In memoriam: Dr. William F. Summers

Mar 26th, 2013

C. Mather

Karyn Butler and Bill Summers
In memoriam: Dr. William F. Summers

Dr Bill Summers, the first Head of Geography, passed away yesterday at the Veteran’s Memorial Caribou Pavilion in St. John’s. He is survived by his many children, grandchildren, and great grandchild.

Dr Bill Summers was born in St John’s in 1919 and went to school at St Bonaventure College.  He completed a BSc degree at Dalhousie and an MSc Degree at McGill.  He joined the faculty of McGill after completing the MSc, and then spent the next 10 years teaching courses in cartography, air photo interpretation, human and economic geography, and conservation. 

During his time Montreal, Bill Summers retained links to Newfoundland.  He worked on the Provincial Government’s Fisheries Settlement Survey, which involved detailed surveys of land use, economic activities and social conditions in the province.  From the mid-1950s he was involved in mapping land use and constructing land classification maps of the Avalon Peninsula.  On this basis of this and other work, Summers submitted a PhD to McGill entitled a Geographical Analysis of Population Trends in Newfoundland.  The degree was awarded in 1957.

Summers was attracted back to Newfoundland in 1960 and was appointed as the first Head of the Geography Department at Memorial University in 1960.  Bill was tasked with building the Department of Geography, which he did with vision and energy.  When he started in 1960 the Department was made up one faculty member (Summers himself) and three course offerings.  When Summers completed his term as Head in the early 1970s he had left an Indelible impact on the Department and on Memorial University.  The Geography Department in 1972 consisted of 17 members of faculty, 4 Majors (BA Ed, Physical Geography, Economic Geography, Cultural/Historical Geography), and an Honours Degree. The number of undergraduate courses offered by the Department increased from 3 in 1960 to 55 in 1972. The courses reflected the full range of the discipline but were also relevant to the local context.  From the late 1960s the Geography Department introduced a graduate programme and thanks to Summers’ initiative, students could now pursue an MSc or MA degree in Geography.  Summers had, almost single-handedly, established Geography at Memorial University.

In 2010, the Geography Department received permission to re-name our Board Room in the Science Building, to the William F. Summers room (see picture).  The honour recognises his extraordinary achievement in building the foundation of Memorial’s Geography Department and to his commitment to the geography of his home province through his various research contributions and through the production of material for geography teachers in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Details on the visitation and funeral can be found in his obituary.

Photo: Karyn Butler and Bill Summers (2010)