When O.D. Skelton became Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s foreign policy advisor in 1923, he was already a celebrated critic of the status quo in international and domestic affairs, a loyal Liberal Party man, and a fervent nationalist who believed Canada needed to steer a path independent of Britain. Two years later, he became the permanent head of Canada’s Department of External Affairs. Between then and his tragic death in 1941, Skelton created Canada’s professional diplomatic service, staffing it with sharp young men such as Lester B. Pearson.

Skelton’s importance in Ottawa was unparalleled, and his role in shaping Canada’s world was formative and crucial. Using research from archives across Canada and around the world, Norman Hillmer presents Skelton not only as a towering intellectual force but as deeply human – deceptively quiet, complex, and driven by an outsize ambition for himself and for his country. O.D. Skelton is the definitive biography of the most influential public servant in Canada’s history, written by one of the most prolific Canadian historians of international affairs and the editor of Skelton’s voluminous papers. (Publisher summary)

University of Toronto Press

O.D. Skelton was a key thinker in getting Canada out of the orbit of the British Empire after the First World War. See this related podcast that was produced by Hugh Bakhurst in the Allan Slaight Radio Institute at Ryerson University. Patrice Dutil speaks with Norman Hillmer, the editor of the 2013 volume of the Champlain Society: O.D. Skelton: The Work of the World, 1923-1941 (Volume LXXIV).

Department of History

Hillmer, N. (2015). O.D. Skelton : A Portrait of Canadian Ambition. University of Toronto Press.