Born in Montreal in 1925, Claude Ryan was educated at Collège de Sainte-Croix and then at the School for Social Studies at l’Université de Montréal. He also added a year’s study in Church History and World History at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1951-52.
He was the Editorial Director at the daily newspaper Le Devoir from 1962 to 1978, then Publisher of the newspaper and General Manager of l’Imprimerie populaire (Le Devoir) from May 1964 to January 1978. He also was a Member of the Board of The Canadian Press news agency from 1964 to 1971. Post-politics, he became a professor in Catholic studies at McGill in 2002
Claude Ryan distinguished himself at a young age when, at 20, he served as national secretary for the Action catholique canadienne (ACC), an organism which oversaw many movements of the laity including Jeunesse étudiante catholique (JEC), and the Jeunesse ouvrière catholique . He would be involved for more than 17 years (1945-62) in this vast network of social and political action.
Gifted with a rare intellect and an eloquent pen, Ryan intervened regularly in a panoply of subjects, such as social issues, manpower, education, labour and family. He founded the Intitut canadien d’éducation des adultes in 1956 with a view to expanding access to an educational system, which until that time was elitist. He joined the editorial board of Le Devoir, succeeding Gérard Filion as Director. He would comment daily on Quebec politics from the beginnings of the Quiet Revolution to the first moments of the referendum on sovereignty when he would resign to enter the political arena.
He succeeded interim party leader Gérard D. Lévesque in 1978 and became head of the Official Opposition in 1979 when he won a by-election in Argenteuil. Hew led the No group to victory in the May 20 Rerendum on Sovereignty
When he was replaced by Robert Bourassa as party leader in 1983, he eventually served as Education Minister in the former’s cabinet, and Bourassa often took advantage of his former predecessor’s judgment and political maturity when dealing with sticky issues, right up to Ryan’s departure from politics in 1994.
Claude Ryan died of stomach cancer at Montreal on February 9, 2004 at the age of 79.