication from his trip across the United States and Canada in 1933, an article in the local paper in The Danforth region of Toronto where he lived. What may be is his first ‘academic’ article, “The Marxian dips into the future”, was published in University College’s student periodical, The Undergraduate, in March 1933. At Oxford, he really began to find his footing. His reported in the New Statesman on the British Labour Party’s annual conference in 1936; this was followed shortly by a series of articles in the Canadian Forum (1937-1939), most of which discussed the evolving political situation in Czechoslovakia. During World War II, he wrote on a variety of topics, ranging from the political situation in the Balkans to Canadian-American relations.

After his retirement, Professor Skilling had more time to write. Some of his projects, including a selection of essays under the title, ‘The riddle of Communist politics’, and a proposed book on the Velvet Revolution, did not materialize. His observations of the changing political landscape in Czechoslovakia and Eastern Europe, especially on Charter 77 and samizdat, rapidly found their way into print. In the late 1980s and the 1990s Skilling turned his attention to historical figures in Czech history, especially the Masaryks – Tomas, Charlotte, and Alice, and to his own memoirs. His book, T. G. Masaryk: Against the current [see box 042], appeared in English in 1994 and Czech in 1995. He prepared two long articles on Charlotte and Alice for Komas, and Gender Studies in Prague published his Mother and daughter: Charlotte and Alice Masaryk in 2001 [see box 044]. His translation of Alice’s correspondence with Josip Plecnik, the architect of Prague Castle [see boxes 045-047], appeared just before his death.

Professor Skilling’s memoirs, The education of a Canadian, appeared in English and Czech in 2001 [see boxes 047-049], a few weeks before he died. The numerous delays in publication, caused in part by the collapse of Carleton University Press, are well documented.

Oversized material has been removed from /040(25) to folder .(03).

Photoprints relating to Professor Skilling’s research on and writing about Charlotte Masaryk have been removed from /044(03) to /009P(13); from /044(04) to /009P(14), from /044(06) to /009P(15), and from /044(07) to /009P(16).

Slides of the portrait of Gordon Skilling by Maria Gabanhova have been removed from /048(07) to /009P(17).

Research files

Over the years, Professor Skilling assembled a large number of research files which contained a great variety of material, including notes, correspondence, press clippings (especially from Czechoslovak, other Eastern European newspapers, and Canadian newspapers written in Czech), photocopies of articles, pamphlets, and books.

A selection of these research files has been retained in this series; the material not kept was turned over to members of the Skilling Seminar for their use. The files are grouped into several subject areas, following Professor Skilling’s arrangement and, for the most part, his file descriptions. The emphasis in selection was on original notes, heavily annotated items, correspondence, memoranda, drafts of papers and addresses, and material from conferences and seminars.

The first research area is on Czechoslovakia generally (1966-2000), with its files on the country’s political culture and political reform, political activists, and conferences [box 031]. The latter include the International Political Science Association roundtable in Zagreb in 1985, ‘Ten years after’ conference in Prague (1999), and the Forum 2000 conference in the same city. There is also material on the breakup of Czechoslovakia. Accompanying these files are two boxes [036, 037] of index card notes – one on Czech politics and one a bibliography of Czech politics.

The second category of files [boxes 033-034] consists of material gathered by Professor Skilling for his numerous writings about Tomas Masaryk, including his T. G. Masaryk: Against the current, published in English and Czech in 1994. The first part consists primarily of general writings about Masaryk, along with accompanying notes, correspondence, etc. The arrangement in the latter portion is by subject areas, of which the principal ones are: ‘the Slovak questions’, ‘the Jewish question’, ‘religion’, ‘the women’s question’ and ‘foreign policy’. Accompanying these files is a index card box of entries on Masaryk generally, on his writings, on works about him and on searches to be carried out [box 038, 038a and 038b].

The final category [box 035] relates to Vaclav Havel. In it is correspondence between him and Professor Skilling and copies of letters to Vilem Precan, along with files of interviews, addresses, and honours bestowed; Havel’s visits abroad (including the University of Toronto in 1990); his writings (with notes by Skilling), and material documenting his involvement with Charter 77.

Oversized material has been removed from /034(10) and (12) to /003(04), and from box 034(27) to box 003(05).

A poster has been removed from /035(23) to folder .(02).

Photoprints have been removed from /032(04) and (05) to box 009P(12).

