John Hall Archer was born July 11, 1914 on a farm 20 km south of Broadview, Saskatchewan. He was the third of ten children born to British homesteaders Charles and Mary Archer, who came to Canada in 1903.
Archer's primary education began in Broadview's Highland School, and he completed his final year of high school at Scott Collegiate in Regina. Beginning in 1932, Archer farmed and attended Normal School in Regina. From 1935 to 1938, he upgraded his teaching credentials through correspondence and summer courses offered by the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. His enlistment during the Second World War resulted in a break in his studies. After the war, Archer obtained a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in history (1947) and a Masters of Arts in history (1948) from the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. At McGill University in Montreal Quebec, Archer received a Bachelor of Library Science (1949) and he earned a Doctorate of Philosophy in history (1969) from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.
In the period from 1933 to 1940, John Archer taught in the Highland, Grainview, Edenland, and Wawota school districts. In 1940, he left his position as Vice-Principal of Wawota High School, and enlisted in the Canadian Army. He signed up as a gunner in the Royal Canadian Artillery and became a part of the 1st Canadian Survey Regiment, Flash Spotting Battery. He was stationed overseas in the United Kingdom, North African/Mediterranean theatre and Italy during the war where he served with distinction and completed officer training. He also ran (unsuccessfully) for public office as a candidate in the 1944 Saskatchewan General Election, representing active service voters in Area Number 2 (countries bordering on the Mediterranean Sea). Archer returned to Saskatchewan in 1945 with the rank of Captain.
Following the completion of his Bachelor of Library Science degree, Archer returned to Saskatchewan to become the Assistant Legislative Librarian in 1949. During the period from 1951 to 1964, he was Legislative Librarian of Saskatchewan and served on the Saskatchewan Archives Board. From 1957 to 1962, he also held the position of Provincial Archivist. From 1962 to 1964, he was Assistant Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan.
In 1964, Archer left Saskatchewan to become Director of University Libraries at McGill and in 1967 he became an Associate Professor of History and University Archivist at Queen's University. In 1970, Archer returned to Saskatchewan, this time to take up his appointment as principal of the University of Saskatchewan, Regina Campus. He served as the University of Regina's President from 1974 to 1976. In 1976 while Professor of Western Canadian History at the University of Regina, Archer was engaged by the Saskatchewan Archives Board to write a history of Saskatchewan to coincide with the province's 75th Anniversary. He continued to teach throughout the 1980's and 1990's at the Senior's Education Centre, University of Regina.
During his lifetime, John Archer gave many speeches and lectures throughout the province to interest groups and students. In the year 1980, as promotion for the Celebrate Saskatchewan 75th Anniversary and the publication of his work Saskatchewan: A History, he spoke at over 200 events.
Archer wrote and edited many books and articles, as well as contributing forewords, introductions and reviews to many literary works. These projects included writing Honoured with the Burden (a history of the Regina Board of Education); Bernard Amtmann, 1907-1979; and Living Faith, History of Diocese of Qu'Appelle. He was general editor of the memoirs of John Diefenbaker and also edited Grainbuyer's Wife; Billy Bock : The Book of Humbug; Land of Promise; and West of Yesterday. Archer participated in several radio and television broadcasts, such as The Saskatchewan Story; At Home in Saskatchewan; John Archer's Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan Mosaic.
Throughout his lifetime, John Archer served on a number of boards and commissions at the local, provincial and national levels. These included the Saskatchewan Golden Jubilee Committee(Secretary); Rafferty Alameda Environmental Assessment Review Panel (Chair); Rural Development Advisory Group (Chair); Canadian Centenary Council (Director); South Saskatchewan Hospital Board (Member); Wascana Centre Authority (Director, treasurer); Saskatchewan Judicial Council; Glassco Commission on Federal Government Organization (Project Officer); Saskatchewan Commission on Continuing Education (Chair); and Regina Advisory Committee of the Salvation Army (Chair and Life Member).
He received numerous honours and awards during his lifetime, including the Order of Canada (Officer); Saskatchewan Order of Merit; Golden Jubilee Medal; President Emeritus for the University of Regina; Anglican Church Award of Merit; Doctor of Laws from the University of Regina; Doctor of Canon Law from the College of Emmanuel and St. Chad; as well as having the main branch of the University of Regina Library named in his honour.
Archer participated in a number of organizations, societies and charitable groups concerned with Canadian history, political science, libraries and the arts. Including: the Canadian and American Library Associations; the Canada Foundation; the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society; Monarchist League of Canada; Government House Historical Society; Saskatchewan Genealogical Society; Museums Association of Saskatchewan; and the Council for Canadian Unity.
His personal interests also extended to the game of bridge, curling, university athletics, rural development, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and Canadian unity.
John Archer married Alice M. Widdup on August 24, 1939 in Broadview, Saskatchewan. They had two children John Widdup Archer (1947) and Alice Mary-Lynn Archer (1951). Archer died on April 5, 2004 in Regina, Saskatchewan.