Russell Wangersky was raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, where his father was a professor of oceanography at Dalhousie University and his mother, a marine biologist, ran a tight ship.
His youth was spent exploring Halifax, with travel to Barcelona and Trondheim, Norway, when his family travelled on university sabbaticals.
He attended Acadia University and chose philosophy over the family business of science, and edited the university's literary magazine, Alpha. He also signed up, during those university years, to be a volunteer firefighter in Wolfville, NS. He left the department after he completed his BA Honours in 1984, when he and his then-wife, Barbara Pratt, moved to Toronto. There, Russell worked as a researcher in the Queen's Park bureau of Southam News.