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.
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 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 
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.”
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 
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.
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 Montreal, Quebec to work for the head office of the Bank of Montreal. 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 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". 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) , 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.”
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 , 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.
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!”
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.
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 robes 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 on 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.”
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)
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