Pacey was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, the son of William and Mary Pacey. His father was killed in World War I. Pacey and his mother emigrated to England, where he received his early education. In 1931, Pacey and his mother immigrated to Canada, where his mother remarried and they settled in Glanford Station, Ontario.
Pacey was educated at Victoria University, University of Toronto, where he received his B.A. in 1938; and [[Trinity College, Cambridge, where he received a doctorate in English literature in 1941. In 1939 he married Mary E. Carson of Ottawa, who would bear him 7 children.
Pacey served as faculty Secretary from 1952 to 1969, and as Dean of Graduate Studies from 1960 to 1970. In 1970, he became Vice President Academic, and in 1972-1973 he also served as Acting President of the university.
An authority on Frederick Philip Grove, Pacey wrote a book on Grove, and produced editions of Grove's stories in 1971 and his letters in 1976. He is also known for his criticism of Frances Brooke, Leonard Cohen, and Ethel Wilson.
Pacey was an accomplished short story writer himself, and edited an anthology of short stories in 1947. He wrote approximately thirty short stories, plus scholarly journal articles and book, film, and play reviews, and contributed articles to several encyclopedias.
The Canadian Encyclopedia considers Creative Writing in Canada (1952) and Ten Canadian Poets (1958) to contain Pacey's finest work. It adds that "Pacey's balanced judgements have generally endured and his close studies of individual works have been influential." 
- The Picnic, and other stories. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1958.
- Waken, Lords and Ladies Gay: The selected short stories of Desmond Pacey. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1974.
- “At Last — A Canadian Literature.” Cambridge Review 60 (1938): 146-7.
- Frederick Philip Grove. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1945, 1970.
- “Literary Criticism in Canada.” University of Toronto Quarterly 19 (1950): 113-9.
- Creative Writing in Canada: A short history of English-Canadian literature. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1952, 1966.
- “Areas of Research in Canadian Literature.” University of Toronto Quarterly 23 (1953): 9-25.
- Ten Canadian Poets: A group of biographical and critical essays. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1958, 1966.
- Ethel Wilson. New York: Twayne, 1967.
- “The Young Writer and the Canadian Cultural Milieu.” Queen's Quarterly 69 (1962): 378-90.
- Essays in Canadian Criticism. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1969.
- “Summer’s Heat, and Winter’s Frigid Gales: The Effect of Canadian Climate upon Canadian Literature.” Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada 8 (1970): 3-23.
- Canadian Literature in English (edited by A.L. McLeod). Mysore, India: Centre for Commonwealth Literature and Research, University of Mysore, 1979.
- The Cow with the Musical Moo, and other verses for children. Fredericton, NB: Brunswick Press, 1952.
- Hippity Hobo and the Bee, and other verses for children. Fredericton, NB: Brunswick Press, 1952.
- The Cat, the Cow, and the Kangaroo: The collected children's verse of Desmond Pacey. Fredericton, NB: Brunswick Press, 1968.
- A Book of Canadian Stories. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1947, 1967.
- The Selected Poems of Sir Charles G.D. Roberts, 1860-1943. 1956; Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1974.
- Literary History of Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965.
- Our Literary Heritage: An anthology of literature in English. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1967.
- Frederick Philip Grove: Critical views of Canadian writers. (1970.
- Selections from Major Canadian Writers. 1974.
- The Letters of Frederick Philip Grove. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Tracy Ware, "Pacey, William Cyril Desmond", Canadian Encyclopedia (Edmonton: Hurtig, 1988), 1600. Print.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 "Biographical Sketch," W.C. Desmond Pacey fonds, Library.UNB.ca, Web, June 2, 2011.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 Billy Johnson, Desmond Pacey, New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia, St. Thomas University. Web, Feb. 3, 2013.
- ↑ Administrative HIstory / Biographical Sketch, Desmond Pacey fonds, Archives Canada. Web, Feb. 3, 2013.
- William Cyri Desmond Pacey in the Canadian Encyclopedia.
- Desmond Pacey in the New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia.
- Biographical Sketch, Desmond Pacey fonds, University of New Brunswick
- The Lives of a Poet: The correspondence of Earle Birney and Desmond Pacey, 1957-58 in Canadian Poetry
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