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Remembering Professor Lower

Remembering Professor Lower

[Arthur Reginald Marsden Lower]During the late 1950s and the early 1960s when I studied history at Queen’s, I took about 15 courses in history and a mixture of English, politics, philosophy, and economics courses, and a few others. This combination of subjects turned out, partly by accident, to be the subject mix I needed for my later work as a librarian and archivist.

I had many distinguished professors during these years, all excellent teachers who contributed an enormous amount to Canadian scholarship during the middle part of the 20th century. Their stream of books and articles made this a very productive period in Queen’s history.

However, the name of Arthur Reginald Marsden Lower stands out, not only for his scholarship, but for his rare ability to engage students. At first, we were terrified of Dr. Lower because of his enormous reputation and the breadth of his scholarship. But, as we discovered, he had the ability to get us to talk despite the fact that we had probably not done very much – or any – reading for his class. First, he went to work to make us feel comfortable and enjoy the whole process of learning, the way that all teaching should do. Then, he taught us to express ourselves, no matter how humble our contributions were.

He never put us on the spot, but would seek to get someone in the group to make a comment about the subject that he was just opening up for discussion. If I were to make a very modest comment, Dr. Lower would immediately say something like, “Oh, yes, Mr. Henderson, that is an interesting idea. I think that historians should devote more attention to that point.” At the end of the seminar, he would go back around the table and mention the names of those who had said something during the class. We felt wonderful that our professor had thought enough of our comments to mention our names and our comments. That technique had magic in getting us to talk.

Dr. Lower then turned his attention to the writing of essays and book reviews. He was determined to get us to present our ideas in an organized and thoughtful fashion. We learned how to write essays with proper footnotes and bibliographies. I often had the feeling the actual content of our papers could be a little weak as long as it was properly organized!

As well as learning to find confidence in expressing ourselves and learning how to present ideas in an organized fashion, we learned from Professor Lower some of the great themes in Canadian history. He taught us about the tremendous importance of French Canada in our history. He taught us about the importance of the Canadian Shield and how it shaped our country’s history, as well as its geography. He also shared his own experiences: he talked about his memories of the Mackenzie King and Arthur Meighen debates. He gave us insight into the work of the House of Commons. He told us of the conditions he had witnessed across Canada during the Great Depression. He told us what he had seen in the political and economic life of Canada. This helped us gain perspective and it brought history to life for us.

As we sat around that seminar table, it was easy to see at work a gentle and kind man who was completely surrounded by his love of history and his love of teaching. It was, I hope, a very rewarding experience for him, as well as for us. I hope that he caught something of our excitement at the beginning of our learning process.

George Henderson, Arts’59, MA’64 (BLS, McGill), was an archivist at Queen’s University Archives for almost 25 years.

Historian and author A.R.M. Lower was the Douglas Professor of Canadian History at Queen’s University (1947–1959). He received an honorary degree from Queen’s in 1972.

[cover graphic of Queen's Alumni Review, issue 4-2016]