"Outstanding in his field" - Photo Gallery
The Department of Geography at Western announces with sadness that Mike Troughton passed away peacefully on March 10th following a short battle with cancer. Our sympathy and condolences go to his wife Ulla and their children, Camila and Martin, their spouses Mark and Kristi and grandchildren Alexander, Benjamin, Taya and Quynn.
Mike will be sorely missed by university colleagues, former students and a global network of colleagues and friends. Mike joined the department in 1964, was its second doctoral graduate and its longest serving member at his retirement in 2005, a record of 41 years of service that is unlikely to be equaled.
Mike was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, educated at Huddersfield College and won a State Scholarship to Pembroke College, Oxford, that was deferred for two years because of his National Service in the RAF. After graduation he was awarded a Churchill Anglo-Danish Scholarship and spent a year at the Geografiske Institute at Copenhagen University gathering material for his B. Litt. (Oxon) thesis on Danish Agriculture. Following completion of his thesis and a meeting with Allen Philbrick at the IGU in London, England, he accepted an appointment at UWO, arrived in London with Ulla in the fall of 1964, and was immediately whisked off on field camp. In 1970 he became the second doctoral graduate of the Department with a thesis entitled “Farm-Level Investigations in Agricultural Geography” based primarily on his work in Elgin County.
Mike worked with passion on the geography of his adopted country for over 40 years. Throughout that time he was a tireless advocate for the study of Ontario rural landscapes with a strong focus on agriculture and rural resources. He published over 80 papers in refereed journals, books and conference proceedings that deal primarily with Ontario and the Canadian Rural Landscape. These publications began with more classical land use studies and investigation of the typology of agrarian landscapes and continued to explore and describe most aspects of agriculture in Ontario and Canada - hobby farms, the rural urban fringe, industrialised agriculture, dairying, marketing boards, the effects of NAFTA etc. More recently he focused on broader studies of the rural landscape and its built heritage (funded by SSHRC) and on the sustainability of rural environments, work that is perhaps best captured by his Past President’s Address to the Canadian Association of Geographers (CAG) on “Rural Canada and Canadian Rural Geography” in 1994. He also worked and taught on issues relating to resource management in general and for many years was a sustaining member of the GIRMS Discussion Group (Geographers Interested in Resource Management, based at the University of Waterloo) of which he was chair in 1983-85. His reputation as a leader in Canadian Agricultural Geography was established early by his Atlas of Canadian Agriculture (1979) and book on Canadian Agriculture published in 1982. Broader interests in the Ontario Landscape are well illustrated by his co-editorship of two well-used conference proceeding volumes on “The Countryside in Ontario” published over 20 years apart (1975 and 1998). His academic production is remarkable considering that about 90% of his research output is single authored and does not reflect extensive reworking of his students’ work. In his later years he was a prominent and successful advocate for naming the Thames as a Heritage River and for the inventory and preservation of the architectural heritage of rural Ontario.
Although his research has been primarily Ontario and Canada based he was an international leader in the development of Agricultural Geography and brought peculiarly Canadian Issues to the fore in international fora. He was Secretary of the International Geographical Union Commission on Rural Development from 1974-1984, President of the Commission on Changing Rural Systems from 1984-1992 and remained actively involved in successor organisations and meetings. The diverse list of presentations at these meetings (many of which he organized) explored and focused a global spotlight on multiple facets of the agricultural geography and rural landscapes in Canada. He was an active participant for many years in similar groups within the Association of American Geographers and organised numerous special sessions at the meetings of the CAG. Twice serving on the CAG executive (1978-81 and 1991-94), he was President in 1992-3. He also served as Vice Chair of the Canadian National IGU Committee between 1985 and 1988. Throughout the year prior to his retirement he was the main organizer and administrator of the largest meeting in the CAG’s history, held at The University of Western Ontario in June 2005. The meeting was an outstanding success, attracting over 800 participants who presented some 653 papers in 189 general and special sessions. Among the latter, and unbeknownst to Mike prior to the event, was a special session in his honour to recognise his imminent retirement.
During his tenure at Western, Mike always had one of the heaviest undergraduate teaching loads in the Department and his courses were fundamental to the offerings in resource management, agriculture, rural landscapes, the geography of food and food production. He was instrumental in setting up the undergraduate Environment and Resource Management degree programme and has taught and influenced the lives of many students. The 52 undergraduate theses that he supervised cover a huge diversity of topics. Some measure of the quality of his work with students is that, between 1967 and 1982 (when the thesis was compulsory for all Honours students), 9 of his students won the CAG prize for the best thesis. He supervised 29 graduate theses with many former students going on to careers in academe, conservation and rural planning. An inveterate supporter of field camp and getting out into the landscape, he constantly challenged students to experience, understand and value the Ontario landscape, whether it was the relics of abandoned farmsteads, industrial archeology on the Canadian Shield or during the annual visits to local pig farms in his agriculture course. And, of course, he did not patronize “exotic” fieldweeks outside Ontario but remained focused on the diverse Ontario landscape and the rural resource themes of forestry, land use, heritage values, conservation etc. He was never an armchair geographer but practised what he preached, venturing into the fray of municipal politics and planning issues that meant he was well known (though not necessarily appreciated!) at City Hall. In London he has been active in local community organizations, stood for public office and was involved in several architectural heritage committees.
Mike Troughton was a genuine all rounder, who served the discipline, his University and Ontario well in many roles as researcher, teacher, administrator and colleague throughout a long and distinguished career. He was the personification of integrity, a feisty proponent for the causes he believed in and consistently championed the need and value of studies in Ontario. He was honoured by the AAG’s Contemporary Agriculture and Land Use Group’s J. Fraser Hart Award for research excellence and by a Doctor of Laws degree from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. In 2003 he was presented with the CAGONT award for Service to Geography in Ontario in recognition of his achievements in the province where he lived, worked and taught, contributing substantively to our knowledge of the rural (and urban) landscape.
Mike’s sudden death is a great loss to the Department, his friends, family and colleagues. Although “retired” in 2005 he led a departmental field camp in 2006 and worked most days in the department until the beginning of this year. When his illness was diagnosed, his primary academic concern was to complete the book he was preparing on the architectural heritage of the Thames River basin and to put in place funds to ensure its publication. For many years Mike and Ulla’s home has been a welcoming haven for faculty and students alike. With Mike’s death a generation in the Department passes: the new team will sorely miss his sage advice, insight, trivia questions, infectious laugh and sense of humour.
Messages of condolence and support for Ulla and Mike’s family may be sent to Donohue@donohuefuneralhome.ca. If desired, memorial donations may be made to the "Michael Troughton Graduate Bursary Fund" c/o Donna Swanson, Foundation Western, Rm. 11, Alumni Hall, UWO, London, Ontario N6A5B9 (cheques payable to Foundation Western).
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