Early History and Beginnings
Victoria College was founded as the Upper Canada Academy on June 18, 1836, in the town of Cobourg, about 60 miles east of Toronto. S-1 The Academy was the product of many years of hard work by Upper Canada’s growing Methodist community. At the time, the decision-making of the colony was dominated by the Anglican Church and the highly influential Family Compact. This made it difficult for a non-Anglican institution to be recognized.
However, the Methodists persevered, and their academy was given the power to grant degrees in 1841. At this point Upper Canada Academy changed its name to Victoria College, named after the newly crowned Queen. The College grew and prospered over the years, leaving a profound mark on the town of Cobourg and the education system in Upper Canada (which became Ontario in 1867). From 1842-1852, the College was led by Egerton Ryerson, a Methodist leader and reformer often called the “father of public education in Ontario”.
Eventually in 1884, Victoria College federated with Albert College in Belleville and together they became Victoria University. However, Victoria University had fell on trying times with resources diminishing and the quality of education becoming more difficult to maintain. After a long and difficult debate led by the influential Chancellor, Reverend Nathaniel Burwash, the University decided to move to Toronto and federate with the University of Toronto.
The new campus was opened in 1892 with the completion of the Victoria College Building north of Queen’s Park. The unique character of Victoria University survived the move to Toronto, and the University began to expand once more, opening new female and male residences and a separate library by the outbreak of the First World War. Victoria made an immense contribution to the war effort – 530 members served in the war, and many did not return.
In the inner-war years, the University again underwent major change. In 1925, the Methodist church joined with the Congregationalists and the majority of the Presbyterians to form the United Church of Canada. Victoria’s Methodist Faculty of Theology was merged with many of the members of Presbyterian Knox College to form Emmanuel College, the theology school for the new United Church.
During the Second World War, 1400 members of Victoria served, again leaving a grave mark on the university community. In the post-war era, the University continued its growth and success in attracting some of Canada’s greatest minds. Future Prime Minister Lester Pearson was Chancellor from 1952 to 1959. Victoria College English Professor Northrop Frye was Principal from 1959 to 1971 and Chancellor of the University from 1978 to his death in 1991.
Over the years, Victoria College has been home to a number of influential scholars, teachers, scientists and politicians. The renowned literary scholars, Northrop Frye and Margaret Atwood are Victoria College alumni. The student pub, The Cat’s Eye, is named after one of Margaret Atwood’s books. Norman Jewison, famous director and film maker, is also a Victoria College alumnus. Victoria boasts a number of Nobel laureates as well, including Lester B. Pearson (former Prime Minister of Canada), and Arthur Schawlow (co-inventor of the laser). S-2
Victoria University – made up of Victoria College and Emmanuel College - is governed by a chancellor, a president, a dean of students, two principals, (one for each college) and a number of other staff, faculty and groundskeepers. Four councils determine and approve decisions regarding the college. The Board of Regents is the highest level of governance at Victoria University and consists of 49 members including faculty, alumni, students, and members of the United Church, and others. This council handles various important duties such as Victoria University’s finances, alumni affairs, investments, and appointing teaching staff and the chancellor, president and principles at the University. The Victoria University Senate is given the ability to grant degrees, establish student awards, summon convocations, as well as make decisions regarding structures and organizations not handled by either of the colleges. The Council of Victoria College and the Council of Emmanuel College handle issues pertaining specifically to their respective colleges. S-3
VUSAC is Victoria University’s student administrative council. Having developed over time from the Victoria College Union, VUSAC is in charge of creating community and developing student life at Victoria University. While it is named “Victoria University Students Administrative Council” its main concern is that of the student experience for those in Victoria College. Apart from their own commissions, VUSAC holds prevue over and funds Victoria College’s high number of clubs and levy receivers. Levy receivers at Victoria College are established groups that often have a very long history at the college. Some of the oldest groups at Victoria College include the Victoria College Drama Society (VCDS), the Victoria College Athletics Association (VCAA), The Strand (Victoria College’s newspaper), the Acta Victoriana (a student-run annual literary journal) and the Vic Chorus. S-4
Symbolism and Spirit
Victoria University is one steeped in tradition and symbolism. Below, for example, is a picture of the Victoria University coat of arms. Recently revised and updated, the coat of arms displays an owl, a lamp, a sphinx and a phoenix in the four quadrants of the shield. These symbols correspond to the original four faculties of the University – the owl represents the faculty of liberal arts, the lamp represents the faculty of theology, the sphinx, law, and the phoenix, medicine. The coat of arms was taken up as a symbol of the University around 1874, when a medal charged with these arms was conferred to the University by King Edward VII. Before this, the University’s symbol was a side profile of Queen Victoria’s head, surrounded by a circle containing the words “Victoria Collegium”. S-5
The Victoria school song, “The Old Ontario Strand” was originally adapted from the school song of Rutgers University. The song currently has four verses and was predominantly sung once a year at the Men’s Traditional Ceremonies until VUSAC adopted it in 2008. Recently, Taylor Sullivan, Director of the Vic Chorus, came across the song as a student at the University of Toronto in the choir library. He knew it as an alumni song that was occasionally sung by students and decided to revive it by including the song in the Vic Chorus repertoire from the early 1990s onwards. The “Old Ontario Stand” is believed to be referring the original home of Victoria College, Cobourg, a town built along the banks of the St. Lawrence River. The song addresses students’ decisions to come to the college, initiation, war efforts and Victoria College’s relationship with Emmanuel College, and is a cherished part of Victoria student life. S-6
As mentioned, Victoria University started in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. Today, the original Victoria College building still stands and operates as a long-term care facility.
