March 15, 1827—the charter for the establishment of the Church of England-run King’s College is drafted. Faculty must subscribe to the 39 Articles of Religion of the Church of England. Students can be of any faith. A year before, future Church of England Bishop John Strachan had left Toronto (then called York) for England to obtain a charter for the proposed University of Upper Canada.
April 23, 1842—the cornerstone for King’s College is finally laid, by Governor-General Sir Charles Bagot. The sixteen-year delay was caused by concern over the dominance of the Church of England over the college. In 1837, the college’s charter changes the mandatory subscription to the 39 Articles to the belief in the Old and New Testament and the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The King’s College building is later used as a lunatic asylum, until it is torn down to make way for the present legislative building.
April 3, 1849—Robert Baldwin introduces a bill into Parliament to convert King’s College into the University of Toronto, thus secularizing the school. U of T comes into existence in January of the following year.
1853—Daniel Wilson begins as professor of English history and literature. After giving what is considered the first course in anthropology in the world and coining the term “prehistory,” he goes on to become the university’s second president.
That year, Thomas Huxley is refused the chair in biology, even with testimonials from Charles Darwin and many other leaders of the scientific world. John Tyndall, a candidate for the maths and physics position, also does not receive a position at the university. He goes on to discover the Tyndall effect, which shows the effect of the scattering of light by very small particles suspended in a medium. This explains why the sky is blue.
1856—building begins on University College. Legend has it two of the UC workmen, Ivan Reznikoff and Paul Diablos, fell in love with the same woman. It is said that Reznikoff and the woman had planned to marry before Diablos talked her into going West with him and Reznikoff’s money. Before they left, Diablos killed Reznikoff in a fight and threw him down the well where the circular staircase to the top of the tower was built. Rumour has it his ghost haunted the halls of UC until his bones were found after the fire of 1890 and given a proper burial. The fire happened the night of the annual “Conversazione,” organized by the UC Literary and Scientific Society, with concerts, readings, scientific exhibits and demonstrations. Two college servants carrying a tray of lit kerosene lamps from the basement dropped it, igniting the wooden staircase. The entire east section of the building was gutted. The central tower’s interior collapsed and the great bell fell and shattered on the floor. All but about 100 books were burned, including Audubon’s Birds of America—worth $10 million in good condition today. Only one stained glass window survived—the one on the landing of the staircase at the college’s west end. None of the original wooden gargoyles survived.
1869—the first organized athletic group at the university is formed: a cricket club.
1878—John Galbraith is appointed the first professor of engineering. The School of Practical Sciences opened that same year. The three-storey red brick building is known as the “little red schoolhouse” until after WWII, when it is dubbed “Skulehouse.” It is said that as a freshman at UC, Galbraith refused to accept the usual hazing by upper-year students and stood in his room with a sword in one hand and a dagger in the other. During the 1878-9 school year, there are only seven engineering students and no engineering labs. In 1961, the Galbraith Building is opened.
1880—the inaugural issue of the Varsity—”A Weekly Review of Education, University Politics and Events”—prints, with a front-page article by William Houston in favour of allowing women into the university. In 1884, the Varsity’s masthead opposes co-education, and when criticized for its policy change, apologizes for “past errors.” That year, the masthead is changed from a man and woman in academic dress on either side of the goddess of wisdom to the simple U of T crest.
1884—Taddle Creek, which flowed through the university, is buried underground. Rumours of it being resurrected exist today.
October 1884—three female students officially attend lectures at UC—Eliza Balmer, Ella Gardiner and Nellie Spence. They aren’t allowed to stand at bulletin boards in the halls or use reading rooms or library catalogues, and need the university president’s permission to join a club. Five women graduate from the university in the spring of 1885. By 1892, over a hundred students in the arts are women. Women are allowed into the faculty of medicine in 1906, and Hildegarde E. Scott becomes the first woman to receive a degree in engineering in 1912.
1888—the first professor of Political Economics is appointed: William Ashley, who is lured away by Harvard in 1892. His successor, James Mavor, whose friends include Leo Tolstoy, George Bernard Shaw and anarchist Peter Kropotkin, later becomes one of the founders of the Art Gallery of Ontario.
October 19, 1889—James Mark Baldwin, who established the first psychology lab in the British Empire, is appointed chair of logic and metaphysics.
1897—the PhD program is introduced. U of T’s first PhD is completed by Frederick Scott in physiology in 1900. William Lash Miller supervises more PhD candidates than anyone in the first few decades the program is offered, including Clara Benson and Emma Baker, who in 1903 become the first women to receive their PhD from the university. Benson and Annie Laird become the first female profs at U of T in 1906.
1909–Ernest Jones, who worked with Jung, Kraepelin, Alzheimer and Freud (Jones later became his biographer), is appointed associate professor of psychiatry. He regularly corresponds with his mentor Freud, writing him that he feels prejudiced against because of the emphasis on “sexual matters” in his work. Complaints are made that he should be dismissed so that he won’t “pervert and deprave the youth of Toronto.” He is also accused of recommending masturbation and the use of prostitutes. Subsequently, his home has to be guarded by detectives.
