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F. Royal/W. Doucette/Library and Archives Canada/PA-128989

Escott Reid


“Escott Reid had striven so long with single minded intensity to bring into being the perfect North Atlantic Treaty. If the treaty was not perfect, nevertheless, we felt that night something of historical importance had been achieved.”

Lester Pearson
Prime Minister of Canada (1963-1968)


Escott Reid tried to build a middle ground between East and West. Having reached the office of Deputy Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs, Reid chose India as his next posting. In the early years of the Cold War, he believed Canada could play a vital role in building relations with the largest democracy in Asia and took up his work as Canada’s High Commissioner to India in 1952. Reid championed an approach based on economic aid through loans, rather than conditional grants, and technical assistance in developing a nuclear power station. Reid believed that aid could do more to draw India to the West than the formal military alliances sought by the United States. Though he arranged successful meetings between Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Reid could not overcome Canadian ambivalence toward India. Though not immediately successful, Reid’s impassioned and incisive reports to Ottawa planted a seed that flourished as Canadian aid to India grew over the 1960s.

Escott Reid (left) shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Shri Jawaharlal Nehru after signing the Agreement on the Canada- India Colombo Plan Atomic Reactor Project in April 1956. Escott Reid fonds/Library and Archives Canada/PA-212089.

Reid joined the Foreign Service on the eve of the Second World War and was immediately posted to Washington, where he established his reputation working in committees to draft the statutes that founded the United Nations and the North Atlantic Alliance. After the war, he was appointed Assistant, then Deputy, Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs. Following his time as High Commissioner to India, he was appointed Ambassador to West Germany, then worked as Director of the South-Asia and Middle East Department of the World Bank. The author of seven books on foreign policy, he was an ideal candidate to take up a position as the first principal of Glendon College at York University, which he hoped would become a bilingual college with a focus on public affairs.

Reid was born in Campbellford, Ontario in 1905. He studied political science at the University of Toronto before pursuing graduate studies as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford. Reid worked as the first full-time national secretary for the Canadian Institute of International Affairs before joining the Foreign Service. He was made a companion of the Order of Canada and received the Pearson Medal of Peace for his achievements as a diplomat.

Further Reading:

Reid, Escott. Radical Mandarin: The Memoirs of Escott Reid. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989.

Roussel, Stéphane, and Greg Donaghy eds. Escott Reid: Diplomat and Scholar. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004.

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