This Week in History


The Queen's University

For the week of Monday March 5, 2007

On March 7, 1842, the first session of classes began at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, with only two professors and 10 students. A royal charter of October 16, 1841, established this Presbyterian college, a namesake of Queen Victoria, which would become a world-class institution.

Queen's University
© Courtesy of Queen's University
The decades that followed its foundation were marked by great achievements, including the founding of its faculties of Medicine and Law in the 1850s and 1860s. However, the late 1860s seemed to signal looming financial ruin. The 1867 failure of the Commercial Bank resulted in the loss of massive amounts of the university’s funding. To add insult to injury, Ontario’s provincial government declared in 1868 that only non-denominational institutions could be granted public funding.

However, the university survived. This was largely due to Principal William Snodgrass, who revitalized the school after its financial devastation. It was under Snodgrass’ administration (1864-77) that women were first admitted to Queen’s. He also instituted an extended curriculum that incorporated studies of English literature and modern languages.

George Monro Grant
George Monro Grant
© Library and Archives Canada / C-001663
George Monro Grant, Queen’s first Canadian-born principal, continued this progressive trend. From 1877 to 1902, Principal Grant guided the university’s formative years. It was Grant, beyond others, who recognized the need to secularize Queen’s in order to ensure its financial well-being. His proposal in 1901 to do just that was approved by the Presbyterian General Assembly, but his untimely death the following year forestalled its implementation. It took a decade for Grant’s vision for a modern, secular Queen’s University to be achieved. In 1912, Royal Assent established Queen’s as a non-denominational University associated with Queen’s Theological College. In this way, even as it modernized, Queen’s maintained its religious roots.

By 1927, the university was making remarkable strides, becoming the first Canadian university to be awarded a research grant from the (American) Social Science Research Council. The grant supported a ground-breaking study of Canadian business history. This feat has been attributed as the legacy of Professor Adam Shortt, a graduate of Queen’s, who joined that university’s faculty in the 1870s, to establish the departments of economics, political science and Canadian history.

In the 1960s, the university further expanded to include departments of music and public administration and a faculty of education.

Educator, writer and foresighted principal of Queen’s University, George Monro Grant was designated a National Historic Person in 1937. The founding of Queen’s University was declared a National Historic Event in 1991.

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