When Vic federated with the University of Toronto, a plot of land to the north of campus was set aside. Here, The Victoria College building was built, colloquially known as Old Vic in 1892. S-7 Annesley Hall was next built in 1903, then Victoria’s library, the Birge-Carnegie building, was built in 1910. S-7 , S-7 Burwash Hall and Burwash Dining hall were next built in 1913, followed by Wymilwood (1952) and Margret Addison Hall (1959). S-7 , S-9 , S-10 E.J. Pratt Library, built in 1960 replaced the Birge-Carnegie building as Victoria College’s Library and the New Academic Building was completed in 1966 (renamed Northrop Frye Hall in 1983). S-9 Most recently, Rowell Jackman Hall was built in 1993, and the Isabel Bader theatre in 2001, on the site of Victoria College’s tennis court. S-10
Throughout the years, the residences and buildings have undergone a shift in purpose and necessity. Originally, Victoria College, like most universities, was split along gender lines, with men being housed in the Burwash Residences, and women in Annesley Hall and later, Margaret Addison Hall. Men would eat in Burwash Dining Hall, while women would dine in the Wymilwood building. Today, only Annesley Hall has retained its all-female character while all other residences are now co-ed. In 2007, Gate House, one of the houses of Burwash Hall, was converted from an all-male residence to a co-ed residence. Donald Sutherland, in his years living in Gate House, took from the lively party scene on campus which was believed to be an inspiration for the movie, Animal House. S-11
Victoria University’s newest addition will be the Goldring Student Centre. This new building is being built around and on top of the Wymilwood building and should be completed in the coming years.
Although Victoria University is very much a part of the U of T community, it has preserved its unique history and sense of community, which has served it so well over the last 175 years.
S-1 Sissons, C.B. (1952). A History of Victoria University. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
S-2 Alumni of Victoria College (n.d.). Retrieved January 2011 from www.vicu.utoronto.ca/alumni/avc.htm.
S-3 About Victoria. (n.d.) Retrieved January 2011 from www.vicu.utoronto.ca/about.
S-4 Constitution of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council. Retrieved January 2011 from www.vusac.ca.
S-5 Victoria University Archives. Victoria University Fonds. Bulletin of Victoria College in the University of Toronto (1937-1938). Fonds 2065.
S-6 Sullivan, Taylor. Personal Interview. December 2010.
S-7 Freidland, M.L. (2002). The University of Toronto: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press pg. 112.
S-8 Freidland, M.L. (2002). The University of Toronto: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press pg. 155.
S-9 Batten, J. (1986). A Victoria College Scrapbook. Vic Report, Vol XV(1). Retrieved January 2011, from images.ourontario.ca/Cobourg/53841/data.
S-10 Houghton, S. (2007, March 25). One Hundred Years of Architecture. The Strand. Retrieved January 2011, web.archive.orghttp://www.vicu.utoronto.ca/about/history/One_Hundred_Years_of_Architecture.htm.
S-11 Taylor, B. (2007, Decemnber 19). Party’s over at U of T residence. The Toronto Star. Retrieved January 2011 from www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/286958.