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Duncan Cameron/Library and Archives Canada.

Norman Robertson


“His mind is as capacious as his great sloping frame. He has displacement, as they say of ocean liners, displacement physical and intellectual and he is wonderful company with his ironic asides, his shafts of wisdom, and his sighs of resignation.”

Charles Ritchie
Canadian Ambassador to the United States (1962-1966)


Norman Robertson set a course to guide Canadian international relations after the Second World War. Appointed High Commissioner to London in 1946, Robertson found himself at the crossroads of Canada’s transition to peacetime trade. He recognized that Canada’s profitable wartime exports to Britain would soon face competition from European and American producers. To maintain economic relations between Canada, Britain, and the United States, Robertson skillfully negotiated the inclusion of Article 2 in the North Atlantic Treaty, calling on member states to resolve economic disputes and encourage economic cooperation. Robertson drafted this provision to ensure that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would not be undermined by trade competition. Through his foresight and statecraft, Robertson combined economic and military collaboration to promote Canadian prosperity in the postwar years.

Norman Robertson (left) with Prime Minister Mackenzie King, Brooke Claxton, and Arnold Heeney at the Paris Peace Conference (1947). Library and Archives Canada/C-031312.

Before his appointment to London, Robertson led a prodigious career with the Department of External Affairs. He rose to the position of Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs in 1941 – a critical time for the department. An able administrator, Robertson oversaw a dramatic expansion of the department over the course of the Second World War. As a first-rate statesman, he asserted Canada’s place among the major Allies.

Born in Vancouver in 1904, Robertson studied at the University of British Columbia before attending the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He joined the Department of External Affairs in 1929 and was the first career civil servant appointed High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. In recognition for his years of service, Robertson was inducted into the Order of Canada in 1967.

Further reading:

Granatstein, J. L. A Man of Influence: Norman A. Robertson and Canadian Statecraft, 1929-68. Ottawa: Deneau Publishers, 1981.

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