Sound recordings

-Talk by Skilling on CBC Radio, recorded 10 September 1945 [3 "78" discs]
-Interview on the BBC, "Czechoslovakia", August 1978 [1 reel]
-"Central Europe", CBC Ideas, n.d. [1 cassette tape]

Diaries and travel journals

Gordon Skilling began keeping diaries when he was a boy; the earliest includes accounts of trips to New York City and Montreal respectively in February and October 1921. These diaries, which described later trips to the United States and to Muskoka, continued until 1932, the entries between 1928 and 1932 being intermittent.

There is a gap of 36 years before the next journal begins. Between 1958 and the end of his life, Professor Skilling kept travel journals, relating especially to Czechoslovakia and other destinations in Eastern Europe. These are arranged chronologically, are often accompanied by supporting correspondence, programs and other items picked up along the way, and by photographs (see Series XI). The journals are usually described as ‘notebooks’, though many are in diary format. Professor Skilling often combined the diary format, with dated entries, with notes on what he had seen and with whom he had met, either in the same notebook or separately. These journals should be consulted in conjunction with the relevant chapters in his autobiography, The education of a Canadian, which helps put them in perspective.


Photos documenting Cyril Ruttkay's injuries following a hit-and-run accident; participants in the 429th Conference of the Bellagio Study and Conference Centre "Canada and the European Security Experience", July 1980.

University of Toronto and the Living Room Seminar

The records in this series are divided into two sections. The first consists of a few files relating to Professor Skilling’s appointment to the University of Toronto and his activities as an administrator and professor in the Centre for Russian and East European Studies and as professor emeritus. Included are appointment files (1959, 1979-1994); correspondence, notes, and memoranda on various administrative issues, lecture notes (1968-1973), and correspondence with graduate students and other researchers (1985-2001). The files are grouped by type.

The second section contains correspondence files relating to the seminar variously known as the Living Room Seminar, the Flying Seminar, and the Czech Seminar. This seminar, which Skilling described in his autobiography as “the most exciting and stimulating development in my life” in his last years, was conducted informally in his living room, beginning in 1996. Meetings were held every month or so, initially with graduate students in Toronto working on Czech(oslovak) history and politics, but later
including other interested parties, and usually with a guest-speaker on a Czech subject. The seminar continues to take place and is now known as the Skilling Seminar. The files are arranged chronologically and by author.

Photoprints of the retirement party for the secretary of the Department of Political Science are filed as /009P(18).

Journals and appointment books

In August of 1941, as Gordon Skilling left United College in Winnipeg for his first academic appointment in the United States, he began to keep a detailed journal of his activities. This journal was continued for the next fifteen years, until June of 1956, and covers the crucial period during which he established himself academically and became recognized as an authority on the Soviet Union and countries behind the Iron Curtain, especially Czechoslovakia.

It was an exciting and challenging time for him; the University of Wisconsin had a reputation as a dynamic liberal institution of higher learning. He arrived, however, just as the United States’ entered World War II amid a rising fear of communism (in spite of the need for co-operation with the Soviet Union, which Skilling advocated), both of which had an impact on the university and on him. From May 1943 until the end of the War, he was back in Canada as director of the CBC’s European short-wave radio broadcasts in its new International Service. On returning to Madison, he discovered a university in decline and his own position in doubt – he was denied promotion to associate professorship and tenure. So, in 1947 he left to accept an assistant
professorship at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. He spent the summer of 1948 in Czechoslovakia, his first visit since 1939, where he witnessed first-hand the establishment of communist rule in the country and which he described in detail in his journal. Back in the United States a fellowship enabled him to study and research at Columbia. In 1950 he returned to Czechoslovakia to research the emerging system of communist rule there and to experience it through the new bureaucracy, the political show trials, and the constant stream of propaganda. In 1951 he was promoted to full professor in his department and was also given leave to return to the Russian Institute at Columbia for the 1952-1953 academic year. He found, however, that the anti-communist hysteria of the McCarthy era had an impact on his scholarly activities – two of his books were turned down – and on him personally. In 1955 he was questioned by an agent of the US immigration service, had to appear before a state anti-subversive committee. Shortly after the journal ends, Skilling’s green card was cancelled and he
was not permitted to leave the country, even for his brother Andy’s funeral, until he was issued a new visa in June 1958.

The remainder of the series consists of a broken run of appointment books and calendars for the following years (with number of copies in brackets): 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1989, 1991 (2), 1992 (2), 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 (2), 2000 (2), and 2001. The entries, though cryptic, provide the researcher with an overview of Professor Skilling’s activities at any one point or over a period of time.


Consists of: Ruble, Blair. ''Moscow's Avant-Garde Architecture of the 1920s: a tour", 1983.


