Professor Peter Busby Waite

July 12, 1922August 24, 2020
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Peter B. Waite (OC, FRSC), passed away on Monday, August 24th at the age of 98. A well-known Canadian historian, professor emeritus at Dalhousie University (where he taught for 35 years), he was first and foremost our devoted and much-loved father. Our dad was born in Toronto in 1922. He grew up in Ontario and went to high school in St. John, New Brunswick. He served with the Royal Canadian Navy for almost five years during World War II, achieving the rank of Lieutenant. Veterans were offered subsidies to attend university and Dad obtained a B.A. and an M.A. from the University of British Columbia, and a PhD from the University of Toronto. Dalhousie offered him a teaching job and he never looked back, making Nova Scotia his adopted home and instilling in his family a love of nature, the outdoors, swimming, canoeing, tennis, skiing and pick-up hockey on Williams Lake. Dad and his friends discovered the beaches at Crystal Crescent (then marked as Coot Cove) on a survey map, bushwhacked in to inspect them, and eventually saved them from becoming a sand-and-gravel quarry by petitioning the premier to purchase the land and save it for Nova Scotians. He took us hiking all over Nova Scotia, and planted our own suburban yard thickly with local firs, spruces, and bracken fern.

In his youth he felt one had to walk history to learn about it. He travelled to Russia in the time of Khrushchev, a trip that whetted his appetite for a lifetime of exploration. He was a key member of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, putting important historical spaces physically on the map for Canadians. He was a strong supporter of the excavations at Louisburg, which we inspected in the early years as windswept plots flanked by white transect lines. He also spent many summers travelling, particularly in Europe, with a special passion for cathedrals and small churches. He and our mother, Masha, were able to enjoy lots of adventures together, including many trips to Europe, sabbaticals in England and in Australia, and fabulous tours of South America, China and Egypt.

He was a natural teacher and students flocked to his lectures. He was known for making the most arcane of subjects come alive, with his flair for stories and his formidable knowledge of his principal subject, Canadian history. He wrote beautifully, and penned more than 14 historical works, including the Life and Times of Confederation, biographies of three prime ministers, including his much acclaimed biography of Sir John Thompson, The Man from Halifax, and the two volume history of Dalhousie University, to name a few. Dad had a penchant for poetry and favourites included E.J. Pratt, Robert Service and Archibald Lampman. He particularly loved the German poets Schiller and Goethe.

He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1993 for his contribution to the Canadian historical canon, and was very proud of this great honour. Most recently, for Dalhousie’s bicentenary, (1818-2018), he was among fifty-two people who were awarded the title of Dalhousie Original. Copies of his two books on Dalhousie University were literally formed into a sculpture for the Life Sciences building, and the illustrious Canadian poet George Elliot Clarke used these books as research material for his wondrous poem about Dalhousie.

We have fond memories of our father in his book-lined study, happily at his typewriter, and later (despite some initial skepticism) on a computer. But he was at heart a social fellow, with a flair for story-telling. He loved family dinners and the chance to regale us with anecdotes. He loved to read aloud to us, too, and one of our fondest childhood memories is the romp with him, first through A.A. Milne and C.S. Lewis, and then through Dickens, Austen, Trollope, and many other greats of English literature.

Music was always a part of family life growing up. Dad had taught himself to play the piano in his youth and I remember his playing Debussy’s Clair de Lune as a lullaby when we were children. Nina has a vivid memory of singing “Sur le pont d’Avignon” on the Avignon Bridge with Dad and their 8-year-old daughter Lindsay, to the amusement of onlookers!

Dad met our Croatian mother, Masha, in Halifax in 1957 and they married the following year. Mom’s formidable intellect and language abilities complemented Dad’s skills – she was his editor-in-chief and social director from the outset. She was both his greatest ally and his firmest critic: she kept him humble, all the while terribly proud of his accomplishments. They had 45 very happy years together until her death in 2003. In his eighties, Dad met Lorraine Hurtig, and the two remained inseparable until her death in 2014.

