Wilson Institute for Canadian History

About the L.R Wilson Institute for Canadian History

Founded in 2008, the Wilson Institute for Canadian History (then called the Wilson Centre) is named in honour of its main donor, L.R. (Red) Wilson. It was created with a simple vision: rethink Canadian history, pre- and post-Confederation, within a transnational framework. We seek to understand Canada’s place in a global perspective and how Canada has influenced – or been influenced by – transnational phenomena.


Over the years, the Wilson Institute has encouraged and funded transnational history in Canada. The institute offers teaching and research fellowships to recent PhDs, hosts numerous workshops, talks, and conferences, and provides grants and awards to graduate students at McMaster University. To help publish books that rethink Canadian history from transnational and global perspectives, the Wilson Institute also supports the Rethinking Canada in the World Series published by McGill-Queen’s University Press.


The Wilson Institute for Canadian History and the L.R. Wilson Chair in Canadian History are supported by a generous donation from the Chancellor, L.R. Red Wilson, and McMaster University.

Donor of the Wilson Institute

L.R. (Red) Wilson

Born and raised in Port Colborne, Ontario, Wilson was educated at Port Colborne High School and obtained an undergraduate degree from McMaster University before entering the foreign service. After postings in Vienna and Japan, he became a teaching assistant at Cornell University where he earned an M.A. in Economics.

Entering the corporate world, Wilson held the position of Corporate Economist and Director of Economic Research with John Labatt Ltd. from 1969-71 before becoming Co-ordinator-Industrial Research and Development Policy for the Federal Government.

Wilson holds numerous honorary degrees, and was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada in 1997. Wilson continues to be involved with companies such as Nortel Networks, CAE Inc, and Daimler Chrysler Inc., and also serves as Chancellor of his alma mater, McMaster University.

Directors of the L.R. Wilson Institute (formerly Centre)

Dr. Ian McKay, 2015 – present

Dr. McKay is a highly influential historian of Canada, whose books include The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia (1994), Rebels, Reds, Radicals: Rethinking Canada’s Left History (2005), Reasoning Otherwise: Leftists and the People’s Enlightenment in Canada, 1890-1920 (2008), and [with Jamie Swift], Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety (2012). A short thought piece he published in 2000, ““The Liberal Order Framework: A Prospectus for a Reconnaissance of Canadian History” has shaped discussions of Canadian history ever since. He also has had a very direct influence on the profession, by supervising more than 30 PhD students and countless MA students at Queen’s University since 1988.

Dr. H.V. Nelles, 2004-2015

Director of the Wilson Institute the L.R. Wilson Chair in Canadian History, Dr. H.V. (Viv) Nelles has taught at Toronto, UBC, York, Harvard, Tsukuba, and Keio, lectured in India, Mexico, Argentina, Great Britain and Ireland, and published on a wide range of subjects. Beginning with books in Political Economy, Business, and Urban History he has more recently worked in the areas of Cultural and Environmental History.

Dr. Nelles is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, winner of the Tyrell Medal for Historical Scholarship, and a two-time recipient of the Sir John A. Macdonald Prize in Canadian History.