Peter Morris was the founding curator of the Canadian Film Archives

Professor Emeritus Peter Morris, a pioneer of film studies, died peacefully at his home on Wednesday, Feb. 2 after a brief battle with cancer.

As author and professor, Prof. Morris will be remembered for his commitment to the development of film studies in Canada. He joined York University in 1988 as a professor of film studies in the Department of Film. He taught at York University until his retirement in 2002. During his time at the University, Prof. Morris served as the director of the Graduate Program in Film from 1991 to 1994 and was chair of the Department of Film from 1993 to 1996. He served as the coordinator of the Fine Arts Cultural Studies Program from 1999 to 2003. Prof. Morris also taught in the Graduate Program in Communications & Culture. Prior to joining York, Prof. Morris taught for 12 years in the Department of Film Studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

Left: Peter Morris

His colleagues describe him as being a passionate and dedicated teacher and committed to advancing Canadian film. “In 1967, the warehouse containing the original prints of Canada’s historic films burned down. Peter was hired by the National Archives to rebuild that collection,” recalls York film Professor Seth Feldman, a close friend of Prof. Morris. “In the process, he not only put together a better collection – that was properly catalogued and accessible – but he also convinced the National Archives that its film collection was as important as any of the other collections it had.  

“Peter was a thoughtful, humane, pragmatic and innovative administrator. He was the unanimous choice to be the founding president of the Film Studies Association of Canada. At York, after he served a term as chair of the Department of Film, he was persuaded to stay on as acting chair for another year, then another, and then the year after that,” said Feldman. “When the department was too embarrassed to ask for another year as acting chair, he took a sabbatical and then came back to be coordinator of the Faculty of Fine Arts’ Fine Arts Cultural Studies Program. He built that small entity into a  virtual department.”

In addition to his teaching and administrative prowess, Prof. Morris was also a prolific author. Among his many publications are the books Embattled Shadows: A History of Canadian Cinema 1885-1939 (1978, reprinted in 1992), The Film Companion (1984) and David Cronenberg: A Delicate Balance (1994). Prof. Morris served as the editor and translator of Georges Sadoul’s 1972 Dictionary of Films and Dictionary of Film Makers. He was also the author of numerous articles and monographs on Canadian and international films.

From 1989 to 1993, Prof. Morris served as editor of the Canadian Journal of Film Studies, a publication of the Film Studies Association of Canada and the country’s leading academic peer-reviewed journal. The journal was based in York’s Department of Film Studies during his tenure as editor.

Prof. Morris was the founding curator of the Canadian Film Archives in Ottawa and the founding president of the Film Studies Association of Canada (a division of the Canadian Film Institute).

Prof. Morris leaves his wife Louise Dompierre, three children and six grandchildren. A memorial reception for family, friends and colleagues will be held at the Hamilton Club, 6 Main St. E., Hamilton, Ontario on Saturday, Feb. 12 from 2 to 5pm. Online condolences may be made through the Marlatt Funeral Home in Dundas, Ontario.