George MacDonald at the Roman Baths in Bath, England.


George MacDonald In Memoriam

January 27, 2020

In Memoriam

George F. MacDonald CM, PhD, LLD, FRSC, FRSA

Archaeology faculty and staff were saddened to hear of the recent passing of George MacDonald, a long-time colleague, friend and adjunct Professor in the Department. His accomplishments were many and his affiliation with SFU and the department significantly valued.

With a career so distinguished, it is impossible to describe with justice the achievements of this truly great archaeologist, museologist, and public administrator. George undertook his undergraduate training at the University of Toronto before moving to Yale to complete a PhD in 1966. His dissertation, on the Paleo-Indian site of Debert, Nova Scotia, was pioneering and a classic early study for insights into the Clovis complex in North America. In 1966 George was appointed as an archaeologist at the National Museums of Canada, where he began a long and distinguished career in Northwest Coast archaeology. His recognition as an administrator occurred quickly. In 1969 he was named Chief of the Archaeology Division and, in 1983, he became Director of the Museum. In the latter role he was instrumental in the planning and construction of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, one of Ottawa’s most visited institutions today. When most people would have retired on these laurels, George seemed but midway in his career. In 1999 he became Director of the Victoria Museums in Melbourne, Australia, hired to assist in their redevelopment. In 2001 he moved to Seattle as Director of the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington. And in 2005, he became President of the Bill Reid Foundation in Vancouver, Director of the Bill Reid Gallery and, through SFU, established the Bill Reid Centre for Northwest Coast Art Studies. Along that career path, and among the many honours he received, was Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (1999), Fellow of the Royal Society of Australia (2000), an Honorary PhD from the University of Calgary (2000) and recognition by the Government of Canada through the Order of Canada (2006) and a Queens Jubilee Medal (2012).

George’s initial association with Archaeology at SFU was in 1982 when, for a year, he was a Visiting Professor in the Department. His association continued with faculty and student interaction after that time but it was not until 2005 when the affiliation was formalized. In that year George had taken on the Directorship of the Bill Reid Foundation. He also had gathered archival photographs and records for the Haida and other Northwest Coast groups, documentary evidence he wanted to make available through the Bill Reid Gallery. He was then appointed as an Adjunct member of the Department of Archaeology as Director of the Bill Reid Centre for Northwest Coast Art Studies. His status as an adjunct continued to the present. Over the years George contributed in many ways to the Department and our Museum. Perhaps the most visual legacy was his promotion and involvement with the SFU acquisition of “Constellation of Frogs,” the Jim Hart monumental carving now marking the entrance to the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. George donated thousands of images to the SFU Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, documenting excavations and collections around the world.

We recognize and are grateful to George MacDonald for his role in Pacific northwest archaeology, for his championship of heritage through museums in Canada, Australia and the United States, and for his involvement and collegiality at SFU and in our department through the past decade and a half.                                                                                               

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