This series consists of personal correspondence between Professor Skilling and his family, friends and colleagues. Most of it is from the last 20 years of his life and relates primarily to his interest in central and east European affairs. Some of the correspondence is arranged chronologically – especially the letters covering the years 1991-2001. Also arranged chronologically and grouped separately are postcards and greeting cards with extensive messages for the years 1939-2001 (a few of the latter have photoprints attached). There are a few letters from Skilling to his parents and Sally from the 1940s, also correspondence with Derek Paton, a former student, and especially with his old Czech friends, Jelka and Olga Haningerova and Vilem Precan. There are also small files of correspondence on the Jan Hus Fund and the issue of public lending rights.

Association files

Files contain mainly correspondence, reports and minutes documenting Skilling's involvement in various associations.


This series covers the Gordon Skilling’s formal education from his attendance at Grace Street Public School through Harbord Collegiate, the University of Toronto (BA 1934), taking his Rhodes Scholarship at the University of Oxford, and the writing of his doctoral thesis at the University of London. The files are arranged chronologically by degree.

For Grace Street Public School, the files include letters from his classmates at Grace Street Public School and certificates. At Harbord Collegiate, in addition to his studies and piano lessons from the Toronto Conservatory of Music, Skilling was very active in extra-curricular activities: he was president of the Literary Society, editor of the Harbord Review, battalion commander of the cadet corps, and played defence on the basketball team which won the city high school championship in 1928-1929. These activities are documented in the form of term papers, examinations, speeches, scholarship essays, and a scrapbook [box 011] that covers his activities at Harbord Collegiate and the University of Toronto, and documents his trip across North America in the summer of 1933 (see also Series I in this sous-fonds). The scrapbook contains correspondence, dance cards, maps, press clippings, programmes, announcements of student activities, pamphlets, and photographs.

At the University of Toronto, Skilling studied British and colonial history and some modern Canadian and American history, standing first in his class in all but his final year. He was very active in campus politics, including the University College Literary and Athletic Society (of which he was elected president), the Students’ Administrative Council. He helped reorganize the Fabius Club in the autumn of 1932 and a year later, following his momentous trip across North America, was a founder of the CCF Club. Other activities included serving as associate editor of the Varsity and as a member of the Hart House Debates Committee.

His academic activities are well documented in the form of term papers for each of his undergraduate years and in his BA thesis. These files and those on the CCF Club and the Hart House debates are of particular interest. They document his movement from an apolitical period in high school to an activist in the social and political ferment of the time and, soon, to accepting the socialist philosophies promoted by many of his professors at the U of T and, later, at Oxford.

In December 1933 Gordon was informed that he had been awarded a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford University. He left for Christ Church, Oxford, in September of 1934, where he remained until 1936. While there, he studied under what he described as “outstanding dons, including Michael Foster and A. J. Ayers, in philosophy; Roy Harrod, in economics; Keith Feiling, in British history; and the Hon. Frank Pakenham in politics and international relations. He also, in the summer of 1935, visited Central Europe for the first time and in the autumn met Sally Bright, then a student at the London School of Economics. In the fall of 1936, having received a high second at Oxford, and having had his scholarship extended, Gordon went to London to complete his doctorate under R. W. Seton-Watson, under whom his growing interest in Czech culture and politics flourished, as did his relationship with Sally. At Easter in 1936 he and Sally spent five weeks in Chepstow in Monmouthshire, a time that is preserved in an album that he compiled (see Series XII, Appendix III). In 1940 Gordon successfully defended his thesis, ‘The German-Czech national conflict in Bohemia, 1879-1893’.

The files on his graduate work contain detailed notes on readings and tutorials, especially on political theory, social philosophy and social psychology. There are also exam questions for his courses at Oxford, correspondence relating to the degrees of BA and MA (Oxon.), and a copy of his doctoral dissertation. Accompanying these files is
a scrapbook, containing press clippings, programmes, photographs and memorabilia covering his years at Oxford and the University of London, with additional material for his visit to London in 1948 [see /012].

Skilling’s diploma from Harbord Collegiate is filed in /003(03).

Photographs relating to his basketball team at Harbord Collegiate have been removed from box 008 (08) to box 009P (01) – (03). Loose photographs relating to his activities at the University of Toronto have been removed from the Harbord Collegiate/ University of Toronto scrapbook [box 011] to box 009P(04) – (07).

Skilling’s University College ‘letter’ [badge] is filed as B2001-0017/008(26).

