Dr. Isabelle Mills (1923-2021)

This August, the USASK Department of Music said goodbye to a true matriarch of the Saskatoon music community. Dr. Isabelle Mills (1923-2021) passed away on August 10th of this year, leaving behind a towering legacy that earned her numerous awards and acknowledgements, including the title of Professor Emerita at the University of Saskatchewan.

Dr. Mills promoting a concert of Violet Archer's music.

Dr. Mills was deeply devoted to musical education. Her work as an educator ran the spectrum from teaching Kindergarten piano through to supervising the work of graduate students. She was especially committed to the teaching of Canadian Music, a subject always close to her heart. Her passion for this goes back to her 1971 doctoral dissertation, entitled: Canadian Music: a listening program for intermediate grades with teaching guide.

Dr. Mills began her post-secondary studies at Brandon College (now Brandon University) in 1945, becoming a faculty member in 1947. The Brandon University School of Music Ensemble took her name to honour the time she spent there, rebranding itself as the Isabelle Mills Ensemble. She earned a BA in 1964 from Brandon College, followed by MA and ED D designations from Columbia University in 1965 and 1971 respectively.

Dr. Mills joined the USASK Department of Music in 1967, quickly establishing herself at the heart of the music education and choral programs. She taught classes in Canadian Music, Church Music, and Music Methods, and also conducted the Quance Chorus. As a researcher, Dr. Mills continued to advocate for Canadian Music. Here academic career took her all over the world to places including the former USSR, Ukraine, the UK, and the US. She wrote numerous journal articles, and, of particular note, co-edited and co-hosted the International Buxtehude/Scheidt Festival and Conference at the University of Saskatchewan in 1987. In 1979, Dr. Mills was appointed to the position of Assistant Dean for Student Affairs in the College of Arts and Science.

Dr. Mills receiving her Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal

During her tenure as Assistant Dean, she championed accessibility rights, particularly for students with mobility issues. Her work in this area led directly to the creation of a new department at the University to address accessibility concerns on campus. Accessibility was an important and personal campaign for Dr. Mills. Having contracted polio as a child, she often dealt with the mobility issues common to polio survivors. Her work in accessibility goes beyond the University with her activeness on numerous accessibility committees within the Saskatoon community. She also established a bursary at the University of Saskatchewan to be awarded to students with mobility issues. Upon her passing, she requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to this bursary. In 2012, Dr. Mills was presented with a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for her significant contributions and achievements as an outstanding Canadian.

Written by Kieran Foss