The Making of McGill
CONCLUSION The little college of yesterday has blossomed into one of the world’s great universities
THROUGHOUT the century-and-a-quarter history of old McGill one splendid circumstance stands out above all others. Whenever she has needed Men— with a capital M—she has been able to discover them, and what is more, she has been able to attach them to her cause.
So, in the earliest days, when the university which now is was merely a legacy beset by contumacious co-heirs and a sardonically indifferent legislature, John Strachan, Rector of Cornwall and later Bishop of Toronto, fought for her unwearyingly and with righteous zeal, ardent that the deathbed wish of his friend James McGill should be brought to a ripe fulfillment. So that staunch old patriarch of the Church,
George Jehoshaphat Mountain, sustained the feeble enterprise against its enemies, without thought of material reward, during the poverty-stricken period when McGill College consisted of nothing more tangible than a charter and a phantom faculty.
So, later, this same Bishop Mountain was discovered to be the one individual sufficiently stern, sufficiently unselfish, sufficiently sagacious, and with sufficient faith in the future to defy the belligerent John Bethune, and eventually to contrive, with W. E. Gladstone, his removal from office. And so, when at last the college, established in fact, but harassed by debt, and regarded with suspicion by the very Montreal public which should have been its stoutest supporter, seemed condemned to no braver destiny than a slow decline into an inevitable decay, William Dawson stepped into the breach, and saved James McGill’s precious heritage for Canada and for the world.
The Great Principal
TT IS no affront either to his predecessors or his successors that Sir William Dawson is acclaimed today as the greatest of all the great principals of McGill University. He held that exacting office for thirty-eight
years. Literally he dedicated his life to the service of McGill. He found the college hardly more than a heap of moldy stonework fast crumbling to dust. He left it a mighty institution holding its
head proudly among the foremost educational foundations, not only of Canada, but of the civilized world. Since, broken in health, he resigned the principalship in 1893, worthy followers in his footsteps have nobly carried on the splendid work which he established, but it was Sir William Dawson who, sparing no effort of his willing hands or his fine mind, bestowing his exalted scholarship, his lofty ideals, his persuasive personality and his wise diplomacy completely upon the cause of McGill, erected the broad, firm, and lasting foundations upon which the present day achievement has been superimposed. He is ranked as one of the great Canadians, and he richly merits that accolade.
Until the Board of Governors decided, in 1855, upon the earnest advice of Sir Edmund Head, then Governor of New Brunswick, to offer the vacant principalship to young William Dawson, who was at the time only thirty-five years old, the men who had guided the
feeble footsteps of the infant university had all been of the wealthy and aristocratic class. With the exception of John Bethune, all of them had been graduates of British universities, and all of them, save Edmund A. Meredith, had occupied lofty stations in the Holy Orders of the Established Church of England. There was, in that period of Canadian history, no such thing as a democratic university, nor any thought of one. The social lines, in the matter of higher education, were almost as sharply drawn as they were in England. It was inevitable, under the conditions then prevailing, that the rich and cultured citizens of Montreal should come to regard James McGill’s foundation as something
peculiarly their own, created for their particular benefit. There had even been an attempt, during the reign of that obstinate old churchman John Bethune, to bind the college permanently to the Established Church. Bethune had proposed a code of rules in which it was set down that only Church of England clergymen should be permitted to offer prayers in the college chapel, that no professor, lecturer or tutor should be permitted to teach principles contrary to Church of England doctrines, and that attendance at morning service at the Protestant Episcopal Church should be made compulsory on the student body. These daring suggestions were wisely denied the sanction of the Home Government; but that Dr. Bethune should have felt himself justified in offering them is an illuminating indication of the trend of affairs.
Against this Tory background, the appointment to the principalship of William Dawson, the son of a Scottish Presbyterian immigrant, who had landed at Pictou, N.S., in 181.1 with hardly more worldly possessions than the clothes in which he walked ashore, stands out as almost revolutionary. At least it assumes the proportions of a heroic measure. The step seems to have been taken with some misgivings, since four years were allowed to elapse between the final withdrawal of Principal Meredith, and the announcement that William Dawson had been chosen to succeed him. The marching decades thereafter were magnificently to justify the daring venture.
Once more McGill, in the hour of her need, had found a Man.
