Margaret Prang


Professor Emerita, Margaret Prang, died on January 11, 2013.

Margaret Prang was a remarkable woman, a long-time member of the History department and Department Head from 1974 to 1979 and again from 1982-83. She was awarded an honourary doctorate at the UBC spring congregation in 1990. The citation reads as follows:

Mr. Chancellor, we are delighted to honour today a dedicated professor emerita of The University of British Columbia. Margaret Prang has served this university tirelessly in many capacities since she first arrived here in 1959. A native of Stratford, Ontario, she received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Manitoba in 1945, and went on to receive her Masters and Doctoral degrees from the University of Toronto. Her career in UBC’s Department of History has included positions of assistant professor, associate professor and full professor, and she has served with energy and devotion as Department Head. She has also devoted her time chairing such groups as the co-ordinating committee for Arts I, the President’s Committee on the Norman MacKenzie biography; and serving as secretary and treasurer of the UBC Faculty Association. Considered by her peers as an outstanding teacher, scholar and administrator, it is perhaps her success in raising our awareness of the ri ch history of the province of British Columbia that is her finest achievement. Founder and editor, along with Walter Young, of the scholarly journal B.C. Studies, Dr. Prang is acknowledged for the very considerable amount of attention now paid to this province, in courses, articles and books. Her advice and counsel in the 1970s as the B.C. Member of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada continued that effort, and were widely respected. Admired for her leadership and pioneering spirit in the West Point Grey United Church, she has done much to further the advancement of women.

Peter Ward provides a more personal glimpse of Margaret:

Margaret was my chief mentor during my early career at UBC and, like so many of her friends and colleagues, I have a host of fond recollections about her. She was one of a handful of truly remarkable people that I’ve met at UBC and, in fact, during my life. She was one of the feminist leaders of her generation – at UBC, in the Canadian historical profession, and in the wider society of our country – and she led through example rather than rhetoric. Her many professional accomplishments and her substantial contributions to the University have long been widely recognized. Those of us who shared the pleasures of her friendship also knew her curiosity, her warmth and generosity, her great sense of fun, and the love she gave her family among her many endearing attributes.

And finally, as is fitting, the final word goes to Margaret herself in this honest and interesting account of Margaret’s time as Department Head:

I was head of the department of history, 1974-79 and 1982-83 when my successor, Bob Kubicek, went on administrative leave. The question of university governance was very much in the air at the time. In the 1960s students had demonstrated on campuses across North America for a more “democratic” university and had obtained token representation at many levels. By the 1970s many faculty members were arguing for a more “collegial” environment.

I don’t recall the precise method, but I was one of the first heads at UBC to be chosen by his/her colleagues, a fact that gave me considerable satisfaction. I was actually appointed according to the traditional protocols on the recommendation of of the Dean of Arts, Douglas Kenny, a former president of the Faculty Association, who also espoused “collegiality”.

There were two candidates, Leslie Upton and myself. He was supported by many of the European historians, most of whom were also Americans, and I by the Canadianists, although the division was by no means as simple as that. There was also another issue: the late Keith Ralston told me later that one of our colleagues had asked him: “What about the problem of a woman succeeding a woman?” (The previous head was Margaret Ormsby). Keith replied: “What about a man succeeding a man?”. The choice, however it was made, must have been close, and for whatever reasons, I was chosen. Leslie Upton was a fine historian and a far more prolific publisher than I was and would have been a good head; his untimely death in 1980 at the age of 49 due to a rare disease of the immune system was a severe blow to the department.

When Peter Harnetty (history of India) and I joined the department in 1958 we were the 9th and 10th members. Nobody then knew that the two decades following in Canada would see what many historians of education consider the largest growth of any post secondary educational system in the western world. Although there was money for additional positions the expansion of the history department was not always easy: the head of the department and Dean of Graduate Studies, F.H. Soward,a founding member of the department, had lived through the depression and like other faculty members, had voluntarily taken a cut in salary to keep the young university open. After World War II when a generous federal government gave scholarships to returning veterans, and when post war prosperity created a larger middle class whose children also could afford higher education, the undergraduate population of Canadian universities soared.

Dean Soward found it difficult to see why new faculty members were needed;(the exceptions were single appointments to teach international relations and Asian history which he rightly saw as important to UBC); otherwise members of the department could just lecture to bigger classes, as Soward had done successfully. Most members of the department would accept large lectures if there were also smaller tutorials. In 1963 a group within the department drew up a plan outlining additions it thought were needed and presented it to the head. Dean Soward called a departmental meeting, a rare event since he was not in the habit of consulting anyone; there was no discussion before or after his announcement that since he no longer had the confidence of the department, he was resigning as head. We were all stunned as we walked away from a very short meeting. Subsequently, Margaret Ormsby was appointed head and the department grew rapidly as the planned expansion proceeded.

By the time I became head in 1974 there were 43 members. There was a fair degree of collegiality; members of the department were willing to spend numerous Saturdays on curriculum revision, and department and committee meetings were held regularly, as they had been under Ormsby’s headship. Her work and mine was made much more efficient and enjoyable by the varied skills of our administrative assistant, Ruth Mirza. She understood the the finances of the department, determined elsewhere, far better than I did, as well as the nuances of relationships within the department.

During my time as head I had many administrative duties outside the department, at UBC and nationally. Many of these assignments came to me because I chaired one of the largest history departments in the country, and I was female; women were still in short supply in academia. Thus I represented British Columbia on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, 1974-79; member of the Council of Trustees, Institute for Research on Public Policy, Montreal,1974-79; president, Canadian Historical Association, 1976-77; national selection committee, Canada Council Killam Committee,1977-80, etc. etc. In 1975 the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada/Department of External Affairs got good “value” by appointing me to a five member delegation of of social scientists visiting Russian universities from Moscow to Tashkent to Novosibirsk: I was the woman, the westerner, and the historian. In 1978 I received the Queen’s Canadian Silver Jubilee Medal and an honorary LLD from the University of Winnipeg.(These honours had everything to do with the department, little to do with me apart from my gender.)

During this time I continued as co-editor of BC Studies, which Walter Young and I had founded and edited since 1968, taught a first year course in Canadian history, a third year Canadian social history and supervised honours and graduate students. The department was very generous in giving me two retirement parties, one when I retired as head, the other on retirement from the university. I still enjoy the Gordon Smith prints presented to me on those occasions.

I know I was fortunate to chair a relatively congenial department. When there were disagreements of opinion they were usually about academic matters, not about personalities. As far as I knew, there was rarely any acrimony What did we achieve? Possibly we moved slightly towards a higher valuation of teaching, by maintaining tutorials for the big courses and a wide range of honours and graduate seminars.

My biggest failure (shared with predecessors and successors) was being unable to persuade a few of the European historians to teach large first year courses. However, some of these same colleagues were enthusiastic contributors to to the interdisciplinary liberal arts program, Arts I, in which I had played a small role in establishing, and had taught in for two years, as many historians did from the outset.

Altogether, I was privileged to have been in the academic world when I was, a member of this department, and for a brief time, its head. I can’t imagine a more agreeable life.

From the memorial tribute by Brain Thorpe at Ryerson Church, January 23, 2013.

In her instructions related to this Memorial Service Margaret included a quote from Martin Buber: “Faith is keeping an open mind about mystery.” Jesus’ words in Luke are a warning about the closed mind. They are a warning about facile certitude masquerading as faith­”Look, here it is!” The most important dynamics in the human journey are those things which cannot be seen­love, commitment, hope­and, as such, they can never be contained in closed systems of cold doctrines. Truth can never be possessed but, rather, invites our active searching and engagement throughout our sojourn on this earth.

The respect for mystery combined with engagement in the quest for truth becomes incarnate in the lives of individuals and communities. Jesus admonishes us not to look beyond our world and our communities for that elusive kingdom of truth. “For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

One of the blessings of life is that there are people in whom this incarnation of the kingdom of truth is particularly evident. Margaret Prang was one such a person. In the gifts which she so generously shared with those of us in the sanctuary and many others throughout Canada and the world, she continues to be that special mentor.

