University Registrar


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Honorary Degree Recipients


For many years, the Queen’s community has been fortunate to have the opportunity to welcome people who have made remarkable contributions to the lives of others throughout the world – in academia, business, politics, scientific research, and the arts.

During Convocation, we take the opportunity to honour those individuals who have redefined our world - and our perceptions of it 

We congratulate our honorees for 2020:    

Bruce Mitchell, DSc

Kimberly Prost, LLD

Heather Ross, DSc

Terence Sullivan, DSc

Neil Turok, DSc

Brenda Trenowden, LLD

Nasrin Soutodeh, LLD



The History of Honorary Degrees at Queen's

Queen's Chronicles Honorary Degree Recipients

by Kay Langmuir

Queen's Gazette, April 24, 2006

This spring marked the 148th year that Queen’s has awarded honorary degrees. The history of this honour however, was, until recently, in danger of being lost amidst the dust of time.

When Dean of Arts and Science Bob Silverman realized one day in conversation with University Registrar Jo-Anne Brady that the university lacked a complete and accurate record of its honorary-degree recipients, they decided to rectify the situation. It proved to be a substantial task of detective work. A student hired as a researcher for the project spent one summer full-time and two semesters working part-time on the list before it was recently completed – two dozen pages and hundreds of names covering the 148 years between 1858 and today.

The university does a fairly broad call for nominations, says University Secretary Georgina Moore. Through newspaper notices and email postings sent throughout campus, the call goes out asking members of the Queen’s community to reflect on which individuals embody the values and actions they most admire.

Any two people can put forward a name. Some suggestions come from the university at large. Others originate with the Senate Committee for Honorary Degrees, which makes the final recommendations to the Senate. Some come regularly from a special think-tank on honorary degree recipients, currently chaired by Principal Emeritus Bill Leggett, which searches for particularly prominent individuals.

The nominating committee looks for individuals who have made outstanding contributions to society on a national or international scale. Nominations can contain up to 15 pages of supporting information on the merits of an individual, Ms. Moore says.

In the early years of awarding honorary degrees, the recipients were almost exclusively male clergymen. Little is known about these people, says Dean Silverman. “Hopefully, some day we will know.”

From time to time in the latter part of the 19th century, prominent political figures took home the honour. Gradually over time, the dominance of clergy was balanced with other figures from public life. Sir John A. Macdonald (1863) appears to have been the first lay person, and one of the few politicians to receive the honour during an active career. Today, the guidelines wisely discourage honoring politicians before the end of their public service.

In the early days, the university also recognized the British royalty with The Prince of Wales (1919) and King George V (1901) donning robes in Kingston. A generous number of dukes, lords and ladies, earls and countesses, viscounts and rear admirals and knights were also honoured. Prominent politicians who collected honorary degrees and lectured to graduating classes over the years include Sir Oliver Mowat, Sir Wilfred Laurier, Sir Robert Borden, William Lyon Mackenzie King and Pierre Trudeau.

More recently, Jean Chrétien passed through the doors of Jock Harty Arena in June 2004. Even American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt collected an honorary degree in 1938 during a trip he made to the area to officially open the Thousand Islands Bridge on Aug.18 that year. Ten years later, his wife Eleanor Roosevelt, an early champion of human rights and social causes, became one of the first women to receive the honour.

The very first woman to be awarded an honorary degree from Queen’s, as well as from any Canadian university, was Lady Aberdeen, wife of then Governor General Lord Aberdeen, in 1897. Lady Aberdeen was a prominent social reformer, founder of the VON and feminist.

There were also captains of industry, Colonel Sam McLaughlin of Oshawa (1946) and Andrew Carnegie (1901), eminent doctors such as pioneering brain surgeon Wilder Penfield (1957) and outstanding scientists such as Alexander Graham Bell and Sir Frederick Banting.

The first representative of the arts appears to have joined the distinguished field in 1919 when writer and humorist Stephen Leacock received the honour. Further recipients from the field of the creative arts continued to be few. Hollywood actor Raymond Massey collected a degree in 1949, portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh in 1960 and author Ernest Buckler in 1964.

Beginning in the late 1960s, artists and writers were frequently honoured at convocation. They include Margaret Atwood, Oscar Peterson, Antoine Maillet, Peter Newman, Gordon Pinsent, Farley Mowat, Carl Sagan, Donald Sutherland, Carol Shields and Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak.

“We’re not setting out to find glitzy, starry people,” says Ms. Moore. “A person who has made an outstanding contribution to something may also be celebrated for that, but it’s the merit of this contribution that counts.”

The number of recipients varies each year, but usually ranges between several to a dozen or more people for both spring and fall convocations. The number of recipients increases in special years such as the Royal Convocation in the university’s sesquicentennial in 1991, when Prince Charles and 24 others received honorary degrees.


The Nomination / Selection Process

The nomination and selection process for honorary degree candidates is overseen by the University Senate.

For more information regarding the policies that pertain to honorary degrees at Queen's, please visit the University Secretariat's website at:

Previous Honorary Degree Recipients

For a list of previous degree recipients, please click on the year(s) below: