Born in Montreal, Shelagh moved to Ontario in 1944, where she received her primary education at John Ross Robertson School in North Toronto and secondary education at Burlington District High School. In 1956, she enrolled in the Bachelor of Nursing Science Program at the University of Western Ontario which included one year at university, three years at the hospital of your choice and a year back at university. She trained at the Hospital For Sick Children in Toronto and in 1960 graduated with an RN. Although enjoying her time at Sick Children’s and the close bonds with her class mates, she realized that she had little interest in nursing as a long term career. As a result, she did not return to university for her final year and instead worked for Mount Sinai Hospital’s Chief of Medicine.
While taking time off to raise a young family, Shelagh pursued her love of history by taking correspondence courses at the University of Western Ontario. A move to Peterborough in 1974 introduced her to Trent University, where she took a couple of courses before returning to school full time. In 1981 she graduated with a joint Honours BA in History and Canadian Studies, and in 1983 with a Masters degree in History, the latter including a graduate course at University of Toronto’s International Affairs Program.
At the time, Trent University had no doctoral program. Given family responsibilities and the prospect of traveling three days a week to Toronto, Shelagh decided not to pursue further studies. Instead, she accepted part time sessional appointments in the Department of History and the Canadian Studies Program at Trent University, which allowed her to spend more time on her first love — research and writing.
In June 2014, Shelagh was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters by Trent University.