On March 15, the University of Toronto celebrates 189 years of teaching, learning, and discovering. To mark the university’s birthday, over the next two weeks, I’m counting down to the big day by looking back at great moments in U of T’s history each decade since its establishment in 1827.
1. 1827-1829 — U of T opens its doors
On March 15, 1827, a royal charter was issued by King George IV which proclaimed “from this time one College, with the style and privileges of a University…to continue for ever, to be called King’s College.” Almost got it, King George IV — just minus the King’s College part.
2. 1830-1839 — Yas queen (Victoria)
Victoria College was founded in 1836 and named for Queen Victoria. It opened on October 12, 1836 to male and female students. Since then, Victoria College has a Charter Day convocation ceremony annually on the same day.
3. 1840-1849 — Starting to stargaze
On September 5, 1840, observations began at the Toronto Magnetic and Meteoroloigcal Observatory, which was near Convocation Hall.
4. 1850-1859 — The original ANT100
In 1857, history and English literature prof Sir Daniel Wilson offered the world’s first anthropology course. More about Sir Daniel Wilson? Well, University College has a residence named after him, he was the university’s third president – oh, and he had a unique talent: he could write different words with his right and left hands, simultaneously.
5. 1860-1869 — And we shall call this a touchdown
The first documented football match was a practice game at U of T in 1861, which they called the “old University game” — so tell that to your Western friends next time they try to tell you U of T isn’t an athletic school. We like sports and we don’t care who knows, and that’s a documented historical fact!
6. 1870-1879 — (Almost) inventing the lightbulb
In July 1874, Henry Woodard, a medical student at U of T, and his neighbour, Matthew Evans, applied for a Canadian patent for an electric lightbulb which was later granted in August. They had come to the idea in the early winter of 1873 but were unable to raise enough funds to develop a commercially viable light bulb, and Thomas Edison purchased the patent from them in 1879.
On a happier note, U of T’s first glee club was also founded in 1879, so if Woodard wanted to express his sadness through song and dance, that option was thankfully available to him.
7. 1880-1889 — A wild The Varsity appears
“The question of the co-education of the sexes in Colleges is still a vexed one and some time must elapse before it can be regarded as finally disposed of,” read an article in The Varsity’s first issue. The inaugural copy of the university’s student newspaper was published on October 7, 1880. You can read more about what was in that first issue on U of T’s Great Past site, or you can read the current issue on The Varsity’s website!
8. 1890-1899 — The origins of Fireball
“A frightful calamity. Last evening I looked on while our beautiful university building was helplessly devoured by the flames. It is terrible. Thirty-three thousand carefully selected volumes have vanished. The work of a lifetime is swept away in a single night.”
This description comes from the diary of President Wilson (who may or may not have been writing with both hands simultaneously at the time, as we know from #4). On February 14, 1890, University College set on fire on the night of the annual conversazione as a result of dropped kerosene lamps which provided light in the college at the time. The east wing, central tower, and 33,000 books were destroyed. Fireball commemorates the event annually. Read more on U of T’s Great Past site.
9. 1900-1909 — The U of T anthem
U of T has an anthem, dating back to 1908, and the chorus goes something like this: “Toronto is our University, Shout, oh shout, men of ev’ry faculty, Velut arbor aevo, May she ever thrive!” Wonder why that hasn’t caught on with the kids these days?
10. 1910-1919 — Hello, Hart House
Hart House officially opened on November 11, 1919 at the end of the decade. It was built by the Massey family “at a cost approaching two millions.” Hart House Theatre also opened. Money was set aside to build a separate gym for women, but of course both gyms wound up being co-ed.
Check back next week for the exciting conclusion of this list as we go from the roaring 20s up to the present day in U of T history.