This Week in History
Sir John William Dawson: Dedicated to Quality Education
|For the week of Monday October 10, 2011|
On October 13, 1820, John William Dawson was born in Pictou, Nova Scotia. Although recognized world-wide for his talents as a palaeontologist and geologist, education was undoubtedly Dawson’s passion. He was principal of McGill University for almost forty years (1855-93), playing a major role in its transition from provincial college to prestigious university.
Dawson was also an incredible force for change at McGill University, though he almost became a professor at the University of Edinburgh instead! Had another scientist not lobbied for the position, Dawson would never have set foot on McGill’s campus. But in 1855, he accepted the presidency of McGill without ever having been to Montréal. Upon arriving as McGill’s fifth president, he was greeted by “two blocks of unfinished and ... ruinous buildings, standing amid a wilderness of excavators’ and masons’ rubbish, overgrown with weeds and bushes.”
Dawson was also the force behind the foundation of the Royal Society of Canada, bringing together both English- and French-speaking intellectuals in the fields of art, literature and science, as the Royal Society’s first president in 1882. Two years later, on September 11, 1884, Dawson was knighted for his contributions to science and The Royal Societies of Canada and Great Britain.
Sir John William Dawson, for whom McGill’s Dawson Hall is named, was designated a National Historic Person in 1943 because of his success as a university administrator, geologist and palaeontologist.
Celebrate Parks Canada’s centennial with us by visiting this month’s theme section on Learning Experiences! For more information about Canadian universities and science, please visit: The University of Ottawa: Uniting Diverse Students Since 1848, The Queen’s University, Birth of Davidson Black, Wilder Penfield: Exploring the Human Brain, The Father of Canadian Biochemistry is Born!, “All Science is Either Physics or Stamp Collecting” and “Them Dry Bones...” in the This Week in History archives.
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