Awards and recognition

This series consists of awards, diplomas, certificates, honorary degrees, and medals awarded to Professor Skilling throughout his career—many of which are from the Czech Republic. In May 2012, several items were loaned for an exhibition in Prague (and have been returned).

All items in box /007 are oversize materials and were tightly curled. They are now stored in individual folders within a flat document box.

The medals remain in their original cases and have been indicated below. The boxes have not been numbered individually, however they should be identifiable based on the descriptions below. All medals and other artifacts are boxed together.

When appropriate, the original Czech text has been listed along with approximate English translations in square brackets.

Personal life

This series consists of personal items belonging to Professor Skilling, including address books, photographs and slides, an identification card, and his marriage certificate issued in Czechoslovakia (with corresponding Canadian documentation).

The photographs have been organized according to portraits, personal and family life, early school, professional life, and slides. The majority of the photographs are annotated and dated on the verso, and the slides are numbered and dated. Two photographs in “Professional life” [B2012-0005/001P(04)] that are not annotated or dated show Professor Skilling receiving an honorary degree (LL.D) from the University of Toronto in 1982. He is flanked by President James Ham and Chancellor George Ignatieff.

There are four newspaper clippings related to Professor Skilling. The first is a congratulatory message, possibly published in a newsletter issued by the West United Church, about Skilling having won The Gundy-Doran scholarship [dated between 1929-1934]. The second clipping is a photograph of Skilling and his Harbord Collegiate institute junior basketball team [ca. 1928-29]. The third clipping is an article entitled “Viet Nam situation called threat to unity” [1966]. Skilling is quoted and discussed at length in the article. The final clipping is a profile (in English) on H. Gordon Skilling, published in The Prague Post in 1994.


This series contains biographical information, address books, business cards, correspondence, greeting cards, notes and passports relating primarily to personal activities, including Gordon and Sally’s friendship with many people in Czechoslovakia, and honours bestowed on him over his lifetime. Included are files relating to the Skilling family generally, biographical sketches and curriculum vitae, and files relating to his 70th and 88th birthday parties (1982 and 2000). There is also a scrapbook of greeting cards and postcards received from friends in Czechoslovakia between 1964 and 1982, and files on honours bestowed – including his festschrift, and Czech awards – Order of the White Lion (1992), Czech Academy of Sciences (1994), and the T. G. Masaryk honorary medal (1999).

In 1933 Gordon hitchhiked and rode freight trains across North America, first to the founding convention of the CCF in Regina, writing letters back to his parents along the way and also describing activities at that famous gathering itself, and then on to the West Coast. His correspondence and the pamphlets, brochures and press coverage he collected survive in this series. He later attributed these experiences as being the seminal event that shaped the evolution of his political views.

Other files in this series provide glimpses of his activities late in the 1930s and in the 1940s, and of his return to Toronto in 1959. They also document of his extra-curricular activities, first as a teenager with the West United Church Club (1926-1927), then as an alumnus of Clinton Street Public School and of Harbord Collegiate in Toronto, and finally as a member of the Canadian Association of Rhodes Scholars. The series ends with selected messages of sympathy and other items relating to the death of his beloved wife, Sally, in 1990.

The scrapbook of greeting cards from friends in Czechoslovakia is filed in box 051.

Oversized material has been removed from /007 (11) to file .(01).

Photoprints taken in the 1980s and 1990s of Professor Skilling, Helen Hogg, Czech friends and the Jazz Section, a semi-official agency under the Union of Musicians in Prague, are filed in /009(07)-(11).

An audiotape of the presentation of the Order of the White Lion to Professor Skilling on 8 May 1992 and of the Stefanik medal ceremony is filed as /02S. An audiotape relating to Professor Skilling’s birthday (which one?) is filed as /03S; audiotapes documenting the 75th anniversary celebrations of Harbord Collegiate Institute are filed as /04S and 05S.

Publication projects

This series documents, through correspondence, notes, financial statements, and drafts of manuscripts, three publication projects concerning opposition to communist regimes in eastern Europe, two of which were realized.


‘After the Velvet Revolution’. Berkeley, CA: Moira Productions, 1992. VHS video. Skilling acted as a consultant on this production.

Graphic records

The photographs in this series document the life of Professor Gordon Skilling and members of his family over most of the 20th century. Included are images to Eastern Europe and specifically Czechoslovakia taken during Skilling's trips over six decades. These are mainly contained in albums and show many of Skilling's colleagues in Eastern Europe, including Vilem Precan and Vaclav Havel, along with many organized meetings and events.
Notebooks with entries about lists of slides taken on trips to England and Europe between 1961 and 1973 are filed in /050(23).

