In memoriam: Sydney Francis Wise, OC, BLS, MA, LLD, FRSC

Professor Emeritus of History, Carleton University

By Don McEown
and Martha Attridge Bufton

Syd Wise joined the RCAF in 1943 and finished the war as a pilot with the rank of Flying Officer. He then went on to university and from there built an interesting and spectacular career. He completed his Bachelor of Arts at the University of Toronto (U of T), winning the Gold Medal in History in 1949 and his Bachelor of Library Science in 1950.

He then joined the Royal Military College as a lecturer. While there he attended Queens, completing his Master of Arts in 1953. In 1955 Syd joined the history department at Queens’ becoming a full professor in 1964. He was a good teacher—knowledgeable in his subject which he taught with enthusiasm, often infecting his students with his love for the subject.

Sydney’s scholarship was impressive. An author of many articles, papers and books he is probably best known as the coauthor of Men in Arms: A History in Warfare and its Interrelationship with Western Society, first published in 1956, with its fifth edition being issued in 1991 and as the author of Canadian Airmen in the First World War, Volume 1 of the Official History of the RCAF.

His work did not stop at the gates of the university. From 1966 to 1973, he was Director of History at the Department of National Defence. Syd held various other offices including that of president for both the Ontario Historical Society and the Canadian Historical Society as well as being a member and officer of the Ontario Heritage Foundation.

In 1973 he returned to the academy, joining the Department of History at Carleton University. By the end of that decade he had been recruited to academic administration first as the director of the Institute of Canadian Studies and then for nine years as the dean of Graduate Studies and Research. It was a difficult time to take such a job. Funding for graduate work was scarce and there was talk within the province that the best way to use the available funds was to limit graduate work to a few universities. This plan had no place for either Carleton or the University of Ottawa (U of O).

While the two universities had already begun to create joint graduate programs, Syd and his U of O counterpart formed a strong working partnership, making the Joint Graduate Program in Science and Engineering a reality.

Not only did this activity create strong and large graduate programs in difficult times, it provided students and faculty with much better opportunities for quality research. Syd was a very effective dean. He was an eminent scholar who applied rigor and discipline to the graduate programs at Carleton by strengthening the weak and reinforcing the strong. He did so by hard work and a robust style that will always be remembered.

He received many honours and awards. For service to the nation he was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 1989 and promoted within the Order to Officer in 2004. That same year he received a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, from Carleton. He will be remembered with admiration, affection and respect.

Professor Wise died at home on March 8 at the age of 83. Devoted to his family, he is survived by his wife Verna (Mulholland), his children John (Anita), Catherine and Bruce (Janet) and his grandchildren Jonathan McConnell, Evan and Graham Wise.

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