Dad lived at the Veterans Memorial Building in Halifax from 2011 onwards. We cannot say enough about how wonderful his life has been there. Not only was he looked after with incredible love and care, he lived minutes from his two daughters. Dad continued to write and at the age of 90, published his last work, In search of R.B. Bennett, which, in 2013, won the Democracy 250 Atlantic Book Award for Historical Writing, much to his delight. Despite his mobility issues later in life, Dad enjoyed a great deal of independence. He was very social and always came to weekly dinners with his daughters and families. He loved going to concerts and was very proud of his 45-year patronage of symphony music in Halifax, (from the Atlantic Symphony to Symphony Nova Scotia). In the last days of his life, Rachel, a music therapist, came to his room at VMB to sing for him, playing Scottish airs on her guitar, which he loved.

He leaves behind a family who will miss him deeply; his two daughters, Nina (David Wood) and Anya (Paul), grandchildren Christopher (Christine), Lindsay, Eleanor and Andrew, nieces and nephews with whom he kept in touch, and many friends and colleagues. His wife Masha and later, his partner Lorraine Hurtig, pre-deceased him. The staff on Garrison 5 West at the Veterans Memorial Hospital were the kindest, most nurturing and devoted people imaginable, and we would be remiss if we did not include a special thank you to: Sam, Dean, Jeff, Carol, Rachel, Toni, Stephanie, Sharon, Sandra, Sheldon, Jayson, Carina, Geovani, Joanne, Rob, Melanie, Cory, Joni, Rachel#2 (the music therapist), Kristen, Rosemary, and Jennifer, the 5th floor administrative assistant.

A visitation will take place at Cruikshank’s Funeral Home Halifax, 2666 Windsor St., Halifax, on Tuesday September 1st, from 4 pm to 8 pm.

A private funeral will be held at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, please send contributions to the P.B.Waite Memorial Fund at Dalhousie University:

Photo credit: Rino Gropuzzo


  • Visitation

    Tuesday, September 1, 2020


Professor Peter Busby Waite

have a memory or condolence to add?

David Carter

June 9, 2021

He was my Canadian History Prof at Dal in the late 70'sand early 80's There was never a dull moment in class . He was easy to respect. As well as a good teacher it was evident that when you talk about experts in a subject. Look up historian in the dictionary and see his picture. Later I did a small renovation on his home. Got to know his wit.


Robert Norman Mackenzie

October 31, 2020

Professor Waite published "Lord of Point Grey" some years ago. My family and I are forever grateful for this fascinating and insightful biography of my grandfather. Although Norman Mackenzie was a keen raconteur, his age was such that his skill in recollection was diminished by the time I was old enough to enjoy his tales. The book is a cherished link for me and for those who never met him.

I am very sorry for your loss.

Dan Asuncion

September 23, 2020

Dear Dan,

My black gown was an MA gown, but worn commonly by older professors when I came to Dal in 1951. It was already starting to go out of fashion, but I ignored the trend, believing that students from high school, seeing it, would grasp immediately that university was a different world, and they would therefore realize that really independent work was now expected of them. When I was in an English school 1933-34, roughly our Grade 8 but with French and Latin, all the masters but one wore the same black gown as we did later on at Dalhousie.

The style is positively ancient, at least mediaeval.


**** A 2013 email from Dr. Waite. I very much wanted to share this with his family and friends. :)

roseann runte

September 18, 2020

Dear Members of Peter's family,
Please accept my most sincere condolences. I will keep you in my thoughts as we all share memories and celebrate the life and Peter's important contributions to Canadian history and the study of it.
Dr. Waite was already a bit of an eminence grise back in the 1970s. He knew everything there was to know about Dalhousie, the Maritimes and Canada, He was a kind person and supportive to his colleagues and students. One never left the Waite home without a warm feeling, good advice and the added bonus of delicious treats generously prepared by Masha.
Dr. Waite was a first-class scholar, a true humanist and a person who understood history not only as the past but as what one contributes to on a daily basis. His history of Dalhousie is one example. As he researched and composed it, he also prompted his colleagues to chart the courses for the future--for what Dalhousie is today and will yet become in the future. His
contribution in terms of his writing and teaching was stellar. His
dedication to the university and his work with all members of the university made him a veritable pillar of the community.
I will always remember him as an outstanding colleague and fine friend. I know his family can be most proud of Peter's life and his lifetime of scholarship.
With sincere condolences, Roseann O'Reilly Runte

