Peter James George (1941-2017) died at home April 27th after a short illness. His passing leaves a remarkable legacy as an economic historian and academic leader. Peter grew up in the Toronto Islands, graduated from the University of Toronto, took up a faculty position in the Economics Department at McMaster University in 1965 and served his entire career there until retiring as President Emeritus in 2010. He became McMaster’s longest serving President and a tireless advocate for the University and for research and higher education in Canada.
Beginning his work in the early years of the development of quantitative economic history known as Cliometric revolution, Peter was one of the pioneers in Canadian quantitative economic history and an important presence in the first years of the Canadian Network for Economic History (then known as the Conference on the Application of Quantitative Methods to Canadian Economic History). He was a regular participant at the meetings well into the 1990s. His work on indigenous land use and harvesting among the Western James Bay Cree, first presented at the economic history meetings, was later used in legal proceedings regarding land sovereignty.
Peter’s dissertation research on the economic profitability of the Canadian Pacific Railway that went on to be published in the Canadian Journal of Economics and as a book remains the classic and definitive study on the subject. He found the subsidies paid to the CPR by the Canadian government exceeded what was needed to build and operate the railway profitably. Peter also was a pioneer in early quantitative economic and social history research with micro-data such as census records; he used these data to uncover socioeconomic influences on school attendance and family size in 1871 Canada. This work provided a foundation for subsequent research using census and probate data on wealth in Hamilton and Wentworth County.
Peter was a builder not only as a successful academic and university president but also in the many personal relationships he nurtured throughout his life. He was an outstanding and exemplary citizen - incredibly good natured and supremely dedicated to the communities he served. His door was always open to his students. He was my dissertation supervisor, a mentor and a friend. He will be missed.
A Service of Remembrance and Celebration of Peter's extraordinary life and love will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 11, 2017 at Therese Quigley Sport Hall, David Braley Athletic Centre, McMaster University.