Neill Currie

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Second obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 11 Jan 1995 (birth year is erroneous). The number listed, 204 237 0525, was that of his sister Marian Gillis, at 102 Lyndale Drive in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Neill Edward Currie (24 June 1921 – 11 January 1995) was an economist, Rhodes Scholar, decorated World War II bomber pilot, Canadian diplomat at the United Nations, activist, teacher, musician, and avid gardener.

Early life

Neill Currie was born on 24 June 1921 in Port Arthur, Ontario. His parents were Anna Snook and Alex Currie, who worked as a station agent with the Canadian Pacific Railway for 41 years until his retirement in 1948. As a child, Currie lived in the Manitoba communities of Oakbank, Foxwarren, Portage la Prairie, and Transcona (now a suburb of Winnipeg). Currie and his family moved to Winnipeg in 1933 and settled there.

Even as a child, he was an avid gardener; as a child, he sold seed packages door-to-door.


Currie attended Gordon Bell High School in Winnipeg. From 1937 to 1941 he worked with Canadian Pacific Telegraphs in Winnipeg and Port Arthur.

Currie went on to study physics and mathematics at the University of Manitoba. In 1942, Currie received his Bachelor of Science degree from the university.

A musician, Currie helped pay his way through university playing the flute and giving flute lessons. He played the flute in orchestras. He was a member of the University of Manitoba’s band and symphony since their inceptions, and in 1942 was made chairman of its "Board of Instrumental Music" (a student group which existed from 1941 to at least 1945).

The students of University of Manitoba recently formed a board of instrumental music to centralize the activities of their symphony orchestra, chamber group, small concert orchestra, and band.

— Page 6, Winnipeg Free Press, Saturday, 18 January 1941 [1]
Neill, middle, with his brothers Jack and Clyde, who also served in the RCAF, although not overseas. Picture taken at Jack and his wife's house on Byng Place in Winnipeg, 1943.

After his graduation, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and served as a heavy bomber pilot. He served with the RCAF from 1942 to 1945 as a Flying Officer, piloting heavy bombers in the European Theatre. He completed a tour of operations and in April 1945 was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, a military decoration instituted for “an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy.”

Winnipeg Free Press, front page, 21 December 1944. The caption reads: "These airmen arrived in Winnipeg from overseas Wednesday over C.P.R. and C.N.R. lines in time to spend Christmas with their families. ... In the upper right picture Flying Officer Neill Currie is shown with his nephews Douglas, left, and Alan [sic] Currie, whom he met for the first time. They are sons of his brothers, aircraftman 2nd class (AC2) Jack Currie and leading aircraftman (LAC) Clyde Currie, both in the R.C.A.F. here."

See main article: Air Force Career of Neill Currie.

Returning from military service, Currie attended Queen’s University, and in 1945 he received his Bachelor of Arts degree.

From 1945 to 1946 he was a high school teacher with United College, now the University of Winnipeg.

In 1947 he received his Master of Arts degree in economics from the University of Toronto.

He returned to Winnipeg and was appointed assistant professor of political economy (economics?) at United College, now the University of Winnipeg.

In 1948, he won a Rhodes Scholarship. He studied in Oxford, England for three years. In 1951 he received his Bachelor of Philosophy from the University of Oxford.


In 1951, he returned to Canada and worked in the Economics and Statistics Branch of the Department of Defence Production from 1951 to 1952.


Currie initially heeded the purpose of the Rhodes Scholarships by eschewing a career in the private sector and instead serving the public sector. He entered Canada’s Department of External Affairs in 1952, appointed to the department on 10 June of that year. He was a Foreign Service Officer with the department from 1952 to 1961.

In general, foreign service officers are responsible for scientific, technical and information exchanges, economic and political reporting, negotiation with host countries, public affairs activities, promotion of trade and financial interests, administration of Canadian missions abroad, management of immigration programs, assistance to Canadians travelling, studying and working abroad.

— University of Manitoba website [2]

From 1953 to 1961 he worked in that department at the United Nations in New York and as Canadian Consul in Bogota, Columbia. From 1954 to 1956, Currie was Canadian Consul to Columbia and Second Secretary at the Canadian Embassy in Bogotá. He was posted from Ottawa to the Canadian Embassy in Bogotá effective 16 June 1954. In January of 1956 he was posted from the Canadian Embassy in Bogotá to the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. From 1956 to 1958 he worked in the department’s Economic and United Nations Divisions. From 1958 to 1961, he was First Secretary with the Canadian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York. He was posted from Ottawa to the U.N. mission effective 13 August 1958.

In 1958, with the Department of External Affairs, he accompanied Josie Dinan Quart (1895 - 1980) as she sat as Canada's first female delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.


