Dr. Leslie Webster Shemilt

December 25, 1919December 20, 2011

Leslie Webster Shemilt (FRSC, OC) Leslie Webster (Les) Shemilt, Professor and Dean Emeritus of the Faculty of Engineering at McMaster University, died in St Joseph’s Hospital, Hamilton, on Tuesday 20 December, five days short of his 92nd birthday, as a result of post-operative complications. He will be remembered with great fondness, respect and admiration for the wide variety of his interests and achievements, both professional and personal. Les was born on Christmas Day, 1919, in Souris, Manitoba, the eldest of four children. Their father John Henry Shemilt, an English-born Methodist minister, bequeathed to Les a life-long commitment to and deep interest in ecclesiastic matters, and most recently he will be remembered as a devoted member of the congregation of Hamilton’s Melrose United Church. Indeed, Les first met Elizabeth (Beth) McKenzie, his wife and partner of 65 years, during a church camp, and their mutual interest in such matters enriched and characterized their relationship through the decades. Les was an active member of the United Church of Canada and served internationally with the World Council of Churches. Following his undergraduate studies in Chemical Engineering at the University of Toronto (1941), Les spend the war years working in Defence Industries Ltd (Winnipeg), but returned post-war to advanced studies to secure his Master’s (University of Manitoba, 1946) and PhD (University of Toronto, 1947) degrees before embarking on a highly distinguished academic career. A first professorship at the University of British Columbia (UBC) was followed by his appointment as the first Head and founder of the new Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of New Brunswick (UNB), in Fredericton. Following a decade in that capacity, Les accepted an appointment in 1970 as the Dean of Engineering at McMaster University, a position that he held proudly for another decade. His influence on the evolution of that faculty was enormous, and he took great pride in his continuing relationship with the University as an active Emeritus Professor until his passing. Les’s academic and professional career extended well beyond the bounds of the University setting. He served on many national and international advisory councils and boards, including nearly two decades of service to the New Brunswick Research and Productivity Council, of which he was the founding Chairman; seventeen years as the Editor of the Canadian Journal of Chemical Engineering; service to various Boards of the National Research Council, and the Council of Royal Society of Canada; Chairmanship of a Technical Advisory Committee to Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) on the Nuclear Fuel Waste Management Program; and many others. His manifold services and accomplishments were recognized by his appointment as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (1985), as a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering (1987), as an Officer of the Order of Canada (1991), and by the bestowing of three honorary doctorates, from St. Staszic University in Cracow, Poland (1992), McMaster University (1994), and the University of Waterloo (1996). During his distinguished academic career, Les developed a wide variety of personal and international relationships with colleagues, friends and former students from many nations. Many of them will remember the Shemilt family tradition, in UBC and UNB days, of welcoming international students into their home for a Christmas meal. Research sabbaticals and other overseas travel provided Les and Beth the opportunity to keep these long-standing friendships very much alive, and indeed the issue of internationalism in all its manifold aspects was very important to Les: he was very much a concerned citizen of the world. His influence continues to be felt in the person of the many dozens of research students who worked under his intellectual direction and who made significant contributions to Engineering, a discipline of which Les was staunchly proud; he was selected as Hamilton’s ‘Engineer of the Year’ in 1989. Family, both immediate and extended, was the focus of Les’s personal life, and he took great pride in the accomplishments and activities of his children and grandchildren – never more than in family get-togethers at Christmas and Thanksgiving, but also whenever other opportunities arose. Les was a passionate bibliophile, and had a particular and abiding interest in the literature and mythology surrounding Sherlock Holmes. He was a long-standing member of The Bootmakers of Toronto and the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, and was delighted when the Toronto chapter of the Holmes Society formally installed him as a ‘Master Bootmaker’ on the occasion of his 90th birthday celebration, held at McMaster University. Les Shemilt will be dearly remembered by Beth (McKenzie), his wife and friend for 65 years; by daughter Roslyn (Hanes), her husband Dave and their children Amy, Ali and Alex; and by son Roderick, his fiancée Theresa, and Rod’s daughter Paige. Les was predeceased by brothers Gordon and John, but is survived by his sister Helen (Channen). All who knew him will remember him as a generous, caring man of deep and lasting convictions. A funeral service will be celebrated at Melrose United Church, 86 Homewood Ave, Hamilton, on Tuesday January 3, 2012, at 2:00 PM with a brief visitation prior to the service from 1:00-2:00 PM. In lieu of flowers, donations to Melrose United Church, Wesley Centre, or the Student Christian Movement (SCM) would be greatly appreciated.


  • Visitation Tuesday, January 3, 2012
  • Funeral Service Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dr. Leslie Webster Shemilt

have a memory or condolence to add?

Marilia Caldwell

January 3, 2012

I am verry sorry to hear about Dr. Shemilt. I was his postdoc in 1984-1986 and we remained friends since. I have been waiting for the Christmas newsletter and decided to make a search to verify if something was wrong. Dr. Shemilt was always extremely kind to me and to my then baby daughter Anna, besides being an excellent scientist.
My deep condolences to the Shemilt family.

Eric Cook

January 3, 2012

The Research and Productivity Council (RPC) was saddened to learn of Dr. Shemilt's passing. As noted, he provided guidance and direction as RPC's inaugural Chairman. The effectiveness of his leadership is underscored by our ongoing success; we will be celebrating 50 years in business in 2012. Please accept our sincere condolences.

On Behalf of the New Brunswick Research and Productivity Council
Eric Cook, P.Eng.
Executive Director

Gordon Slater

December 31, 2011

My condolences to the Shemilt Family. I worked with Les on and off for nearly 23 years in the Department of Chemical Engineering, McMaster University. He was a genuine gentleman, and never once had a bad word for anyone. I did attend his 90th Birthday and induction as a Master Bootmaker held at McMaster.
I will miss his genuine friendship.

Nancy Whitla

December 28, 2011

I am sorry to hear of Leslie Shemilt's passing. I don't think I ever actually met him in person, but as a senior friend of the Student Christian Movement of Canada, I have been greatly encouraged by Les's generous and faithful support over many, many years. I give thanks for his life.