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Biography & Autobiography Political

O.D. Skelton

A Portrait of Canadian Ambition

by (author) Norman Hillmer

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
May 2016
Political, General, Diplomacy, General, Canadian
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Jun 2015
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2016
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2013
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Nov 2013
    List Price

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When O.D. Skelton became Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s foreign policy advisor in 1923, he was already a celebrated critic of the status quo in international and domestic affairs, a loyal Liberal Party man, and a fervent nationalist who believed Canada needed to steer a path independent of Britain. Two years later, he became the permanent head of Canada’s Department of External Affairs. Between then and his tragic death in 1941, Skelton created Canada’s professional diplomatic service, staffing it with sharp young men such as Lester B. Pearson.

Skelton’s importance in Ottawa was unparalleled, and his role in shaping Canada’s world was formative and crucial. Using research from archives across Canada and around the world, Norman Hillmer presents Skelton not only as a towering intellectual force but as deeply human – deceptively quiet, complex, and driven by an outsize ambition for himself and for his country. O.D. Skelton is the definitive biography of the most influential public servant in Canada’s history, written by one of the most prolific Canadian historians of international affairs and the editor of Skelton’s voluminous papers.

About the author

Norman Hillmer is professor of history and international affairs at Carleton University and is a former senior historian at the Department of National Defence. Granatstein and Hillmer have collaborated on five books, including "First Drafts: Eyewitness Accounts from Our Past" and the national bestseller "Prime Ministers: Ranking Canada’s Leaders".

Norman Hillmer's profile page


  • Winner, Stacey Prize
  • Runner-up, Ottawa Book Awards awarded by the City of Ottawa
  • Short-listed, The Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing awarded by Writer's Trust of Canada
  • Short-listed, Canada Prize in the Humanities - The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Short-listed, John W. Dafoe Book Prize awarded by J.W. Dafoe Foundation

Editorial Reviews

‘Norman Hillmer’s 2015 masterful biography of Skelton helps us to see Skelton for who he was… This is the work of a senior scholar who knows what he is doing, and knows his subject.’

Acadiensis, vol 45:01:2016

‘Hillmer’s biography will be indispensable to future students of Canadian government and politics.’

Canadian Historical Review vol 97:02:2016

"Hillmer comes closer than anyone since Harkness in his 1970 monograph, The Restless Dominion, to explaining the close working relations between the Irish Free State and Canada in their external affairs struggles."

Canadian Journal of Irish Studies Vol 41:2018

‘The greatest compliment one may pay to this book is that it is worthy of its subject.’

British Journal of Canadian Studies vol 29:02:2016

‘Hillmer’s masterful biography of Skelton helps us to see Skelton who he was… This is the work of a senior scholar who knows what he is doing and knows his subject.’

Acadiensis vol 65:01:2016

Other titles by Norman Hillmer