Students who hatch big dreams are often inspired by great teachers – such as the physics professor John Satterly, who amazed students and shocked colleagues during the ’40s with lectures on the properties of liquid air that were a “scientific free-for-all, featuring poetry, song, sleight of hand, the splintering of frozen goldfish and the detonation of bombs.” Such rarified experiences are gifts that stay with grads long after they have left classes behind. Like the best educators, the individuals we highlight below have all helped ideas prosper – even as they saw industry flourish.
Jennie Smillie Robertson (1878-1981) was teaching school in rural Ontario early in the last century when she began saving money for tuition at Kingston’s Ontario Medical College for Women. (In 1906, during her second year, the college was absorbed into the University of Toronto’s medical school.) She graduated (MB 1909), but no Toronto hospital would accept female interns, so she was forced to go to a Philadelphia institution. When Smillie Robertson returned to Toronto in 1911 she was one of the first women in Canada to perform surgery, albeit in a private home because of the difficulty in finding a hospital that would sponsor her. No wonder she worked earnestly to help establish Women’s College Hospital and the Federation of Medical Women of Canada. She was the first woman to do major gynecological surgery in Canada.
The first black Canadian man to become a doctor was Anderson Ruffin Abbott (MB 1857). After graduating, he departed for the US to join the Union Army during the American Civil War. After the war, he opened a practice in Chatham, Ont. and became coroner of Kent County in 1874. He died in Toronto in 1913.
In 1939 Canadian soldiers were prepared for combat – down to the teeth – thanks to Brigadier Frank Melville Lott, director general of the Canadian Dental Corps. Lott (DDS 1923, BScD 1930, MScD 1936, PhD 1940) brought dentistry to the front through mobile clinics – trucks with their own water and electrical supply, X-ray and folding dental chair. “No army was ever so fit from a dental standpoint,” said a dental journal in 1945.
Stella Tate (1922-1999) was a pioneer in the field of occupational therapy in Canada. She established the OT program at Toronto’s Hugh MacMillan Rehabilitation Centre during the ’60s and 10 years later helped develop Ontario’s first home-care program, allowing patients in need of therapy to be treated at home. Tate began her string of firsts after graduating from U of T in 1942 with a diploma in occupational therapy. She was hired as a civilian typist with the Royal Canadian Navy, but was promptly commissioned as a lieutenant and became the navy’s first occupational therapist.
Alice Klein (BA 1975 Woodsworth) co-founded Now magazine, Toronto’s alternative news weekly, in 1981. Her involvement in progressive politics began during the ’60s while she was still in high school. She launched Velvet Fish, a feminist publication, in 1970.
Maureen Kempston Darkes (BA 1970 Victoria, LLB 1973) is president of General Motors of Canada Limited, as well as one of Canada’s most visible business leaders. She studied history and political science as an undergraduate, then went on to U of T’s law school where she met her future husband on their first day of classes.
Arthur Irwin (1898-1999) was an ardent nationalist who shaped the definitively Canadian point of view of Maclean’s magazine. While at Victoria College, he played a little shinny and attended dances, where he met his future wife (in the early ’20s dancing was still taboo on campus, and Vic mixers had to be held off campus). After his third year in 1920, he was hired as a full-time reporter at Toronto’s Mail and Empire newspaper, but managed to continue his studies. Irwin (BA 1921 Victoria) joined Maclean’s in 1925 and, following a 25-year stint there, he headed the National Film Board, then served in Canada’s diplomatic corps.
After graduating from U of T in natural science, Willet Green Miller (1866-1925) became Ontario’s first provincial geologist. His pioneering work in applying science to prospecting opened up Ontario’s north for mining and led to the first precious-metal mines in Canada. Miller (BA 1890 UC, MA 1897) received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the university in 1913.
George Klein (1904-1992) was a mechanical designer whose interests were astoundingly diverse. He worked on projects ranging from wind tunnels to gunsights, but is best known for leading the team that built the first atomic reactor outside the United States at Chalk River, Ont., in 1944-45. An active debater at university, Klein (BASc 1928) is said by many to be the greatest mechanical design engineer this country has ever
Raymond Moriyama (BArch 1954) is one of Canada’s most accomplished architects. Among his major works are the Ontario Science Centre and Toronto’s Metro Reference Library. He also designed the Bata Shoe Museum, at the northern edge of the campus at the corner of Bloor and St. George.
Ted Rogers (BA 1956 Trinity) is probably the only law student to moonlight by running an FM-radio station he had just purchased. Rogers, who shared classes with Peter Gzowski and Stephen Lewis and later studied law at Osgoode Hall, now heads one of the world’s largest cable television holding companies.
