John Robarts

John Parmenter Robarts, PC CC QC (January 11, 1917 October 18, 1982) was a Canadian lawyer and statesman, and the 17th Premier of Ontario.

John Robarts
The Hon. John Parmenter Robarts
17th Premier of Ontario
In office
November 8, 1961  March 1, 1971
MonarchElizabeth II
Lieutenant GovernorJohn Keiller MacKay
William Earl Rowe
William Ross Macdonald
Preceded byLeslie Frost
Succeeded byBill Davis
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario
In office
June 9, 1955  October 21, 1971
Preceded byNew riding
Succeeded byGordon Walker
ConstituencyLondon North
In office
November 22, 1951  June 9, 1955
Preceded byCampbell Calder
Succeeded byRiding abolished
Personal details
John Parmenter Robarts

(1917-01-11)January 11, 1917
Banff, Alberta, Canada
DiedOctober 18, 1982(1982-10-18) (aged 65)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Resting placeSt. James Cemetery
Political partyProgressive Conservative
  • Norah McCormick (div. 1970s)
  • Katherine Sickafuse (m. 1976
ChildrenTimothy (1956–1977), Robin Hollis Jeffrey (1953–2010)
CabinetMinister without portfolio (1958-1959)
Military service
Branch/serviceRoyal Canadian Navy
Years of service1942–1945
UnitHMCS Uganda
Battles/warsPacific War

Early life

Robarts was born in Banff, Alberta, making him the only Ontario premier not to have been born in Ontario. As a young man, he moved to London, Ontario, with his family, where he studied at Central Collegiate (today, London Central Secondary School) and at the University of Western Ontario in Business Administration. While attending Western, he joined the Delta Upsilon fraternity.[1]

He enrolled to study law at Osgoode Hall Law School, but his education was interrupted by service with the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II. He served as an officer on HMCS Uganda. After the war, he returned to law school and graduated in 1948.

Early political career

He practiced law in London, Ontario, and was elected to city council in 1948. In 1951, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as a Progressive Conservative MPP from the city. In that era, MPPs not in cabinet were essentially working part-time, due to relatively light legislative duties. Robarts commuted by train from the Queen's Park legislature in Toronto to his family and law practice in London, effectively combining his legislative work with his legal career. His wife Norah disliked Toronto and remained at home in London for most of their marriage. The couple raised two children.[2]

He entered the cabinet of Leslie Frost in 1958 as minister without portfolio, and was promoted to Minister of Education in 1959. The province was in the midst of a major building phase with its education system, to accommodate an enormous increase in enrollment following the Baby Boomer generation of the post-World War II era, and Robarts played an important role as Education Minister, with the establishment of new institutions such as York University.[2]

Premier of Ontario

In 1961, he became the 17th Premier of Ontario, and served in that capacity until 1971. He was an advocate of individual freedoms, and promoted the rights of the provinces against the centralizing initiatives of the federal government. He also promoted national unity against Quebec separatism, and hosted the 1967 "Confederation of Tomorrow" conference in Toronto in an unsuccessful attempt to achieve an agreement for a new Constitution of Canada.

He initially opposed Canadian Medicare when it was proposed, but later endorsed it fully following NDP candidate Kenneth Bolton's upset by-election victory on the issue in the London-area riding of Middlesex South.

As a civil libertarian, and a strong believer in the promotion of both official languages, Robarts opened the door to French language education in Ontario schools. In 1972 he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada.

Nicknamed "the Chairman of the Board" during his tenure, Premier Robarts is remembered for his steps to promote and improve education, he was responsible for the construction of five new universities including York University, the Ontario Science Centre, Ontario Place, the creation of numerous teacher's colleges, the creation of the community college system and of the GO Transit commuter rail system, introducing nuclear power to Ontario's electricity grid, and launching the Ontario Scholar fund for high school students graduating with an A average.[3]

Post-political life

After retiring from office, John Robarts co-chaired the Task Force on Canadian Unity with Jean-Luc Pépin, and joined a Toronto law firm as well as the boards of directors of several major corporations.

Robarts and his wife divorced in the early seventies and he remarried to a woman 28 years his junior.[3]

Later in his life, suffering from depression as a result of both the 1977 suicide of his son, Timothy, and a series of debilitating strokes, Robarts committed suicide on October 18, 1982.[4]

He is buried in St. James Cemetery in Toronto.


The Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies at York University was founded in 1982 in his name. The John P. Robarts Research Institute (renamed The Robarts Research Institute in 2005) at the University of Western Ontario was officially opened in 1986. He served as Chancellor of UWO from 1971 to 1976. He served as Chancellor of York University from 1977 to 1982. Also in London is the Robarts School for the Deaf, and the John P. Robarts elementary school. The 14-storey John P. Robarts Research Library at the University of Toronto is also named in his honour.


University of Western Ontario professor A. K. McDougall authored the first full-length biography: Robarts, in 1985. Steve Paikin wrote a biography, Public Triumph, Private Tragedy: The Double Life of John P. Robarts (Viking, 2005).


  1. Delta Upsilon UWO alumni Archived 2009-09-12 at the Wayback Machine
  2. Robarts, by A.K. McDougall, 1985
  3. Paikin, Steve (October 18, 2007). "Twenty-five years ago, the end of a double life". TVOntario. Retrieved October 29, 2019.
  4. Gallagher, Noel (2001-11-29). "Robarts 'A man for his time'". The Life And Death Of John Robarts. Archived from the original on 2013-01-15. Retrieved 2011-07-02.
Ontario Provincial Government of Leslie Frost
Cabinet post (1)
Predecessor Office Successor
William James Dunlop Minister of Education
Bill Davis
Academic offices
Preceded by
Albert Trueman
Chancellor of the University of Western Ontario
Succeeded by
J. Allyn Taylor
Preceded by
Walter L. Gordon
Chancellor of York University
Succeeded by
John S. Proctor
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