“The Man Who Made McGill”
THE erudite scholar and wise administrator who was later to be known as “the man who made McGill,” first blinked at the light of day from the recesses of a little home-made cradle in Pictou on October 13, 1820. His father was a product of Banffshire, which county, incidentally, was also the native heath of James McGill’s ancestors. The elder Dawson, starting in the new land with no more equipment than a stout heart, a shrewd Scottish mind, and a will to work had become first a merchant, then a shipmaster and afterward a publisher. He was, by William Dawson’s own testimony, a self-educated man, avid for reading, and filled with the determination that his son should enjoy the benefits of a university training which circumstances had denied to him.
A private school in Pictou was the first influence outside his pious and frugal home to mold the future McGill principal’s infant mind. It was the intention of his parents to train him for the ministry, but the fates decreed otherwise. From this private school he went to Pictou Academy, where it was soon perceived that his keenest interests were in the study of geology and natural history. He completed a sevenyears course at Edinburgh University in 1847, married an Edinburgh lassie whose name was Margaret Mercer, and returned with his bride to Pictou. Thereafter he was occupied for a space with a course of extension lectures at Dalhousie College,
Halifax, and a few years later was appointed by Joseph Howe to the newly
established post of Superintendent of Education for the Province of Nova Scotia. It was while engaged upon the duties of this office that he became acquainted with Sir Edmund Head, who was soon to succeed Lord Elgin as Governor-General of Canada. Sir Edmund was greatly impressed, not only with young Dawson’s sincerity and strength of character, but with his theories on educacational reforms, which were so liberal as to appear in
that day and age to border upon the radical. Sir Edmund, himself a man of broad views concerning education, was familiar with the difficulties which were hampering the Governors of McGill University, and he it was who urged them to select the brilliant young Nova Scotian as their next principal. Dawson accepted and took up his new duties with the beginning of the session of 1855.
Things were in dolorous condition at McGill. One hundred and ten students were registered, fifty-seven in Medicine, thirty-eight in Arts, and fifteen in Law. The new college buildings, fallen into shocking disrepair for lack of funds with which to complete and maintain them could not be used for classes, although certain rooms were used for quarters for the faculty and resident students.
The Medical School was housed in a building on Côté Street, far outside the University proper, but near the General Hospital. The Arts and Law
students were attending classes held on the second floor of the building occupied by the Montreal High School. Burnside was a wilderness.
William Dawson had never been in Montreal when he accepted the principalship of McGill. He had not seen the college, and was without first-hand knowledge of its low estate. It was sufficient for him that he envisioned the position as a great educational opportunity. He grasped it, but through his own words we know that his first introduction to the physical aspects of his new responsibility were the reverse of encouraging.
“Materially,” he wrote, years afterward, “it was represented by two blocks of unfinished and partly ruinous buildings, standing amid a wilderness of excavators’ and masons’ rubbish, overgrown with weeds and bushes. The grounds were unfenced, and were pastured at will by herds of cattle, which not only cropped the grass, but browsed on the shrubs, leaving unhurt only one great elm, which still stands as the ‘Founder’s Tree,’ and a few old oaks and butternut trees, most of which have had to give place to new buildings. The only access from town was by a circuitous and ungraded cart track, almost impassable at night ... I had been promised a residence, and this, I found, was to be in a portion of one of the detached buildings aforesaid, the present East Wing. It had been very imperfectly finished, was destitute of nearly every requisite of civilized life, and in front of it was a bank of rubbish and loose stones, with a swamp below, while the interior was in an indescribable state of dust and disrepair.”
Nevertheless, setting aside their disappointment and making the best of the discomforts of their situation, the new principal and his young wife seized upon their
task with brave hearts and high courage. The immediate need was for funds, and particularly for some clear assurance of government support. Sir William went in person to Toronto, then the seat of the government— the journey, by the way, occupied him for five days— and there pleaded the cause of the infant college. He brought back with him a definite promise of a scheme providing Government aid in the near future.