Looking for a more permanent lifestyle, Currie left the Department of External Affairs in 1961, leaving New York on 27 April and resigning effective 13 October. He moved to Montréal, Québec to work for the head office of the Bank of Montréal. John Ernest "Jack" Toten (1918 - 2011), in charge of the bank’s economics department, brought Currie in as his assistant. Currie was assistant economic adviser at the bank for four years.

In December 1965, he succeeded Toten to become economic adviser. Currie was put in charge of the department when the bank made Toten the first and only planning coordinator (a position created on the advice of an American management consulting firm).

In 1966, as a result of a study of its head office function by a U.S. management consulting firm, the Bank of Montreal established a new post, that of planning coordinator. Toten became its first (and only) incumbent and Neill Currie was promoted to economic adviser. Currie was in charge until 1971, when he was asked to work on special assignments for the executive (mainly speech writing, at which he was particulary adept), and Jack Toten returned to become chief economist (with Currie retaining the title of economic adviser). Toten held the post until Grant Reuber (1927 - 2018), a well-known academic economist and provost at the University of Western Ontario, was appointed to succeed him in 1978.

— Economists in the Chartered Banks 1920-1966, by John Parish, at the Canadian Association for Business Economics [3]

In 1967, he became Vice-President and Economic Adviser at the bank (?).

Currie oversaw the economics department until 1971, when Toten returned and became chief economist, while Currie kept the title of economic adviser. Currie “was asked to work on special assignments for the executive (mainly speech writing, at which he was particularly adept)”.

In 1979, Currie left the Bank of Montreal and in May of that year he became economic advisor to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

On 6 June 1979, just weeks into his new role, he testified at a United States Senate hearing of the Committee on Finance, on the subject of "North American Economic Interdependence".[4] He was quizzed by 37-year-old Senator Max Baucus of Montana. His remarks presaged the later passage North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994.

Most of the studies on the Canadian side, the two major research organizations that have looked into this, the Economic Council of Canada and the C. D. Howe Institute, have both come to the conclusion that the benefits [to North American free trade] would be considerable in the long run-benefits of a variety of sorts, not only in terms of cheaper imports, but also more efficient combination of factors of production, and so forth, and the advantages of scale arising form and having access to a larger market, and all that sort of thing. But there is, nevertheless, apart from the thought of the immediate risk, the question of how the transitional arrangements will work out. Somebody is going to be hurt for sure in the process.

There is also a very real political perception-public political, I do not mean this in a party sense, at all-a political perception that national sovereignty would, in some way, be impaired by this. My personal view-this is only a personal view-my personal view is that talking about a free trade area as opposed to a common market, of a free trade area is more likely, by improving the economic base on which a country works, more likely to improve its ability to withstand external pressures of a political and economic sort than would a country that is perceived to be going downhill.

— Neill Currie, economic advisor to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, testifying at the United States Senate, 6 June 1979

Retirement and later life

In 1980, Currie had a heart attack and was forced to undergo major heart surgery. This led him in 1981 to retire from day-to-day employment: he left his role at Canadian Chamber of Commerce after two years.

However, Currie remained active until the end of his life with many organizations and causes and his gardening in Westmount, the affluent suburb on the Island of Montreal where he lived.

Volunteer work and activism

Currie was highly involved in volunteer work and leadership roles in many seniors’ and other projects in and beyond Westmount.

Around 1970, Currie was governor of the Fraser-Hickson Institute in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, the first and oldest free library in Canada.

After his retirement, he became Chairman of the Westmount Senior Citizens’ Centre.

He was president of Contactivity Centre for Seniors, and then around 1990 became a co-founder of the Seniors of Westmount Action Group (SWAG), which started as a breakaway from Contactivity as a pro-activist group.

Don Wedge (1930 - 2010) [5], a neighbour of Currie’s and activist, wrote that Currie with SWAG was a main proponent of low-floor buses. He recalled how at age 70, Currie introduced the idea to the Montreal Urban Community (MUC), the regional government at the time.

Currie also served as a board member of the Senior Citizens’ Forum of Greater Montreal.

He was director of the McGill Chamber Orchestra.

In 1994, Currie served as president of the McGill Institute for Learning in Retirement (MILR), a position he held until his death in early 1995.

A profile from a 2009 MILR publication notes that Currie was also a conservationist and wildlife enthusiast who moderated groups on tropical ecosystems.

A Montreal Gazette obituary noted that “[u]ntil recently, [Currie] continued to operate from his home a social-work-by-phone service for seniors in need.”


Michael Currie's family at Neill Currie's house, with part of his garden visible, 1992

Currie was remembered as having a passion for gardening, with his obituary noting that his garden in Westmount won many prizes. His interest dated back to his childhood, when he sold packages of seeds from door-to-door. In having a passion for gardening he appears to have followed his father Alex, who was similarly remembered for his prize-winning gardening.

