Frederick H. Soward


Fred Soward was born in 1899 in Minden, Ontario of a well-established family. His high school years coincided with the Great War, and naturally like his contemporaries he was eager to serve. Allegedly he faked his age in order to enlist, but was considered too young to be sent overseas. At the end of the war he immediately took up his studies at the University of Toronto (B.A., 1921) and then had a year at Oxford to gain a B.Litt. in 1922. In that year, he came out to British Columbia to join Mack Eastman and Walter N. Sage in the Dept. of History at UBC’s Fairview campus.

Soward developed a keen interest in studying foreign relations and international affairs, and particularly after Mack Eastman’s departure for Geneva, was responsible for the major introductory surveys in European diplomatic history. He saw the importance of training young Canadians in the wider aspects of world history, and later made his mark with his courses on The Diplomacy of the Great Powers, which analysed the causes and results of the two major wars of the twentieth century. In later years these courses became the flagship offerings of the History Department. Its graduates were obviously being trained as future recruits for External Affairs, and Soward had an array of photographs of all his former students who had become ambassadors in Canada’s service, of whom he was very proud. It was as a result of this expertise that he was called to Ottawa in 1941 to take a temporary position in the new Department of External Affairs, and served for three years before returning to UBC at the end of the war. He then requested UBC’s new President Dr Norman Mackenzie to create a new Department of International Affairs, of which he became director. In 1953, on the retirement of Walter Sage, Soward was also appointed Head of the History Department and combined both posts until retirement.

Soward’s long service to UBC occurred during the trying and difficult years of the depression. Money was always insufficient. The faculty pay scales were paltry and pay increases were rare occasions. In fact, Soward once recounted that he had spent twenty-five years at UBC before his annual salary reached $5000. In these circumstances, with no research grants or sabbatical leaves, it was hardly surprising that Soward was unable to undertake original archival research. His publications, including a survey of the inter-war diplomatic events, Twenty-Five Years, were therefore more popular than scholarly. But his knowledge of international events, largely garnered from assiduous reading of and clipping the daily newspapers, was encyclopaedic. This came in particularly handy for his most popular contributions, in the form of an Annual Review delivered to the large and appreciative audiences of the Vancouver Institute on the first weekend of each year.

As noted above, Soward’s tenure as head of the History Department was affected by his experience of the earlier crisis years. He was thus reluctant to embark on any new ventures which involved expenditures, which might possibly have to be revoked. This included even the purchase of new library books! But principally it affected his attitude towards new faculty appointments. It also led to his being willing to accept additional responsibilities so that the university’s budget would not be overloaded. Thus in 1962 he became Dean of Graduate Studies, and subsequently Secretary to the Board of Governors. These services were efficiently carried out but inevitably meant that his contacts with the members of the History Department became less intimate.

At the end of the 1950s, UBC’s enrolment expanded rapidly, as did the enrolment in the History Department’s courses. But, in contrast to other departments, History only added one or two new recruits each year, which was not enough to cater for the greatly enhanced numbers, especially in the survey courses of Canadian and European History. In addition, Soward maintained a firm control over departmental affairs, and rarely consulted his much younger colleagues. The result was that, in early 1963, a petition was drawn up by the latter asking for additional faculty appointments, which was in fact designed to provide Soward with ammunition to take to the Dean. He, however, saw this as a vote of non-confidence in his leadership, and announced his resignation. He however continued as Dean of Graduate Studies until he officially retired in the following year.

Soward gave effective leadership in such voluntary bodies as the League of Nations Society during the 1920s and later in the United Nations Society. He was also prominent in the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, which served to promote awareness of Canada’s international policies among the general public. In his lighter moments, he established a reputation as having a fine collection of detective stories, which he read avidly, though not always successfully solving the mystery before the end of the book! He received an honorary degree from Carleton University in 1962 and from his own university in 1964. His contribution to the Senate covered 16 years.



F. H. Soward, “Conference on Canadian-American Affairs”, Pacific Affairs, vol. 13. pp. 240-241, 1940.

F. H. Soward, “Frederick H. Soward fonds”. 1925.