JT WAS William Dawson's staunch faith that higher education was a matter of public interest, and not the precious possession of a chosen few. Immediately after his in.. auguration he proceeded to put his theories to the test. He
established that first winter a course of thirty popular lectures, for which the nominal fee of one pound was charged for the course. Zoology, Natural Philosophy, Civil Engineering, Paleography, and the Chemistry of Life were the subjects offered. During the same session the principal in person conducted a course in Agriculture, of which new science he had made a careful study while in Nova Scotia. This was the beginning of the movement which culminated in the creation of the famous Macdonald College at Ste. Anne de Bellevue, which, although situated several miles
out of Montreal, is a part of
McGill University, and which houses at the present time the School of Agriculture, the School of Household
Science, and the School for Teachers.
Having by means of these courses aroused in the minds of the citizens of Montreal the idea that McGill was the property of all the people, and not exclusively the possession of the wealthy class, Principal Dawson next organized the first general appeal for funds on behalf of his charge. The response was encouraging, if not sensational, and in all $75,000 was donated. This was sufficient to relieve some of the more pressing liabilities, and to provide for a few of the more urgently needed repairs and improvements, but the result of this initial
drive was significant to the new principal more because it showed an awakened public interest in the affairs of the university than for the actual amount raised.
Further funds were obtained through the sale of a part of the college property which was situated nearest the town. Forty-four lots were sold, many of them at auction, located on Sherbrooke, Victoria, University and Mansfield Streets. Now the Governors were in a position to move actively in the direction of a rehabilitation of the grounds and buildings. A comprehensive programme of restoration was launched, the grounds were cleared, walks and graded roads were made. By 1860 the classes in Arts, Law and Science were again established on the campus. At long last McGill was on her feet.
The first five years of William Dawson’s principalship completely changed conditions at McGill, and, which was more important, completely altered the attitude of the citizens of Montreal toward the university. During the previous decades of
legislative apathy, of long-drawn-out court suits, and of the back-fence squabbles between John Bethune and the Trustees of the Royal Institution, Montrealers outside the limited sphere of influence of the college group regarded the enterprise with mixed feelings of suspicion and plain indifference. At the best, there was no enthusiasm on behalf of the university, save among the sparse handful of its immediate sponsors.
Dawson’s blazing zeal for his college was contagious. His spirit fired a similar interest in others. The publicity attendant upon his popular lecture courses, and the first general appeal for funds, together with his reiterated insistence that McGill was an establishment created for the public weal, began to attract the attention of several wealthy and influential Montrealers, who had not previously displayed any particular interest in the affairs of the university, which they regarded as a matter which concerned only the Board of Governors and the Royal Institution.
The first concrete demonstration of this change of heart on the part of the citizens of Montreal came when, in 1862, a new wing was constructed on the west side of the main building. This addition duplicated the East Wing, and housed a library on the ground floor and a convocation hall above. The structure was the gift of William Molson, and the hall was named for its donor. It was the first of many such beneficences on the part of the Molson family, and it also established a precedent which was in later years to bestow upon the university the munificent contributions of Lord Strathcona, Sir William Macdonald, John and Peter Redpath, William Workman, John Frothingham and many others. These gifts have made McGill one of the wealthiest of universities. In the early years of Sir William Dawson’s Principalship, the land and money value of the McGill property was approximately $150,000. Today the material wealth of the University is estimated at $50,000,000, and may be higher than that figure. Of this huge sum the actual amount donated or spent upon the existing property and buildings is $30,000,000. The balance represents increment.
Now firmly established, and free from immediate financial embarrassments, McGill began to expand. The smaller colleges of St. Francis at Richmond, Quebec, and Morrin College, at Quebec itself, were affiliated. Between 1865 and 1880 four theological seminaries were established by the Congregational, Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Wesleyan denominations, and these in turn were affiliated with the university, and their student bodies added to the Arts classes. A McGill Graduates’ Society was organized, which played an active part in the second public appeal for funds, made in 1871, which resulted in large increases in endowments and revenue. Already, with the liberal-minded Dawson urging public opinion toward broad views on higher education, there was talk of admitting women to participation in the university’s privileges, a movement which later was to lead to the establishment by Sir Donald Smith, who afterward became Lord Strathcona, of the Royal Victoria College for Women. Under Dawson’s inspired leadership McGill was the first Canadian University, and one of the first in the world, to consider seriously the possibilities of coeducation.
