Manitoba Historical Society
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Memorable Manitobans: Shirlee Anne Smith (1926-2020)

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Shirlee Anne Smith
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Archivist, historian.

Born in Pictou County, Nova Scotia in 1926, one of twelve children of Wilson Alexander Langille (1906-1993) and Myrtle Lois Dwyer (1909-2013), in a village established in 1785 by her Huguenot ancestors, she grew up surrounded by history. Evenings were spent listening to stories from past centuries about the building of wooden sailing ships, the havoc created by gales sweeping along the Northumberland Strait, and the shopping trips, on foot, over the mountains to Truro to purchase tea and sugar.

Smith, who had a BA in history, spent her entire professional career working either directly or indirectly for the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1973, she was posted to London to transfer the Company’s records to Winnipeg becoming, in the process, the first Canadian Keeper of that internationally known Archives. A considerable amount of her time as Keeper was spent advising, encouraging, and persuading students to complete their research for their postgraduate degrees.

Like many of her colleagues, she wrote articles, book reviews, conducted workshops, and edited numerous manuscripts for publication. In 1977, she co-founded with Helen Spinks Burgess the publishing firm of Watson & Dwyer, named for their mothers’ respective maiden names, which specialized in books on western Canadian and fur trade history.

In addition to being a President of the Manitoba Historical Society (1982-1984), she also served on a number of Boards and Committees among them being Canada’s National History Society, National Archival Board, and City of Winnipeg Advisory Board on the Arts. After resigning from the Archives in 1990, she spent her time as an active Anglican, doing freelance research, and travelling to various countries.

In 1960, she married Richard Alfred Smith. They had no children. In recognition of her community service, she was inducted into the Order of Canada (1984) and she received a Distinguished Service Award from the University of Manitoba, Manitoba Centennial Medal from the Manitoba Historical Society (1970), Prix Award from the Province of Manitoba (1995), Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2002), and Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012).

She died at Winnipeg on 17 April 2020 and was buried in Nova Scotia.

Her articles for the Manitoba Historical Society:

Review: Edward Beauclerk Maurice, The Last of the Gentlemen Adventurers: Coming of Age in the Arctic
Manitoba History, Number 52, June 2006

Review: J. M. Bumsted, Lord Selkirk: A Life
Manitoba History, Number 61, Fall 2009

See also:

Shirlee Smith Honored by Laird Rankin
Manitoba History, Number 9, Spring 1985


Obituary [Myrtle Lois Langille],

Wilson Alexander Langille, FindAGrave.

Obituary, Neil Bardal Funeral Centre.

Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 25 April 2020.

Richard Smith, Geneanet.

We thank Tim Worth, John Lehr, Gloria Romaniuk, and Chris Kotecki for providing additional information used here.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 9 November 2020

Memorable Manitobans

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