About the Order of Canada


James Wesley Graham, O.C.

Professor J. Wesley Graham provided the leadership in software development for education that has given Canada and the University of Waterloo an international reputation in this important field. The software produced under his direction has been used in over 40 countries, and has influenced the teaching of countless thousands of students.

Career - James Wesley Graham was born in Copper Cliff, Ontario on January 17th, 1932. He completed his primary and secondary education in this area. From 1950 to 1955 he attended the University of Toronto where he received a BA in Mathematics and Physics in 1954, and an MA in Mathematics in 1955. Wes Graham then joined IBM Canada to work in the emerging electronic computing industry. He worked primarily as a systems engineer on a number of projects involving large Canadian corporations.

In 1959, Wes Graham joined the University of Waterloo as an Assistant Professor of Mathematics with the intention of teaching Statistics. However, he soon was attracted to the notion, then prevalent at Waterloo, that computers were important, and every scientist and engineer should know how to use them. Professor Graham’s love of teaching placed him in a leadership role in computing education at the University.

Contributions to Computer-based Education - Wes Graham soon recognized that the software available on computers was not designed for teaching purposes. Typical language processors required a minimum of 30 seconds for each program, and an error produced an incomprehensible pile of paper commonly known as a "memory dump." As students learn, they make mistakes. They need to make many attempts at a solution; thus, teaching large groups of students with the software just described would not work. Others recognized these difficult pedagogical problems, but Wes Graham did something about them.

In 1965, he worked with a team of four students and a junior faculty member to build a software system for the IBM 7040 computer that would solve both the speed and error problems. This software, called WATFOR (Waterloo Fortran Compiler), was completed in about 3 months of intense effort, and attracted worldwide attention from many other universities facing the same problems. The software certainly solved the problems at Waterloo, enabling the University to become the leading Canadian educational institution in teaching undergraduate students how to use computers.

With the advent of the IBM 360, re-design and re-implementation of the WATFOR software was necessary. WATFOR/360 was an instant hit, since the IBM 360 was becoming the machine of choice for many universities and colleges. The WATFOR/360 compiler had an incredible impact on the teaching of computer programming, and Wes Graham provided the leadership that gave Canada and the University of Waterloo an international reputation in this form of innovative software development.

Recognition that the FORTRAN language could be improved from an educational perspective lead to the implementation of WATFIV (Waterloo FORTRAN IV), and the introduction of structured programming lead to WATFIV-S. Many of these enhancements to the FORTRAN programming language were incorporated into the international FORTRAN language standard.

Wes Graham and two of his colleagues perceived that a textbook was needed to accompany this novel approach to teaching computer programming. This team wrote two texts, "FORTRAN IV with WATFOR" and "FORTRAN IV with WATFOR and WATFIV", which quickly became the model for texts in introductory computer programming. To this day these two texts rank with the best selling texts in Computer Science, having sold in the neighbourhood of a million copies.

Realizing that the techniques used in teaching computer programming could make dramatic improvements in software development lead to the adoption of WATFOR and WATFIV by business, industry and government, as well as education. Waterloo’s reputation spread beyond the halls of academe, as WATFOR and its successors set an international standard for language software.

Wes Graham is a pioneer in the creation of software to support education, particularly in the area of programming and access to computers. Many of the software systems that further enhanced Waterloo’s international reputation were created under his leadership. These included language compilers for COBOL, Pascal, Basic, APL, and local area networks, such as Waterloo MicroNET and Waterloo JANET. His research in the early days of microcomputers created early versions of such productivity tools as word processors, spreadsheets and database systems.

Of course the University of Waterloo had to have the computer equipment to support the software development activities. In the early 60’s Wes Graham convinced the University administration to invest in an IBM 7040 computer. This computer was the initial springboard that was used to start Waterloo on the way to its worldwide reputation in software development. With the creation of the Faculty of Mathematics at Waterloo, Wes Graham again provided leadership by working to obtain the funds to support the acquisition of an IBM 360/75, at the time the largest computer installed in Canada.

Because of the widespread use of Waterloo software, Wes was able to attract funding from many of the major computer companies such as IBM, Digital Equipment and Hewlett Packard. These "gifts" to the University to support continued software development totaled over $35,000,000.

Wes Graham’s influence on computer-based education did not stop at the post-secondary level. He had substantial influence in the 70’s and 80’s on the growing discipline of computer studies in the secondary schools of Ontario. He was one of the architects of the first secondary school curriculum in computer studies. Based on his experience at the University of Waterloo, he also lead the development of much of the software that made it possible to teach computer science to large numbers of students in the secondary schools. To this end, he designed one of the first "portable" computers and its accompanying software. This affordable computer could be moved from room to room in a school, and allowed students to experiment extensively with computer programming, whereas in the past they often had to wait for days while their programs were sent to neighboring universities for testing.

Developing Waterloo Spin-off Companies - By the late 70’s, the University of Waterloo was educating many talented students who were going on to advanced education, or entering Canadian business and government. Many of these students wanted to become entrepreneurs and start their own businesses in the exciting field of computing. Wes Graham recognized this phenomenon, and sought a solution in which the University and the students could jointly benefit. The first opportunity presented itself in 1981/82 when three of his former students started WATCOM to develop and market educational software.

Wes worked actively with these students and the University to establish a model for relationships between these "spin-off" companies and the University that would work to both parties’ mutual benefit. The approach devised by Wes Graham has been applied many times in the intervening decade and a half to create many of the companies that are now identified with the University of Waterloo. WATCOM has become one of the most successful divisions of Sybase, the world’s sixth largest software company, and many other companies such as Waterloo Maple and Open Text, which employed the model pioneered by Wes Graham, have enjoyed substantial success.

Other Honours - In recognition of his contributions to education in computer science and his many innovative contributions to the University of Waterloo, the University created the J.W. Graham Medal in Computing and Innovation. The medal is awarded each year at convocation to a graduate of the University of Waterloo that most closely exemplifies the qualities shown by Professor Graham during his career. Wes Graham has also received the Distinguished Teacher Award of the University of Waterloo.

Wes Graham has made many contributions to professional organizations. He was President of the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) for two successive terms, and his work in this office gave CIPS the start it needed to be the true representative of the computing profession in Canada. In recognition of his contributions to CIPS, Wes Graham was made an Honorary Lifetime Member.

As President of the Canadian Water Ski Association, Wes pioneered the use of the computer in automating the process of scoring water ski tournaments. His approach was first used in 1979 at the World Water Ski Championships in Toronto. In recognition of his contributions to water skiing, Wes Graham received a Builder Award from Water Ski Canada.