Acclaimed historian named faculty’s distinguished alumnus

Barry Gough

One of Canada’s foremost historians, whose writing has explored the collision of empires, forgotten marine passageways, and the friendship of two admiralty titans, has received the Faculty of Humanities’ 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award. 

Barry Gough, Canadian maritime and naval historian, award-winning author, and emeritus professor of history at Wilfrid Laurier University, was honoured on Feb. 5 at the UVic Distinguished Alumni Awards Night at the Songhees Wellness Centre. 

Raised in Victoria, Gough attended Victoria High School and Victoria College, UVic’s predecessor institution. He went on to study at the University of British Columbia and completed his PhD at King's College London. Gough said winning the Distinguished Alumni Award was reaffirming and strengthening, and noted that it had brought him full circle.

“It’s obviously a very exciting thing for me; it’s beyond any expectation that the university where I had started my academic work as a student so very long ago should honour me in this way,” he says. 

“It’s phenomenal what a great, wide world opened to me as an undergraduate. It had untold personal benefits. The exhibition of good scholarship and outstanding teaching there was a great model for me to have in my own academic life, which spans 42 years of teaching.” 

Gough’s distinguished career includes teaching at Western Washington University before being hired at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, where he taught for 32 years and was the university’s founding director of Canadian Studies, and later assistant dean of arts. Among his many achievements, Gough has been named fellow of the Royal Historical Society, fellow of King's College London and Life Member of the Association of Canadian Studies. 

The author of 20 books and several hundred articles and reviews, Gough has a writing career that has spanned four decades. His notable works include Fortune’s a River: The Collision of Empires in Northwest America, which won the John Lyman Book Award for best Canadian naval and maritime history and was shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, as well as Juan de Fuca's Strait: Voyages in the Waterway of Forgotten Dreams. His most recent book, Churchill and Fisher: Titans at the Admiralty, has received critical acclaim from the Times Literary Supplement, which described the work as “enthralling” and “a work of profound scholarship and interpretation.” 

Department of History Chair John Lutz says Gough’s reputation for excellence in scholarship extends internationally, but it is his attention to craft, and a desire to engage a wide audience, that helps set his work apart.

“Much of his success and critical acclaim comes from the fact that he writes history as literature and the majority of his books are published by commercial, not academic presses, and are widely read,” Lutz says.

“At the same time he is also very much grounded in our community where he has deep roots … [he] has made an unusually important contribution to our understanding of Victoria, British Columbia, and our place in the world.”

Despite enjoying visiting professorships around the world and an honourary degree from the University of London, Gough has remained dedicated to his hometown of Victoria, where he lives with his wife, Marilyn. He has written a detailed history of Victoria High School. In 2016, he was named Honorary President of the BC Historical Federation.

At UVic, Gough has supported five scholarships and created two $25,000 endowed scholarships, the Barry Gough Scholarship in History and the new John Gough Scholarship for Studies in the History of the Environment, named in honor of his late father, a school inspector for Greater Victoria. Gough sees the scholarships as an investment in future historians, and the province’s own unfolding story.

“British Columbia is one of the most unique parts of Canada—it stands apart,” he says. “I want to ensure the subject is researched and evaluated forever.”