2015 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing Finalist

O.D. Skelton: A Portrait of Canadian Ambition

Norman Hillmer 
O.D. Skelton: A Portrait of Canadian Ambition
University of Toronto Press


Norman Hillmer

Jury Citation

The shy, dogged, and brilliant Dr. O.D. Skelton was a dangerous man. In his long service as under-secretary of state for external affairs, from 1925 to 1941, Skelton subtly and steadily shifted Canada’s relationship with Great Britain. Many Canadians were outraged that Skelton was slowly cutting the bonds with London. As the most influential public servant of his day, he was the power behind the politicians. Norman Hillmer deftly explores Skelton’s life and service, warts and all, in a compelling narrative. Based on decades of research into multiple archives, this is an authoritative biography of a man who charted a new course for Canada.

About the Book

O.D. Skelton became Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s foreign policy advisor in 1923. Two years later, he was the permanent head of Canada’s Department of External Affairs. Between then and his tragic death in 1941, he created Canada’s professional diplomatic service, staffing it with sharp young men such as Lester Pearson. A fervent nationalist who believed Canada needed to steer a path independent of Britain, Skelton’s importance in Ottawa was unparalleled. Norman Hillmer presents him not only as a towering intellectual force but as deeply human – deceptively quiet, complex, and driven by an outsize ambition for himself and for his country. O.D. Skelton is the definitive biography of the most influential public servant in Canada’s history. Read an excerpt.

About the Author

Norman Hillmer is a professor of history and international affairs at Carleton University. He was formerly senior historian at the Department of National Defence, working primarily on the multi-volume official history of the Royal Canadian Air Force. He has authored more than 25 books and numerous articles concentrating on themes in politics, diplomacy, peacekeeping and defence, and immigration. Hillmer is the editor of Skelton’s voluminous papers, which were published in 2013 as O. D. Skelton: The Work of the World, 1923—1941. He lives in Ottawa.




Woodcock Fund



Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing


September 19 for books published between June 20 and September 18, 2018


Recommended Reading List

We asked some of Canada's finest writers about what they are reading this summer.

Read their Recommendations.


E Newsletter Sign Up

Sign-up for our eNewsletter. Get info about Authors and our latest Events.

Sign up now!

Site design & development supported by

ecentricarts inc