Meanwhile the Medical Faculty, established as a result of the merger in 1829 of the Montreal Medical Institution with the then skeleton organization of McGill College, had been functioning in its Côté Street building. During the earlier years the Medical School had remained largely independent of the university in practice, although legally a part of its establishment. This very independence now began to appear as a handicap, since the disposition of McGill’s new benefactors was to devote their donations to the extension of the activities of the Arts and Science courses rather than to the needs of the Medical Faculty, which had for so many years been rather proud of its ability to stand on its own feet.
But conditions were changing. Larger premises and improved facilities for the medical students were necessary, if the high standard set by the school was to be maintained. Also the Governors felt that a more intimate connection should be established between the now prosperous university and its Medical Faculty. Once more it was the boundless energy of Principal Dawson which brought about the erection of a new structure on a site east of the main building, and in 1872 the Faculty of Medicine was at last permanently housed in its own home as an integral part of the university plan. There it has remained ever since, although the original building has long since disappeared. The domain of the Medics now extends to the north-easternmost limits of the university property on the south side of Pine Avenue, where in the bad old days French Lecturer Montier was permitted to make his garden and pasture his cow in lieu of the salary which the poverty-stricken McGill of the period could not pay him. The new Biological Building stands on the site of the first Medical Building.
First of many gifts to the Medical School was the addition provided in 1894 through the generosity of J. H. R. Molson. Later, Lord Strathcona took the Medical Department under his wing, and the present splendid building came into being as the result of his free-handed generosity.
In the same year which witnessed the permanent installation of the Medical Faculty on the Burnside property, the school graduated a young student who was considered by his instructors to have demonstrated an unusual degree of aptitude for his chosen profession. The promise of this graduate’s career in McGill’s classrooms was amply fulfilled,
for the later years found him successively a lecturer in the university which had produced him, a professor at Johns Hopkins, knighted by his King, and at last Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford. His name was William Osier, and the most sacred possession of the McGill Medical School today is the Osier Library, in which, according to the terms of Sir William’s will, there have been placed his magnificent collection of volumes, and the sombre urn which holds his ashes.
The Macdonald Gilts
"RROM the time of William Molson’s
gift of the west wing of the central building, the future of McGill was assured. Other leading citizens, inspired by Principal Dawson’s faith, came forward with handsome donations. Peter Redpath, a modest Montreal business man, gave the university the building which was to become the Redpath Museum. J. H. R. Molson sponsored the Redpath Library, presenting the McTavish Street property upon which the building was constructed, and also financed extensions to the new Medical Building. It was during this period that the Prince Edward Island Scotsman, who later became one of McGill’s greatest benefactors, began to take an interest in the work which William Dawson was doing for the university.
Sir William Macdonald, from beginnings so small as to be almost infinitesimal, had built a huge fortune from the manufacture and sale of so humble a commodity as plug tobacco. He was an outstanding figure in the life of the city during the latter part of the last century, a benign, white-bearded, retiring gentleman, extremely conservative in his commercial practices, but a business genius notwithstanding. Entirely devoid of personal conceit, and having no thought whatever of personal aggrandizement, he devoted the later years of his life and great part of his vast fortune to the cause of McGill. He built the Macdonald Engineering Building and the Macdonald Physics Building, provided the funds which made the Chemistry and Mining Building possible, and established and endowed the magnificent Macdonald College at Ste. Anne de Bellevue.
A property of thirty-five acres on the Westmount side of Mount Royal was given by Sir William together with the money to construct the McGill Union. When the original Engineering Building was gutted by fire in 1907, Sir William promptly replaced it with the present structure, which was opened in 1909.
Two years later Sir William acquired twenty-five acres of land east and north of the university property, and east of the Royal Victoria Hospital, to be used for recreational purposes. The Molson Stadium oecupies a part of this site, which was at once conveyed by the purchaser to the McGill authorities, who decided to call it Macdonald Park.
Sir William Macdonald’s will provided an endowment fund which made it possible to establish the Conservatorium of Music, organized in 1904, upon an independent basis as a faculty of the university. Altogether, the tobacco magnate’s gifts to McGill totalled more than twelve and a half million dollars.