Graham Taylor

September 18, 2020

My wife, Deborah, and I wish to express our condolences to the family of Peter Waite. I was a colleague of Peter in the History department at Dal from 1972 to 1993. When we came to Halifax, Peter and Masha were the first faculty members to welcome us to their home, a event we remember fondly. They were always good friends and Peter was a great source for information on Canadian history when I was doing research on the history of business in Canada. For many years we lived outside Halifax near the fishing village of Sambro and enjoyed long walks on the trails around nearby Crystal Crescent Beach. I was not aware until now of his role in preserving the beach and this is another reason for admiring his legacy in addition to his major contributions as a scholar and professor. He will be remembered as one of the great historians of Canada, and for us as a friend as well as a colleague.

Graham Taylor, Professor Emeritus,Trent University

Michiel Horn

September 7, 2020

I’m saddened to learn of Peter’s passing and wish to express my condolences to his family. He was someone I admired greatly. On June 6, 1969, at York University, which I had joined the year before, Peter delivered the presidential address at the annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association. The title was “The Edge of the Forest”; it was an unsentimental and trenchant view of the founding of the British North American colonies and their growth into Canada. I listened attentively; afterwards I introduced myself to him. I was a young academic in my late twenties, he was already a well-established scholar, but he was very kind. Over the years we stayed in touch, eventually united in our joint commitment to the history of higher learning in Canada. In 2002 he nominated me for membership in the Royal Society of Canada; I’m happy and grateful to report that the nomination was successful. We stayed in touch until he stopped answering my emails half a dozen years ago.

Peter was a fine historian with an extraordinarily clear mind and a wonderful prose style. He was good company. He will not be forgotten.

Mary-lou Rossiter

September 4, 2020

We had the great pleasure of meeting your interesting and witty Father when we first moved to Ritchie Drive in the early 2000s. He and you lovely Mother were well loved neighbours.
Our deepest sympathy on your loss.
ML Rossiter and Bill Simpkins

Betty Wiswell

September 4, 2020

Nina and Anya so sorry to hear of this news. Growing up in Clayton Park your house was my place to go! I always was in wonderment when your Dad would pack you all up, and away you would go on the next adventure! Please know you are in my thoughts.

Cynthia A. Henry

September 2, 2020

My first introduction to Dalhousie University in 1978 was to attend Professor P. B. Waite's class. When he sashayed into the classroom wearing his official gown of academia, the class fell silent with awe and respect. He not only raised the value of education, but with humour and dry wit, made it fun to learn. Years later, I met him several times at the Public Archives where he regaled me with stories about the Halifax Capitol Theatre. Please accept my sincere condolences on the passing of this magnificent man.

Dwight Parker

September 2, 2020

So sorry to hear of Professor Waite's passing.
I was only speaking of him to a friend just weeks ago & wondered if he was still with us.
He was a wonderful teacher & I never missed a class of his while I was at Dal. He had a rare ability to make history form images in your mind so it would be remembered forever.
I cherished his stories of Sir John A MacDonald, especially the Quebec story at the Chateau Frontenac, scotch & some disposable glassware that made their way to the promenade below. I thought of him just this week as well when I heard of the destruction of Sir John's statue in Montreal. Canadian History has truly lost one of it's greatest champions.


Peter at Ritchie Drive pool, August 2007


Peter eating popsicles with Anya, mid 1960s


With the children in the hammock in Chester


Skiing at Sunshine - Dave and Peter, 1991