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Joanne Cave, Connor Emdin and TK. Photo by Jacklyn Atlas
Joanne Cave, Connor Emdin and TK. Photo by Jacklyn Atlas

12 Inspiring People from U of T

A celebration of unique, extraordinary and record-breaking feats and facts from the University of Toronto's 187-year history of learning and discovery

The University of Toronto isn’t just Canada’s biggest university, or one that regularly scores highly on prestigious university rankings. When we delved into the records that U of T and its community members hold – Canadian bests, world firsts, campus biggests or oldests or even hottests – we uncovered a picture of a place bursting with creativity, tradition and personality. It’s enough to give Guinness a run for it’s money. Check out all four categories: Arts, Science, People and Places & Programs.


Photo by Jacklyn Atlas
From left: Joanne Cave, Connor Emdin and Ayodele Odutayo

Most Rhodes Scholars Ever in a Single Year
About 85 Rhodes Scholarships are awarded each year, just 11 from Canada, so you can bet U of T was extra proud in 2013 when students Joanne Cave (BA 2013 Woodsworth), Connor Emdin (BSc 2013 Trinity) and Ayodele Odutayo (MD 2013) all took prizes – the most Rhodes scholarships U of T has ever won in a single year. (Emdin is the 37th Rhodes Scholar from Trinity College, which boasts the most Rhodes Scholars of any U of T college.)

First Woman to Swim the English Channel Nonstop Both Ways
Cindy Nicholas (BSc 1979 UTSC) completed the feat in 19 hours and 55 minutes (also setting a speed record) in 1977. In total, she did five double crossings (another record) and 19 solo crossings, earning the nick- name “Queen of the English Channel.”

Watch Cindy Nicholas describing her aquatic feats for Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.

Longest-serving U of T President
The university’s fifth president, Sir Robert Falconer, served for 25 years, from 1907 to 1932. He saw the university through a building boom (including the original Varsity Stadium) and the trauma of the First World War (and the innovation and research expansion it provoked).

Most Olympic Medals
Jayna Hefford (BPHE 2004) won four golds and a silver as part of the Canadian women’s Olympic hockey team in five consecutive Winter Games, from 1998 to 2014.

Most Paralympic Medals
Joanne Bouw (BPhm 1986) (now Joanne Berdan) won 10 Paralympic medals in shotput, discus, javelin and long jump from 1984 to 1992, including eight golds.

Photo courtesy of the City of Mississauga
Oldest Living Person to Receive an Honorary Degree
In June 2010, at the age of 89, Mayor Hazel McCallion received an honorary degree in recognition of her leadership of Mississauga since 1978 and for her work with Hazel’s Hope, a World Vision charity that helps children affected by HIV-AIDS in

Youngest Living Person to Receive an Honorary Degree
At age 12, Craig Kielburger (BA 2007 Trinity) co-founded the charity Free The Children. In June 2011, when he was just 28, he became the youngest living person to receive an honorary degree from U of T – recognized for his work with Free the Children building schools in some 45 countries.

Watch Craig Keilburger’s inspiring convocation speech to graduating UTSC students in 2012

Oldest Student Ever
Selma Plaut didn’t actually know her birthdate – it was some time around 1890, in western Germany. She emigrated in 1939 and starting at age 88, she completed 11 courses at U of T. On June 11, 1990, around the age of 100, she received an honorary BA at Convocation Hall. The oldest graduate is Saul Goldstein, who earned a BSc (Woods-worth) in 2004 at the age of 93.

Courtesy Hart House Chess ClubBiggest Whiskers
Where to begin when it comes to impressively hirsute chins? U of T’s Victorian and Edwardian profs were masters of pogonology. Our favourite bearded portrait is that of James Mavor (left, 1854–1925), a political economics professor who also founded the Hart House Chess Club. Moustache honours are definitely due to James Willmott (DDS 1893) (1837–1915), dean of dentistry in the early 20th century. Click here to see U of T’s top 10 in facial hair.

Most Common Alumni Names
John and Mary (16,414 and 7,497 graduates over 187 years). That’s a decent-sized class of almost 88 Johns and 40 Marys every year!

Note: An earlier version of this article stated that Hazel McCallion and Craig Kielburger are the oldest and youngest person, respectively, ever to have received an honorary degree. In fact, they are the oldest living and youngest living person, respectively, to have received one from U of T’s Governing Council. This does not include honorary degrees awarded by U of T’s federated colleges, or those associated with the Toronto School of Theology.

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