University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

UC @ 150

University College celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2003. Here's how U of T's founding college got started and is still growing

1854: Founding of UC Literary and Scientific Society (“The Lit”), the oldest student union in Canada.

1862: Fears of American aggression result in formation of K Company, UC’s volunteer rifle company, under chemistry professor Henry Croft.

1866: Student soldiers forget exams and grab their rifles as K Company is called to help repel 800 Fenian raiders who have crossed the border at Fort Erie. At the Battle of Ridgeway on June 2, three students are killed. Their names are honoured on three stained glass windows in the East Hall.

1868: In a legendary prank, three students lead a cow into the northwest belfry and attach its tail to the bell.

1880: First issue of the Varsity, published by The Lit.

1884: Bowing to government pressure, UC admits first women students.

1885: First five women graduate from UC (they had been allowed to write exams, but not attend lectures).

1887: U of T’s federation with Victoria University (then in Coburg, Ont.) eliminates UC’s special status as U of T’s teaching body.

1890: The great fire of Feb. 14 consumes the whole east side, including a library of 33,000 volumes. “Our noblest building destroyed by Fire” wails the Globe. On the west side, the main staircase, the chemistry lab (now known as Croft Chapter House) and the residence wing survive. Rebuilding starts immediately.

1895: Students stage a one-week strike over a faculty promotion they view as political patronage. The motion to strike is moved by political science student William Lyon Mackenzie King, the future prime minister.

1901: Maurice Hutton named UC’s first principal.

1917: Founding of UC student journal The Rebel, which later evolves into The Canadian Forum.

1921: Grad student Charles Best (BAUC, MD 1932) discovers insulin with Frederick Banting.

1923: Offices of the university president, registrar and bursar move out of UC to newly built Simcoe Hall.

1924: UC dining hall converted to Junior Common Room

1927: Alumnus and anthropologist Davidson Black (BA 1911 UC) discovers Peking Man, reshaping knowledge of our ancient ancestors.

1932: Whitney Hall opens as a women’s residence

1954: Opening of Sir Daniel Wilson Residence

1963: Addition of Laidlaw Library wing

1970: UC declared a national historic site

1971: A move to co-ed living at Whitney Hall makes dean of women Charity Grant quit, saying it is “inappropriate to expect a middle-aged spinster to be the madam of a drug-riddled bordello.”

1972: Alumni lead a fight to save the college and renovate it after a century of decay led to talk of tearing it down.

1990: Return of UC Follies, the annual gala that launched many show-biz careers, including those of comedians Wayne and Shuster and Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels

1998: UC launches Canada’s first program in sexual diversity studies.

2003: Russell Morrison (MA 1947) and his wife, Katherine (PhD 1979), donate $6 million to new UC residence – the largest gift in UC’s history.

Ghost Story

According to legend, two stonemasons working on the UC building, Ivan Reznikoff and Paul Diabolos, loved the same woman. Their rivalry turned violent, and Reznikoff swung at Diabolos with adouble-headed axe. Depending on which version of the story you hear, Reznikoff either plunged to his death from the main tower, or was later stabbed by Diabolos in his sleep. Diabolos is said to have buried Reznikoff’s body in the building’s foundations. To this day, Reznikoff’s restless spirit is said to haunt the halls.

There is no actual evidence to support this story. But after the UC fire of 1890, an unidentified skeleton was found amid the ruins…

Great UC Alumni

A highly selective list

  • Edward Blake (1854), Ontario premier, 1871-72; U of T chancellor, 1886-1900
  • Humorist Stephen Leacock (1891)
  • Physicist Sir John Cunningham McLennan (1892)
  • Poet (and physician) John McCrae (1894), wrote “In Flanders Fields” in 1915
  • Arthur Meighen (1896), prime minister of Canada, 1920-21
  • William Lyon McKenzie King (1896), prime minister of Canada, 1921-1930 and 1935-1948
  • Missionary Caroline Macdonald (1901), received first honorary degree awarded to a woman by the University of Toronto
  • Vincent Massey (1910), former governor general of Canada
  • A. E. Marie Parkes (1916), manager of Canada’s first women’s Olympic team
  • J.J. Robinette (1926), trial lawyer
  • Bora Laskin (1933), former chief justice, Supreme Court
  • Claude Bissell (1936) U of T president, 1958 to 1971
  • Physicist Walter Kohn (1945), Nobel Prize co-recipient, 1998
  • Publisher Avie Bennett (1948), McClelland & Stewart
  • William Davis (1951), Ontario premier, 1971-1985
  • Radio host Peter Gzowski (1953)
  • Journalist Barbara Frum (1959)
  • Actor William B. Davis (1959), “cigarette-smoking man” on The X-Files
  • Stephen Lewis (1959), politician and activist
  • Anne Golden (1962), CEO, Conference Board of Canada
  • Novelist Michael Ondaatje (1965)
  • Lawyers Edward Greenspan (1965) and Brian Greenspan (1968)
  • Judge Rosalie Silberman Abella (1967), Ontario Court of Appeal
  • Film director David Cronenberg (1967)
  • Lorna Marsden (1968), president, York University
  • W. Edmund Clark (1969), president and CEO, TD Bank Financial Group
  • Bob Rae (1969), Ontario premier, 1990-1995
  • Lawyer Susan Eng (1970-72), former chair, Toronto Police Services Board
  • Paul Schaffer (1971), musical director of The Late Show with David Letterman
  • Rona Maynard (1972), editor, Chatelaine magazine
  • Cynthia Good (1974), president, Penguin Books Canada
  • Bonnie Fuller (1977), editor, Us Weekly
  • CBC broadcaster Nora Young (1986)
  • Broadcaster Avi Lewis (1988)
  • Tim Long (1992), supervising producer of The Simpsons

Hope and Glory

When the new University College building opened for classes in 1859, the Toronto Leader called it “the hope of the nation.” But it was quite a fight to get that far.

UC was founded in 1853 to be the teaching body of the newly restructured U of T. Opening with 113 students in the former Parliament of Upper Canada building on Front Street, UC moved three times in seven years.

With rival, church-affiliated colleges plotting to grab UC’s funding, officials decided to invest their endowment in one big building. As Ontario politician John A. Macdonald (later Canada’s first prime minister) advised, “even Methodists couldn’t steal bricks and mortar.”

Constructed between 1856 and 1859, UC was designed in a bold, eclectic Romanesque style. Touring Canada in 1862, novelist Anthony Trollope hailed it as “the glory of Toronto.”

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