Alek Bennett, Carter Elwood, Kerry Abel, Susan Whitney, and Pamela Walker

Photo in the History Lounge of History Faculty Members: Alek Bennett, Carter Elwood, Kerry Abel, Susan Whitney, and Pamela Walker

The following is not an obituary, rather it is an attempt to describe the activities of a consummate academic, one whose extraordinary dedication to his profession, his institution and his students sets an example for future members of the professoriate to emulate.

Carter Elwood and I met first in 1968, in Edmonton, during Canadian Association of Slavists (CAS) sessions at an annual Learned Societies convention. We were both young professors of Russian and Soviet History, a fairly rare commodity in Canadian universities at the time. He was on faculty at the University of Alberta, preparing to move to Carleton. I was at Laurentian University in Sudbury. That meeting led to a half-century friendship.

We kept in touch, casually, exchanging information on research, travels and conferences. Then, one morning in 1976, a telephone call from Carter changed my life. He and his colleague in Russian history at Carleton, John Strong, were scheduled for back-to-back sabbaticals, so their Department needed a two-year replacement. I jumped at the chance, applied for a leave of absence, showed up at Carleton and lingered there for the next three decades.

Those years were ones in which I could watch Carter in action. His work ethic was more than merely impressive. Like most university professors (I like to think), he was dedicated to his research (Lenin, Inessa Armand), his teaching and his students, yet he went well beyond that in an unwavering commitment to the University in general and to the History Department in particular. He wanted – indeed needed – to have the larger institution and its components function properly, always with an eye on what was good for the Department.

While never for a moment giving up on his research and teaching responsibilities (or mountain hiking), he served as Chair of the History Department for thirteen years, 1982-1995. Before that he was graduate supervisor and both before and after that he served on multiple in-house committees. Most importantly, he oversaw departmental planning and appointments processes over periods when the university was undergoing financial stress. His efforts assured that the quality of the department’s curriculum, instruction and research was left unscathed and at the same time was instrumental in bringing in bringing a number of its current faculty members on board.

Maintaining links between the History Department and relevant organizations off campus was important to him as well. Among these organizations was the Ottawa Historical Association, of which he was president (1998-99) and member of its executive committee until 2002. He persuaded other departmental members to participate and, in so doing, helped keep Carleton’s historians connected with their counterparts at the University of Ottawa, who also were active members.

In the university at large, Carter sat on Arts Faculty committees (Promotions, Library, Research, European Studies) and various selection panels in the School of Graduate Studies. Even after he retired officially, he served as Coordinator of Carleton’s Rhodes Scholarships selection committee and as Coordinator of the university’s external scholarship competitions. Three separate terms on the University Senate’s Library Committee and various other Senate bodies, member the University Awards Committee (2005-2012), and selection committees for teaching awards were among his contributions to the university. Another selection committee membership of note was one established to pick a Vice President (Academic) in 1997 and, in that same year, he chaired the Arts Faculty Capital Campaign. Noteworthy, too, was his election to the Board of Governors in 1997, only the second faculty member to be so named.

Carter was the host coordinator for the 1993 Learned Societies Conference when it met at Carleton in 1993, a monumentally difficult and time-consuming task that took two full years (1991-93) of preparation. It was a great success.

Carter Elwood was a valued member of the Committee of Management for the Institute of Soviet and East European Studies (ISEES, now EURUS) for over 40 years, and was its acting director for two of those years. An unusual number of students from ISEES and its participating departments at Carleton, of which History was one, went on to earn doctorates and are now teaching in History, Political Science and Economics Departments across North America and the UK.

A vigorous advocate of Slavic Studies in Canada, Carter was a long-time mainstay of the Canadian Association of Slavists (CAS), serving as its President (1981-2) and Honorary President (2002-12).  Beyond that, he was a member of the Inter-University Committee on Canadian Slavs, book review editor of the CAS’s scholarly periodical, Canadian Slavonic Papers, 1970-75, and the journal’s editor 1975-80. As book review editor during Carter’s tenure as general editor, I witnessed at first hand the many hours he spent contributing to the success of the journal and the CAS itself. He urged faculty members and graduate students to join the Association, and regularly relayed the CAS message to the ISEES Committee of Management meetings. He attended almost every annual CAS meeting, no matter the location, chaired panels, delivered papers (first one in 1965; last one in 2010), and sat on still more committees. In the latter case, he was three times on the CAS Committee on International Exchanges, chairing it between 1996-2001 and for two separate terms represented the CAS on SSHRC. In addition to his time as president of the CAS, he was its vice-president, member of the Advisory Board (1991-96) and sat on the executive committee for 32 of the years between 1970 and 2012!

Retirement merely slowed him somewhat. Continuing to teach a course for Carleton’s History Department until 2017 and participating in EURUS (ISEES) panels from time to time, Carter also offered sessions in the university’s Learning in Retirement programme — and was scheduled to do so again this November. I haven’t mentioned Carter Elwood’s numerous thesis supervisions, publications, grants and awards, including teaching awards, though it is worth noting that his prize-winning book on Inessa Armand (Cambridge UP, 1992) recently appeared in a Spanish edition. His other research and teaching activities are too numerous to be listed here and can be found easily elsewhere. In all such categories, however, my New Brunswick villagers’ highest words of praise, “Carter, ya done good!’ should suffice.