What, then, are the marks of one who opens rather than closes the mind and who delights in the truth rather than possessing and hoarding it?

As one reads what others have written about Margaret and, more particularly, what she has written about herself the first mark of her life must surely be her modesty. When talking about a year in which she received significant recognition­in 1978 she received the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal and an honorary LLD from the University of Winnipeg­she comments, “These honours had everything to do with the department , little to do with me apart from my gender.” Earlier in her career, when she was asked by the church in 1944 to minister to five rural congregations in Manitoba, she assessed her experience in the following way: “Whatever was the church thinking? ! I was supposed to have a supervisor but never saw him even once. I had no theological training and knew very little about the Bible..I had just taken a course on Plato and I think that’s mostly what the sermons were about. I think the only valid thing I did was to visit a lot of lonely women and their children: the men were either in the war, working in the city, or had just taken off….I probably didn’t do much damage and it was certainly a maturing experience for me!” Finally, reflecting on her distinguished teaching career at UBC, Margaret sums it up by saying, “When I look back, it seems to me that without thinking about it very much I learned to use the university to give myself a good life and help educate a few thousand students (I had a big first year class of 300 for a long time!)”

Margaret’s modesty is not just self-effacement. More important it points to two important convictions. She understood well human limitation and the dangers that come when people or nations aspire to omnipotence or omniscience. She also understood that both truth and compassion are to be found in community and not in the cult of individualism. It was these convictions which made her a significant historian, a social democrat and, by her own definition, an agnostic Christian.

The spirit of humility, which was Margaret, was naturally combined with incredible generosity in relation to students, colleagues, family and friends. There are many who would claim Margaret as a mentor. One of those from the History Department, Peter Ward, has written about the way in which Margaret’s intellectual accomplishments were inextricably linked to her generosity of spirit. “She was one of a handful of truly remarkable people that I’ve met at UBC and, in fact, during my life. She was one of the feminist leaders of her generation­at UBC, in the Canadian historical profession, and in the wider society of our country­and she led by example rather than rhetoric. Her many professional accomplishments and her substantial contributions to the University have long been widely recognized. Those of us who shared the pleasures of her friendship also knew her curiosity, her warmth and generosity, her great sense of fun, and the love she gave her family among her many endearing attributes.”

Three more things must be said about Margaret in the midst of that community of humanity experiencing the kingdom of God in their midst. The community is not just people gathered. It encompasses the whole of creation. For Margaret the beauty and strength of creation found particular expression in Georgian Bay. Introduced to wilderness living by her friend and mentor, Jessie MacPherson, a Professor of Philosophy at Victoria College, Margaret grew to love it as a place as “close to paradise” as she would come. A close second in the “proximity to paradise” would come later in life when she found Galiano Island.

In the midst of intellectual discipline, nurturing a community of colleagues and friends and reveling in the cold clear waters of Georgian Bay Margaret was sustained throughout by her incredible sense of humour. It was in her humour that human pretensions were eschewed and a love of life came alive. We all have our moments of delight in that regard. Allow me to share one of mine. When I was asked to come to Ryerson United Church in 2005 and cover for a few months while a new minister was being sought I decided that I wanted to experience the congregation in worship before making a commitment. I snuck into the church after the service had begun and crept into a back pew, certain that I had not been noticed. During the singing of a hymn a felt this presence slide in beside me. In a stage whisper Margaret said to me, “Well, I see you’re here casing the joint!” That sense of humour continued to delight in the years to come.

Finally, Beryl Young, has talked about the historical significance of Margaret’s adoption of Charlene. In that story we were reminded of Margaret’s love of family. Her commitment to her daughters and her grandson were without bounds. The love and intellectual energy shared between Margaret and Maria were a delight. The circle of close friends both here today and, in spirit, across the land, serve as a testimony to the generosity of spirit which was and continues to be Margaret.

  • Canada
  • British Columbia
  • Political History


M. Prang. N. W. Rowell: Ontario nationalist. Buffalo; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1975.

M. Prang; W. Young. Indians in British Columbia. Vancouver, B.C: University of British Columbia Press, 1973.

R.C. Brown; M.E. Prang. Confederation to 1949. Scarborough, Ont: Prentice-Hall of Canada, 1966.

