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History of the Canadian Rhodes Scholars Foundation

Roland Michener, Governor General of Canada, 1967-1974

Roland Michener, one of the five founding directors of the Canadian Rhodes Scholars Foundation along with the writer of the history below, Michael E. Howarth. Roland Michener was also Governor General of Canada, 1967-1974 and General Secretary for the Rhodes Foundation in Canada between 1936 and 1964.

The Canadian Rhodes Scholars Foundation Scholarships

A review of the first 37 years 1957-93


Customarily, when historical reviews of institutions are commissioned, the titles have a nice, round ring, such as "25 Years", "44 Years", "50th Anniversary". Nevertheless, it does seem appropriate that this review of the Foundation Scholarships be undertaken while I still have easy access to the records and while my memory of the earlier stages is still fresh. Members of the Canadian Association of Rhodes Scholars have been kept abreast of the scholarship program by regular reports; in the Newsletter, at Biennial Reunions, and by the literature accompanying the various campaign mailings. This review, however, will attempt to bring together the salient features of the story, from its tentative beginnings to the impressive developments of recent years.

The Founders

The primary and vital role played by Nova Scotian Rhodes Scholar Ralph Henson has been frequently described. In 1956, he informed the Association that he had long planned to finance a year of post-graduate study for an Oxford student at a Canadian university, - in recognition and reciprocal acknowledgement of his Rhodes Scholarship. To some, this generous gesture might seem to have been commendable, but not, perhaps, necessarily remarkable. To the best of my knowledge, however, Henson was the first and only Rhodes Scholar, of some 3,000 who had been appointed by that date, to have experienced such a sense of gratitude and privilege that he felt impelled to do something tangible in return, even to the extent of taking personal and, if necessary, independent action.

From the Association's standpoint, Henson's timing could hardly have been better. Established some five years earlier in Montreal and dedicated to the support and encouragement of the Rhodes Scholarships, the Canadian Association had yet to identify and sponsor a worthwhile project which might stimulate interest and, perhaps, serve to coalesce the membership. Henson's offer to underwrite such a scholarship, under its aegis, provided the needed kick-start and, as the pundits invariably say, the rest is history.

Henson's inspiration and generosity would not however, have produced anything more than an intriguing one-shot event, without the enthusiastic and imaginative involvement of two men who became the key players in the conversion of an admittedly attractive concept into an effective and enduring reality. Before a scholarship program could hope to get off the ground two essential requisites had to be explored and confirmed. Since the proposed Scholars were to be sought, scrutinized and selected in Oxford, it was necessary to ensure that the Rhodes Trust and Rhodes House were onside. The idea was broached to Lord Elton, then Secretary of the Trust, by Association President.

J R Stewart, who had personally undertaken to spearhead the project. Elton's immediate response was both favourable and enthusiastic, but this still left a matter of extreme importance to be resolved on the home turf.

This second key requisite for a scholarship program, to be financed by contributions from Canadian Rhodes Scholars, was tax-deductibility; a matter much easier envisaged than sanctioned. The first step was to incorporate the Canadian Rhodes Scholars Foundation. The founding Directors were Stewart, Henson, Roly Michener, Ian Wahn and myself, with Stewart and I becoming, respectively, President and Secretary-Treasurer, offices, which we currently held in the Association.

Letters Patent were sought and granted in May 1957, which cleared the way for the next hurdle-an approach to Revenue Canada for recognition as a "Charitable Organization", with the consequent authority to issue tax-deductible receipts. Perhaps Stewart, who knew his way around Ottawa, had some qualms about the readiness of Revenue bureaucrats to approve an organization which baldly stated that its purpose was to provide benefits to "foreign" students, and this may account for the rather general objectives outlined in our application for Letters Patent. Under the heading "Purposes and Objects", it reads: "to promote the advancement of higher education in Canada and (rather surprisingly) to relieve poverty among alumni of universities, their spouses and their dependents in Canada and to receive contributions without any public appeal".

In any event, our application was approved and the two vital elements were now in place. By autumn of 1957, our first Foundation Scholar, Joseph Youll of Worcester, was enrolled in the School of Business Administration at Western; and our first quadrennial campaign (for $10,000) was launched with considerable trepidation. Elton personally arranged for the first two appointments and, following the Trust's decision to combine the offices of Secretary and Warden, his pioneering work has been enthusiastically and effectively carried forward by successive Wardens Bill Williams, Robin Fletcher and, at present, Tony Kenny. To date 55 foundation Scholars have been appointed. To the extent that they value this experience, and there is strong evidence to suggest that they do, they have been beneficiaries, not only of Ralph Henson's initial inspiration, but also of the imagination and dedication of Jack Stewart and Godfrey Elton, who combined to provide the essential Boswell to Henson's Johnson.

