"Unless you control your own economy, you cannot have your own culture and it is culture which finally determines the Canadian identity." -- Robin Mathews.

Robin Mathews, born in Smithers on Nov. 1, 1931 and raised in Powell River, graduated from UBC and worked as a producer for CBC Vancouver. "We have the privilege to grow up almost in wilderness," he said. "and we have the privilege to be distant from the centres of power. These combine to give us a kind of innocence. The genuine multi-culturalism of British Columbia teaches us at the earliest age that we are just people. It's the most beautiful place in the world!" Mathews taught at Carleton University for 18 years before returning to teach at Simon Fraser University in the Centre for Canadian Studies. He was also in Paris as a young academic in 1968 when the streets erupted with student-led protests and a national strike. He collected more than 70 posters and 100 handbills from the turmoil. "Nearly ten million went on strike," he recalled 30 years later. "At one point there was a march in the streets of Paris of a million people." By comparison, Mathews noted that the Canadian public had been docile about the management of their economy and culture. Mathews believed that "studying the narrow selection of great literary works largely from the two empires, Britain and the States, denies examination of our real selves." An ardent nationalist, he was an outspoken critic of Free Trade and privatization. He has also argued for the destruction of liberalism in the 1970s as a precondition for creating a unique Canadian identity.

Robin Mathews' books such as The Struggle for Canadian Universities (co-edited with Jim Steele) and Canadian Literature: Surrender or Revolution (literary criticism) drew the ire of some academics and writers for alleged anti-Americanism. These titles were followed by Canadian Identity: Major Forces Shaping the Life of a People (Steel Rail, 1988) and Treason of the Intellectuals (Voyageur, 1995). "The general, agreed-upon reality in North America," he told BC BookWorld, "is a middle class reality and it defines the human condition in our time. But it is a narrow, blind view. My work calls into question the complacency of this reality, and that is why there are those who are disturbed by the reality my work represents." Particularly disturbed was the American-born UBC English professor Warren Tallman who conducted a public feud with Mathews for many years. Mathews also wrote poetry and published his work in books that include Language of Fire, The Beginning of Wisdom and The Death of Socialism and Other Poems (Voyageur, 1995). His collection of short stories is Blood Ties. In 2000 he published another poetry book, Being Canadian in Dirty Imperialist Times (Vancouver: Northland $15.95), followed by his eleventh volume of poetry, Think Freedom (Northland Publications, 2004). "We have few good political poets in Canada," wrote reviewer Ron Dart in the Pacific Rim Review of Books, "and Think Freedom ably demonstrates why Mathews is our best at the present time."

Robin Mathews died of pancreatic cancer on April 25, 2023, at his home in Vancouver at the age of 91.


Robin Daniel Middleton Mathews passed away peacefully on April 25, 2023, at his home in Vancouver, British Columbia at the age of 91. Born November 1, 1931, in Smithers, BC, he grew up in Powell River, BC. A poet, artist, playwright, literary critic, political activist, and educator, Mathews graduated from UBC and Ohio State University and worked as a producer for CBC Vancouver. He taught at many universities, including Carleton University in Ottawa for 18 years where he specialized in Canadian Literature. While in Ottawa, he co-founded the Great Canadian Theatre Company in 1974. In 1986, Mathews moved back to Vancouver where he taught at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in the Centre for Canadian Studies. He retired from SFU in the 1990s, but remained active, writing literary criticism and poetry, ever engaged in the larger political, social and economic questions. Mathews is best known for his work in the 1960s and 1970s on the Canadianization movement, most prominently in 1969 with the publication of The Struggle for Canadian Universities (co-edited by Dr. James Steele). He was a distinctive Canadian icon and is regarded as a Canadian nationalist par excellence. Robin was deeply devoted to his family and friends. He was generous with his time and resources, acting as a mentor and champion for those close to him, as well as for acquaintances and strangers. In his final years, he was tenderly devoted to caring for his wife, Esther. He leaves her after a marriage of 64 years; her children, Rosamond (Gary), Sabrina (Claude) and Hrothgar (Gabrielle); his sister, Bettie; and sister-in-law, Nevis; his grandchildren, Kenneth, Harold, Liam, Mathew, Riel, Finn and Clara; his great-grandchildren, Evan and Evelys; and many nieces, nephews and cousins.

[BCBW 2023] "Poetry" "Economics" "Politics"