Passings: Professor Emeritus William D. Irvine


After a battle with cancer, York University Professor Emeritus William D. Irvine passed away on May 14. He died surrounded by his family.

Prof. Irvine was born in 1944 in British Columbia where he was raised by his parents, Mary and William Irvine. He earned his BA (Honours) in 1965 at the University of British Columbia, and then attended Princeton University on a full scholarship, where he obtained his PhD in 1971.

A photo of Professor Emeritus William D. Irvine
William D. Irvine

Prof. Irvine had a lengthy career at York University, beginning in 1971 with his first position teaching history at the Glendon Campus. He soon moved to the Keele Campus, where he taught until his retirement in 2011.

He spent his 40 years at York University teaching at the graduate and undergraduate levels, with a focus on modern French history but often expanding his teaching to the subject of Italian history. Hundreds of students each year benefited from the Modern World History course that he directed and taught.

Prof. Irvine focused his research on topics of French conservatism and the French Right. He is noted for his many professional contributions while at York, where he became an important historian of politics in the Third Republic, publishing three monographs: French Conservatism in Crisis: The Republican Federation of France in the 1930s (Louisiana State University Press, 1979); The Boulanger Affair Reconsidered: The Origins of the Radical Right in France (Oxford University Press, 1989); and Entitled Between Justice and Politics: The Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, 1898-1945 (Stanford University Press).

He also authored influential articles and book chapters that showcased the breadth of his interests and covered such topics as women’s suffrage, the Croix de Feu, and domestic politics and France’s “strange defeat” in 1940.

Remembered as an engaging educator, his students enjoyed his sense of humour and his easy-going nature in the lecture hall.

In other roles, he was a co-founder of and constant presence at the French History Seminar Series co-hosted by the University of Toronto and York University, whose meetings were at the French Consulate, the Alliance Française and the University of Toronto.

“I first met Bill when I was a grad student – we were both members of the joint York-UofT French History seminar (a group that he helped to build). Bill encouraged me to apply at York, was my first and kindest mentor when I started, and when I told him I was nervous to send my book off to the press, he read the entire thing that very same weekend and emboldened me to ship it out,” recalls Deborah Neill, an associate professor in York’s Department of History. “My experience of Bill’s kindness is, of course, just one example of the collegiality and support he has shown to so many others – in our department, at Glendon, across the broader community, amongst his many former grad students and in the scholarly community at large, particularly in French and European history where his work is so influential. I will so miss his great jokes and listening to his keen observations and wisdom on life and history.”

Outside of the lecture hall, Prof. Irvine enjoyed the outdoors and had many adventures canoeing, hiking and fishing, including expeditions on the Dumoine River in Quebec, in the mountains around Cody, Wyoming (including Rampart Pass), and on the West Coast Trail in British Columbia for his 65th birthday. He was a fitness enthusiast, a world traveller and an accomplished chef.

Prof. Irvine is survived by his wife, Marion; his sons, Carl and Benjamin; daughters-in-law, Sara and Alinah; grandchildren, Harrison and Elliott; siblings, Sandra (Justus) and Fred (Shirley); and many in-laws, nieces and nephews.

Due to the current COVID-19-related restrictions, a celebration of his life will be held at a later time. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the YMCA of Greater Toronto Area or the Princess Margaret Hospital Prostate Program Fund.

Written with notes from former graduate students and colleagues Valerie Deacon, Sean Kennedy, Eric Jennings, Geoff Read, Albain Villéger-Bargain and Steve Zdatny