Financing the Scholarship

In order to provide stability for the proposed scholarship program, it was decided at the outset to campaign only at four-year intervals. This had an added advantage in that it substantially reduced campaigning costs and the attendant administrative burden, which would, inevitably, fall on just a few voluntary shoulders. This has proven to be effective and acceptable. Some 95% of our contributions come from pledges, or from donors who because, as he put it, "Yours is the only group I have known, who, having themselves enjoyed an award, have felt disposed to do something in return".

On a more prosaic level the Foundation has never incurred an expense for office space, furniture, telephone or staff; and its Directors have always absorbed out-of-pocket expenses for long-distance calls and travel. In the economic jargon of the Keynesian era one often heard reference to the "multiplier effect". It would now appear to have gone out of fashion, but something akin to it seems to have been at work for the Foundation.

Recognition in Oxford

In 1957, the announcement of a scholarship to Canada fell somewhat short of causing an overnight sensation in Oxford. Lack of awareness certainly affected the size, and at times, the quality, of the field in the early years and there were occasions, in the 1960s and 1970s, when no appointment was recommended. Since 1976, however, there have been one or more appointments every year. Foundation Scholars have come from 23 Colleges. Brasenose and University lead, with six each, but Lady Margaret Hall is coming up fast on the outside, having gained three of the last four awards, sending us Firsts in Modem History, Jurisprudence and English. During the past two years, there have been as many as 20-odd applicants and, as frequently occurs with Canadian Selection Committees, our Oxford representatives have, on occasion, regretted being unable to make more than two recommendations.

Given their solid academic results (four Firsts and one High Second 1991/r92) and the enthusiastic support of their College sponsors, our Scholars have never experienced difficulty in gaining acceptance by their chosen Canadian universities. Toronto has been the most popular choice with 18, followed by UBC with 11, then McGill and Queen's with five each. The balance of 13 has been dispersed among seven universities extending from Memorial to Simon Fraser. At present, in addition to the four stipendiary Scholars, five recent Scholars are proceeding to doctorates here under other auspices, such as a NATO Research Council Award and a University of Alberta PhD scholarship. Most of our Scholars stay the full two years, but one 1991 appointee returned to Oxford after one year, to take up a British Academy Fellowship. The proportion of female applicants, while relatively low at first, has grown in recent years and, since 1986, they have accounted for one-third of the awards.

The Scholars

Someone once said that selecting Rhodes Scholars was tantamount to handicapping a horse race which would not be run for another 20 years! The same challenge has been faced by our Oxford committee, hut, as a confirmed, but hardly disinterested, "Scholar Watcher" over a span of nearly four decades, I am prepared to venture some general observations. Apart from a remarkable proclivity, among the men at least, to write indecipherable letters, my most lasting impression has been of their outgoing personalities. Over and above their academic performance these soft-spoken extroverts have been active

Officers and Directors

Throughout its history, the Foundation has benefitted immeasurably from the dedication of those who have served on its Board of Directors. The vital contribution of such stalwarts as Ralph Henson, Jack Stewart and Ian Wahn has been described in some detail, but the story would be incomplete without special mention of two, who provided most valuable leadership and continuity. Roly Michener, a founding Director served for 26 years, giving valued guidance throughout this period. Ian Macdonald, who is now in his 21st year on the Board, completed six years as President in 1992. Ordinarily, presidents of charitable organizations lend their prestige and support, but are rarely expected to participate in ongoing day-to-day affairs. Not so with the Foundation, where hands-on involvement is the rule. During Ian Macdonald's tenure the demands on the President increased substantially as a result of the expansion of the Scholarship program, following receipt of the Henson Bequest and the attendant responsibility of directing a much enlarged financial operation. He served as chairman of the 1989 campaign and also spearheaded efforts designed to increase contact between Foundation Scholars and Rhodes contributors, both present and potential. Towards this end, a variety of social functions, generously hosted by local Rhodes Scholars, were held in St John's, I Halifax, Montreal, Kingston, Ottawa, London, Winnipeg and Vancouver; and a major dinner, with special guests including Ralph Henson's daughter and six Foundation Scholars, took place in Toronto at St Michael's College during the autumn of 1989.

That Extra Dimension

No account of the experiences of Rhodes Scholars in Oxford would be complete without acknowledging the warm friendship and gracious hospitality, extended so freely to them, by successive chatelaines of Rhodes House. Whether our particular memory is for someone named Wylie, Allen, Williams, Fletcher or Kenny, the impression of kindness and friendly concern runs through it as a common thread. It constituted a personal dimension, which neither Rhodes' largesse nor the best efforts of his dedicated Trustees and Officers could ever have hoped to provide.

