Peter H. Russell (1932-2024)

Peter Russell stands in the Innis College lobby

The Innis community is mourning the passing of Peter H. Russell (1932-2024), the College’s second principal. Peter died peacefully at his home on January 10. He was 91 years old.

Peter was many things: a prolific writer, government advisor, producer of stage dramas, activist, administrator, and professor of political science, whose wide-ranging expertise included Canadian constitutional law, national identity, and Indigenous sovereignty. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and duly appointed Companion of the Order of Canada.

Peter’s dedication to scholarship and service are seen in such roles as president of the Canadian Political Science Association (1990-91), founding president of Retired Academics and Librarians of the University of Toronto (2001), and founding principal of its educational program, Senior College. At Innis College, Peter’s impact began on July 1, 1964, when he was appointed an inaugural member of Innis College Council. In 1968, Peter served a term as acting principal of the College, foreshadowing his ​pioneering term as college principal from 1971-76.

As principal, Peter was a champion of the college system and a creative force, who regularly defied convention. During his tenure, Innis College opened its doors to a new, permanent home at 2 Sussex Avenue; the grand opening of which was marked by a shoestring-cutting ceremony (a fittingly Innisian alternative to a formal ribbon; see image below). Also during this period, Innis College launched cutting-edge academic programs in cinema studies and urban studies, the latter offering the first experiential courses in the Faculty of Arts & Science.

three administrators smile while cut a shoestring
Peter H. Russell (centre) snips the ceremonial shoestring to celebrate the opening of Innis College on January 9, 1976.

Peter maintained a close connection to Innis College throughout his life. He launched his book, Canada’s Odyssey (2017), in Town Hall, in tandem with a new scholarship, The Russell Canada Prize, which encourages Innis students to seek out, as he did, the unique character of our country. He returned to discuss his book, Sovereignty: The Biography of Claim (2021), with former pupil and fellow scholar Robert Vipond (BA ’75 Innis). Peter seldom missed a college reunion, jumping at the chance to reconnect with students from Innis’s iconoclastic 70s through to today.

Peter is survived by his wife of 65 years, Sue Russell; four children, Catherine Russell (BA ’83 Innis), Mary Endress, Barbara Russell, and Alex Russell (HBA ’89 Innis); and five grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held on January 20 at St. Thomas’s Church (383 Huron St, Toronto) at 1 pm, followed by a reception at the University of Toronto Faculty Club (41 Willcocks St) at 2:30 pm. Colleagues, friends, students, and members of the academic community are all invited to join in remembrance and celebration of Peter’s life.

A more fulsome obituary can be found on

A collection of testimonials from Peter H. Russell’s friends, colleagues, and former students can be found here.


In 2017, Peter sat down with then-student James Chapman (HBA ’19 Innis) to reflect on his life and career for the college magazine, Innis Alumni & Friends (p. 18). Peter, joined by his two Innis-alumni children, Alex and Catherine Russell, was also featured in the latest edition of Innis Alumni & Friends (p. 28).