Aug. 4, 1914—the beginning of the Great War. By the spring of 1915, nearly 500 undergraduates, 700 graduates and 70 faculty members are on active duty. Under the command of Prof. W. R Lang, the head of chemistry, 1800 men drill in the incomplete Great Hall and theatre of Hart House, using sets resembling a Belgian village painted by Lawren Harris, one of the Group of Seven. The campus also becomes a training ground for the British Royal Flying Corps, a member of which is 20-year-old William Faulkner. Varsity football player Major Thain MacDowell wins the Victoria Cross at Vimy Ridge. Along with two other soldiers, he captures two German machine guns and chases one of the German survivors down a tunnel, where he comes face to face with 77 German soldiers. MacDowell convinces them they are surrounded by a large force, thus bringing about their surrender. Over 6000 people connected with the university serve in active service, more than 600 of them dying. The first is student R. E. Mackenzie Richard, who dies near Ypres on Nov. 13, 1914. Medical graduate John McCrae, author of “In Flanders Fields,” dies in January of 1918.
One year after the war, on Armistice Day, the foundation stone for a memorial tower is laid at the official opening of Hart House. Soldiers’ Tower is completed in 1924. The planned 23-bell carillon is put in place in 1927, the university’s 100th anniversary. 28 more bells are later added.
January 23, 1922—the first successful injection of insulin is administered to an emaciated 14-year-old charity patient, Leonard Thompson, at Toronto General Hospital. Frederick Banting came to U of T in the summer of 1921 and was given facilities and two summer research assistants. Apparently the two assistants, Charles Best and Clarke Noble, flipped a coin to see who would work with Banting first. Best won and worked with Banting for the entire summer. They spent it trying to extract insulin from dogs. They eventually got it right and won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in October 1923—the first won by a Canadian.
May 1922—the School of Graduate Studies is established.
1931—Andrew Allan, editor of the Varsity, is suspended, along with the paper, by SAC after Allan claims “practical atheism” is prominent on campus. Two years prior, editor L. J. Ryan was fired after writing an editorial on “petting as an institution” in response to a clergyman who condemned it at a Student Christian Movement meeting at Hart House.
September 10, 1939—Canada enters the Second World War. More than 10,000 students and alumni serve in the forces, including 325 women who enlist in the Canadian Armed Forces. 557 students and alumni die in the war. All university departments aid the war effort with cutting-edge research and discoveries. The university produces North America’s first decompression chamber, and physiologist Wilbur Franks invents the first anti-gravity suit. The university makes important developments and improvements on the oxygen mask and in the use of radar, shell propellants and explosives, the first experiments in blood derivatives in Canada, and produces huge amounts of the new wonder drug—penicillin.
September 26, 1950—the Institute for Aerophysics (now Aerospace Studies) officially opens. Gordon Patterson, who pushed for the building, is named head of aeronautical engineering. Patterson goes on to develop the supersonic wind tunnel (three times faster than the sound of speed) with the help of two grad students, Irvine Glass and Gerald Bull. Bull was assassinated in Brussels in 1990 because of his work on developing a “super gun” for Saddam Hussein.
1952—the first computer on campus arrives from Manchester. It fills a very large room.
March 1952—Varsity editors and staff members resign after SAC suspends the publication’s “gag” issue, in which UC principal Sidney Smith’s last annual report is printed with the word “sex” substituted for the word “English.” Pranks become numerous in the 1950s. Trinity frosh are arrested for causing damage to TTC property during a scavenger hunt. A month later, a group of students, allegedly engineers, paint the word “Skule” on arts buildings throughout campus. In 1953, women frosh from Victoria are taken by bus to the stockyards in the city’s west end, where they are sprayed with perfume and have one shoe removed. They are then forced to find their way back on their own. A three-hour battle between Trinity and Wycliffe students ends in a bonfire and the arrival of three fire trucks.
A year later, UC students dump 18 cans of garbage over Trinity’s front steps. In the fall of 1954, hundreds of engineering frosh, along with the engineering cannon and the Lady Godiva Memorial Bnad, raid UC looking for material for an auction. During the raid, UC registrar W. J. McAndrew was injured. Subsequently, the constitution of the engineering society is suspended for several months and the society fined $4,000. Shortly thereafter, the engineering students are commended for taking part in the clean-up after Hurricane Hazel and for making cleaning up debris in High Park part of initiation activities.
1963—Massey College opens with Robertson Davies, while the Centre for Culture and Technology is created specifically to keep Marshall McLuhan at the university.
1967—Northrop Frye is appointed U of T’s first University Professor with a capital “U” and “P” to keep him at the university.
1969—Jearld Moldenhauer, a research assistant in the Faculty of Medicine, places a four-line ad in the Varsity to form the first gay and lesbian group on a Canadian campus—the U of T Homophile Association. The first meeting draws 16 people: 15 men and one woman. Moldenhauer goes on to establish the Glad Day Bookstore and found the gay liberation magazine The Body Politic.
1980—Ontario funding per student is 25% below the average of all the provinces. Things get progressively worse over the years, and the university is hit with a major budgetary crisis when Mike Harris’ Conservative government is elected in Ontario in 1995. After decades of cutbacks, the university is now faced with a further reduction of $56 million in operating support.
October 15, 1986—John Polanyi wins the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for work he did at U of T 30 years earlier. That work contributed to the development of chemical lasers.
1973—at a cost of over $40 million, Robarts Library is opened. Initial plans denied undergrads access to the stacks, but major protests changed that.
1997—former U.S. president George Bush is awarded an honourary degree. 28 faculty members walk out of the ceremony. Archbishop Desmond Tutu receives one three years later.
2002—The University of Toronto celebrates its 175th anniversary. The U of T Press publishes The University of Toronto: A History by Professor Emeritus Martin L. Friedland, which provided the information for much of this timeline.