Our colleague John Taylor died on November 18, peacefully following a brief illness. John was an important member of our department from 1970 to 2004 and remained a good friend to History afterwards as Professor Emeritus.
John was a valued teacher and researcher. He taught a range of courses in Canadian History and Urban History both to undergraduates and graduates, bringing his engaging blend of enthusiasm and insight to both. He had a particular passion for urban history and its possibilities, which showed in his teaching, his writing, and his mentorship of students and colleagues. He was a leading figure in promoting urban history as a field of study, including in his role as co-founder and editor of the Urban History Review. His comparative work on capital cities like Canberra and Ottawa was genuinely transnational in scope.
His deep knowledge of and innovative thinking about urban history was perhaps most in evidence when it came to Ottawa, whether in his research and teaching or on guided tours given to students, pointing out the many traces of the variety and contradictions of Ottawa’s history to be found in the city’s landscapes and buildings if, like John, you knew where and how to look. He had a granular understanding of the historical geography of the city, particularly the ethnocultural character of different neighbourhoods and their place in the class hierarchy. He brought these general patterns to life by speaking in terms not just of statistics but of individuals—the Irish domestic servant, the French-Canadian mill worker, and so on, and how hard their lives were. At the same time, he appreciated the richness of the communities they created here. He brought a humane sensibility to the study of the past. Prejudice offended him, and he was saddened by the mean-spiritedness that split the city along class, ethnic, and religious lines. He would use striking detail, such as how different groups were stereotyped, to underline the dangers of reproducing discrimination in the present. He never missed an occasion to show how the history of human constructions lay behind every landscape.
Beyond his contributions as a teacher and scholar, John is remembered fondly by colleagues as always up for a chat and a laugh in the hallways, always ready and supportive to hear what colleagues or students were working on. His infectious optimism and spirit of encouragement was evident towards all, whether students, staff, or faculty. Among many other roles, John was the departmental photographer, capturing for posterity the images of many colleagues. As one colleague put it, he brought a real “gusto” to everything he did. The department will miss him and remember him.
John’s contributions to our department, to Carleton, and to the historical profession were important parts of a full and fascinating life, well-lived, a life captured wonderfully well in his obituary in the Ottawa Citizen. You can find that tribute here, along with information on a celebration of John’s life that will be shared via Zoom on Saturday, December 5 at 2:00 p.m. ET. https://ottawacitizen.remembering.ca/obituary/john-taylor-1081022844