In 1967, Currie purchased his Westmount home at 307 Avenue Roslyn on the corner with Boulevard de Maisonneuve because of its ideal location for a garden. Currie told the Westmount Examiner in 1984 that he had looked at 60 houses before buying it and chose it for its southern exposure.

In 1971 he started relandscaping the property when a prominent elm tree died of Dutch elm disease. Currie’s garden attracted the attention even of strangers who walked by it.

“Neill's garden was known, particularly for his beautiful magnolias,” Lois Rowe, who met Currie through SWAG, recalled to the Westmount Examiner. “Anytime you passed by his house you would see people standing there making comments.”

“He loved his garden, and he loved for you to come and see it,” Rowe also said of Currie.

Jim Lynch [6], a longtime friend, told the Montreal Gazette that “[s]trangers sent [Currie] photographs and letters about the garden, some telling him his magnolia trees were even nicer than the year before.” Currie was also a judge of the yearly Maisons Fleuries competition in Westmount.


In May of 1993, Currie underwent surgery for cancer that had begun in his colon and spread to his liver. Despite continued chemotherapy, in September he participated in that year’s Terry Fox Run, a fundraiser for cancer research.

On 11 January 1995, Currie died at his home in Montreal at the age of 73 following a two-year illness of cancer.

Tombstone, Thomson in the Park Cemetery, Winnipeg

Currie was buried at Thomson In The Park Cemetery in Winnipeg. The epitaph on his tombstone notes his achievement as a 1948 Rhodes Scholar.


“Blonde, immaculate, Neill has done much to encourage the growth of instrumental music on the campus,” read a profile of Currie in the 1942 edition of Brown and Gold, the annual publication of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union. “The only man on the campus who is able to call a girl a . [sic] and get away with it!”

Neill had several friends in Montréal:

  • Gerald Iles (1912 - 20 July 2004), zoo superintendent. Moved to Canada in 1957; Iles had left to work at the zoo in Montreal, Quebec, and he remained in Canada for the rest of his life. "He never married" [7]
  • Sally Aitken (1937 - 2011)
  • Jim Lynch (1941 - 2010)
  • Don Wedge (1930 - 2010)
  • Lois Rowe (? - ?)
  • Herbert "Herb" Bercowitz (1924 - )
  • Peter Trent (5 January 1946 - )

Relationship with Family

Currie was particularly close to his mother Anna Currie; she stayed with him in Montréal for weeks at a time in the years after she was widowed in 1964.

He had no children of his own, and lived in Montréal, far from his siblings, who all lived in Winnipeg and Thunder Bay. He nevertheless made a great effort to be involved in their lives, taking Doug Currie on a trip to New York City, and helping Allan Currie and Marilyn Hermiston when they needed help as young adults. He was always present at family reunion events.

In June 2000, Currie's niece Marilyn's daughter Sharlene Telles-Langdon named her son Neill Telles-Langdon after Neill.

For me Uncle Neill was an academic mentor. I didn’t see him very often since he lived in Montreal, but when ever I did we had a real connection. It’s a little difficult to explain the connection, perhaps it’s best to say we were kindred spirits in some ways. Each with an interest in Canadian politics and with appreciation of academic obscurities such as the finer points of English grammar.

When I was on the national sailing team and attending university [from about 1988 - 1992], he and I spoke about life balance and about pursuing our goals. Uncle Neill’s role in the public service, particularly his time with foreign affairs, it’s part of what motivated me to join the public service myself.

For me, he was [a] kindly and caring uncle.

I am not sure if this is the type of information you were seeking. It is hard to put into words my connection with Uncle Neill. I found myself getting emotional while writing this email and thinking about our times together.

As a post script, I should mention that Uncle Neill left me the cufflinks that he wore when he put on his best dressed outfits as Canada’s high commissioner in Columbia. I have worn those cufflinks for every robed court appearance since my call to the bar. Neill’s cufflinks have now made 12 appearances in the Supreme Court of Canada.

— Shar Telles-Langdon, private email to Michael Currie, 24 August 2019

Michael Currie met him three times at his Montréal home, on the way to and from France in 1987, and again on the there or back from their family trip to Prince Edward Island in 1992. He also visited Thunder Bay, including staying at Michael's home at 71 South Hill Street the night of 16-17 July 1994. They were both present at the wedding of Neill's nephew Greg Gillis in 1992.

According to an obituary published in the Winnipeg Free Press, “[h]is extended family will miss his affection for them and interest in their lives, his involvement and devotion to community issues, and his unending desire to learn, educate, and share his knowledge.”

Published Works

Currie, N. E. (1964). North American Partnership: The Intergovernmental Machinery for Cooperation. Intercom, 16-45.