Lord Strathcona, Another Benefactor
ANOTHER outstanding Canadian whose generosity benefitted the university during this period was Lord Strathcona. Principal Dawson’s enthusiasm for the higher education for women, communicated to the great builder of the Canadian Pacific, brought forth fruit in the establishment in 1899 of the Royal Victoria College. Previously Lord Strathcona, then Sir Donald Smith, had given $50,000 to endow women’s classes in connection with the Arts Faculty. The endowment was later increased to $120,000, and in 1888 degrees of Bachelor of Arts were granted to eight women students of the “Donalda” course, so named in honor of the man whose beneficence had made the higher education of women an accomplished fact at McGill.
The Royal Victoria College grew from this beginning. Lord Strathcona donated the Sherbrooke Street site and the building which occupies it. The institution has always been closely affiliated with McGill and recently was made a department of the university.
In addition to these splendid contributions to the greater McGill, Lord Strathcona financed the enlargement in 1901 of the Medical Building, and when, in the disastrous winter of 1907 that structure was burned a few days after the Engineering Building had been destroyed by fire, the funds which provided for the erection of the splendid new structure which now stands at the head of University Street came from Lord Strathcona’s pocket.
Sir William Dawson resigned because of ill health in May, 1893, but he continued to be actively associated with the affairs of the university as a Governor until his death in November, 1899. He left behind him a permanent memorial in a McGill prosperous, firmly established, magnificently equipped and thoroughly representative of the lofty educational ideals for which he had always striven. After long years of struggle he enjoyed at last the satisfaction of knowing that his task had been well done.
McGill and the War
SIR WILLIAM PETERSON, who took up the principalship of McGill as Sir William Dawson laid it down, came to the
university well-equipped in scholarship and administrative experience. A native of Edinburgh, and a graduate of its famous university, he was principal of University College at Dundee when he was called to McGill.
At the time of his appointment he was thirty-nine years old. He remained in office for twenty-four years, and died in February, 1921, less than two years after he had been stricken at a public meeting. It could almost be said that he died in harness, for the fatal illness which overtook him in 1919 was the consequence of overwork imposed upon him by the tremendous strain of the war years.
Under Sir William Peterson, McGill continued to progress steadily forward along the upward road upon which her feet had been set by Sir William Dawson, but when in 1914 the sudden explosion of the World War turned civilization topsyturvy, it became Principal Peterson’s task to direct the university’s vast resources toward whole-hearted support of Canada’s war effort.
How well he succeeded the records show. The Officers’ Training Corps, which is a permanent part of McGill’s organization, was enlarged and placed upon an active service basis. Eventually this corps reached a strength of between 600 and 700 all ranks, and a steady stream of trained men was sent overseas from the McGill campus up till the time of the armistice. Three units of the C.E.F. went to France bearing the name of McGill into the trenches. No. 3 (McGill) General Hospital, C.A.M.C., commanded by Colonel H. S. Birkett, left Canada in May, 1915. This was followed, by two McGill Siege Batteries, the 7th, under Major W. D. Tait, organized in the winter of 1915-16, and the 10th, raised by Sir Stopford Lauder Brunton in the spring of 1917. From the commencement of hostilities until the
close of the war more than 1,500 McGill graduates, more than 1,000 undergraduates, and more than 400 past students joined the colors. The total number of McGill men in the C.E.F. was 3,059, and of this total 363 were either killed in action or died on service.
During the war period McGill, devoting most of her energies to the business of training officers and organizing units for the Canadian Expeditionary Forces, perforce remained stationary in so far as extensions to her buildings or her quipment were concerned. Her classes were reduced to the minimum, and during the entire war period only a fraction of her former numbers were annually graduated.
The Currie Regime
T\ 71TH the coming of peace there was a YV need for an unusual effort in order to recapture as far as possible those lost years. The resignation of Sir William Peterson at this time was a heavy blow, and for some time the Governors were at their wits’ ends to choose a successor worthy of the vast responsibilities which he would be required to shoulder. Sir Auckland Geddes, formerly a member of the McGill Faculty, and Minister of National Service in the British Cabinet, was their first choice. Sir Auckland did not take office, and a year after his appointment he resigned in order to become British Ambassador at Washington.
It was then that the Governors decided to offer the post to Sir Arthur Currie, the present incumbent; Sir Arthur had a brilliant war record as Commanderin-Chief of the Canadian forces in France. The new principal assumed office in August, 1920, and has remained at the head of McGill ever since.
