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Research and New Programmes, 1890-1950

In the nineteenth century the University of Toronto was overwhelmingly a teaching institution; lack of funds and facilities made the development of any research programme difficult. The highest academic degree, the MA, had "not [been] highly regarded. No special courses were provided, nor was residence at the University required." By the early 1890s, with the reintroduction of the teaching of medicine, the expansion of the physical plant of the university, and a growing demand that students ought to be able to do graduate work in Canada, the stage was set for change. A start had been made in 1890 with James Mark Baldwin's psychology laboratory, the first such facility in the British Empire. Then, in 1897, two important developments occurred at the University: the introduction of a doctoral programme and the sixty-seventh annual meeting of the venerable British Association for the Advancement of Science (affectionately known as the British Ass), the second time it had gathered outside Britain (it would meet in Toronto again in 1924). While this first large gathering of scientists in the city aroused considerable interest, papers and demonstrations were presented by only three University professors - W.H. Ellis, Lash Miller, and A. B. Macallum, the young and promising physiologist. This was a tacit acknowledgement that research at the University was in its infancy and that the University's stature in this area lay in the future.

British Association for the Advancement of Science, 67th annual meeting, held in Toronto in 1887. This photograph was taken outside the east front of the old Biological Building on Queen’s Park. The gentleman in the middle of the front row is Sir Michael Foster, the incoming president. The only U of T professor present (back row, far left) is John Joseph Mackenzie, professor of pathology and bacteriology.

British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting menu, 24 August 1897 Drawn by J.W. Bengough. The figures are: (upper left) Frederick Selous, perhaps the best known of the African big game hunters; (centre left) Rudyard Kipling; and (bottom, from left) members of the local organizing committee – James Bain, Jr., treasurer, Arthur Colquhoun, secretary, and A. B. Macallum, president.

Archibald Byron Macallum, (1859-1934). Archibald Byron Macallum was Professor of physiology, 1887-1908; chair of Department of Biochemistry, 1908-1917; and the 1st chair of the Advisory Scientific and Industrial [later the National Research] Council, 1917-1920.

Ten years later the University had new buildings for physics, medicine, and engineering and new faculties had been created in education, engineering, forestry, and household science. While the new facilities and disciplines made the University more attractive to researchers, even as late as the First World War professors could find time for research only between lectures or in the evenings. In physics, John McLennan, the second person to receive a PhD from the University, did pioneering research on helium during the First World War. He and his staff, including E. F. Burton, constructed the world's first helium production plant in Hamilton. This and his subsequent involvement in determining the green line in the aurora borealis made McLennan internationally famous. In the 1930s Burton directed research that led to the first working electron microscope.

Electron microscope, 1939. Two students, James Hillier and Albert Prebus, working under Professor E.F. Burton of the Department of Physics, perfected the first successful high resolution electron microscope in 1939.

Sir John Cunningham McLennan (1867-1935) Director of the Physics Laboratory, 1904-1932. One of his most famous discoveries, with some of his research students, was of the presence of the green line in the aurora borealis in January, 1925 he reproduced it in his laboratory and determined its composition.

In engineering, the advent of manned-flight involved the pioneering efforts in 1908 and 1909 of graduate students F.W. "Casey" Baldwin and J.A.D. McCurdy. At the University, excited engineering students built a model of the Curtiss biplane for their annual ball in 1911. During the First World War the emphasis was on the practical side of the war effort rather than research. The presence on campus, from 1917, of the Imperial Royal Flying Corps and the NO.4 School of Aeronautics resulted in a lot of aircraft (or portions thereof) on campus for training purposes. In the same year a rehabilitation program for invalid soldiers was set up in Hart House and headed by H. E. T. Haultain; it formed the basis for the occupational therapy program established after the war. The next step was the construction on campus in 1918 of the first wind tunnel in Canada, but an academic programme in aeronautical engineering (the first in Canada) did not follow until 1928.

Much of the research carried out at the University before World War II was in medicine. New facilities - a medical building (1903) and the Toronto General Hospital on College Street (1913) - enabled the University to attract quality talent. In addition to local men such as A. B. Macallum (now a biochemist and soon to become the first head of the National Research Council) and J.J. Mackenzie in pathology, the University drew from abroad T.G. Brodie, a physiologist, and Ernest Jones, a psychoanalyst who had worked with Freud and Jung. Jones created a sensation locally because of his then novel stress on sexual matters in his teaching. The nervousness of parents may have been influenced by talks on the evils of masturbation being delivered in schools by provincial officials. Shortly before the outbreak of war in 1914, an anti-toxin laboratory (the forerunner to the Connaught Laboratories) was established near the campus and, under the direction of John G. Fitzgerald, began producing antitoxins for diphtheria, smallpox, meningitis and tetanus. Once hostilities began, federal monies were directed to producing tetanus for Canadian troops.

By the early 1920s the University had developed excellent medical research facilities. Support from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Eaton family resulted in the establishment of a chair of surgery and the appointment of the first full-time professor of medicine in the British Empire, in the person of Duncan Graham. The discovery of insulin by Banting and Macleod in 1922 raised the status of the University internationally and the creation of the Banting Research Foundation and increased support from the provincial and federal governments made more research funds available. But the discovery was double-edged, as it affected some of the solid gains made elsewhere: "scientific research at the University was in a sense held back by the discovery of insulin... Some of the research momentum that had been established was diverted and perhaps lost."