Written by Distinguished Research Professor, J. Laurence (Larry) Black

Other Tributes to Carter Elwood Received Within the Department

Dominique Marshall: “Carter Elwood passed away last week. As the former Chair of this Department, and throughout his long career at Carleton, he made an outstanding contribution to the profession and to the institution. We are grateful for his generosity and hard work, and we remember his belief in the department. On a personal note, I was hired by Carter, and welcomed by him to the city.  He went to extra lengths to help me in the difficulties I faced in my first years in the job. More recently, he provided valuable advice which assisted me in my present position. Our condolences to his wife, our dear colleague and Contract Instructor, Jill St Germain.”


Norman Hillmer:

“No one has ever known the history department or served it and the people in it better than Carter. He was unfailingly generous with his time, spending countless hours to craft those careful memoranda of his so that the department and its academic lives could run smoothly. He was so generous, too, in scholarship. He encouraged me at every turn to complete my work on O. D. Skelton and helped me to understand the times when my subject touched Russia and the Soviet Union. In retirement he continued his enthusiasm for his teaching and for his colleagues and could always be counted on as the department’s priceless institutional memory.”

Annette Bellamy: “Carter, the late Roger Reynolds, and my husband, John Bellamy, arrived at Carleton at around the same time, i.e. in the late 60s, and were good friends, as were the three young families.”


Jeff Sahadeo, Director of Eurus and historian of Russia and the Soviet Union:

“In 1993, Carter led the Learned Societies of Canada annual convention, a massive undertaking for which he hired many students, including myself (I still have the t-shirts he designed for us).  Near the end of the convention we were chatting about plans to do a Ph. D. and he suggested University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  His son was attending there (in sciences, I believe), but the main reason involved the library resources and faculty.  He made a convincing case to look there instead of the bigger-name schools.  I would not have applied there without for him, and it was my experience there that led to my successful academic career.  I will never forget him for this, nor for the way the conversation ended.  The convention had finished and we were doing clean up—the one incongruous thing left over was a forklift that for some reason was parked just outside the quad.  Carter hopped on the thing and darned if he did not drive it back to maintenance himself, so he could finally relax on a job well done.”

Alison Rowley: “Carter taught the first class I ever took, almost 30 years ago.  When I gave one of my very first conference papers, he shot down someone in the audience who was giving me a hard time.  And years later, he told a publishing rep who happened to be in the audience when I was giving another conference paper, that he needed to talk to me because the book I was writing was really good.  I had been turned down by a dozen presses at this point but Carter’s intervention led to a contract and my first book.”

Alex Babaris : “I’m so sorry to hear about Carter’s passing. My experiences with him were always wonderful, he was such a kind-hearted man who always appeared to have a glint in his eye about some joke running through his head.”

Fred Corney : “I was in Carter Elwood’s history classes as an MA student from England in 1979-81.  I wanted to do an Area Studies program (Soviet and East European Studies) to test out various disciplines before I decided whether to pursue a PhD.  Professor Elwood’s seminars on the Russian revolution taught me a huge amount about good research techniques, source analysis, and good writing, and I decided to pursue the PhD in History several years later.  He was a really good guide and editor of my master’s thesis, and a professor of exacting scholarship standards.  While living in Germany later, I did some research for him on a Lenin topic in the Frankfurt University Library.  After significant work, a book appeared in German on precisely the topic.  Professor Elwood’s response was typically laconic: ah well, some you win, some you lose!”

Carl McMillan : “Carter was a founding father of Carleton’s interdisciplinary program in what was then called “Soviet and East European Studies”, the first degree program in the field in Canada.  His survey course in Russian history was a pillar of that program, from the beginning. Carter was a great hiker and mountain climber.  As the Ottawa area does not offer much scope for the latter, he would spend part of his summer vacation each year in the Swiss alps, which he knew well and loved. He will be greatly missed by his colleagues and his many former students.”

Donna Harper: “I was very sad to hear of Carter’s passing. I worked with him ( I believe it was in the 80’s) when I was the Administrator of the then called, Institute of Soviet and East European Studies.  He was asked to be the interim Director while Larry Black was on sabbatical.  Carter didn’t hesitate to step in and help while still maintaining his role as Chairman of the History Department. To say that Carter was a perfectionist is an understatement, and he made me step up my game.  He expected from the staff as well as the students, what he was willing to give, his all.  Each day he made several trips down the hall from the History Department to ISEES making sure everything was running smoothly. I didn’t know Carter very well before working with him but I soon realized he had a sense of humour and a caring soul.  It must have been very taxing overseeing two departments at once but he did it seamlessly. After his stint as Director, we often exchanged pleasantries in the hallway and remained acquaintances until I retired in 2005. He will be missed by everyone who worked with him, and all of the students that passed through his door. My condolences to Jill and his children.”

Professor Elwood’s obituary in the Ottawa Citizen and the Globe and Mail can be viewed online.