Remembering Peter Russell

Peter Russell. Photo Allan Williams.
Peter Russell. Photo Allan Williams.

As Leaside Life was heading into production we learned of another significant death of a distinguished Leasider – Professor Peter Russell, CC, FRSC, OC.

Leaside Life columnist Allan Williams interviewed Professor Russell following the publication of Canada’s Odyssey: A Country Based on Incomplete Conquests in time for the 150th anniversary of Confederation, in 2018.

“Russell is not only the dean of Canada’s constitutional scholars and a leading authority on the civil and political rights of Indigenous Peoples around the world, but also someone who grew up in Leaside,” wrote Allan.

“Professor Russell was born in 1932, the middle child between older brother Campbell (an Anglican clergyman who died in August, 2017) and younger sister Joan (Knowles). When he was two years old his family moved from Millwood just west of Bayview into Leaside, living successively on Donegall, Parkhurst and Cameron.”

After studying at the University of Toronto and as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, he joined U of T’s (then) Department of Political Economy.

“Russell went on to a brilliant 40-year career teaching and writing and, during the prolonged constitutional wrangling of the 1980s and ’90s, was frequently consulted by governments and called upon by media as Canada’s foremost authority on the issues,” Allan wrote. “Once he was invited by CBC to tape a conversation for broadcast on The National with Stephen Harper, who was in Calgary, moderated by Wendy Mesley, who was in Ottawa. Russell was in Toronto. ‘Suddenly there was a glitch and the three of us got talking while the technicians sorted it out. Soon enough we discovered that all three of us had gone to Bessborough!’”

Professor Russell remained active and engaged just into his 90s. As his friend Leasider Elizabeth Trott wrote to us: “…Peter’s final speaking event, which he could not attend, was with a panel presentation at Massey College on January 9, 2024, on the distortion of truth being promoted about Egerton Ryerson and Henry Dundas. …Peter was active until a couple of weeks before he died and had plans to keep fighting for Ryerson’s reputation.”

Professor Peter Russell certainly left his mark.