Between 1911 and the date of Sir Arthur Currie’s arrival at McGill no important addition to McGill’s buildings or
equipment had been made, with the single exception of the Molson Stadium. There was an urgent and immediate need for extensions in the Medical Department, the Arts Faculty, and certain divisions of the Engineering School. A gymnasium was wanted, and the Redpath Library was by now unable to accommodate valuable volumes donated to the university by various friends.
Financially the university was on a sound basis, but there were not available funds to provide for the immediate construction of all the desired extensions. In recognition of her contribution to the Allied cause during the war McGill had been awarded a grant of $1,000,000 from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; but still larger sums were needed.
So it happened that Sir Arthur Currie, following the example set in 1856 by Sir William Dawson, proceeded at once to organize a public appeal for financial support. The result was not less than magnificent, for between 1920 and 1924 six million dollars were added to the university’s capital. The Province of Quebec contributed $1,000,000, and the Rockefeller Foundation gave another $1,000,000, with the further gift in 1924 of $500,000 for medical research. The balance was raised among the citizens of Montreal.
With this large additional endowment, McGill was able to proceed with her ambitious programme of extension, which has brought her to her present enviable position among the universities of North America. The Medical School was especially advanced by these improvements, and there now exists a completely equipped ultra-modern Department of Medicine, including the Medical Building proper, the Pathological Institute, the Biological Building, the Clinical LaboraContinued on page 60 tory established in the Royal Victoria Hospital and connected with the Pathological Institute by way of an underground tunnel, a Maternity Pavilion, also in connection with the Royal Victoria Hospital, a Nursery School, a Dental Clinic and the Osier Memorial Library already referred to. The activities of the Department have further been expanded to include psychiatry and industrial hygiene. Schools for graduate nurses and social workers have been established.
Other important additions to the university’s plant include the establishment of a new Department of Communication Engineering in connection with the Faculty of Applied Science, and a Department of Industrial and Cellulose Chemistry, the latest adjunct, built and equipped by the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association, which will share with the university the cost of maintaining its research laboratory.
There is no need here for more than a passing reference to McGill’s prowess in collegiate sports, which for the past fifty years have occupied a considerable place in the undergraduate interest. It is worthy of note, however, that McGill was very largely responsible for the introduction to the colleges of the United States of rugby football, which has latterly grown to be so tremendous a spectacle across the border. Around 1885 a McGill football team made a friendly visit to Harvard for the purpose of playing a football match with a Harvard fifteen. The game was played, of course, according to the rules of tie English Rugby code, since there was at that time no such thing as American football or Canadian Rugby. It is a fairly well-authorized fact that from this encounter the beginnings of American collegiate football may be traced.
An Ideal Realized
THE McGill of today is a far greater McGill than even the most ambitious dreams of its founder could have visioned.
Its graduates are to be found wherever the winds blow between the poles. There are illustrious names among them. Laurier was a McGill man; so was D’Arcy McGee. William Osier, Ernest Rutherford, these are names to conjure with internationally. Among her faculty she has numbered Dawson, Craik, Fernando Holmes, Moyse, Geddes, Stephen Leacock, Howard Barnes and a host of other distinguished leaders. The annual report for 1926—the latest available—shows 2,565 students registered, having their geographical origins in twenty-two different countries, outside Canada and Newfoundland. Her students arrive upon her tree-shaded campus from lands as widely separated as China and Peru. She is an International University.
Said Sir Arthur Currie, in his 1926 Report:
“Maintaining touch with the practical, while none the less earnestly striving toward the ideal, insisting on the highest standards in teacher and student alike, drawing to her staff men from many different places, teaching not only the young Canadian, but welcoming to her classes and to Canada scores of undergraduates from the rest of the British Empire, from the United States, from half the world, McGill is striving to fulfill the trust imposed on her by those whose contributions have brought her into being and who made her past achievements possible.”
It would seem that James McGill’s gift to posterity is in safe hands.
Author’s Note: The author of these
articles on McGill University wishes to acknowledge a debt of gratitude to Colonel Wilfred Bovey, Director of Extra-Mural Relations at McGill, for his aid and cooperation in collecting much of the data therein contained, as well as to Prof. Cyrus MacMillan, author of “McGill and Its Story,” published in 1921 by John Lane, from which volume a large part of the early history of the university was obtained.