Bust of Sir Frederick Banting, (1891-1941). This bronze bust of Banting by Frances Loring and Florence Wyle was unveiled on 21 February 1951.  Photo by Robert Lansdale.

The First World War delayed the construction of much needed new facilities on campus and the introduction of new academic programs. In the interwar years a substantial number of the latter were introduced. They included music (1918), university extension (1920), hygiene (1924), dentistry, the teaching of which was taken over from the Royal College of Dental Surgeons (1925), physical and occupational therapy (1926), nursing (1933), fine art (1934), geography (1935), physical and health education (1940) and Chinese studies (1943). The introduction of the bachelor of architecture degree and the arrival of Eric Arthur, both in 1922, signalled a change of focus in this program within the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering. Arthur's students produced some stunningly modern designs in the late 1920s and the 1930s. Astronomy benefitted greatly from the opening of the David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill in 1935, a gift of Jessie Donalda Dunlap. The main telescope, with its 74-inch mirror, was the second largest in the world and immediately a great boon to researchers.

Two programs have been selected to demonstrate the diverse ways in which the University was responding to the changing needs of education before 1950. The origins of the Division of University Extension dated back to the mid-nineteenth century when professors were much in demand to lecture on a wide variety of topics, illustrated with lantern slides once they became available. A short-lived program of lectures for women was established in the 1860s and a formal program of lectures for working men was created in the School of Practical Science in the early 1880s. A decade later the University struck a special committee to consider a university-wide extension program.

When finally established in 1920, the program had a flexibility the more formal academic programs could not match. It offered courses during the evening and on weekends and, in addition to the popular extension lectures and teachers' courses, introduced short courses quickly in response to specific requests, sometimes outside the city. Some of these complemented formal academic programs already in place and others (physical and occupational therapy, for example) were first introduced as diploma courses. The first short course (journalism, 1920), was followed quickly by others that included civics and town planning (1921) and household science (1922), export trade (1923) and graduate nurses (1928). Overtime, some of these short courses evolved into full academic disciplines. The present Rotman School of Management had its origins in the Institute of Business Administration, established in 1950. It, in turn, grew out of the certificate course in business introduced in 1939. It is not surprising, therefore, that the enrolment in University Extension was huge. In 1926, there were 4,859 students in academic programs compared to 2,225 in Extension. By 1947 the numbers were 17,007 versus 13,199.

The idea of a Fine Art program can be traced to the proposal (never realized) for a chair of painting at King's College. The need for it was again stressed by the Royal Commission on the University of Toronto in 1906. The Department did not materialize until the mid-1930s when the Carnegie Foundation agreed to fund it, though it had antecedents in the History of Industrial Art program that was established in 1918 but existed in name only. This move took place during an ongoing debate over the place of art and aesthetics in society and the role the University might play in shaping the aesthetic experience. Artists such as Arthur Lismer, an authority on art education, bemoaned the lack of a fine art program, a concern that was increasingly shared by University officials.

Edward John Gregory Alford (1894-1960). John Alford was appointed to the chair of  Fine Art, 1934 and remained until 1945.

When John Alford was appointed to the chair of Fine Art in 1934, he oversaw a department with the dual purpose of "providing the students both with the theoretical and historical study of art and with practical experience in the creative process (evaluation and criticism being assumed as part of both). In the Thirties the visual arts led a very meagre existence in Toronto...yet this department offered studio courses as well as courses in art history in all four years of the Honour Course." Alford was able to accomplish this because he was permitted to hire "an impressive group of artist-educators ... [including] several well-known artists: Fred Haines, Charles Comfort and Peter Haworth."

When war broke out again in 1939, the University was much better prepared to play a role as a research and teaching institution than a quarter-cenrury earlier. The larger faculty, more research programmes, and a well-established graduate school had an immediate impact. The Division of University Extension moved swiftly to introduce an aerial navigation course and to participate in an education program for the troops. Within a few months the Department of Physics had developed special radio [radar] courses for naval officers and technical courses for ordinary seamen. Hart House was given over to the use of members of the military taking courses on campus. The seconding of many faculty members to the war effort resulted in a shortage in the teaching staff. Professors who remained on campus took on additional duties while others went to Ottawa and overseas. The University responded by hiring women at a much greater pace than heretofore to take up the teaching slack. Among them was Elizabeth Allin who had recently completed studies at Cambridge under the leading physicists of the day.

Many members of the faculty made original and substantial contributions to the war effort, much of which was co-ordinated through the National Research Council. George F. Wright, an organic chemist, helped develop the powerful explosive, RDX. Kenneth Clark, a zoologist with a keen mathematical mind, worked on projects ranging from refining the shape (and therefore the accuracy) of shells to the effects to hypothermia. Wilbur Rounding Franks is famous for developing the first serviceable flying suit, a boon to pilots involved in aerial combat and the forerunner to the space suit. Faculty in preventive medicine sought with considerable success to improve the purity of penicillin which was being produced by the Connaught Laboratories in the old Knox College building on Spadina Circle.

Others worked in the controversial areas of biological and chemical warfare. One person at least, the chemist Fred Beamish, conducted undisclosed research on the atomic bomb. The impact of this new weapon on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was investigated late in 1945 by Omond Solandt, a medical graduate of 1936 who had been seconded by the British government. Solandt was supposed to report on military installations but, finding none, he turned his attention to assessing the medical issues arising from the dropping of the bombs. After the war he headed the Defence Research Board which funded many scientific research projects at the University in the late 1940s and the 1950s.


Research and New Programmes, 1890-1950