Chronological list of presidents of the University of Saskatchewan.

Walter Murray sitting at his desk.
Walter Murray in his office, ca. 1937 (University Archives photograph, A-5537)

(On leave from 1919-1920, acting president: George H. Ling)

Walter Charles Murray was born 12 May 1866 in Studholm parish, King's county, New Brunswick. He started his academic career at the University of New Brunswick, receiving a B.A. in 1886. After earning a grammar school license at the provincial Normal School, Murray went to University of Edinburgh as the Canadian Gilchrist scholar, and received an M.A. in philosophy in 1891. After a brief period of study in Berlin, Murray returned to the University of New Brunswick as a Professor of Philosophy and Economics. From 1892 to 1908, he was Munro Professor of Philosophy and lecturer in Education at Dalhousie University. During this time Murray married Christine Cameron, who he had known since grade school; they subsequently had three daughters. In 1908 he was appointed the University of Saskatchewan's first President, a position he held until his retirement in 1937. In conjunction with his duties at the University of Saskatchewan, Murray served on a number of commissions, boards and councils. Upon his retirement he was named President Emeritus and remained active in the local community until his death in March 1945.

Walter Murray fonds

President's Office fonds: Walter C. Murray

Walter Murray: The Lengthened Shadow

James S. Thomson (University Archives photograph, A-3237)

(On leave 1942-1943, acting president: Walter P. Thompson)

James Sutherland Thomson was born in Stirling, Scotland. He was educated in philosophy at the University of Glasgow, studied theology at Trinity College, Glasgow, and was ordained in 1920. He came to Canada in 1930 as a professor of systematic theology and philosophy of religion at Pine Hill Divinity Hall, a United Church theological college in Halifax. He was appointed as the second President of the University of Saskatchewan in 1937. He served until 1949, taking a leave of absence in 1942-43 to become general manager of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (described by Acting President W.P. Thompson as Thomson's "call-up for war service"). In 1949 he became McGill University's first Dean of the Faculty of Divinity and Professor of Religious Studies. He was moderator of the United Church of Canada from 1956 to 1958. He retired as Dean in 1957, and died in Montreal in 1972 at the age of 80.

Walter P. Thompson (University Archives photograph, A-3259)

Walter Palmer Thompson was born near DeCewsville, Ontario, 3 April 1889. He graduated from the University of Toronto with a BA (1910), and from Harvard with a AM (1912) and PhD (1914). Thompson came to the University of Saskatchewan as Professor and Head of the Biology Department in 1913. He served in a variety of administrative positions: Dean of Junior Colleges (1934); Dean of Arts and Science (1938); Acting President (1942); Director of Summer School (1948); and President of the University (1949). Dr. Thompson retired in 1959. During his academic career, Thompson gained international recognition for his work as a geneticist; particularly for the development of rust resistant wheat hybrids. Upon his retirement as President, Thompson was appointed Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Medical Care. The recommendations of this committee were an important foundation for the provincial Medicare system. Thompson was awarded the Order of Canada and received honourary degrees from several universities. He moved to Toronto in 1969, where he died in 1970.

W.P. Thompson fonds

J.W.T. Spinks, ca. 1960 (University Archives photograph, A-8516)

John William Tranter Spinks was born in Methwold, England 1 January 1908. He attended the King's College at the University of London, recieving both a BSc (1928) and PhD (1930) in Chemistry. Spinks joined the University of Saskatchewan in 1930 as Assistant Professor. He spent the 1933-34 academic year at the University of Darmstart, Germany, where he first met Dr. Gerhard Herzberg. Spinks was promoted to Professor (1938); named Head of the Department of Chemistry (1948); Dean of Graduate Studies (1949); and became the fourth President of the University (1959). Spinks led the university through its most active period of development. He retired from the presidency in 1974 but continued to pursue his academic interests. Spinks published more than 260 scientific papers and larger works including a study for the Massey Commission, a translation of Atomic Spectra and Molecular Spectra, An Introduction to Radiation Chemistry, and an autobiography, Two Blades of Grass. His many honours included a MBE (1943), LL.D (Carleton University, 1958), D.Sc. (Assumption University, 1961), Companion of the Order of Canada (1970), and a LL.D. from the University of Saskatchewan. He died in Saskatoon in 1997.

J.W.T. Spinks fonds

Robert W. Begg in his office, March 1975 (University Archives photograph, A-4807)

R.W. Begg was acting president from 1974-1975.

