Feb. 29, 2024

In Memoriam: Helen Buss, Faculty of Arts

Feminist academic sought to expose the bare truths of systems of oppression; campus flag lowered Feb. 29, 2024
A black and white image of a woman

The University of Calgary mourns the death of Professor Emerita, English, Dr. Helen Buss, PhD, who passed away in Surrey, B.C. on Oct. 28, 2023, at the age of 82. She was predeceased by her infant daughter Tanya and her husband Richard, and is survived by her sons Michael and Matthew, daughter Erica, grandsons Eric and Alec, as well as three siblings and many cherished nieces and nephews.

During her tenure at the University of Calgary, Buss was an academic researcher and published extensively. Among her recognitions were the Gabriel Roy prize for her book, Women’s Life Writing: Mapping Ourselves and the Canadian Research Institute Laura Jamieson prize for the Advancement of Women. She also wrote her revisionist play, Gertrude and Ophelia, and her own personal memoir, Memoirs from Away: A New Found Land Girlhood. 

Buss was a political creature from the start. In her memoir she wrote, “My Dad says that my birth cry was a scream of absolute anger…. When you dig behind the anger at birth as a metaphor, there is a history. There is always a history. You just have to find it…” Buss advocated for the personal stories of girls and women, to propel them beyond the confines of the patriarchal structure. She sought to expose the bare truths of systems of oppression, both external and embedded within us.

Her multiple perspectives, contradictory loyalties and obligations to opposing histories are explored through her body of written works which includes her novels, poetry, dramatic play, memoirs, academic articles, reviews and texts focused on Canadian women’s literature and life writing. Many works are archived in UCalgary’s Archives and Special Collections.

Buss was raised in St. John’s, born Mar. 28,1942 in the dawn of the Second World War, and grew up through the confederation of Newfoundland. Early in her career in Winnipeg, her fictional work, The Cutting Season, won the Manitoba New Novelist Competition. While teaching secondary school and working towards her master's and doctorate degrees, she raised her three children with her husband Richard, enjoying summers among family and friends at their beloved Traverse Bay cottage, one of her writing sanctuaries. 

After retiring to White Rock, B.C., Buss continued to produce academically through archival research, reviewing, speaking, authoring and co-editing scholarly titles such as Undelivered Letters to the Hudson’s Bay Men: 1830-1857. She travelled the world with her lifelong friend Carol (deceased), explored mountain trails with her hiking club, enjoyed lively debate with her book clubs and encouraged new writers with her adjudication of the Friends of White Rock Library writing competition. She shared this good life with her family and friends, until a tragic pedestrian motor vehicle accident left her in long-term care for the final chapter of her life. Buss was highly engaged with the post-polycythemia vera myelofibrosis research community throughout the 25-year management of her MPN cancer.

The University of Calgary offers deep thanks to Dr. Helen Buss for the contributions she made to the university, her research field and the community at large. 

Read the full obituary, written by her daughter, Erica Buss.