Born in Moose Jaw, Calder’s family moved to Saskatoon when he was seven years old. They lived in a house on College Drive, a literal stone’s throw away from campus.
“The university was in my face every single day, and I was fascinated by it,” Calder said.
Calder completed his undergraduate and master’s degree in English literature at the U of S. In the mid-60s, facing an enrollment boom and an influx of students, the English department hired him as a lecturer before he had taken the exam for his master’s degree. Calder enjoyed the classroom experience for two years but ultimately realized he’d have to complete a PhD to stay in a teaching environment.
With that, he moved to the U.K. in 1969 to attend the University of Leeds. Initially, he had doubts about continuing his education.
“It seemed kind of frightening, the idea that I could do a doctoral degree,” he recalled. “I was over there with a lot of very bright English students who spoke so articulately and knowledgeably and thought, ‘what am I doing here?’”
He stuck it out and, three years later, completed his dissertation ahead of his cohorts. He credits his prior education at the U of S (as well as “the virtue of Saskatchewan’s hard work ethos”) to this success. He returned to Saskatoon soon after, and was “very, very lucky” to get a tenured position in the English department.
Calder speaks fondly of his 45 years spent as a professor, adding that in his academic career he was always encouraged to pursue the type of research he wanted to do.
“I was allowed to follow my own curiosity and my own passions and I really appreciated that,” he said.
This included a full-scale biography of W. Somerset Maugham, for which he was awarded a Governor General's literary award in 1989. He also co-wrote a book on the Saskatchewan Roughriders, which “astonished a lot of my colleagues that I even had an interest.”
With his work, he was also able to establish an international reputation as a writer and scholar while remaining in Saskatoon.
“My work travelled. My writing travelled. People read it in Australia, India, South Africa, Berlin and so on,” he said. “I was able to stay here, work here, teach students here. I didn’t want to go anywhere else; I wanted to stay here.”
For that reason, receiving the Order of Merit has added personal meaning for him.
“I’m a Saskatchewan person and I always have been,” he said. “To be honoured by your own people in this province means a lot.”