The Life of Mac Urquhart

Malcolm (Mac) Urquhart was born Dec. 12, 1913 in Alberta and spent his early years on a homestead that his father had started at the turn of the century. Like other rural children, he went to a one-room school, but he was sent to Edmonton for grades 10 and 11. Unfortunately, the Depression forced him to suspend his schooling, and he spent a year working full-time on the farm. By borrowing $300, which he later paid back, Mac was then able attend Normal School, which at the time provided training for future teachers.

Mac taught in a one-room schoolhouse for five years, covering all the grades from 1 to 11, but not necessarily at the same time. He also completed the courses for grade 12 during the first summer (at that time one could be a teacher without finishing high school). He later finished the first year of university by correspondence and summer school. Mac then went on to the University of Alberta, where he graduated in 1940, receiving their highest honour, the Governor General's Gold Medal. Also in 1940, the University of Chicago accepted him for doctoral work in Economics. Mac completed all the exams by the spring of 1942 and spent the next year teaching at MIT. However, before he finished his dissertation, W. A. Mackintosh (later Principal of Queen's University) called him to the Department of Finance in Ottawa to help with the war effort.

After the war, Mac arranged to take up an appointment at Queen's, which was to have begun in the spring of 1946. But the numbers of servicemen attending university was so great that Mac agreed to begin in the fall of 1945. He had a very heavy load of teaching and no time to prepare. He taught steadily through to the spring of 1947. At the same time, he was helping to develop a forecasting model in Ottawa that contributed to post-war reconstruction.

Mac spent his entire academic career at Queen's. During that time, he took several sabbatical leaves. As well, there was an interlude of 15 months in 1954-55, when he was in Karachi as an advisor to the Government of Pakistan. Mac was Head of the Department of Economics from 1964 to 1968, a period when many outstanding faculty were hired and Queen's established its graduate program as the strongest in Canada. He officially retired in 1979, but he remained active in teaching and research. His last publication, a paper on the development of Ontario in the early nineteenth century, appeared in the respected William and Mary Quarterly in 1999, when he was 86.

Mac Urquhart has been among the most important figures in Canadian Economic History and Canadian Economics, generally. Historical Statistics of Canada (1965), of which he was primary editor, was the cornerstone of nearly all work in Canadian economic development for many years. It later provided the foundation for a second edition, produced by Statistics Canada. In 1993, Mac Urquhart's Gross National Product of Canada, 1870-1926, appeared. This extremely important book was the product of more than 10 years' work, involving a team of Canadian economic historians. The book and related articles have set the stage for the rewriting of the Canadian experience during this formative period.

In keeping with his stature, Mac received many awards and honours. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1966 and was President (Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences) in 1975. In 1983, the Royal Society awarded him the Innis-Gérin Medal. Mac was also President of the Canadian Economics Association (1968-69), and he served on numerous executive boards concerned with empirical research. Among his many honours, Mac was the recipient of Killam Fellowships and was named Sir John A. MacDonald Professor of Economics at Queen's. He also received honorary degrees from Bishop's University (1985) and Queen's University (1991). In 1996, he received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Alberta.

Mac's focus and undiminished interest in research and in Queen's was legendary. He was, at the same, for many years an avid fisherman, and throughout his life, an astute art collector, some of which he generously donated to the University. In 1969, Mac married Elizabeth Arrowsmith. An economist in her own right, she was an active participant in his research projects. In addition to Elizabeth, Mac is survived by Anne Arrowsmith and David Arrowsmith.

The Department is trying to raise money to establish a fund in honour of Mac Urquhart.  Click here for some information about the fund.