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In Memoriam: The Honorable R. Roy McMurtry (1932-2024)

Mar. 27 2024

The Honorable R. Roy McMurtry was the former chief justice of Ontario (1996-2007) and Canadian high commissioner to the United Kingdom (1985-1988). He was awarded the Order of Ontario, the province's highest honour, in 2008, and named an Officer of the Order of Canada. 

Sadly, Roy passed away on March 21, 2024, at the age of 91.  

Roy McMurtry has a long history with United for Literacy (formerly Frontier College). 

In what he described as one of his most important life experiences, Roy worked as a Labourer-Teacher for two summers in the 1950s in British Columbia: 1952 (Sioux Lookout, ON) and 1953 (Red Path Junction, BC). In 2007, he said, “One of my most important early learning experiences was the summers that I spent as a Labourer-Teacher with Frontier College. Dr. Edmund Bradwin was the principal of Frontier College for fifty years, a true Lincolnesque figure who inspired me to believe that working as a Labourer-Teacher with new immigrants ten hours a day, six days a week and teaching them at night was a special privilege. I remember that he would say to prospective Labourer-Teachers that ‘all we can offer you is hard work, low pay, bad food, black flies and a chance to help your fellow man.’ My experience mustered in me a great respect for the multitude of Canadian citizens who have made the often-courageous choice to choose Canada as their home.”  

Roy remained connected with the organization and joined the Frontier College Foundation board. Later, he was named a life member of Frontier College and honorary board member in 1990. He was also a landscape painter, originally taught by A.J. Casson, and donated a piece to Frontier College, which is displayed prominently in its national headquarters in Toronto. 

A painting of a landscape

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Early on, Roy became interested in public service and believed that “the justice system belonged to everyone and that it must listen to and reflect all sectors of society.” In 2012, Roy delivered a keynote address on literacy and educational opportunities for youth involved in the criminal justice system at a conference in Toronto hosted by Frontier College.  

Anne Parker, current chair of the United for Literacy Board of Directors, and a friend of Roy’s family remarks: 

"Roy often spoke of how greatly his experience working as a Labourer-Teacher with Frontier College informed his world view. Living and working side by side with learners of vastly different backgrounds gave him a glimpse into the experiences, challenges, and resolve of others. He was both a teacher and a learner, which contributed to his remarkable achievements throughout his life." 

“Roy McMurtry was a great man and leader. We are grateful for his involvement as a Labourer-Teacher, and his generous support over the years since. His remarkable dedication to United for Literacy is an inspiration. We send our heartfelt condolences to his family,” said Mélanie Valcin, president and CEO, United for Literacy. 

Man with white hair sits in front of a series of photographs
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