Robert William Begg was born on 27 December 1914 in Florenceville, New Brunswick and received his early education in the Maritimes, earning a B.Sc. from King's College, Halifax (1936) and both a MSc. (1938) and MD. (1942) from Dalhousie University. After wartime service in North America and Europe with the Canadian Army Medical Corps, Dr. Begg attended Oxford University and earned a Ph.D. In 1946 he returned to Dalhousie and took posts first in Biochemistry and then in Medical Research. He was at the University of Western Ontario from 1950 until 1957, when he came to Saskatoon as head of the Saskatchewan Research Unit of the National Cancer Institute of Canada, head of the cancer research department at the U of S and lecturer in Pathology. He was appointed Dean of the College of Medicine in 1962 and Principal of the Saskatoon Campus in 1967. In 1975 Begg was appointed the university's fifth President, a post he held until 1980. During his long career Dr. Begg received many honours, including Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, honourary physician to the Queen, several honourary degrees and the Order of Canada. He also had a long career in the Canadian militia beginning in 1929 when he enlisted in the Prince Edward Island Highlanders. He eventually rose to the rank of full Colonel. During World War Two, he served in a parachute regiment. In 1961, he was appointed Deputy Assistant Director of Medical Services (militia) Saskatchewan Area and in 1963 he became Commander, 21 Militia Group. Dr. Begg died in Saskatoon on 2 March 1982 after a lengthy illness.

R.W. Begg fonds

Principals Office fonds: R.W. Begg

Leo F. Krisjanson, 1987 (University Archives photograph, A-10466)

Leo Friman Kristjanson was born on 28 February 1932 in Gimli, Manitoba. He received a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Manitoba, and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. His research as an agricultural economist focussed on co-operatives, the economics of rural development, and population trends. He came to the University of Saskatchewan in 1959 as a research economist with the Centre for Community Studies, a position he held until 1964. He became a sessional lecturer in 1960, was promoted to Associate Professor of Economics in 1965, Head of the Department of Economics and Political Science in 1969, and Vice-President (Planning) in 1975. He was appointed the University's sixth President in 1980. He retired as President in 1989 due to health reasons, a year before the end of his second term. After retirement, he moved back to his hometown of Gimli, Manitoba, where he died on 21 August 2005.

B.A. Holmlund (University Archives photograph, A-11986)

Blaine Adrian Holmlund was born at his family’s home roughly 9 miles west of Strongfield, Saskatchewan, on 27 July 1930.  His career began at age 12, as a hired farm labourer.  He worked at the general store and as a mechanic at the local garage prior to joining the CPR as a relief station agent and telegraph operator.  One of his supervisors at the CPR strongly urged Blaine to consider University – not an option considered before by Blaine or one expected by his family.  Blaine entered engineering at the University of Saskatchewan and put himself through, earning his BE in 1955 and his MSc in 1961.  Following his graduation in 1955, Blaine worked as a development engineer for Shell; for Atomic Energy of Canada at Chalk River; and as a communications engineer for Sask Power.  He was briefly also a lecturer in electrical engineering at the University; and in 1958 returned, joining the faculty of the University of Saskatchewan where he remained for the rest of his career.  From 1958-1992 he served the University in a variety of capacities: as a professor of electrical engineering; of biomedical engineering; of computational science; of finance and quantitative methods.  He established, and served as first director of: the Biomedical Engineering Program; the Computational Science Department; the Hospital Systems Study Group; and the University Studies Group.  He was named VP (Special Projects) in 1980 and VP (Planning and Development) in 1985.  Blaine served as Acting University President in 1989.  He served on the Board of the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College from 1982-1993, and from November 1990-June 1991 was on secondment from the University to serve as Acting President of the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (now First Nations University of Canada). Blaine was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Saskatchewan in 1998.  Following his retirement Blaine volunteered for Saskatoon Habitat for Humanity, helping to initiate partnerships with employment programs and to establish the Re-Store. He died in Saskatoon on 17 June 2006.

B.A. Holmlund fonds

George Ivany, November 1989 (University Archives photograph, A-2883)

J.W. George Ivany was born in Grand Falls, Newfoundland. He has a B.Sc. in chemstry and physics and a diploma in education from Memorial University of Newfoundland; a M.A. in physics education from Teachers College, Columbia University; and a Ph.D. in secondary education from the University of Alberta. Dr. Ivany's field of expertise is science education. He was on the faculty of the Teacher's College, Columbia University, New York (1966-1974), including two years as head of the Department of Science Education. He was Dean of Education at Memorial University (1974-1977). He then joined the faculty and administration of Simon Fraser University as Dean of the Faculty of Education (1977-1984) and Academic Vice-President and Provost (1984-1989). He was appointed as the University of Saskatchewan's seventh President in November 1989, and served two terms, until 1999. Memorial University of Newfoundland awarded Dr. Ivany an honorary Doctor of Laws in 1990. The J.W. George Ivany Internationalization Award, to be presented annually, was established in 1998 to acknowledge Dr. Ivany's "commitment to internationalization and his leadership in fulfillment of that commitment".

