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Currie, Balfour Watson (1902–81)

Balfour Watson Currie, ca. 1940.
University of Saskatchewan Archives A-8622

Balfour Currie was born in Montana in 1902 and grew up on his parents’ homestead near Kindersley, Saskatchewan. He received a BSc with High Honours in Physics, followed by an MSc in 1927 from the University of Saskatchewan. He was appointed an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan in 1930, following completion of his PhD at McGill. From 1932 to 1934 he was granted leave to spend the Second International Polar Year at Chesterfield Inlet in the Arctic as a meteorologist with the Canadian Weather Service. He became professor in 1943, Head of the Department of Physics in 1952, Dean of the College of Graduate Studies in 1959, and Vice-President (Research) of the University of Saskatchewan in 1967.

Currie was a dedicated teacher. As an administrator, his efforts resulted in the formation of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, from which evolved the Space Engineering Division (later SED Systems). He published sixty scientific papers on topics such as auroral heights and spectra, and later, when radar became available, on radio reflections from the aurora and on scattering of radio waves by the ionosphere. Later he published a series of reports on climatic trends in the prairie provinces and the Northwest Territories.

Balfour Currie received many honours during his career. In 1947 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He strongly supported the objectives of the Society, and frequently represented it on national and international committees. In June 1972, Dr. Currie was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada, in recognition of his outstanding contributions as a distinguished university teacher, as a highly respected research scientist, and as an able administrator. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society of Great Britain, and a Fellow of the Arctic Institute of Canada. He also served as President of the American Geophysical Union and the Canadian Association of Physicists, which in 1962 awarded him the Gold Medal for “Achievement in Physics.” In 1967 the Canadian Meteorological Society awarded him the Patterson Medal for his notable contribution to Meteorology. He received an honorary LLD from the University of Saskatchewan in 1975 and an honorary DSc from York University in 1977.

Currie retired in 1974 but continued as research advisor to the President of the University of Saskatchewan. From 1975 to 1980 he served as coordinator of Canadian research activities in the International Magnetospheric Studies. He was also President of the University of Saskatchewan Alumni Association.

Dr. Currie had married Elva Washington in 1934; they had two daughters and one son. He died in Saskatoon in 1981.

U. Theodore Hammer

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Further Reading

Currie, B.W. 1980. Canada’s Participation in the International Magnetospheric Study, 1976–1979. Ottawa: National Research Council Canada; Currie, B.W. and W.C. Kendrew. 1955. The Climate of Canada: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Districts of Mackenzie and Keewatin. Ottawa: The Queen’s Printer.
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