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Canada. National Film Board/Library and Archives Canada/PA-134317

Egerton Herbert Norman


“You can’t wash off the poison of a smear from your emotions. How can you fight back against this sort of thing?”

Egerton Herbert Norman


“ Norman (left) in conversation with US General Douglas MacArthur at the Dominion Day reception at the Canadian embassy, Tokyo, Japan, 1947”. Canada. External Affairs / Library and Archives Canada / PA-187690

Egerton Herbert Norman’s life and promising diplomatic career were cut tragically short by Cold War anti-communist hysteria. Born to Canadian Methodist missionary parents in Karuizawa, Japan, in 1909, Norman spent his youth in that country. In the 1930s he studied at the University of Toronto, Cambridge, and finally Harvard, where he earned a PhD, before publishing a highly influential book, Japan’s Emergence as a Modern State (1940). As a student, Norman had been a communist. In 1939 he became the first of several “mish [missionary] kids” to join the Department of External Affairs, which, in another first, recruited him specifically for his training in a foreign language. His posting to Canada’s legation in Tokyo interrupted by Japan’s entry into the Second World War, Norman returned to Japan in 1946 as head of the Canadian liaison mission to the occupied country, assisting Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers Douglas MacArthur in overseeing its transition to democracy. When information regarding his communist past surfaced in 1950, Norman was recalled to Ottawa, where he was eventually cleared of any professional disloyalty, though not before his name was publicized in congressional hearings in the United States, then in the throes of an undiscerning McCarthyism. In 1953 Norman was appointed high commissioner to New Zealand, and then in 1956 ambassador to Egypt, where he succeeded brilliantly during the Suez Crisis in convincing a suspicious President Gamal Abdel Nasser to accept UN peacekeepers, including Canadians, on Egyptian soil. In April 1957, however, a US Senate committee once again publicly fingered Norman as a communist, prompting him to commit suicide by jumping off a building in Cairo. His shocking death provoked an outburst of anti-Americanism in Canada. In 1990 an independent report commissioned by the Department of External Affairs concluded that there was “not one iota of evidence” to suggest that Norman had been a spy.

Further reading:

  • Peyton V. Lyon, The Loyalties of E. Herbert Norman: A Report Prepared for External Affairs and International Trade Canada, March 18, 1990 (Ottawa: 1990).
  • Bowen, Roger W, Innocence Is Not Enough: The Life and Death of Herbert Norman (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1986).
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