Passings: Professor Emeritus David Lumsden


Professor Emeritus David Paul Lumsden died suddenly on May 27.  A highly respected scholar, educator, teacher and mentor, Prof. Lumsden earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Toronto and his PhD from the University of Cambridge. He was a long-serving professor of anthropology at York University, the former Master of Bethune College, the past-president of the Toronto Chongqing Association and a Chair and member of countless boards and associations.

David Paul Lumsden
David Lumsden

He was a recipient of the Governor General of Canada Medallion along with the highly prestigious Government of China Chinese Friendship Award. During his later years, Prof. Lumsden served as the president of the residents’ council of Weston Terrace.

A prolific scholar, Prof. Lumsden’s positive impact upon lives all over the world has truly been significant. A medical anthropologist, Prof. Lumsden was interested in mental health issues in cross-cultural perspective; psychiatry as a profession, its nature, history, “travelling theory” and its impact in Canada, China and elsewhere. He was also interested in the reliability and cultural validity of diagnostic classifications of mental disorders; stress and coping; refugee mental health issues in Canada, Sierra Leone and elsewhere; the experience and consequences of exile; collective trauma, repair, and forgiveness; child soldiers and their rehabilitation; public health in China and West Africa; dementias and eldercare issues; and disability studies.

Professor Emerita Penny Van Esterik remembered Prof. Lumsden’s prodigious memory as well as his passionate commitment to his field: “David’s commitment to anthropology as a discipline went beyond the students at York; he truly believed in the power of anthropology to improve the human condition.”

In terms of International Development Studies, he was particularly concerned with the human, environmental, and human rights consequences of large dam and resettlement projects. He was also interested in Social Theory, with a special focus since the Second World, (e.g. Arendt and Heidegger, Foucault), and in Anthropology and Post-Colonial Theory.

He carried out various periods of research in Canada, China, Ghana, Sierra Leone and the United States.  He was also active in community outreach: with a national committee of the Canadian Mental Health Association. He served as the vice-president of the Black Creek Community Health Centre serving; as a board member of the body regulating all of the profession of Psychology in Ontario; and as an advisory committee member for the Confederation of Metro Toronto Chinese-Canadian Organizations; and as the past-president of The Toronto-Chongqing (Sister City) Association.

Former student David Adler (BA ’89) remembered Prof. Lumsden’s important role as master of Bethune College. “As a freshman, I needed a place to belong at York, and for me, David Lumsden was that place,” recalled Adler. “Being master of Norman Bethune College was a role he treasured. He could be infuriating, or wildly funny, and I don’t think I would have stuck around Bethune if it weren’t for him.”

In addition to his role as a mentor to many, Prof. Lumsden was the author of various articles, a monograph on the health and policy implications of dam projects in “developing” countries, as well as editor of a book on Community Mental Health Action.

A private service has taken place.

In recognition of his long and dedicated service to York University, the David Lumsden Graduate Student Research Fund was established in his honour. The fund will support graduate student research in the Dept of Anthropology. To learn more, visit