Harold Adams Innis

Harold Adams Innis

Source: University of Toronto Archives

Harold Adams Innis (1894-1952) was one of the most influential academics Canada has ever produced. He was a young man from Otterville, Ontario, who was studying at the University of Toronto, where he undertook two years of basic military training as a member of the Canadian Officer Training Corps. He enlisted with the 69th Overseas Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, on May 17, 1916. He arrived in France on November 16, 1916, and served there until he was wounded by shrapnel in the right thigh at Vimy Ridge on July 7, 1917. As a result of this wound, he was sent back to Canada on March 16, 1918. Innis returned to his studies, eventually earning a doctorate from the University of Chicago. He then began teaching at the University of Toronto where he developed the “Staples Theory” (or Staple Thesis) and influenced younger colleagues such as Marshall McLuhan. The theory argues that Canada’s export of staple products, such as fish, wheat, oil, timber and furs, has played a major role in shaping the country’s economic development and settlement patterns, as well as its social and political systems. Innis College at the University of Toronto is named in his honour. Like many veterans, Innis suffered from recurrent disturbing memories of his experiences in the First World War, a condition known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. He died of cancer in 1952 at the age of 58.

Service Record Details

Attestation Paper 1

Date of Birth: November 21, 1894 (Otterville, Ontario)

Date of Attestation: May 17, 1916

Age at Enlistment: 21 years, 5 months

Prior Military Service/Active Militia:  Yes—2 years with the C.O.T.C. (Canadian Officers’ Training Corps)

Height: 6 feet, 1 3/4 inches

Weight: 152 1/2 pounds

Description: Medium complexion, hazel eyes, brown hair. Baptist. Scar on left thumb and mole on top right abdomen.

Home Address: Otterville, Ontario

Trade: Student (University of Toronto)

Married: No

Next of Kin: Mother, Mary Innis, living in Otterville, Ontario.

Theatre of War: France

Attestation Paper 2

Casualties / Medical History

  • 1917 – A medical case sheet details the history of the leg wound he received at Vimy Ridge on July 7, 1917, from a projectile.” (Pages 21-22)
  • July 18, 1917 – He is admitted to the No. 26 General Hospital at Étaples, France, for a severe gunshot wound to the right thigh. (Page 6)
  • October 1917 – His gunshot wound has healed, but he is now suffering from synovitis (inflammation of a membrane that lines the joints) of the right knee and his right leg is swollen down to his ankle. He is transferred to the No. 4 General Hospital in Basingstoke, England. Then in February 1918 he is sent to the No. 5 General Hospital in Liverpool. By March 1918, his condition is unchanged. (Page 17)
  • March 1918 – He is declared medically unfit and invalided to Canada (sent back due to his leg wound). There, he is struck off strength and sent to a convalescent home in London, Ontario. (Page 7)
  • May 3, 1918 – On his discharge form, he signs the section labelled “Additional Certificate in the case of a Soldier who takes his discharge on his own request.”  (Page 11)
  • 1917–1918 – Documents describe his broken toe, which was an “old injury in France.” (Pages 25 and 31)
  • -------There is a detailed summary of Innis’ service and hospital stays. It describes the surgery to remove the shrapnel from his leg, and mentions that the wound was infected and required drainage for six weeks afterwards. His doctors were very concerned about the swelling and his circulation, indicating on multiple occasions that the right leg was “colder to the touch.” (Pages 26-28)
  • April 23, 1918 – Upon discharge, he is examined at a medical station in London, Ontario. The medical officer there describes his condition: “Right leg swells up and becomes painfull [sic] after standing on it for one hour or walking 1 mile. Must rest 15---20 minutes before using it again. Constant feeling of weakness in right thigh and becomes very cold in cold weather. Right thigh is 1 1/2” smaller, measured at middle third. Walks with a pronounced limp and uses a cane. Leg movements are normal. It is very difficult for him to walk without a cane. Will be able to carry on as a student. Is otherwise fit. Condition is due to partial loss of function of right thigh.” (Page 32

Interesting Details from the Service Record

  • May 3, 1918 – His discharge certificate indicates that he is “entitled to wear one gold wound stripe.” (Page 15)
  • June 6, 1922 – A file card indicates a change of address from Otterville to 696 Markham, Toronto. (Pages 42-43)

The London Gazette

  • No mentions found

Military Medals, Honours and Awards (1815–1969)

  • No mentions found

Census Records

  • 1911 Census
    At age 16, Harold Innis lives with his parents, William (45) and Mary (41), and his three younger siblings, Lillian (14), Hughena (8), and Samuel (4). The family lives in the district of Oxford South (in Oxford County), Ontario, and are Baptists. His father is of Irish descent and his mother is of Scottish descent, though both were born in Ontario. His father is a farmer. 

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