M. Prang. N. W. Rowell and Canada's External Policy, 1917-1921. The Canadian Historical Association, Report, 1960, pp. 83-103: , 1960.

Articles/Book Chapters

M. Prang, “Holding one's time in thought: the political philosophy of W.J. Stankiewicz”, BC Studies, p. 100, 1999.

M. Prang, “Twenty-five years of BC Studies”, BC Studies, vol. 100, p. 13, 1993.

British Columbia: a history of the province”, BC Studies, p. 82, 1992.

M. Prang, “Alberta: studies in the arts and sciences vol 1 no 1”, BC Studies, vol. 82, p. 80, 1989.

M. Prang, “"The Girl God Would Have Me Be": The Canadian Girls in Training, 1915-39”, Canadian Historical Review, vol. 66, pp. 154-184, 1985.

M. Prang, “National Unity and the Uses of History”, Historical Papers, vol. 12, pp. 2-14, 1977.

M. E. Prang, “Nationalism in Canada’s First Century”, Historical Papers, vol. 3, pp. 114-125, 1968.

M. Prang, “The Origins of Public Broadcasting in Canada”, Canadian Historical Review, vol. 46, pp. 1-31, 1965.

M. Prang, “BOOKS IN REVIEW”, Canadian Literature/Littérature canadienne, p. 63, 1961.

M. Prang, “Clerics, Politicians, and the Bilingual Schools Issue in Ontario, 1910-1917”, Canadian Historical Review, vol. 41, pp. 281-307, 1960.

M. Prang, “N. W. Rowell and Canada’s External Policy, 1917-1921”, Report of the Annual Meeting, vol. 39, pp. 83-103, 1960.

M. Prang, “Clerics, Politicians, and the Bilingual Schools Issue in Ontario, 1910–1917”, Canadian Historical Review, vol. 40, pp. 281-307, 1959.


M. Prang, “The Decline of "Sisterhood"”, Canadian Literature. p. 98, 2004.

M. Prang, “Constance Lindsay Skinner: Writing on the Frontier”, BC Studies. p. 106, 2004.

M. Prang, “WOODCOCK, GEORGE. "British Columbia: A History of the Province" (Book Review)”, BC Studies, vol. 93. p. 82, 1992.

M. Prang, “ANDERSON, CHARLES P. "Circle of Voices: A History of the Religious Communities of British Columbia" (Book Review)”, BC Studies, vol. 66. p. 67, 1985.

M. Prang, “The Relevance of Canadian History: U. S. and Imperial Perspectives”, International Journal, vol. 36. pp. 247-248, 1980.

M. Prang, “A Canadian Millionaire: The Life and Business Times of Sir Joseph Flavelle, Bart., 1858-1939”, The Journal of American History, vol. 66. pp. 958-959, 1980.

M. Prang, “Bliss, "A Canadian Millionaire" (Book Review)”, Journal of American History (Abilene, Kan.), vol. 66. p. 958, 1980.

M. Prang, “OLIVER, PETER. G. "Howard Ferguson: A Biography" (Book Review)”, Canadian Historical Review, vol. 60. p. 234, 1979.

M. Prang, “FARIS, RON. "The Passionate Educators: Voluntary Associations and the Struggle for Control of Adult Educational Broadcasting in Canada, 1919-52" (Book Review)”, Canadian Historical Review, vol. 59. p. 388, 1978.

M. Prang, “The Writing of Canadian History: Aspects of English-Canadian Historical Writing: 1900-1970”, International Journal, vol. 33. pp. 262-263, 1977.

M. Prang, “H. V. NELLES. "The Politics of Development: Forest, Mines and Hydro-Electric Power in Ontario, 1849-1941" (Book Review)”, American Historical Review, vol. 81. p. 223, 1976.

M. Prang, “The Politics of Development: Forest, Mines & Hydro-Electric Power in Ontario, 1849-1941”, The American Historical Review, vol. 81. pp. 223-224, 1976.

