Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
August 2004

Biographies of Prominent Quebec and Canadian

Historical Figures


Oskar Douglas (O. D.) Skelton



Damien-Claude Bélanger

Department of History

McGill University


Economist and civil servant, was born at Orangeville, Ontario. He was educated at Queen's University and at the University of Chicago. From 1902 to 1905 Skelton was the assistant editor of Philadelphia's Booklovers Magazine. Shortly after receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago for a brilliant dissertation on "The Case against Socialism," he was appointed lecturer, and in 1909 professor, of political and economic science at Kingston 's Queen's University. He became the dean of Queen's Faculty of Arts in 1919. In 1925 he was appointed under-secretary of state for foreign affairs at Ottawa, a position he would hold until his death. He was the general secretary of the Ottawa Imperial Conference of 1932. O. D. Skelton was the leading Canadian civil servant of his time and an architect of the modern Department of External Affairs. A liberal intellectual keenly interested in Canadian-American relations, he was a strong supporter of the proposed 1911 reciprocal trade agreement with the United States and a foreign policy advisor to Sir Wilfrid Laurier and to William Lyon Mackenzie King. Indeed, in 1921, Skelton penned a two volume set of Life and Letters of Sir Wilfrid Laurier where Prime Minister was cast as a great man who could literally do no wrong. In the wake of the conscription crisis and the formation of the Union Government, when Laurier was abandoned by the vast majority of his anglophone supporters, the books aimed at setting the record straight for posterity. On the language issue, although one of the most liberal individual of his time, Skelton wrote that "this is and will be overwhelmingly an English-speaking country, still more so an English-speaking continent" and, consequently labelled as an "extreme demand" the wish of francophones to have their children taught entirely in French in the province of Ontario.


[See Skelton's rendition of the Laurier-Greenway compromise in the Manitoba School Question]





© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College