Remembering Dr. John Stager

Born in Preston, Ontario, in 1928, John Stager was a quintessential geographer. His Ph.D. Thesis, under the direction of Wreford Watson at Edinburgh, was a classical historical geography of the Mackenzie River Valley (1750-1850). His main findings were published as chapters in influential books. At the same time he engaged in fundamental permafrost research which he published in refereed journals like Biuletyn Periglacalny, The Canadian Geographer and Geographical Bulletin. His understanding of the physical and historical aspects of the Canadian North produced some highly influential and lengthy Technical Reports on the implications of resource development in the Canadian Arctic (Stager and Denike, 1972; Stager, 1974; Stager, 1977; Stager and McSkimming, 1978; Stager et al., 1981; Stager, 1982a; 1982b). John’s expertise was greatly sought after for his understanding of the local Northern experience but also because of his unusual ability to synthesize disparate pieces of information and elegant writing style. His little book Canada North: Journey to the High Arctic, co-authored with Harry Swain, under the auspices of the 27th International Geographical Congress in 1992, is a gem. In its 66 page “Introduction to the Region” all the key elements of the challenges still facing Canada’s North are expertly summarized.

First appointed at UBC in 1957, he supervised a superb PhD Thesis (Peter Usher, 1970); a second PhD thesis was co-supervised with Peter Suedfeld (Jane Mocellin, 1988) and there were several outstanding Masters’ theses (McSkimming, 1975; McDonnell, 1983; Butler, 1985; Murphy, 1986; and Goehring, 1990). Peter Usher went on to become one of Canada’s leading interpreters of, and advocates for, Aboriginal land claims in the Canadian Arctic, as demonstrated by his Wiley Lecture to the Canadian Association of Geographers, “Environment, race and nation reconsidered: reflections on Aboriginal land claims in Canada” (Usher, 2003). John Stager was also an inspirational undergraduate teacher. His teaching of the Introductory Physical Geography course (Geography 101) for 27 consecutive years was one of the foundation stones in the Geography Department’s reputation as a strong teaching department. He also taught an upper level Geography of the Canadian Arctic course for 23 consecutive years with passion.

John Stager will be most remembered and admired among a large circle of UBC friends and colleagues as a consummate university administrator. Six years as Assistant Dean in the Faculty of Graduate Studies (1969-75), followed by fifteen years as Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts (1975-90), overlapping with a period as Director of Ceremonies (1984-89) were all acknowledged by the respective senior administrators as exceptionally successful. His spontaneous humour and slight irreverence kept committee meetings free of grandstanding, and enabled him to sparkle as Director of Ceremonies. He played key roles on many significant university committees, including two Presidential searches and 18 years as a Member of Senate. Not surprisingly, he was a recipient of the President’s Service Award for Excellence. John also played creative roles in the evolution of structures governing Northern research in Canada. John was a major presence on many national committees committed to funding Northern Research. He was Founding President of the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies (ACUNS) in 1977, which remains active today as a coordinating and lobby group for northern scholarship and issues at academic institutions across the country. He was Chair of the Advisory Committee on Northern Research for DIAND for over a decade. He also served on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Polar Commission from 1991-94. In 1992, John was elected a Fellow of the Arctic Institute of North America.

The UBC Association of Professors Emeriti looked to John as the person who knew more colleagues on campus than anyone else and relied on him to inform them of obits to be published in the Association’s Newsletter. In his last year of life, he was honoured by the College and Universities Retirees’ Association of Canada with its most prestigious award. John was an exceptional colleague. He was gifted with a wicked sense of humour that often dispelled emergent controversies, whether in the Department, in the Faculties of Graduate Studies and Arts or in the Office of the Director of Ceremonies. He will be greatly missed.