Graeme Decarie (1933-2022): ‘He could get you interested in anything’
Malcolm Graeme Decarie, BA 60, Concordia associate professor emeritus of history and well-known public commentator, is being fondly remembered by his colleagues following his passing on November 27. He was 89.
“Graeme was a much beloved colleague, very down-to-earth and fun to be around,” says Concordia President Graham Carr, who taught alongside Decarie in the Department of History for many years.
“Graeme revelled in teaching and was adored by generations of students. He also had countless fans in the wider public who enjoyed his regular media commentary, often laced with a sardonic wit. He was passionate about education and about Concordia and will be missed by all of us who had the pleasure to know him.”
‘A great human being’
“I first met Graeme at the time of the Loyola–Sir George merger when we became colleagues in the combined Department of History,” says Frederick Bode, professor emeritus of history. Loyola College merged with Sir George Williams University to form Concordia University in 1974.
“I came to appreciate Graham’s vast knowledge of all things Montreal and his wonderful sense of humour when we eventually shared side-by-side offices in the Webster Library building,” he says.
“Graeme came into the office almost every day, and I always looked forward to our regular conversations which could be about almost anything, from our respective historical interests to the latest news of the day. I missed him following his retirement. He was a great human being.”
Non-traditional path to academia
Born into poverty in Montreal’s Villeray neighbourhood, Decarie didn’t follow a traditional path into academia, dropping out of high school in grade 10. However, he returned to take evening classes as a mature student at Sir George Williams, taking advantage of its focus on continuing education to earn his BA in 1960.
Decarie went on to complete his MA at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, and a PhD in history at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
Following three years at Prince Edward Island University in Charlottetown, Decarie returned to Concordia, where he spent the remainder of his career. He taught for over three decades in the history department until his retirement in 2006, including serving as department chair from 1986 to 1994.
‘A natural storyteller’
Decarie frequently provided commentary for publications and media outlets such as CJAD 800 and CBC Montreal Radio.
“Graeme was a natural storyteller,” recalls Bernard St. Laurent, long-time CBC journalist, radio host and political analyst.
“He could get you interested in anything, from where the apple fields were in NDG to the relationship between early settlers and the Mohawk people of Kahnawake, which is why he was a columnist for so many years.”
‘Ahead of his time’
Rosemarie Schade, professor emeritus of history, describes Decarie as a progressive educator who supported her in the early years of her career.
“In the late 1980s, when he was chair of the history department, I remember his support for the new female hire — me! — at a time that there were almost no women in the department,” she recalls.
His forward-thinking attitude to higher education was also reflected in his attitudes towards students from working-class backgrounds, she adds.
“He knew from his own experience that the culture of the academy was challenging for many, and he was hilariously caustic in voicing his disdain for academic pretensions,” Schade says.
“He is always fondly remembered by me for telling me that the increased number of women in the department had greatly changed the culture and behaviour at meetings for the better. Although he eschewed labels, Graeme was most definitely a feminist, and ahead of his time.”