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David Gagan was born in Toronto in 1940. He grew up in Owen Sound, Ontario and completed both his B.A. and M.A. degrees in history at the University of Western Ontario. In 1969 he graduated from Duke University with a Ph.D. in history. He came to McMaster University in 1970 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of History and became a full professor in 1980. His administrative career began in 1981 as Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, a post he held until 1991. In 1992 he accepted the position of Vice-President, Academic at the University of Winnipeg. In 1996 he moved to Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. to become Vice-President, Academic. He is the author of three books as well as many articles and reviews.
David Gagan served as editor of Canada: An Historical Magazine, from its inception in 1973 until the last issue in 1976. The magazine was a joint venture by McMaster University and Holt, Rinehart and Winston of Canada to create a good non-academic Canadian history magazine. The magazine was given a three-year trial period to make itself self-supporting, and it failed. There were 12 issues in all: vol. 1 no. 1 (autumn 1973) to vol. 3, no. 4 (June 1976).