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Department of External Affairs/Library and Archives Canada.

Charles Ritchie


“Charles Ritchie was the Prince of Panache. And he had a lot of competition in the glory days of the Department.”

Allan Gotlieb
Canadian Ambassador to the United States (1981-1989).


Charles Ritchie shepherded Canada’s relationship with the United States through a difficult time. He arrived as Canada’s ambassador to Washington in 1962, as the two nations’ interests began to diverge and rising nationalism emboldened Canadians to criticize American foreign policy. Of greatest concern was Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s reluctance to arm Canadian-based BOMARC missiles with nuclear warheads. At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Diefenbaker’s indecision strained relations to the breaking point and Ritchie was briefly recalled to Ottawa. Despite these upsets, Ritchie deployed his considerable charm and tact to maintain good relations in his conduct of day-to-day diplomacy. He convinced Diefenbaker to send him back to Washington early and cautioned members of the Canadian government from being openly critical of American policy. On his return to Washington, he reassured his counterparts at the U.S. State Department that Canada supported its ally – despite the recent friction over nuclear defence. Ritchie’s time in Washington reflected the work of Canadian diplomats who keep the channels open, even when elected representatives create a temporary impasse.

Charles Ritchie meets with U.S. President John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office. Robert Knudsen/White House Photographs/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Ritchie joined the Foreign Service in 1934 and rose quickly through the ranks to become Deputy-Undersecretary for External Affairs. In 1939, he was posted to the High Commission in London for the duration of the Second World War. He served in the most important posts overseas as Ambassador to the United Nations, the United States, the North Atlantic Council, and finally as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. A devoted diarist from an early age, Ritchie’s published diaries provide a vivid and eloquent window into his life as a diplomat. Thoughtful, witty, and sometimes irreverent, his “undiplomatic” diaries provide an important record of critical moments in Canadian diplomatic history.

Ritchie was born in Halifax in 1906. He began his undergraduate studies at the University of King’s College, then studied at the University of Oxford, Harvard University, and l’École Libre des Sciences Politiques. Ritchie was made a companion of the Order of Canada for his contributions to Canadian diplomacy.

Further Reading:

Ritchie, Charles. Undiplomatic Diaries, 1937-1971. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2008.

An Appetite for Life: The Education of a Young Diarist, 1924–1927 Toronto: Macmillan, 1977.

McKercher, Asa. Camelot and Canada: Canadian-American Relations in the Kennedy Era. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

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