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Peter Martinus Buitenhuis (1925-2004), English professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University (SFU), was a prolific scholarly writer and literary critic. His academic career—which included teaching positions at Yale University, University of Toronto, McGill University, and University of California at Berkeley—saw the production of numerous books, articles, and reviews, including works on Henry James, E.J. Pratt, and Hugh MacLennan. Buitenhuis also conducted research and wrote on various topics pertaining to propaganda and World Wars I and II.
Of Dutch ancestry, Buitenhuis was born in Ilford Essex, England on December 8, 1925. He married three times and had seven children. With his first wife, Patricia (nee White), he had three children, Paul, Penelope, and Pym; with his second wife, Elspeth Fisher (nee Cameron), he had two children, Beatrix and Hugo; and with his third wife, Ann Cowan (nee Stephenson), he had two children, Juliana and Adrian.
In December 1943, Buitenhuis left his job as a bank clerk and enlisted in the Royal Navy. From 1943-1946, he was commissioned to several different ships, including the H.M.S. Beehive, where he served as a Navigating Officer in Coastal Forces, conducting anti-submarine and minesweeping duties in the English Channel and North Sea (1944-1945). After his time on the Beehive, Buitenhuis spent a short period in the Admiralty. In 1946, he was appointed as a navigational officer on H.M.S. Starling, where he served until his release from the Navy later that year. Buitenhuis received the 1939-45 Star, the France and Germany Star, and the Victory Medal.
Buitenhuis left the Navy to attend Jesus College at Oxford University on a veteran’s grant (1946). There he earned a BA and an MA in English language and literature. In Buitenhuis’s last year of studies, a professor from the University of Oklahoma (U of O) recruited him to teach English, thus enticing Buitenhuis to immigrate to the United States.
Buitenhuis taught at the U of O until 1951, at which time he left his position in response to an investigation by an Oklahoma legislature committee. The committee was putting pressure on the university’s employees to sign a loyalty oath to the constitution of the United States and to the constitution of Oklahoma State. Buitenhuis, neither interested in staying in Oklahoma nor signing the oath, went on to Yale University to pursue a PhD in American Studies, where he wrote his thesis on Henry James. After completing his degree, Buitenhuis stayed on at Yale’s American Studies Department to teach (1955-1959).
In 1959, Buitenhuis left Yale and immigrated to Canada, after receiving an invitation from Northrop Frye—then the chairman of the English Department at Victoria College in the University of Toronto—to teach at the College. He became a Canadian citizen c.1960, while still retaining his British citizenship.
While at Victoria College, in 1963, Buitenhuis joined with fellow Americanists from other Canadian universities to form the first American Studies association in Canada, the Canadian Association of American Studies.
Buitenhuis worked at the College as an associate professor until 1966, when he took a year to teach at the University of California (Berkley) as a visiting professor. In 1967, Buitenhuis returned to Canada to take a position at McGill University in Montreal. After several years at McGill, in 1975, Buitenhuis accepted the position of Chairman of the Department of English at Simon Fraser University (1975-1981) and moved to Vancouver.
Buitenhuis remained at SFU until his retirement in 1992. In that time, he not only taught in the Department of English, but was also the Associate Director in SFU’s Centre for Canadian Studies (1987-1988). He continued to teach literature well after his retirement through SFU’s Continuing Studies Department, and was still teaching until shortly before his death. Buitenhuis passed away on November 28, 2004.
Buitenhuis remained an active scholar, book reviewer, and writer throughout his life. Included in his many literature reviews and scholarly articles are several books, including E.J. Pratt and His Works; Five American Moderns: Mary McCarthy, Stephen Crane, J.D. Salinger, Eugene O’Neill, and H.L. Mencken; The Grasping Imagination: The American Writings of Henry James; The Great War of Words: British, American, and Canadian Propaganda and Fiction, 1914-1933; and The House of Seven Gables: Severing Family and Colonial Ties. Buitenhuis also completed a manuscript just weeks before his death titled, Empires of the Mind: British Authors' Roles in World War II.
Buitenhuis’s literary and academic career brought him into contact with many well-known authors, including Margaret Atwood, Northrop Frye, Timothy Findley, Thomas Wolfe, and Scott Symons.