Researchers may wish to look at these albums in conjunction with the journals in series 5 and 7 in Sous-fonds 3.


The addresses in this series date from Professor Skilling’s return to Canada in 1959. Most were delivered at conferences, with those from 1986 on dealing primarily with Tomas Masaryk. The principal Masaryk conferences represented are those at the University of London (1986) and in Prague (1994 and 2000). Included also is Skilling’s address on Masaryk given on the occasion of his receiving an honorary degree from Charles University in 1990, and the series of lectures he delivered on Masaryk in Prague in 1992. Other conferences represented include the Conference on the Prague Spring in Paris and the Institute for Slovene Emigration Studies in Ljubljana, Slovenia (both in 1998).

An audiotape of a lecture given by Professor Skilling in Prague in April, 1994 is filed as /06S

Card indices

These boxes contains card indicies under numerous bibliographic headings on Communism in Czechoslovakia and the history of the Czech Communist party between 1918 and 1958.


Files contain incoming and outgoing correspondence mainly of an academic nature. Some correspondence is personal in nature.

Family scrapbooks

This series contains three scrapbooks that were assembled by Gordon Skilling to document the history of his family.

The first, titled ‘Dad Skilling (W. W. Skilling) and his father, John Skilling’, documents the history of the family from 1828 until 1927. It includes poems,
correspondence, photographs, telegrams; birth, baptismal and citizenship certificates, and wills documenting the history of the family from the time William Watt Skilling’s grandfather left Leith in Scotland about 1828, through his move to London and, subsequently, the family’s emigration to Canada in 1907 and eventually to Toronto. It ends with correspondence and documents relating to deaths in 1917 of John Skilling and Gordon’s brother, Donald, killed in action at the age of 19, and subsequent correspondence relating to John’s estate.

The second and third scrapbooks were compiled later in life by Gordon Skilling as a memorial to Donald; they also contain material relating to his brother, William, who was seriously wounded in battle but recovered. The second scrapbook contains photographs of Donald’s childhood and youth, and as a member of the 81st Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force; letters and postcards home while training in England and later from France, along with a diary (1916), a copy of the CEF’s Regimental Songs, 1914-1915, press clippings and memorabilia. There are also some letters from William and, finally, telegrams and letters to family from military authorities on Donald’s death.

The third scrapbook contains letters to Donald from his brother, Will, and his comrades, the nurse, commanding officer and chaplain and official letters concerning his grave, personal affects and estate. There are also letters of sympathy from relatives and friends. There are also a number of photographs, including ones of the temporary marker at his gravesite at Aubigny and later photographs of the permanent marker during taken during a family visit in 1919.

Academic work

This series consists of Professor Skilling’s academic work, including research notes, materials related to his doctoral thesis (The German-Czech National Conflict in Bohemia, 1879-1893), and materials related to the revision his doctoral thesis (The Czech-German Conflict in Bohemia, 1867-1914). These three kinds of academic material have been identified by headings within the file list. All file titles are provided by Skilling’s own filing system, unless otherwise indicated by square brackets.

The research notes were likely used to support the writing of Skilling’s theses. Some of the notes have been organized by Skilling according to subject, whereas others are organized by date. The notes organized by dates have tabbed subjects inserted into the research notes; however, these subjects have not been listed in the finding aid. All notes refer to Central and Eastern Europe. Although the research notes are not dated, they are assumed to correspond with his theses and have been dated accordingly.

Records relating specifically to Skilling’s doctoral thesis consist of drafts, notes, and research material. The thesis was titled “The German-Czech National Conflict in Bohemia, 1879-1893,” was completed between 1936 and 1940, and was approved in June of 1940.

Records relating to the revised thesis, The Czech-German Conflict in Bohemia, 1867-1914, consist primarily of notes and drafts contributing to the revision. There is also correspondence between Skilling and several other academics and publishers, much of which deals with publication of the finished thesis and requests for research material that would be available in North America [“Thesis Revision 1946,” /005(01)]. There are drafts and correspondence with Henry L. Roberts, the editor of the Slavic Review, regarding the publication of an article by Skilling entitled “Social and Economic Aspects of the Czech-German Conflict in Bohemia in the Late Nineteenth Century.” The subject of this article corresponds to the second chapter of Skilling’s revised thesis. Skilling worked on the revision beginning in 1946 and up to at least the 1970s, when it was rejected for publication by the University of Toronto Press. The records have therefore been dated as such.