M. Prang, “LADNER, LEON J., "The Ladners of Ladner: By Covered Wagon to the Welfare State" (Book Review)”, BC Studies, vol. 18. p. 82, 1973.

M. Prang, “STACEY, C. P., ed. "Historical Documents of Canada. v: The Arts of War and Peace, 1914-1945" (Book Review)”, Canadian Historical Review, vol. 54. p. 306, 1973.

M. Prang, “THE LAST SPIKE: THE GREAT RAILWAY, 1881-1885, by Pierre Berton (Book Review)”, Pacific Affairs, vol. 45. pp. 326-326, 1972.

M. Prang, “J. W. PICKERSGILL and D. F. FORSTER. "The Mackenzie King Record". Vol. 3, "1945-1946;" vol. 4, "1947-1948" (Book Review)”, American Historical Review, vol. 77. p. 602, 1972.

M. Prang, “Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Volume X, 1871-1880 (Book Review)”, BC Studies, vol. 15. p. 90, 1972.

M. Prang, “The MacKenzie King Record”, The American Historical Review, vol. 77. pp. 602-603, 1972.

M. Prang, “LEVITT, JOSEPH. "Henri Bourassa and the Golden Calf: The Social Program of the Nationalists of Quebec (1900-1914)" (Book Review)”, Canadian Historical Review, vol. 52. p. 194, 1971.

M. Prang, “WARD, NORMAN and DUFF SPAFFORD, eds. "Politics in Saskatchewan" (Book Review)”, Canadian Historical Review, vol. 50. p. 325, 1969.

M. Prang, “China: The Other Communism”, Pacific Affairs, vol. 41. pp. 424-426, 1968.

M. Prang, “LETTERS FROM PEKING, by Delia Jenner (Book Review)”, Pacific Affairs, vol. 41. pp. 424-424, 1968.

M. Prang, “CHINA: THE OTHER COMMUNISM, by K. S. Karol, translated by Tom Baistow (Book Review)”, Pacific Affairs, vol. 41. pp. 424-424, 1968.

M. Prang, “CHINA OBSERVED, by Colin Mackerras and Neale Hunter (Book Review)”, Pacific Affairs, vol. 41. pp. 424-424, 1968.

M. E. Prang, “Margaret Prang fonds”. 1968.

M. Prang, “GRAHAM, ROGER. "Arthur Meighen," II. "And Fortune Fled" (Book Review)”, Canadian Historical Review, vol. 46. p. 154, 1965.

M. Prang, “MCGREGOR, F. A. "The Rise and Fall of Mackenzie King: 1911-1919" (Book Review)”, Canadian Historical Review, vol. 45. p. 78, 1964.

M. Prang, “WARD, NORMAN. "The Public Purse: A Study in Canadian Democracy" (Book Review)”, Canadian Historical Review, vol. 44. p. 343, 1963.

M. Prang, “BEAVERBROOK, LORD. "Courage: The Story of Sir James Dunn" (Book Review)”, Canadian Historical Review, vol. 43. p. 73, 1962.

M. Prang, “POPE, MAURICE, ed. "Public Servant: The Memoirs of Sir Joseph Pope" (Book Review)”, Canadian Historical Review, vol. 42. p. 60, 1961.

M. Prang, “KILBOURN, WILLIAM. "The Elements Combined: A History of the Steel Company of Canada" (Book Review)”, Canadian Historical Review, vol. 42. p. 236, 1961.

M. Prang, “SAYWELL, JOHN T., ed. "Canadian Annual Review for 1960: A Reference Guide and Record" (Book Review)”, Canadian Historical Review, vol. 42. p. 350, 1961.

M. Prang, “BOOKS IN REVIEW (Book Review)”, Canadian Literature/Littérature canadienne. p. 80, 1960.

M. E. Prang, “The political career of N. W. Rowell”. 1959.

M. Prang, “Some opinions of political radicalism in Canada between the two world wars : a study of the views of four Canadian periodicals, The Canadian forum, Saturday night, The Christian guardian-The new outlook, The Catholic register”. 1953.