The Department of Geography & Planning extends a heartfelt congratulations to John Warkentin on his retirement from UTAGA (University of Toronto Association of Geography Alumni). With a career marked by exceptional dedication, John has left a lasting impact on the field of geography, both as an educator and through his valuable contributions to the community.
John Warkentin's passion for geography was ignited during his formative years — growing up in a small village located on the flat floor of the Lake Agassiz basin in Manitoba. In 1945, John enrolled in the University of Manitoba and earned a B.Sc. degree and a diploma in education. After teaching science for two years in a rural high school in Manitoba, he decided to pursue graduate studies in geography at the University of Toronto in 1951. Using his savings, he embarked on an adventure to Toronto, boarding a train to Union Station and using a map to navigate his way to the St. George Campus. John made a cold call to the Administrative Secretary of Graduate Studies, Jack Sword, and the Head of Geography, Donald Putnam, and registered as a graduate student. Ultimately, he decided to stay in Toronto to pursue graduate studies and eventually became a Professor at York University in 1963.
In addition to his role as an educator, John also made significant contributions to the field of geography through his collaboration on various projects. In 1967, he published Canada: A Geographical Interpretation to commemorate the Centenary of Canadian Confederation. Furthermore, he served on the organizing committee of the Historical Atlas of Canada project and was a coordinating editor. This project, which began in 1970, brought together geographers and scholars from various disciplines across Canada and was based at the University of Toronto's Department of Geography cartography laboratory. Three volumes were published: Vol. I in 1987, Vol. III in 1990, and Vol. II in 1993.
Throughout his career, John dedicated over 35 years to teaching geography, primarily to undergraduate students. His classes ranged from large introductory courses to small, advanced seminars. He believes that geography is a crucial and practical subject in both schools and universities, and is essential in educating students to become responsible citizens of the world. He aimed to instill in his students a respect for the environment, diverse cultures, and the communities in which they live. Through his teachings, he hopes to have imparted lessons that will continue to benefit his students in their future endeavors.
In 1997, he discovered the University of Toronto Association of Geography Alumni (UTAGA) after attending an Awards Night ceremony. At the time, Professor Donald Kerr, a long-time geography professor in the department, was promoting the idea of writing a history of the department. John's commitment to documenting the history of the department, including the creation of biographies of the founding professors, resulted in the 2010 publication Reflections on the History of Geography at the University of Toronto edited by Virginia Maclaren and Gunter Gad. John continued his involvement with UTAGA by writing biographies of Donald Putnam and George Tatham.
John's contributions to the department have been substantial, and his efforts have led to the creation of a lasting legacy that will always be remembered. We extend our congratulations on his achievements and we wish him all the best in his well-deserved retirement.