[Photo of Dr. Richard Irwin Ruggles]

Dr. Richard Irwin Ruggles

Professor Emeritus

Department of Geography and Planning

In Memoriam

People Directory Affiliation Category

On 9 January 2008, Professor Richard Irwin Ruggles died at his home in Duncan, Vancouver Island, at the age of 84. He leaves his wife of 53 years (the former Mildred Duncan), a sister, a son, a daughter, five grandchildren, a great-granddaughter, and many admiring friends and colleagues.

The richness of Dick’s warm and strong family connections was to the fore in the Memorial Service at the Morgan Chapel in Queen’s Theological College on Friday, 25 January. What emerged was a committed family-man remembered and revered for his constant devotion and support – accompanied by an often outrageous sense of humour! The service was also attended by those who remembered him as an important presence at Queen’s. Professor Ruggles was the founder and first Head of the Department of Geography, an active member in the Kingston community, and a highly regarded scholar in the field of historical cartography.

Richard Irwin Ruggles was born in Toronto on 27 June 1923. Educated at the University of Toronto (B.A. 1945) and Syracuse University (M.A. 1947), Professor Ruggles’ first academic position was in McMaster University (1947-50). Following doctoral studies at the London School of Economics (Ph.D. 1958), he took up a post at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Geography and Slavonic Studies (1953-1960). In 1960, he was appointed to the Headship of the new department of Geography at Queen’s, a position he held until 1969, and as Acting Head for two subsequent years. He retired in 1988 with the rank of Professor Emeritus. By this date, the department he had founded had grown from his original corporal’s guard of half a dozen dedicated pioneer geographers into one of Canada’s top departments with a complement of 20 or so faculty, a highly regarded graduate programme, and an established international reputation. 

For those undergraduates, graduate students, staff, and faculty who remember those years, “Dick” was the paterfamilias of a close community. It was characterised by the warm gatherings he and Mildred hosted at their home, daily morning and afternoon coffee/tea gatherings of faculty and staff, and annual departmental parties. Indeed, Dick’s gentlemanly mien, his sense of fairness, and his overall good taste had a very positive effect on the atmosphere within the department. Of considerable importance was Dick's sense of the cohesive nature of our discipline and recognition of the interconnections between the subspecialties within human and physical geography. This was especially important at the undergraduate level in the early years, and increasingly at the graduate and research levels more recently. The product of all of this was a strong, cohesive department and a coterie of loyal alumni.

But Dick Ruggles did not stay inside the safe confines of the ivory tower: he was truly a public scholar engaged in his home community. Active in the United Fund Campaign (1961-64), he also directed his skills and energies to urban planning matters as Kingston began to adjust to its changing fortunes. To this end, he served as Chair of the Mayor’s Committee on Downtown and Waterfront Redevelopment (1962-64), and authored its subsequent report. He also chaired the Kingston Area Planning Board (1962-65) and served on the Advisory Board on Conservation Education of the Cataraqui Conservation Authority (1967-69).

Throughout these years, Richard Ruggles was also an active professor. He sustained a life-long interest in the economic and political geography of Russia and the Soviet Union, but it was as a leading scholar in the field of historical cartography that he was best known. While the author of numerous monographs, articles, and reviews, two of his works were particularly well received.

In 1970, the centenary of Manitoba’s establishment as a province, Ruggles, together with his close friend and colleague, John Warkentin, co-authored the Historical Atlas of Manitoba. For one reviewer, its 300-plus maps rendered an “elucidation of the historical and geographical development of Manitoba” and constituted “a unique achievement both in atlas-making and in historical geographical writing on the continent.”

Two decades later in 1991, he produced what was his magnum opus, a thorough examination of Canada’s “first mapping agency” the Hudson’s Bay Company. A Country So Interesting: The Hudson’s Bay Company and two Centuries of Mapping, 1670-1870 was the product of Ruggles’ early doctoral research in London in the 1950s and his subsequent investigations in the archives at Winnipeg. As one reviewer commented, it was a study “unparalleled in Canada in its analysis of cartographic documents themselves, and the context of their creation, their role, and their present-day significance.” It was a measure of the man that, in retirement, he took time off from his painting, photography, and travel to apply his expertise to what he called “my last involvement in publication”: reading and commenting on Samuel Bawlf’s pre-publication manuscript of his provocative volume, The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake 1577-1580 (2003). On publication, the author thanked “Professor Richard Ruggles for his wonderful insights into the mapping of discovery and the secrecy aspect.” As Dick put it later, probably with a twinkle in his eye, “I was glad to oblige.”

