31 Dr. Larkin Kerwin Canada

 “Together, we’ve got the universe covered.”

Dr. Larkin Kerwin, a distinguished physicist, educator and administrator, was born on June 22, 1924 in Quebec City.  Proud of his Irish heritage throughout his life, he was descended from great-grandparents Michael (Kirwan/Kerevan) and Eliza Kane, come to Québec City from New Ross (Co. Wexford) and married there in the 1850s.  Their son Luke wed the daughter of Margaret Larkin from Queen’s Co. (today County Laois).  Their grandson married into an Irish family from Tipperary and Kerry.

After obtaining a degree in Physics from St. Francis-Xavier University in 1944, Larkin Kerwin earned his M.Sc. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Doctor of Science degree from Université Laval in 1949.  During a long and fruitful research and teaching career at the Université Laval, he authored the textbook Atomic Physics (since translated into French, Spanish and Russian), three monographs and fifty articles in scientific journals.  He won promotion after promotion to become Rector of the University from 1972-77, the first lay person to do so. Dr. Kerwin always took a keen interest in the Irish community of Québec. A talented speaker, he wrote many articles on contributions of the Irish to the advancement of the human experience and was often invited as Guest Speaker at formal St-Patrick’s Day galas. He was instrumental in founding St-Lawrence College in Québec, today the St-Lawrence Campus of Champlain Regional College.In 1980, Dr. Kerwin was appointed President of the National Research Council of Canada for two five-year terms. During these years he contributed greatly to the national awareness of the importance of research and development to the well-being of the nation.  He reminded all of Canada of its contribution to the space program in 1981 when he used the word “Canadarm” in speaking of the Space Shuttle Remote Manipulator System used on the shuttle Columbia.In 1982, Prime Minister Pierre E. Trudeau appointed him to be Canada’s representative on a working group set up as a result of the June 1982 Economic Summit to study how research and development can be used to create jobs and help the world economy to recover.Appointed President of the Canadian Space Agency in 1989, Dr. Kerwin guided the Agency through the crucial first years of its implementation.  He retired in 1992.  In the 1990s, the Government of Canada asked Dr. Kerwin to lead its advisory committee and public hearings to determine what commemoration would be suitable to mark the arrival of thousands of immigrants to Canada through the former quarantine station at Grosse Île.  As a result, the Government recognized that Grosse Île had been witness to immigration from many countries and that the memorable human drama that unfolded on the island was tied to the waves of Irish immigration resulting from the cholera epidemic of the early1830s and the tragic migration years from 1845-47. The layout of buildings, monuments, and the provision of services by Parks Canada have been configured accordingly as the Irish Memorial National Historic Site of Canada. Dr. Kerwin devoted his life to science and to education. His research work in atomic and molecular physics has contributed strongly to the advancement of science in Canada and for which he received many prestigious awards. A past president of the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Academy of Engineering and the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, he was active throughout his career in numerous scientific organizations.Dr. Kerwin has been recognized by governments and by universities for his contributions. He was named a Companion of the Order of Canada, an Officer of l’Ordre national du Québec, an Officer of the Légion d’honneur de France and a member of the Académie des Grands Quebécois. In addition, Dr. Kerwin was awarded 15 honorary degrees from Canadian universities.Dr. Kerwin passed away on Saturday, May 1, 2004 and is buried in St-Patrick’s cemetery in Québec. He is remembered as an eminent scientist, recognized by many universities and scientific organizations both in Canada and abroad.

The committee is very grateful to the Kerwin family and the Canada Space Agency for their assistance.

See Canada Space Agency May 2009 newsletter