Dr. Steacie was born in Montréal on Christmas Day in 1900 and received his early education there. Following a year at the Royal Military College in Kingston, he studied chemical engineering at McGill University and received his B.Sc. degree in 1923. He then enrolled in the graduate school to work in physical chemistry. Having achieved his Ph.D. in 1926, he continued as a lecturer at McGill and, shortly after, started the research in chemical kinetics that became his lifelong major scientific interest. In 1939, he joined the National Research Council (NRC) as Director of the Division of Chemistry.
For a period during World War II, Dr. Steacie was second-in-command to Sir John Cockcroft at the British-Canadian Atomic Energy Project in Montréal, in addition to being Director of NRC's Chemistry Division. After the war, he resumed his research and quickly established his laboratory as one of the leading centres in the world for the study of chemical kinetics. It was at this time that he devised the imaginative program of NRC postdoctoral fellowships which contributed so greatly to the vitality of the NRC laboratories. In 1950, Dr. Steacie became Vice-President (Scientific) of the National Research Council and, in 1952, its President. His role as President of the National Research Council brought increasing involvement in the international aspects of science and culminated, in 1961, in his election as President of the International Council of Scientific Unions.
Over the course of his career, Dr. Steacie received numerous honours, including honorary degrees from many universities in Canada and abroad. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, a Foreign Member of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. and an Honorary Fellow of the Polish Chemical Society and the Belgian Chemical Society. He also served terms as President of the Royal Society of Canada, the Chemical Institute of Canada and the Faraday Society.