J. Ross Mackay

John Ross Mackay, OC FRSC (偕約翰, December 31, 1915 – October 28, 2014) was a Canadian geographer. He is most noted for his explorations of permafrost phenomena in the western Canadian Arctic. His 40 plus years of study has enabled the building of pipeline operations and petroleum explorations in areas of frozen ground. The Royal Society of Canada stated the following when Mackay was awarded the Willet G. Miller Medal in 1975:

As a research worker with a superb talent of combining three elements - theory, design of simple but effective instruments, and skilled and careful field observations - he has met the challenges of applied science. In the field of permafrost studies he has attained a stature equal to the best from the USA and USSR and in so doing has enhanced Canadian science.

Early life

Mackay was born in Formosa (Taiwan) (then under Japanese rule) to George William Mackay and Jean Ross Mackay, as well as brother to siblings Leslie, Anna, Margaret and Isabel Minnie (1917-2012). His grandfather was George Leslie Mackay, who was instrumental in bringing Christianity and public health care to Northern Taiwan (Formosa). The Mackay Memorial Hospital was named after his ancestor.

Mackay completed a B.A. at Clark University in 1939. He obtained an M.A. from Boston University in 1941. That same year he left his studies to join the war effort. Mackay enlisted in the Canadian Army. Mackay completed training near Toronto and further training as a private (gunner) at a large artillery camp in Petawawa, on the Ottawa River. He was commissioned an Officer (Lieutenant) by 1942. Before the Second World War ended he attained the rank of Major in the Canadian Intelligence Corps. He was stationed in Ottawa until he was discharged in 1946.


In September 1946 Mackay joined McGill University's Department of Geography as an Assistant Professor. His first paper on "The North Shore of the Ottawa River, Quyon to Montebello, Quebec" was published in the Revue Canadienne de Geographie, Volume 1 in 1947. In 1949 he obtained a Ph.D. from the Université de Montréal. Later that year he accepted a position at the University of British Columbia as an Assistant Professor with the Department of Geology and Geography. In 1953 Mackay was promoted to Associate Professor and became a full Professor in 1957.

Mackay gained international scientific recognition through his experimental and field investigations in geography, and especially on the topic of permafrost. He published over two hundred scientific communications, adding extensive research contributions in the Quaternary sciences. From 1981 until his death he was an Emeritus Professor at the University of British Columbia, continuing to teach (voluntarily) a graduate course and undertake field research in the western Arctic, and has published over fifty papers in refereed journals.


Mackay married Violet Meekins in 1944. They had two daughters, Anne and Leslie. Violet died in 1997. Ross died in Kelowna, British Columbia at the age of 98 on October 28, 2014.[1]

Past Positions

Honours and Distinctions


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