York Chancellor Roy McMurtry named to the Order of Canada

Roy McMurtry, chancellor of York University, has been named to the Order of Canada, the highest honour accorded in Canada for lifetime achievement and public service.

“I am very pleased to be named an officer of the Order of Canada and I am delighted to be able to share this recognition with all the members of the York community,” said McMurtry.

McMurtry, 77, who was installed as the 12th chancellor of York University on May 23, 2008, was chosen as an Officer of the Order of Canada for his distinguished career of public service, notably as chief justice of Ontario, and for his extensive volunteer involvement in many social and multicultural initiatives. His appointment was one of 60 announced by Governor General Michaëlle Jean on Canada Day. The insignia will be awarded at a future ceremony.

“I am so pleased and proud that Chancellor McMurtry has been named an Officer of the Order of Canada,” said York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri. “Roy McMurtry’s lifelong advocacy for social justice and his career in law and politics have changed our province and our country for the better.”

Right: Roy McMurtry

Born in Toronto, McMurtry received an honours degree in history from the University of Toronto in 1954 and graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1958. He was called to the Ontario bar in 1958. After practising as a trial lawyer for 17 years, he was elected to the Ontario legislature in 1975, where he was appointed attorney general by then-premier William Davis. As attorney general, McMurtry argued major constitutional cases in the Supreme Court of Canada and played a key role in the proclamation of Canada’s new Constitution in 1982. From 1978 until 1982 he also took on the position of solicitor general. McMurtry left office in 1985 to become Canada’s high commissioner (ambassador) to the United Kingdom. In this role he chaired the Commonwealth Heads of Government Committee (on South Africa), which played an important role in ending apartheid in South Africa and freeing Nelson Mandela from prison. In 1996, he was appointed chief justice of Ontario and held that position for 11 years, retiring in 2007.

Prior to his political career, McMurtry was involved in a wide range of public service, including Big Brothers, rehabilitation projects for former penitentiary inmates, senior citizens’ housing and multicultural initiatives. He is a longtime supporter of adult education, dating back to his university days when he worked and taught at Frontier College, one of Canada’s first adult education institutions.

Left: McMurtry in full regalia during York’s 2009 Spring Convocation ceremonies

McMurtry is the founder and president of The Osgoode Society, a body established in 1979 for the writing of Canadian legal history. In 2007, his significant contributions to the legal profession were recognized with Osgoode Hall Law School’s Award of Excellence (The Robinette Medal) and the President of the Canadian Bar Association’s Award of Merit. He also received an honorary degree from York University in 1991. On Jan. 24, 2008, he was invested in the Order of Ontario.

McMurtry is married to Ria Jean Macrae, with whom he has six children.

The Order of Canada, which was awarded for the first time during Canada’s centennial year in 1967, recognizes the dedication of Canadians in all sectors of society whose contributions have made a difference to their country.

To read more about York’s chancellor, see the Summer 2008 issue of YorkU magazine.