Don McEwen

Obituary of Don McEwen

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Our dear head of the family, Donald James McEwen passed away on the morning of Sunday, November 5, 2023. He was 93 years old. Don leaves his cherished wife of 60 years, Barbara, as well as his four boys Keith, Bryan, Rob and Colin, four daughters-in-law and 9 grandchildren who all miss him terribly. Many Canadian and international students from the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) fondly remember Dr. McEwen as their Physics professor or graduate thesis advisor from a rich career spanning 60 years, primarily spent at the U of S where he was the Head of the Institute for Space and Atmospheric Studies (ISAS) for over 20 years. While Don retired from the U of S in 1997, he retained his professor emeritus status and continued his research until 2016. A special family Christmas highlight for several years was to watch the live camera at the South Pole where Don would briefly appear and quickly circumnavigate the earth for his attentive followers. Family could proudly explain to others that it was indeed possible to walk around the earth in less than an hour. Don impressively could pass the rigorous physical exam required for entry at his advanced age. He was a hardy specimen. Don published 111 academic articles and authored several related books during his career and was considered a global expert on the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), having designed and deployed various sensing equipment to both Poles as well as several space flights.

Don was born in Riverhurst, Saskatchewan and raised on the family farm. From an early age, especially with men away at war, Don found himself in great demand at neighbours' farms, tending to animals and soon developing into a reliable hand at harvest time. He enjoyed this type of work and was sometimes neglectful to return to school or study for exams. Through hard work and circumstance however, he did finish high-school and became a teacher at Boldenhurst, Saskatchewan. Upon attending the U of S for an Education degree, he was persuaded to take more science classes, and eventually ended up in the Physics department. Through bursaries and other support, he became a paid researcher at the new Churchill Rocket Research Range (now a National Historic Site), while working on his M.Sc. program.

Don then chose start a PhD in spectroscopy at Western University in London, where he met his wife, Barbara. A pioneer in her own right, Barbara was keen on this sharp, academic man who loved dancing and a good picnic and was ready to explore the world with her. Following a successful defense of his thesis, the family now with it’s first born headed to Ottawa in the mid 1960s to continue related research with the Department of Defense. An ensuingoffer for a professorship at the U of S brought him and his growing family back to Saskatoon in 1969. Don used his professorship to show his young family the world, through sabbatical trips to the Commonwealth countries. His energy during this time was legendary in the family; long trips within North America had Don often driving through the night while family slept. Indeed, the boys came to realize as they got older that their pop tended to work til 2am on workdays and still get up at 7 and not miss a beat.

A quiet man by nature, Don led by example. Through his actions he taught his children kindness, integrity, the value of community but most of all, the importance of family. Don could get upset with his boys quite necessarily, but not in a reproachful way. An action was clearly wrong, a consequence given and the matter dropped. Life moved on immediately; there were too many things to do. Don has a long history of community service, as a Cub Scout leader and soccer coach, as well as roles in local band, hockey leagues, school plays, and at the Grosvenor Park United Church as a "hands-on deacon".

The family happily remembers his full life, including the last decade where the couple enjoyed a special celebration and 'roast' for their 50th anniversary. On their 60th anniversary just earlier this year, Don and Barbara were pleased to receive commendations from the newly crowned King Charles III and the Governor General of Canada.

A celebration of his life will be held at the Grosvenor Park United Church on Thursday, December 28, at 2pm. Please join us if you can.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the memorial fund being started in his name.  Cheques should be made payable to “University of Saskatchewan” with “Don McEwen Memorial Fund” on the memo line.  Donations can also be received online through their secure giving site ( Select “Other area as specified in comments” from the dropdown list then indicate “Don McEwen Memorial Fund” in the comment box.

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