In memoriam: Donald Evans (1927-2018)

Published: January 11, 2018

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by Greg Evans

Prof. Donald Dwight Evans (1927-2018) was a gifted philosopher, educator, mystic humanist, social activist, spiritual counsellor and mentor. Born September 21, 1927 to Ira Dwight Evans and Jesse Milliken Evans in Fort William (now Thunder Bay) Ontario, he lived a rich life, full of diverse intellectual pursuits. Married to Ruth Blenkinsop (1952-1976) and Frances Smith (1983-1997) and pre-deceased by brother John, he was the father of Steve (Joan), Greg (Ronda), Luke (Guylaine), Nick (Sue) and Gareth (Susannah), beloved grandfather of Drew (Andrea), Cass (Juliana), Tom, Ryan, Philippe, Luke, Ben, and Isobel, and great grandfather to Aidan and Felix.

Prof Evans received his BA in philosophy and English (University of Toronto, 1950) followed by a Bachelor of Philosophy (Oxford University, 1953), Bachelor of Divinity in theological studies (McGill University, 1955), and PhD in Philosophy (Oxford University, 1960). He was ordained as a minister in the United Church of Canada in 1955 and served as Pastor in Grand Forks, British Columbia from 1955 to 1958. He went on to serve as an assistant professor of philosophy of religion at McGill University (1960-64), before joining Victoria College at the University of Toronto as a professor of philosophy in 1964, where he taught for 44 years until 2008 with accolades from his students.

In his early scholarly works such as The Logic of Self-Involvement (1969), Prof. Evans explored the meaning of religion through language. In the same period, he advocated for more independent Canadian foreign policy in Peace, Power and Protest (1967). In his middle-career works such as Faith, Authenticity and Morality (1980) and Struggle and Fulfillment (1981), he explored attitude-virtues, constituents of religion and morality that unify our being, experiences, and environments. His Spirituality and Human Nature (1993) brought together religion, psychology, spiritualism, and mysticism to explore our nature and experiences. Finally, his online book Grateful Reflection (2013) provided an intimate exploration of his life’s spirituality, sexuality, healing, and community.

During the late 1960s, he was a leader in the protest movement against Canadian involvement in the Vietnam war, serving as a spokesperson at the first demonstration on Parliament Hill in 1965 and co-organizing the first international teach-in at Varsity Arena, Toronto. He later initiated and organized a protest march of 400 University of Toronto professors. In 1985, he initiated an observance of the United Nations International Day of Peace in metro Toronto: a minute of silence and a moment of sound for peace. Over the next three years this observance spread across Canada, growing to an estimated one million Canadians taking part with broadcasts over 60 radio stations.

Prof. Evans’ exceptional contributions were recognised when he was elected President, Canadian Theological Society and received an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Huntington University in 1982.  He was also awarded a Commemorative Medal by the United Nations for his work during the International Year of Peace. Prof. Evans passed away peacefully in his sleep and he will be dearly missed by family, friends, and colleagues. His family have said farewell in a private gathering but will welcome memories or condolences via In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to organizations promoting world peace.

Greg Evans, Donald Evans’ son, is professor of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry at U of T.