John Wendell Holmes

John Wendell Holmes, OC, diplomat, scholar, civil servant (born 18 June 1910 in London, ON; died 13 August 1988 in London, ON).



Education and Early Career

John Holmes earned his BA at the University of Western Ontario and completed his master’s degree at the University of Toronto. He went on to pursue graduate studies at the University of London (in England).

From 1941 to 1943, Holmes was the national secretary of the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, a non-partisan, non-governmental organization dedicated to the discussion and analysis of international affairs.

In 1943, he joined the Department of External Affairs (now Global Affairs Canada) and served as first secretary in London, chargé d’affaires in Moscow and acting Canadian representative to the United Nations in New York, among other important positions (see Diplomatic and Consular Representations).

Holmes left the public service in 1960. He was among hundreds of federal civil servants who were fired, demoted or forced to resign due to their sexual orientation (see Canada’s Cold War Purge of LGBTQ from Public Service).

After he was forced to resign, Holmes joined the Canadian Institute of International Relations as president in 1960, a title that changed to director general. In 1973, he stepped aside as director general and served as counselor of the CIIA for the rest of his life.

Academic and Publishing Career

From 1966 to 1988, John Holmes was a visiting professor at the University of Toronto, where he taught international relations. He also spent time as a professor of international relations at Glendon College, York University from 1971 to 1982, and was a visiting professor at the University of Leeds in 1979 and 1985.

Holmes published works on Canada’s foreign relations policies and practices, particularly in three volumes that are recognized as indispensable guides to the history of Canada’s foreign policy: Life with Uncle: The Canadian-American Experience, which analyses Canada’s uneasy relationship with the United States; and the two volumes of The Shaping of Peace: Canada and the Search for World Order (1979–82), which recounts Canada’s role on the world stage.

Holmes wrote countless valuable articles in popular and specialized publications, many of which have been collected in The Better Part of Valour (1970) and Canada: A Middle-Aged Power (1976). Holmes brought a combination of realism and tolerance with a graceful mixture of elegance and humour to the study of foreign affairs.

Honours and Awards

John Holmes received 11 honorary degrees and was an honorary fellow of Trinity College (1983). Other honours and awards include:


Further Reading

  • Adam Chapnick, Canada’s Voice: The Public Life of John Wendell Holmes (2009)