Peter MacKinnon in his office, 2000 (photograph by David Mandeville; University Archives photograph, A-9113)

R. Peter MacKinnon was born in Prince Edward Island. He has a B.A. from Dalhousie University, a LL.B. from Queen's University, and a LL.M. from the University of Saskatchewan. He was appointed to the faculty of the University of Saskatchewan in 1975 as an Assistant Professor of Law, was promoted to Associate Professor in 1978 and Professor in 1983. He was Assistant Dean of Law from 1979 to 1981, and Dean of Law from 1988 to 1998. He also served as Acting Vice-President Academic during 1996-97. He was appointed as the University of Saskatchewan's eighth President in 1999, and served until 2012, three years into his third term. Named Queen's Counsel in 1990, he is a member of the bar in Ontario and Saskatchewan. He was Chair of the Association of University and Colleges of Canada from 2003 to 2005, and previously served as President of the Canadian Association of Law Teachers, as President of the Council of Canadian Law Deans, and on the executive of the Law Society of Saskatchewan. His academic work included teaching, primarily in criminal law and evidence; and the publication of about twenty-five articles and commentaries in law journals in Canada and abroad. He is also the co-editor of three books. He received the Award for Distinguished Service from the Canadian Bar Association (Saskatchewan Branch) in 2005, an honorary doctorate of laws from the University of Regina in 2006, and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2012.

Ilene Busch-Vishniac, ca. 2012

Ilene Busch-Vishniac began her post-secondary career studying piano at the Eastman School of Music while taking classes at the University of Rochester. She soon switched into physics and mathematics for her undergraduate degrees, which she earned in 1976. Ilene went on to earn Master of Science and PhD degrees in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Ilene’s research career has primarily focused on aspects of acoustics and on diversity issues as they relate to engineering education. She has received many teaching and research awards, including the Curtis McGraw Research Award of the American Society for Engineering Education and the Achievement Award of the Society of Women Engineers. In 1982 Ilene worked as an assistant professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department of the University of Texas in Austin, where she remained for the next 16 years, becoming both endowed chair, and then associate chair. In 1998, Ilene was appointed dean of the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University and in 2007 became provost of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. On July 1, 2012, upon finishing her term at McMaster, Ilene became ninth president and vice-chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan. Two years later, in May 2014, “in the wake of an ongoing reputational crisis related to recent decisions” which included the termination of the Executive Director of the School of Public Policy and the resignation of the Provost and Vice-President Academic, the Board of Governors announced the termination, without cause, of Dr. Busch-Vishniac’s appointment as President. It was reported at the time that the Board “feels strongly that the university’s ongoing operations and its reputational rebuilding efforts will be more effective with new leadership.”

Gordon Barnhert, 2000 (University Archives photograph, A-11072)

Gordon Leslie Barnhart was born in Saltcoats, Saskatchewan on January 22, 1945. He earned a BA in History from the University of Saskatchewan (Regina Campus) in 1967, a MA from the University of Regina in 1977 and Ph.D from the University of Saskatchewan in 1998. He briefly taught at North Battleford Collegiate Institute before accepting an appointment as Clerk of the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly. In 1989, he was appointed Clerk of the Senate. From 2000 to 2005, he served as University Secretary, University of Saskatchewan before retiring to teach political studies classes, specializing in Canadian politics, government and the Canadian Senate. In 2006, Dr. Barnhart replaced Lynda Haverstock as Lieutenant-Governor of Saskatchewan. In 2012, he returned to the U of S as an Adjunct Professor in the Department of History and on May 21, 2014, Barnhart was appointed interim President of the University of Saskatchewan.  He held the post until October 24, 2015. On June 24, 2014, Barnhart was named a Member of the Order of Canada. He went on to become the Mayor of Saltcoats and has served as the president of Municipalities of Saskatchewan (2017-2021).

Peter Stoicheff

Peter Stoicheff holds an undergraduate degree in English and history from Queen’s University (1978) and a PhD in literature from the University of Toronto (1983). He joined the University of Saskatchewan’s English department as a faculty member in 1986. From 2005-2010, he was vice-dean of humanities and fine arts in the College of Arts and Science, and served as dean of the College of Arts and Science from 2011 to 2015. The hallmark of his deanship was a focus on bringing together in a collaborative structure the sciences, social sciences, humanities and fine arts.

An active scholar throughout his career, he is highly regarded internationally for his work on modern literature, and his exploration of the history of the book and its future in a digital age. Peter has served in national and provincial leadership roles in research, scholarly and artistic work, including on the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) national committee and the SSHRC Doctoral Committee. He oversaw the creation of the U of S Digital Research Centre and the Interdisciplinary Centre for Culture and Creativity. He received the university’s Graduate Supervisor Award in 2002.

A classical guitarist and composer, Peter has produced two acoustic guitar CDs, Cantos I and Ethereal Steel.

Peter and his wife Kathryn Warden (who was the director of research profile and impact at the University of Saskatchewan before retiring) are long-time residents of Saskatoon and have two children, Alixandra and Christopher.