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Department History

Western Economics 50th Anniversary Department History

The Western Economics Department began officially in 1966, but there was an economics department by other names before that date.  It taught political science and sociology in addition to economics.  The first economist to come to Western was Louis Wood, a London, Ontario, native who arrived with his Heidelberg doctorate in 1913.  Wood taught both history and economics, and penned the still authoritative history of farmers’ movements in Canada.  He left Western in 1924 for the University of Oregon.  His successor was Ralph Freeman, who was popular with the students but left in 1930, ultimately becoming a long-serving Chair of the MIT Economics Department.  In 1930, Harold Logan (PhD Chicago) and Mark Inman (PhD Harvard) arrived. Unlike his predecessors and Logan, who moved to Toronto after a while, Inman stayed and served as Chair of the Department of Economics and Political Science, followed by stints as Dean and Vice-President of the Faculty of Arts and Science.

The Department expanded slowly after 1945 from a base of just eight full-time faculty.  Rapid growth began in the late 1950s, when Grant Reuber and Ron Wonnacott, both Western alumni, arrived from Harvard.  Reuber became Chair in 1963 and began the modernization of the Department.  Like Inman, he moved on to higher offices before too long, first as Dean and later becoming Provost.  With its continued growth under Reuber and then Wonnacott, the Department soon became the top department in Canada in Macroeconomics and International Trade, with a strong Honors BA program and a flourishing graduate program.

In 1963, Political Science split off and we became the Department of Economics and Sociology.  Then in 1966, Sociology left and we became simply the Department of Economics.   Under Chairs Ron Wonnacott and Clark Leith (who later became Provost), expansion of the Department continued from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s.  International Trade and Macroeconomics became very strong, but Econometrics, Public Finance, and Development were not far behind.  By the late 1970s, the Department was at its zenith in terms of faculty numbers, with about 45 full-time faculty.  It was also assessed as the number one economics department in Canada on the basis of research output – a status that it maintained into the 1990s.   The Department’s strength in research output in the mid to late 1980s was due, in large part, to the efforts of Jim Melvin, David Laidler, Michael Parkin and David Burgess, successive chairs in this period who built on the strong foundations laid earlier.

The 1990s saw departures of some key faculty members, who moved to the U.S. in response to excellent opportunities there.  Also, Ontario universities faced large cuts in provincial government support beginning in 1995.  This led to austerity for the Department, but we maintained our academic standards and careful junior hiring continued.  In the new century, the University once again saw the need for a strong economics department and has become very supportive.  Donors, including the CIBC and RBC, generous alumni, and, most recently, the Jarislowsky Foundation also rallied round.  Senior hiring has been conducted and major new milestones have been passed, including the launch of our Master of Financial Economics program.  In 2013, with the appointment of Stephen Poloz (Western MA 1979 and PhD 1982) as Governor of the Bank of Canada, the spotlight shone again on the Department, highlighting its importance to the University and to Canada as a centre of excellence in research and education in economics.   Now in its 50th anniversary year, the Department is in a strong position and is poised for more great things in its second 50 years.