It is good to be able to report that, within the constraints imposed by geography, this pleasant tradition has been maintained in Canada. Throughout my stewardship I have enjoyed the wholehearted encouragement and dedicated participation of my wife, Joy. Her secretarial skills and her encyclopedic familiarity with the Rhodes community have been invaluable and have greatly facilitated administration of the Scholarship program. In addition, she has welcomed a number of Foundation Scholars to our home and maintained friendly contact with them, both during and after their stay, thus providing something of that personal touch so special to our own Oxford experience.


It is gratifying to realize that there are now more than 200 Canadian Rhodes Scholars sharing that "justified pride", in a project which I have always regarded as a logical expansion of the Rhodes ideal. I hope that recent and upcoming generations of Rhodes Scholars, both men and women, will become similarly motivated. Should this transpire, something which began, simply, as a token or gesture of appreciation, but has now matured into a respected international institution, will continue to serve and flourish.

E Michael Howarth (Ontario & Queen's 1949)
May, 1993

Fifty Years & Counting !!

Directors attending the recent annual meeting of the Canadian Rhodes Scholars Foundation were pleasantly surprised to learn that 2006 marked the fiftieth anniversary of our scholarship program. This milestone was recorded without undue fanfare, but those present felt that this enterprise, sponsored at its origins by the Association of Canadian Rhodes Scholars, had fully justified the inspiration and hopes of its inaugurators. Incidentally, the scholarships are the only activity engaged in by the Association, which has any impact beyond the boundaries of the Rhodes Scholar community.

Since its inception at the 1957 biennial in Ottawa, when then Association president, the late John L. Stewart (Ontario and New College ’32) first broached the concept of an annual reciprocal scholarship to a Canadian university, 78 awards have been made. Beginning in 1977, in harmony with the extension of the Rhodes, women have been eligible and successful on 23 occasions.

A word about the Foundation’s finances. Association members will perhaps be surprised to learn that the Foundation has never sought, nor received, any subsidy from the Association. From the outset, it has paid its own way. Officers and Directors serve without remuneration, personally absorbing travelling and other expenses incurred on behalf of the Foundation. No outlay has ever been made for staff, office rental or furnishings. As a result of several generous bequests, an investment portfolio, valued at $1,124,000 on June 30 2006, has been built up. The annual income from this (currently $30,000) finances one of the scholarships and covers such modest administrative expenses as audit and investment management fees, postage, etc. As a result every dollar contributed, in its entirety, helps to finance a scholarship! My inquiries confirm that few, if any, charitable organizations could make a similar claim.

Scholarship winners represent a wide range of colleges, with BNC, Univ, and Balliol leading the way with five each, followed closely at four each by LMH and St. Cat’s. Toronto has played host to twenty-three Oxonians, followed by UBC (fourteen), McGill (eleven) and Queen’s (nine). Unlike Canadian and American Rhodes Scholars, relatively few Foundation scholars have sought a niche in the groves of academe. Geology, geography, economics and medicine, in that order, have been the most popular disciplines. One offshoot of the program, not foreseen and certainly not intended, has been the predilection of a surprisingly large number of winners for permanent residence in Canada. If thought about at all, it was probably assumed that they, like their Canadian Rhodes counterparts, would return home on completion of their studies. This has not been the case. Of seventy who have gone down, after obtaining a Canadian degree, eighteen (roughly 25%) have chosen to pursue their careers and establish their homes in Canada. The comparable figure for Canadian Rhodes remaining in, or returning to, the UK, is of the order of 2%, predominantly composed of academics, four of whom, currently, have posts in Oxford.

On a more personal note, it has been my enjoyable experience to get to know most of these “new Canadians” over the years. Perhaps, therefore, I can be forgiven a smidgen of guilty satisfaction ­ satisfaction that young people of such calibre, privilege and promise, have, despite many interesting options open to them, decided to vote for Canada with their feet.

In his forward to a 1985 register of Foundation scholars, the late Francis Leddy (Saskatchewan and Exeter, ’33) wrote:

"We feel much satisfaction that the original inspiration has prospered over the years and justified pride that Canada, alone among the Rhodes constituencies, provides such reciprocal scholarships, in grateful recognition of our own large debt to Oxford."

Judging by the generous response to the recent campaign and the encouraging increase in the number of younger contributors, Leddy’s comments still resonate. Hopefully, our unique scholarship program, which I have always regarded as a logical extension of the Rhodes ideal, will continue to flourish, as it embarks on its second half-century.

September, 2006

Michael Howarth (Ontario and Queen’s, 1949)
Founding Director and Secretary-Treasurer, 1957-1993, Chairman, Investment Committee

Foundation's archives

In addition to the history of CRSF presented above, Library and Archives Canada holds a collection of archived CRSF newsletters, minutes and correspondence.