Currie, N. E. (1968). Challenges and Trends in Modern Banking: A Review. The Canadian Banker, (vol. 75.2) p.99


  • Governor, Fraser-Hickson Institute (before c. 1977)
  • Chairman, Economists Committee, Canadian Bankers’ Association (former as of c. 1986)
  • Director, Canadian Council (?) International Chamber of Commerce (former as of c. 1992)
  • Director, McGill Chamber Orchestra (c. 1986)
  • Chairman, Westmount Senior Citizens’ Centre (c. 1986)


  • Canadian Association of Business Economists (c. 1986, c. 1992)
  • Canadian Institute of International Affairs (c. 1986, c. 1992)
  • Montreal Economists Association (c. 1986, c. 1992)
  • Moneco Forum (c. 1986, c. 1992)
  • National Association [?] Business Economics (c. 1986, c. 1992)
  • Canadian Economists Association (c. 1986, c. 1992)
  • United Church (c. 1992)


307 Avenue de Roslyn, photo taken circa 2012
Another view of 307 Avenue Roslyn. Photo taken circa 2012
Currie's home at 307 Avenue de Roslyn within Westmount
Error creating thumbnail: File missing
Westmount within Montréal


Association of American Rhodes Scholars. The American Oxonian. Association of American Rhodes Scholars, 1966.

BillionGraves, LLC. Neill Edward Currie (1921-1995) Grave Site | BillionGraves. n.d. (accessed May 8, 2018).

Currie, Neill E. "Challenges and Trends in Modern Banking: A Review by Neill E. Currie." The Canadian Banker (Canadian Bankers' Association), 1968: 99-?

Currie, Neill E. "North American Partnership: The Intergovernmental Machinery for Cooperation." Intercom (World Affairs Center for the United States), July-August 1964: 16-45.

Department of External Affairs. External Affairs. Vol. 8. Ottawa, Canada: Department of External Affairs, 1956.

—. External Affairs. Vol. 13. Ottawa, Canada: Department of External Affairs, 1961.

—. External Affairs. Ottawa, Canada: Department of External Affairs, 1958.

—. External Affairs. Vol. 4. Ottawa, Canada: Department of External Affairs, 1952.

—. External Affairs. Vol. 6. Ottawa, Canada: Department of External Affairs, 1954.

_. External Affairs, Volume 10, page 95.

Moodey, Edgar C. The Fraser-Hickson Library: an informal history. London, England: Clive Bingley, 1977.

O'Neill, Bernie. "Currie remembered for concern for seniors and ‘magnificent garden’: Well-known Westmounter dies at 73 after two-year battle with cancer." Westmount Examiner, January 15-19?, 1995: 24.

Parish, John. "Economists in the Chartered Banks, 1920-1996." Canadian Business Economics, Winter/Spring 1997: 14-26.

Queen's University. About the Rhodes Scholarship | Office of the Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs. n.d. scholarship (accessed June 1, 2018).

Simpson, Kieran. Canadian Who's Who, 1992. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992.

—. Canadian Who's Who, 1993. Edited by Kieran Simpson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993.

—. Canadian Who's Who: Volume 15. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980.

—. The Canadian Who's Who, Volume 21. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986.

Sweeney, Laureen. "Retired economist known for work in seniors’ rights and prizewinning garden." Montreal Gazette, January 15-22?, 1995: ?

The Canadian Press. "Nine Rhodes Scholars Due to Sail for Oxford." The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), September 24, 1948: 9.

The London Gazette. ""No. 31674"." December 5, 1919: 15049.

The Manitoban. "Honor Roll: Former students and graduates of the university now on active service." The Manitoban, May 13, 1942: 5.

The Ottawa Journal. "Bank of Montreal Executive Appointments." December 20, 1965: 8.

Thompson, Elizabeth. "Run raises record $540,000 for cancer research." The Gazette, September 20, 1993, Main Edition ed.: 4.

United Nations. Delegations to the United Nations. United Nations, 1958.

University of Manitoba Students' Union. Brown and Gold. Vol. 23. 1942.

VIVA MILR! "Biographical Notes On Past Presidents." 2009.

Wedge, Don. "Boomers should continue transport work – and more." Westmount Independent, March 16-17, 2010: 5.

Winnipeg Free Press. "Alexander C. Currie." September 8, 1964: 24.

Winnipeg Free Press. "Correction Is Made On Currie D.F.C. Item." April 17, 1945: 3.

Winnipeg Free Press. "Neill Edward Currie 1921-1995." January 16, 1995: 14.

Winnipeg Free Press. "Two Manitobans Awarded D.F.C." April 14, 1945: 15.

Winnipeg Free Press. "Three Assistant Professors Appointed By United College." Winnipeg Free Press, July 2, 1947: 29.