Dame Rosanna Wong Yick-ming (MSW 1979) has had a distinguished career in Hong Kong as a top-level administrator. A member of the island’s executive council, Wong played a prominent role during Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997. She is currently head of the housing authority and active as an advocate for children’s charities.
As executive chair of Singapore’s Economic Development Board, Philip Yeo (BASc 1970) helps plan the economic future of the Asian nation. He has been instrumental in fostering trade and development links with other nations and, as the first chair of Singapore’s National Computer Board from 1981-1987, spearheaded the island’s passage into the information age.
Few grads reached the heights as often as Elizabeth “Elsie” Gregory MacGill (1905-1980). MacGill was the first woman to receive an electrical engineering degree in Canada (BASc 1927) and the first woman in North America to earn a degree in aeronautical engineering (at the University of Michigan in 1929).
MacGill may have inherited her soaring spirit from her mother, Helen Gregory MacGill, who was Trinity College’s first female graduate and one of Canada’s first woman judges. (The elder MacGill was Trinity’s first female student in 1883, but not the first woman to try. Before MacGill, Emma Stanton Mellish tried to gain admission by passing herself off as a man, but was refused when her real gender was discovered.)
For more than 50 years Elsie MacGill built aircraft. She helped design and supervised production of the Hawker Hurricane, and her Maple Leaf II trainer is likely the only plane completely designed by a woman. Sadly, as a result of polio, she couldn’t fly her creations, but she always joined the pilots on test flights.
Two other high-flying U of T grads, Paul Dilworth and Winnett Boyd, earned their bachelor’s degrees in engineering in 1939. Together they developed the Chinook, Canada’s first jet engine, in the late ’40s. Boyd was head designer, while Dilworth was manager and chief engineer on the project. In 1948, at the age of just 31, Boyd became the youngest person ever awarded the U of T Alumni Medal for excellence in engineering.
THE IRON RING CEREMONY
Herbert Haultain (1869-1961) was educated at U of T (SPS Dip 1889) and, after inventing new techniques to mine ore, returned to the university in 1908 as a professor of mining and engineering. It was while teaching that he developed the ceremony used to induct engineering graduates into their profession. During the proceedings, participants receive an iron ring, which must be worn on the little finger of their working hand. Haultain contacted Rudyard Kipling to write the engineers’ creed and a poem for the ceremony. The ritual, first performed by U of T engineers in 1926, is administered by an independent body known as The Corporation of the Seven Wardens.
A U OF T CORNERSTONE
Vincent Massey (1887-1967) was a distinguished civil servant and diplomat, as well as our first Canadian-born governor general, but a single project he completed while still a young man likely had a greater influence on many Canadians than his later accomplishments: his building of Hart House in 1919. Massey (BA 1910 UC) conceived Hart House as a place where students (officially, until the early ’70s, only male students) could gather and explore extracurricular interests. Previously, there was no dedicated place for students to socialize, debate issues or pursue the arts. The theatre and music programs at Hart House helped to establish the careers of scores of international stars, including Donald Sutherland, Teresa Stratas and Kate Reid, not to mention Massey’s own brother Raymond, who became one of Canada’s most famous actors. Over the decades, the House speaking series enabled students to hear figures as diverse as singer and socialist Paul Robeson and Senator John F. Kennedy. Hart House has opened the worlds of culture and ideas to generations of students.
It’s not unusual for siblings to attend the same university, but few have shared the success of the Greenspans – two brothers and a sister who make justice their passion.
Edward (BA 1965 UC) and Brian Greenspan (BA 1968 UC) both knew in high school that they wanted to become lawyers – like their father Joseph (BA 1939 UC) – but Edward’s path to law school was nearly blocked while he was studying for his undergraduate degree.
After taking his savings (a pocketful of pennies, nickels and dimes) to be traded for crisp bills at a student snack bar, Greenspan found himself being interrogated by police as a suspect in a coffee-truck robbery and being told not to leave town. The misunderstanding was soon cleared up, but the incident instilled a lasting sense of the importance of justice in the former president of the UC Lit, University College’s student council.
Although Brian and Edward maintain separate practices, they occasionally work together and are recognized among their peers as exceptional legal practitioners. Their high-profile clients include Garth Drabinsky, Alan Eagleson and former Nova Scotia premier Gerald Regan.
Their sister Rosann (MA 1973) also chose a career in justice. A criminologist in Washington, D.C., she’s the research director of the Police Foundation in the national capital.
Research by Rebecca Caldwell.
A U of T lab is working with actors, writers and directors on how they could harness AI and other emerging technologies to generate new ideas and – just maybe – reinvent theatre