This Week in History


The University of Ottawa: Uniting Diverse Students Since 1848

For the week of Monday September 26, 2005

On September 27, 1848, the Oblate fathers founded the College of Bytown, a bilingual primary and secondary school that became the University of Ottawa – the oldest bilingual university in Canada.

Reverend Joseph-Henri Tabaret, founder of the University of Ottawa
© Library and Archives Canada / Topley Studio Fonds / PA-013017

The Catholic Bishop of Bytown, Mgr. Joseph-Bruno Guigues, founded the College of Bytown, which was to be run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Originally located next to the Notre-Dame Cathedral in the Lowertown area, it began as a liberal arts college with five professors and 60 students. The main subjects taught were Greek, Latin, and religion. In 1889, the university received its pontifical charter from Pope Leo XIII.

From 1853–1886, the college underwent a period of change, much of it under the supervision of the school superior, Reverend Joseph-Henri Tabaret. Renamed the College of Ottawa in 1861, the Province of Canada granted it university status in 1866. Thomas Foran received the first undergraduate degree in 1872 and the first master’s degree in 1875. The first PhD was awarded to Judge Louis-Philippe Olivier in 1888. Tabaret also instituted a new curriculum in 1874 that emphasized math and science. At this time, the campus was expanded to include a lecture hall, museum, library, and a chapel.

Tabaret Hall
© Parks Canada / 2005

Today, the university still maintains ties to its Catholic origins through its federation with Saint Paul University. When the University of Ottawa was reorganized as a secular institution in 1965, Saint Paul University continued to operate under its civil and pontifical charters, with programs in canon law, philosophy, and theology.

Despite the changes, one aspect of the original College of Bytown remained: bilingualism. "Canada’s University" is dedicated to preserving its bilingual heritage. Due to its position in the heart of the nation’s capital, on the border of Ontario and Quebec, this emphasis is especially significant.

The University of Ottawa / Université d'Ottawa is a National Historic Event and a plaque was erected at the site in 1998 for the 150th anniversary.

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