Kell Antoft was born on July 24, 1923 in Roskilde, Denmark. At the age of seven he immigrated to Canada with his parents, Otto and Asta (Rump) Antoft, settling in Winnipeg and later Lakeville, King's County, Nova Scotia. He received his early education in Kentville at the King's County Academy and later at Sir George Williams College in Montreal and Dalhousie University.
From an early age, Antoft became interested in hostelling and, while still in his teens, founded the Nova Scotia branch of the Canadian Hostelling Association (1938). At the time of writing (2002), he remains active in the movement as a member of the Trustee Committee.
Antoft served as a Royal Canadian Air Force navigator from 1943 to 1946. He settled in Montreal after the war, where he founded two successful businesses: Viking Air Service and Nordic Biochemicals Ltd. He served as President of the former from 1946 until 1956. Under his Presidency of Nordic Biochemicals (1951 to 1956), the company conducted foundational growth hormone research with its isolation for the first time ever of growth hormones from the human pituitary gland.
After twenty years in corporate administration, Antoft sold his business interests and moved to Toronto (1966) where he took up the post of Assistant Executive Director of the National Cancer Institute of Canada. His work with the Cancer Institute and the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) constitute another long-standing area of activity. Indeed, Antoft's contributions to cancer prevention in Canada fall predominantly in the area of generating awareness about the link between smoking and cancer.
In 1969 Antoft moved back to Nova Scotia after Guy Henson, Director of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), recruited him to assume the Assistant Directorship of the IPA. In 1977, Antoft succeeded Guy Henson as Director. At the end of this term in 1984, he became a professor (research) at the IPA (which later merged into Henson College of Public Affairs and Continuing Education) and a professor in the School of Public Administration at Dalhousie University. During his tenure, he launched a distinguished research career in local government, municipal planning, taxation, and non-resident land ownership. Several of these areas of expertise are represented among his donated papers. Upon retirement from his full-time appointment (1989), he was made an Adjunct Professor at Henson College.
In Nova Scotia, he continued his involvement with the CCS, and for more than twenty years served as a member of its Nova Scotia Division, with a two-year term as President from 1980 to 1982. During these decades he became particularly involved in both the Nova Scotia and national level Public Issues Committees, as well as both the Nova Scotia and Canada Councils on Smoking and Health. His papers help document the Canadian Cancer Society's move towards taking an active role in voicing opposition to tobacco advertising campaigns and sponsorship and in supporting anti-smoking campaigns.
Antoft united his interests in anti-smoking campaigns and athletics. Since the 1950s, he had worked in various capacities with ski clubs and programs in Canada, and in 1968 with Al Raine he co-founded the Nancy Greene Ski League, a training program for youngsters. In the 1980s it was Nancy Greene's assistance that helped convince the Canadian Ski Association to refuse tobacco sponsorship for one of their major races, the DuMaurier Cup. An avid skier, Antoft had played a significant role in Canadian and particularly Nova Scotian ski history: a Canadian Ski Association (CSA) Board Member for ten years, Chairman of the CSA's Atlantic Ski Zone for six, Member of the Board and Council of the Wentworth Valley Ski Club for fifteen years, founding President of the Nova Scotia Ski Areas Association (1972) and of the Nova Scotia Seniors' Ski Club (1989; now Ski Atlantic Seniors' Club), Manager of the Dalhousie Alpine Ski Team (1972-1983), and co-founder of the Dalhousie Penguin Club (1978). His work as an instructor also led him to initiate the take-over (1975-1976) of the CSA's Amateur Ski Instructor program by the Canadian Ski Instructors' Alliance, paving the way for the creation of the current levels I to IV qualification system.
In 1977 Senator Jacques Hébert founded the Katimavik program for youth, and from those very early days, Antoft involved himself on the Atlantic Region board (1977-1986), then as a representative on the national Board of Directors (1980-1989). In 1986, the federal government refused any further funding for the program. Under Antoft's presidency (1986-1989), the program remained alive, though diminished, through great efforts from Senator Hébert and others. With the help of Youth Service Canada in 1994, the program became more active and has since grown and received further government support. In 2000 Senator Hébert toured the country in support of Katimavik; records of this tour and of the business affairs of the program can be found among Antoft's papers.
Other spheres in which Antoft became actively involved were politics (he worked on behalf of the New Democratic Party from the mid-1980s on, and ran for Halifax City Council in 1985) and nuclear disarmament. According to Antoft, "From asking what we as veterans could do, Giff [Gifford], Hugh Taylor, Lloyd Shaw and I arrived at the idea of an open letter, a letter from veterans pleading for Canada to turn away from a repeat of errors, which this time might mean the end of human existence. So we four each undertook to sound out other veterans: friends, colleagues and distant acquaintances who might join us in putting our convictions on paper" (See "Reminiscences by Kell Antoft," edited from his remarks at the VANA Banquet, May 26, 1995, available http://www.vana.ca/history/antoft.html, accessed September 26, 2002). From that letter grew the national association Veterans Against Nuclear Arms and its affiliated organization, the Defence Research and Education Centre. Antoft has been actively involved in both from day one.
Inducted into the Nova Scotia Sport Heritage Hall of Fame (2000) and as a Member of the Order of Canada (2001), Antoft currently resides with his wife of more than twenty years, Mary Lou Courtney, in a log cabin that he built himself on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. He has four children (Asta Ellen, Susan Kirsten, Nicholas Kevin, and Timothy Steven) from a previous marriage.