Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
August 2004

Biographies of Prominent Quebec and Canadian

Historical Figures

Frank Hawkins Underhill




Damien-Claude Bélanger

Department of History

McGill University

Historian, political scientist, and soldier, was born at Stouffville, Ontario. He was educated at the University of Toronto and at Oxford University. He taught history at the University of Saskatchewan from 1914 to 1915 and from 1919 to 1927. During the Great War he served in France as a subaltern officer in an English infantry battalion. From 1927 to 1955 he taught history at the University of Toronto. A frequent contributor to the Canadian Forum, he joined the journal's editorial staff in 1927 and authored its irreverent "O Canada" column in the thirties. In 1932 Underhill participated in the founding of the League for Social Reconstruction, an organization of radical intellectuals intended to be a Canadian version of the British Fabian Society. With F. R. Scott, he was active in the founding of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, and authored the first draft of the party's 1933 Regina Manifesto. He was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 1949 and was appointed curator of Laurier House, Ottawa, in 1955. Though Underhill had been an associate member of the Fabian Society while at Oxford and was at the forefront of Canada's progressive intellectual movement in the thirties, he drifted away from socialism after the Second World War and embraced liberalism. Underhill's anti-establishmentarianism - he described himself as being born "a North York Presbyterian Grit" in the introduction to his In Search of Canadian Liberalism (1960) - and his anti-imperialism caused him to push the limits of contemporary Canadian academic freedom while he taught at the University of Toronto. During the Second World War he was nearly dismissed after he enthusiastically predicted that Canada would slowly drift away from the British orbit to enter into increasingly close relations with the United States. An arch continentalist - he was one of the few Canadian intellectuals not to reject Goldwin Smith's ideas en masse -, Frank H. Underhill was an admirer of American civilization and an ardent cold warrior. He attended the 1935 conference on Canadian-American relations organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College