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Elizabeth Morton

Photograph of Elizabeth Morton


Librarian, Administrator, Editor


Elizabeth Homer Morton is truly a national figure in the history of Canadian librarianship. She was born in Tunapuna, Trinidad, to Canadian missionary parents and received her early education there. She earned a Bachelor of Arts from Dalhousie University and a teacher's licence from the Normal School in Truro, Nova Scotia. In this same year, she graduated from the Ontario Library School in Toronto and was employed in the Cataloguing Department of Toronto Public Library. In 1928, she accepted a position to organize a library at Saint John Vocational School (New Brunswick) and later served as secretary of the New Brunswick Library Commission. On her return to Toronto in 1931, she joined the Reference Department of the Toronto Public Library, where she remained until 1944. During this period, from 1936 to 1943, she also served as secretary-treasurer of the Ontario Library Association.

In 1944, Elizabeth Morton was appointed executive secretary of the newly incorporated Canadian Library Council, and was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the establishment of the Canadian Library Association (CLA), serving as its executive director from its inception in 1946 until 1968. She is reputed to have worked long hours with a small staff and often inadequate budget to bring the goals of the CLA into being. Her dedication and hard work were extraordinary, and one of the CLA presidents noted that Elizabeth Morton always attempted more than was humanly possible. Former National Librarian W. Kaye Lamb noted that Miss Morton served the CLA and promoted its interests with gaiety, imagination, wisdom and boundless patience. Under her stewardship, the CLA lobbied for the establishment of Library and Archives Canada, the Canadian Periodical Index flourished. The Canadian Library Journal and Feliciter also began publication with Elizabeth Morton as editor.

In further recognition of her professional achievements, the CLA published Librarianship in Canada, 1946 to 1967 following her retirement as Exective Director in 1968. She was awarded the Order of Canada in 1968, an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Alberta in 1969 and an honorary Doctor of Letters from Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) in 1970.

Elizabeth Morton never retired from the library scene. In 1969 she completed a Master of Arts degree at the Graduate Library School of the University of Chicago, for which she had begun in the 1940s. She undertook consultative work as "Elizabeth Morton and Associates", and served in this capacity at the National Library, assisting with a survey of its resources. UNESCO engaged her in 1972 to do an assignment in her birthplace, Trinidad. Her report, Trinidad and Tobago: Development of Library Services, was published by UNESCO in 1974.

Elizabeth Morton continued to give lectures and to write numerous articles and reviews, and had a number of projects in progress at the time of her death in 1977. Announcing the establishment of the Elizabeth Morton Memorial Fund in Feliciter (November 1988), CLA life-member Deane Kent paid tribute to Elizabeth Morton's achievements: "For more than a generation, she served Canadian libraries and librarians as an instigator, stimulator, innovator and protagonist. Visionary, tireless, committed, she concentrated her efforts to the greater glory of Canada and continuing education ... a leader in her field."


Hulse, Elizabeth. — The Morton years : the Canadian Library Association, 1946-1971. — Toronto : Ex Libris Association, 1995. — 141 p.

Libraries in the life of the Canadian nation, 1931-1967. — M.A. Thesis, University of Chicago, 1969.

Developing public libraries in Canada, 1535-1983 : the Alberta Letts Memorial Lecture delivered at Dalhousie University School of Library Service, November 1, 1974. — Halifax : Dalhousie University, 1975. — 19 p.

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