John Convey made ground-breaking contributions to metallurgy, atomic physics and minerals research, but is best known for guiding several Canadian agencies and institutions to prominence, notably the Canadian Mines Branch (since renamed CANMET) during its greatest period of growth and influence. He provided technical expertise and leadership to the Royal Canadian Mint, the Canadian Welding Development Institute, and numerous industry associations and technological societies.
Convey was internationally renowned for the broad and beneficial influence he had on the organization, direction, policy and planning of metallurgy, mining, and materials science throughout Canada. He was a brilliant scientist and a strong advocate of research, in frequent demand as a speaker because of his ability to communicate the benefits of technological innovation to government, industry, and the public.
Born in England to a coal-mining family, Convey moved to Alberta in 1929. He graduated from the University of Alberta in 1933 with a degree in Honours Physics, followed by a M.Sc. degree in Physics in 1936. After earning his Ph.D. in Atomic Physics from the University of Toronto in 1940, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy, only to be seconded to the Royal Navy in Britain, where he helped “de-fang” the magnetic mines that threatened Allied shipping. He was elected a Fellow of the British Institute of Physics for his metallurgical contributions to the war effort, and in 1942 earned its Sorby Prize for original research. He undertook special assignments in Canada and United States until 1945, and in 1946 headed a British intelligence agency screening German scientists involved in wartime metallurgy and nuclear physics.
Convey began his peace-time career as an associate professor at the University of Toronto, where he organized the Physics Department extension at Ajax for the influx of post-war students. He accepted the position of chief metallurgist in the Physical Metallurgy Laboratories of the Canadian Mines Branch in 1948, and was appointed chief of the Physical Metallurgical Division when it was formed in 1949.
Convey was appointed director of the Mines Branch in the federal Department of Energy, Mines and Resources in 1951. He served in this capacity for two decades, during an unprecedented period of economic and governmental growth. He convinced political leaders that Canada needed technological development to maintain its competitive edge. Before long his department’s laboratories became centres of excellence for national research into mining, metallurgy and energy resources. As a scientist, he championed the need for independent research, yet as a pragmatist, he called for closer collaboration between industry and science so new technology could be developed for the betterment of society. As Canada’s industrial economy grew, so did the need for standards and quality control. Convey lent his expertise and foresight to agencies such as the Canadian Standards Association and the Canadian Welding Development Institute. He also guided the Royal Canadian Mint during a period of transition to circulation coinage with metal alloys.
Convey’s achievements earned him honorary degrees and numerous industry awards, including the Alcan Award in 1972, and the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum’s Blaylock Medal in 1956 for his contribution to the development of controlled atomic energy in Canada.