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Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade/Library and Archives Canada.

William “Bill” Barton


“Bill is a bit in the mould of Lester Pearson. He is modest, not a self-promoter, in some ways a man of very old-fashioned values.”

Fen Hampson
Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.


William Barton enhanced Canada’s presence at the United Nations. He was appointed ambassador to the UN in 1976, just before Canada’s fourth term on the Security Council. An experienced and pragmatic diplomat, Barton worked with other Western members of the Security Council – Britain, France, West Germany, and the United States – to find a peaceful end to South Africa’s occupation of Namibia. As African states pushed for economic sanctions against South Africa, the Group of Five – as they became known – adopted a more moderate solution. Though the United States and Britain differed on some issues, Barton and his delegation worked to maintain consensus and kept the Five together as they reached a deal that met the demands of South Africa and the South-West African People’s Organization. Barton also led another multilateral effort at the UN by forming a contact group on nuclear disarmament. This group, still known as the Barton Group, leads discussions on matters relating to disarmament and arms control in preparation for discussions in the UN General Assembly. Barton’s term at the UN continued Canada’s role in building global consensus for a rules-based international order.

William Barton at his desk Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade/Library and Archives Canada.

Disarmament became a major theme in Barton’s career. He served as an instructor at the chemical weapons school in Suffield, Alberta during the Second World War and joined the Defence Research Board in 1946. In 1957, Barton entered the Foreign Service. One of his first postings was to Vienna, where he represented Canada during the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He returned to Ottawa to lead the UN Division at the Department of External Affairs before serving as Canada’s permanent ambassador to the UN in Geneva, then in New York. He was venerated by his peers and those who worked for him.

Barton was born in Winnipeg in 1917. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of British Columbia in 1940. Barton was made a member of the Order of Canada in recognition of his achievements as a diplomat. His contributions to the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University endowed the Barton Award in Arms Control and Disarmament and the William and Jeanie Barton Chair in International Affairs.

Further Reading:

Chapnick, Adam. Canada on the United Nations Security Council: A Small Power on a Large Stage. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2019.

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