Memorable Manitobans: Henry Edmison “Harry” Duckworth (1915-2008)
Born at Brandon on 1 November 1915, only child of Reverend H. B. Duckworth and Annie Edmison, he grew up in Transcona and St. James. He graduated from Wesley College (BA 1935, now part of the University of Winnipeg) and the University of Manitoba (BSc 1936, Teaching Certificate 1937) then taught mathematics and physics at Stonewall and United College (1938-1940). He attended the University of Chicago from 1940 to 1942, receiving a PhD in physics. As a physicist, Duckworth wrote the first definitive text in English on mass spectroscopy, and discovered the last stable isotope (platinum). He became internationally known for his study of atomic masses and their significance to nuclear stability.
During the later years of the Second World War, he was a junior scientist with the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals attached to the National Research Council, engaged in radar development. He was a professor of physics at the University of Manitoba (1945-1946), Wesleyan University (Connecticut; 1946-1951) and McMaster University (Hamilton; 1951-1965). He returned to Manitoba in 1965 to become Vice-President (Academic) of the University of Manitoba.
On 21 November 1942, he married Katherine Jane McPherson (?-1991) at Ottawa, Ontario and they had two children, Henry William “Harry” Duckworth and Jane Duckworth Maksymiuk. After her death, in 1995 he married Shirley Craik, widow of Donald William Craik.
He served as President of the University of Winnipeg (1971-1981). While there, he introduced the challenge of climbing the large boulder on the institution’s front lawn, which remains a mainstay of each year’s Homecoming celebrations. At his retirement, he was made President Emeritus and received an honorary doctorate (1984). He was an inaugural member of the Board of Directors for the University of Winnipeg Foundation. From 1986 to 1992, he was Chancellor of the University of Manitoba.
He was a devoted fan of University sports; in 1992 he introduced the Duckworth Challenge, an annual competition between sports teams of the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg. A sports arena at the University of Winnipeg is named for him. He served as President of the Royal Society of Canada (1971 to 1972). He was inducted into the Order of Canada (1976) and the Manitoba Order of the Buffalo Hunt (1992), received honorary doctorates from the University of Manitoba (1978) and Brandon University (1982), and a Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal (1977) and Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2002).
He died at Winnipeg on 18 December 2008. He is commemorated by Duckworth Centre at the University of Winnipeg.
His papers are held at the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections.
Obituary [Katherine Jane Duckworth], Winnipeg Free Press, 25 August 1991, page 24.
“Academic excellence was his calling,” Winnipeg Free Press, 20 December 2008, page B2.
H. E. Duckworth, Canadian Who’s Who.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 10 December 2021