Early in his life, Innis took one enormous step beyond that parochial view: he stayed home. Once taken, that step led him farther than most of us have dared to go.
He had grown up in rural Ontario, a farm boy who graduated from Woodstock Collegiate Institute (now McMaster University). He then enlisted in the army in 1916. As a signalman he often worked beyond the safety of the trenches, and he suffered a shrapnel wound that took seven years to heal.
Convalescing in England, Innis completed his master's degree through Khaki University, and returned to Canada before the war's end. He thought of a career in law, but decided he needed to know more to qualify himself. So he went to the University of Chicago for a PhD in economics, and returned to Canada as a young professor in the University of Toronto's department of political economy.
... another Mac alum! ... continuing:
His research taught Innis that empires acquire provinces, and the provinces in turn supply the resources to sustain the empires. What's more, empires become blinded by their own success. Their vision of the world seems self-evidently correct and the source of their achievement.
Innis thought the real insights come from the provinces, from the margin. Canada should therefore understand itself and the world in Canadian terms -- not in terms of some ideology imported from Europe or the U.S.
This was not the daydream of a jingoistic nationalist. As Innis read history, the marginal societies have always had a clearer understanding of the world than their imperial neighbours.
The marginal Greeks rejected imperial Persia, and founded western civilization. The marginal Macedonians conquered Greece and Persia, and in turn fell to the marginal Romans. On the margins of medieval Europe and imperial Spain, England rose to greatness around the world until marginal America became the new empire.
... knew about the 'marginal provinces' side of things; didn't know it had Classical thought-roots ...
The Second World War led to countless academics leaving the universities for military service or work in the bureaucracy. Innis stayed where he was, defending liberal arts programs when they might have been cut to help the war effort. Looking beyond immediate problems, Innis ensured that veterans had a university to return to.
While he fought for university autonomy, Innis fully supported the idea of the scholar-advisor to the state. Despite an enormous workload, he also served on three royal commissions. His standards, says Watson, made him "the royal commissioner from hell" -- rigorous, uncompromising, and determined to tell the government exactly what he thought.
As he moved beyond orthodox economic history, it was to larger issues that "dirt research" couldn't illuminate. Instead, Innis plunged into classical studies, using other scholars' work to understand the origins of empires and how communications sustained those empires.
That last 'graph seems somewhat out of place ... whatever the case, the whole review is worth a read and it might be worth looking for the book as well.