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Two Big Birthdays

A look at how U of T's colleges came to be

The year 2002 marks some memorable milestones at U of T, among them the 150th birthdays of Trinity and St. Michael’s – two of the University of Toronto’s oldest federated universities. That’s a lot of candles on a pretty big cake.

But their births in 1852 were not easy ones. A century and a half ago, the matter of what role – if any – churches should play in education was fiercely contentious. Secularism won the war, of course, with the establishment in 1850 of the University of Toronto. The new non-denominational institution’s home was University College, which arose from the metaphorical ashes of the Anglican King’s College. But Bishop John Strachan didn’t give up his struggle to establish an Anglican seat of higher learning: dismissing U of T as a “godless” institution, he founded another Anglican college named Trinity.

Trinity College, originally housed in an imposing building on Queen Street West in what is now Trinity-Bellwoods Park, was independent until 1904, when it federated with U of T.

One of the smallest colleges on the St. George Campus with 1,400 undergraduates, Trinity demands high marks since twice as many students apply as are accepted. Distinguished grads include Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson (BA 1960, MA 1962, LLD Hon. 2001) and both of Canada’s women bishops, Ann Tottenham (BA 1962, STB 1965, BEd 1974, ThD Hon. 1995) and Victoria Matthews (BA 1976, MDiv 1986).

The University of St. Michael’s College was born out of tough times, too. It was founded by the French Basilian Fathers in response to a request from Toronto’s Catholic bishop to provide education for the Catholic community. The college that began in 1852 with eight students in the Bishop’s palace on Church Street now feeds the minds of almost 4,000 students in its current location east of Queen’s Park. Noted St. Mike’s alumni include U of T president Robert Birgeneau (BSc 1963) and poet Anne Carson (BA 1974, MA 1975, PhD 1981).

Here’s a quick backward look at the other colleges’ beginnings:

Founded by the Methodists in 1836 in Cobourg, Ontario, Victoria College federated with U of T in 1892, when its grand Romanesque revival structure was built in a cow pasture just south-east of Bloor Street and Avenue Road. Theatre has always thrived at Vic, whose 2,900 full-time and more than 900 part-time students can participate in a satirical revue, which has been an annual event for 126 years. Famous alumni who cut their dramatic teeth at Vic include Norman Jewison (BA 1949, LLD Hon. 1985, DLitt Sac Hon. 2001) and Donald Sutherland (BA 1958, LLD Hon. 1998).

We jump ahead to the 1960s, when rebellious baby boomers made love not war and expected higher education in increasing numbers. In 1964, the cornerstone of New College was laid at Willcocks and Huron Streets, and Innis College (named for Harold Innis, the brilliant academic whose work inspired Marshall McLuhan) was founded. It wasn’t until 1973, however, that Innis arose at Sussex and St. George streets.

In the ’60s, U of T also expanded east and west of the city. The University of Toronto at Scarborough has grown from a modest 10 evening classes held in a local high school, to a thriving campus of more than 6,000 students, many of whom take advantage of its co-op program. U of T at Mississauga (formerly Erindale), recently launched an exciting new program in communication, culture and information technology.

The youngest college, Woodsworth (named for J.S. Woodsworth, the first leader of the CCF, precursor to the New Democratic Party) offers a full range of student services year-round and is home to about 4,000 students.

Susan Lawrence (BEd 1972) is a Toronto editor and writer.

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