John Norman Emerson was born and grew up in the Cabbagetown area of Toronto. He was the son of a First Class Master Electrician. He received a first class education with outstanding results. 'Norm', as he was always called, attended Rosedale Public School (1924-1932). He was admitted to the prestigious University of Toronto Schools (1932-1936). Here, he won the Pre-University David Dunlap Memorial Award in Psychology (1936). He also received several fencing awards. He then entered the University of Toronto (Trinity College) and obtained an Honours B.A. in Sociology 'Summa cum Laude' in 1940. It was during this period his commitment to Archaeology was established.
His graduate studies commenced in the Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto, where he obtained an MA in 1941. He then enrolled in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago and graduated in 1942 with a thesis on Ontario archaeology. Continuing on at Chicago, he embarked upon a Ph.D. which he completed in 1954 with a dissertation entitled "The Archaeology of the Ontario Iroquois".
In 1943, he married Ann Elliott of Buda, Illinois. They had three children: Neil, Linley, and Bruce. The same year he was married, he was drafted by the American Army, but transferred to the Canadian Armed Forces. Here he 'fought the Battle of Petawawa' and was discharged in 1945 to continue his dissertation.
In 1946, he joined the faculty of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto as a Lecturer. During his thirty-two year tenure he achieved Full Professorship. The greater part of his research was focussed upon the archaeology of the Huron nation. He did, however, venture into earlier Ontario prehistory and Arctic prehistory. In his final years he pioneered Intuitive Archaeology. He died in Toronto in 1978.
Dr. Emerson's greatest commitment was to his students, both in the department and in the OAS. "I produce the thinking student", he often said. Archaeology was his tool.
By Helen Devereux
See also: W.C. Noble "J. Norman Emerson: Contributions to Canadian Archaeology" In 'Bringing Back the Past: Historical Perspectives in Canadian Archaeology by P.J. Smith and D. Mitchell, 1998.