The Endowed Chair

The Gordon M. Shrum Chair in Science Fund was created in 1983; this endowed chair was established in the name of the founding chancellor of Simon Fraser University (SFU). The goal of this five year research professorship is to attract to SFU an outstanding researcher in a strategical area of interest of the Faculty of Science.

G.M. Shrum, c. 1965 (SFU Archives)

The Namesake

Born in Smithville, Ontario in 1896, Shrum entered the University of Toronto in 1913 with the intention of becoming a teacher. He joined the Canadian Officers' Training Corps (COTC) in 1915 and joined the army the following year.

After serving in France and receiving the Military Medal, he returned to finish his university studies. He received his BA in 1919, MA in 1921, and PhD in 1923 in physics.

Shrum discovered that the green light in the Aurora Borealis is due to oxygen.

His notable achievements included liquefying helium in 1923 and discovering the origin of the auroral green line in the Northern Lights in 1925.

Later that year he left Toronto to become professor of physics at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Over the next 36 years, he served that institution as an academic and administrator. During his time at UBC, Shrum became a colonel in the COTC, and received the Order of the British Empire during World War II. He was also appointed a director of the BC Research Council in 1944.

The G.M. Shrum generating station at W.A.C. Bennett hydro dam in northeastern British Columbia. (Photo: BC Hydro)

In 1958, he served as chairman of a royal commission investigating the BC Power Commission. This led to his appointment as Chair of the BC Energy Board in 1959.

In 1961, Shrum had to leave UBC because he had reached the compulsory retirement age of 65. He was immediately appointed head of BC Electric (later BC Hydro) by Premier W. A. C. Bennett. In that capacity he was responsible for the Peace River hydro project.

SFU in 1967 (SFU Archives)

Premier Bennett selected Shrum to create the new university recommended by the Macdonald Report of 1963. Shrum selected the location on Burnaby Mountain and built Simon Fraser University, as it would be named, in 18 months earning it the title of "the Instant University."

The Shrum bowl is an annual football match between UBC and SFU. (SFU News Archive)

Shrum served as SFU's first chancellor until June 1969 and continued to head BC Hydro until 1972.

In May 1975 he became director of the Vancouver Museum and Planetarium Association and reorganized the museum-planetarium complex at Vanier Park.

In his eighties, Shrum was approached by Premier Bennett to take charge of the financially-troubled Robson Square Courthouse project. He successfully completed the project and was next asked to develop a trade and convention centre for Vancouver. He stepped down from this project when the federal government took over construction. Gordon Shrum died at the age of 89 in 1985.

Source: SFU AtoM:

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Past Shrum Science Chairs

  • 1987–1992: Michael Wortis (Physics); Research area: solid state theory, statistical mechanics, surface physics
  • 1993–1998: Jonathan Borwein (Mathematics & Statistics); Research area: mathematical analysis & computation optimization
  • 1998–2003: John Clague (Earth Sciences); Research area: quaternary geology; earthquakes
  • 2005–2010: Steve Thompson (Statistics); Research area: statistical aspects of wildlife ecology

Webpage developed by Jacqueline Watson with Theresa Kitos