This distinguished record of scholarship earned Professor Ruggles honours and awards from several agencies: the Canadian Association of Geographers; the Canadian Cartographic Association; the National Archives of Canada; the Canadian Historical Association; the University of Toronto; the American Association for State and Local History.

But, apart from his prestigious academic career, Professor Richard Irwin Ruggles has also left his personal mark on the communities of Queen’s and Kingston. On the occasion of his retirement, the “Richard Ruggles Research Room” was established in the university’s Map Library which now continues as the “Richard Ruggles Historical Cartography Collection.” Further, in line with his commitment to the department and its students, Dick Ruggles funded the “Ruggles Scholarship” to recognize aspiring young academics with strong academic records who have also played a leadership role in the Department: that is, fulfilling his model of a combination of scholarship and community service. Finally, in 2005, in another generous gesture, the “Richard and Mildred Ruggles Fund for Enhanced Education in Geography” was established to nurture field studies in the discipline, or the incorporation of the arts into geographic education at Queen’s.

It is fitting, therefore, that Dick ensured that after his death he be returned to Kingston to be buried in Cataraqui Cemetery.

- Brian Osborne (Professor emeritus, a colleague and friend of Richard Ruggles since 1967)

We remember Richard Ruggles, who died at age 84 at his home in Duncan, B.C. on January 9, 2008, as an academic citizen whose contributions as administrator, teacher and researcher at Queen's University are of continuing significance to the institution he served and supported since his arrival in 1960.

Dick was a young man in his 30s when Queen's University, having decided to establish a Department of Geography, invited him to become its founding Head. It was an invitation he could not refuse. He was coming to a university with which he had enjoyed no previous affiliation, but Queen's had been advised by the distinguished geographer, Wreford Watson, whom he knew well. Watson, when establishing the Department of geography at McMaster in the late 1940s, had provided Dick with his first academic position. Dick arrived at Queen's confident that his new university had been well briefed about the challenge which he was to address.

Dick built a Department of Geography which honoured the discipline's tradition of teaching and research in both the physical and social sciences; he nurtured an undergraduate program which attracted increasing numbers of students among whom were future university teachers and researchers. His dedicated hard work and diplomacy won his new university's respect for the enterprise which he lead; the ground he tilled during his nine years as Head was the fertile soil from which the graduate programme was subsequently to blossom. The Queen's University he had encountered in 1960 had changed almost beyond recognition by the time of his retirement in 1988, but his imprint—including a treasured sense of collegiality which he had striven to create and maintain—survived. Several years ago he traveled across the continent to attend the Department's fortieth anniversary celebration. He demonstrated, with characteristic wit and light heartedness, his abiding commitment to what he had helped to create. He was the most senior member present and undoubtedly the oldest; he had written and he single-handedly performed a skit that revealed he possessed the youngest spirit in the place.

Throughout his career Dick devoted his research to the history of the cartographic representation of Canada. His dissertation, for which the London School of Economics awarded him the Ph.D., analyzed the maps created for Hudson's Bay Company's fur trade empire in western Canada.  The research thus begun took final shape in his seminal 1991 volume, A country so Interesting: The Hudson's Bay Company and Two Centuries of Mapping, 1670-1870. Among his other distinguished contributions to the field of the history of cartography is the award winning volume published to mark the centennial of Manitoba as a province, the Manitoba Historical Atlas, which he and John Warkentin edited, introduced and annotated. Dick's deep respect for the humane quality of the huge enterprise of mapping the vast expanse of northern and western Canada shines through the myriad technical details of analyzing maps and their production; it is never more brightly visible than when he discusses the experiences of young apprentices, in their early teens, who were hired from so-called "Hospitals" where they had been trained in arts useful to the navy as well as to the Hudson's Bay Company as it sought recruits to send to the Canadian west.

Former Queen's students will know Dick primarily as a dedicated teacher; in addition to his cartographic courses he will be remembered for his devotion to teaching the geography of the Soviet Union. Dick, a liberally educated man who read and spoke several foreign languages, knew the Russian language well and traveled extensively and independently throughout that country during the Soviet period. He brought to his lectures a rare depth of first-hand acquaintance with the country and its people.

Dick loved life and participated actively in civic affairs beyond the academy. He and Mildred, his wife of 53 years, created and sustained bonds of friendship with many from various walks of life. We honour a man distinguished by the grace, dignity and wit which marked his endeavours.

- Peter G. Goheen (Emeritus Professor of Geography)