The Life of Frank Knox

by Alan Green

Frank Knox, who taught continuously in the Department from 1924 to 1964, was a legend in his own time. He was widely acknowledged as one of the great teachers at Queen's. For most of his career, he taught what was then the introductory course in economics, Econ 4. This was a wide-ranging course that embraced economic history and economic geography. It was quite common at the time to have such a course in the first year, leaving the introduction to micro and macro economic theory to the second year. I was fortunate, and a bit terrified, to teach Econ 4 with Knox in my first year teaching at Queen's and for part of the following year.

A not inconsiderable amount of Knox's time and energy went into teaching not only Econ 4 but also his third-year classes in business cycles and monetary policy. He was constantly revising these courses so that his lectures remained “fresh” to him as well as to the students. He enjoyed the give and take of the classroom. Indeed, he often set up topics that would ignite reaction from the students, especially on current policy issues. In recognition of his commitment to teaching, the AMS created the Frank Knox Teaching Awards in 1979 to encourage excellence in teaching.

In what might almost be seen as an extension to his classroom work, Knox served as editor of the Canadian Banker, the journal of the Canadian Bankers Association, from 1940 to 1957. In it, he wrote a quarterly feature entitled “The March of Events”. The latter was an extended and thoughtful essay on the current state of the Canadian economy and on monetary policy, including, during the war years, the impact of the war on these events.

Knox's work on estimating and analyzing the Canadian balance of payments for the period 1914 to 1926 has stood the test of time. It followed on the work in this area by Jacob Viner, whose period of inquiry ended in 1913. Knox's work bridged the gap between Viner's estimates and the beginning of the official balance of payments figures in 1926. His work figured prominently in the Royal Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations, the famous Rowell-Sirois Report of the 1930's.

Between 1951 and 1956, Frank Knox was Head of the Department of Economics. It was during this time that he founded and helped finance the Institute for Economic Research. The purpose of the Institute was to bring together young scholars from across the country for the summer so that they could pursue their research at Queen's, unhindered by the day-to-day distractions back home. In the first decade of its existence, a score of books and over 160 articles were published by the IER. In 1954-55, Knox was appointed Chair of the Ontario royal commission to inquire into the economics of gold mining in Ontario.

Perhaps Knox's greatest contributions were made in the years immediately after World War II, when the University was overwhelmed by returning veterans anxious to get a university degree. Knox was himself a veteran of WWI, and hence he was able to relate to the particular problems faced by these veterans. From 1946 to 1949, he and the other instructors in the department taught “around the clock,” that is, for 12 months continuously, starting up a new term shortly after marking the papers from the previous one. During this period, Knox ran three sections of Econ 4 while still making trips to Ottawa to advise the government on postwar economic problems.

Frank Knox was born in 1895 in Orono, Ontario, where he attended public and secondary school. After graduating from Peterborough Normal School, he taught primary school for two years before enlisting in the 116 Battalion. He served overseas from 1916 to 1918. Knox entered Queen's in 1919, graduating with a degree in economics and history. He subsequently went to Harvard for a year and then completed the course work for his Ph.D. at Chicago. Knox never completed his dissertation, however.

Frank Knox retired in 1964 and died at the age of 81 in 1977. He was a kind, gentle person who loved to read and to teach. His dedication influenced several generations of students at Queen's who were lucky enough to have taken one of his classes.