Passings: Professor Emeritus Don Coles remembered as celebrated writer, educator

Long-serving York University faculty member Professor Emeritus Donald L. Coles died on Nov. 29 with his family by his side.

Coles was a celebrated poet, novelist and teacher.

Donald Coles

He was born in Woodstock, Ont., as the second of four children of Alice and Jack Coles. He is survived by his wife Heidi, daughter Sarah and son Luke, and was grandfather to Sawyer. He was predeceased by his sister Mary Alice and will be missed by his sister Carolyn in Ottawa and his brother John in England and their extended families scattered throughout Canada and Europe, as well as by his in-law family in Germany.

Coles studied history at the University of Toronto, where he earned both a BA and MA, later went on to study literature at Cambridge University, where he completed his second MA. He continued to live in Europe for 10 years before returning to Canada in 1965.

At that time, he took a faculty position at York University and served as a professor in humanities and creative writing. He was the director of the Creative Writing Program at York, and stayed with the University for 30 years.

He also spent 10 years teaching at the Banff Centre for the Arts, where he was the senior poetry editor.

He was particularly proud to have co-founded Ontario’s first concurrent teacher education program.

Coles published 14 books of poetry, a novel and memoirs, and was awarded the Governor General’s Award in 1993 for Forests of the Medieval World and the Trillium Award in 2000 for Kurgan.

There will be a celebration of life on Sunday, Dec. 17 at 1pm at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery’s Visitation Centre. Donations to Coles’ charity of choice, Amnesty International, are welcome. Further details, when available, will be posted on