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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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Talk about brain regained…who was luring Canadian scholars back from the United States in 1959?

Answer Using U of T's first capital campaign, President Claude Bissell created the momentum to bring the best back home.

On March 15, 1827, King's College - the precursor to the University of Toronto - was granted its royal charter by King George IV. Throughout 2002, U of T celebrated 175 years of Great Minds. As part of the celebration, the U of T website featured excerpts from The University of Toronto: A History, written by Martin Friedland, University Professor and Professor Emeritus of Law at U of T.

One of [President Claude] Bissell's first tasks on assuming office was a fund-raising campaign. Alumni had given generously in the past -- to construct Convocation Hall at the beginning of the century and Soldiers' Tower after the Great War -- but there had never been a successful campaign at the University of Toronto aimed at the general public.

The campaign was more than successful. Within about a year, over $15 million had been raised.

In October 1958, the board agreed to launch the "National Fund" campaign for $12.6 million, even though their expert advisers warned them that their case was "weak" on account of the public's perception that higher education was a government responsibility.

The campaign was launched in the spring of 1959, with the full support of the federated universities, which were to share in the proceeds. Five hundred corporate canvassers attended a fund-raising meeting at the King Edward Hotel. The board members personally contributed almost half a million dollars, as did the staff, said to be "the largest staff contribution ever recorded in North America."

Claude Bissell (1958)

President Bissell worked hard to make the campaign a success. "I am anxious that the campaign, by its success," he wrote in his diary, "and by intense (but discreet) publicity establish Toronto as The Canadian University." The campaign generated a great amount of favourable publicity. One Globe and Mail headline in 1959, for example, read, "Bissell Proposes Scholars Be Lured Home from U.S." Toronto, the story said, was encouraging senior scholars to return to Canada to help train the teachers who would soon be needed. The campaign was more than successful. Within about a year, over $15 million had been raised.

Buildings that had been designated as recipients of the money started to appear, including, on the east side of St George Street, engineering's Galbraith Building, and on the west side, the Ramsay Wright Zoological Laboratories, the Lash Miller Chemical Laboratories, and the McLennan Physical Laboratories, with its Burton Tower. The cornerstone of the arts building, named after Sidney Smith, who had died suddenly of a heart attack the previous year, was laid in October 1960, and the building was opened a year later.

New building designs
The design for the new physics and arts buildings

The reaction to John Parkin's design of the arts building was mixed. "There are lively reactions to the building," Bissell wrote to W.A. Mackintosh, the principal of Queen's, who would speak at the opening, "ranging all the way from the enthusiastic to the hysterically critical. I find that the attitude depends upon the kind of quarters from which the individual came." The historians were unhappy because they had been forced to give up their comfortable quarters in Flavelle House, which would be occupied by the faculty of law. Moreover, Sidney Smith Hall was uncomfortable in warm weather because the low-cost air conditioning system was not adequate for a building with so much glass.

Sid Smith opens
Sidney Smith Hall opens (1960)

There were even problems with the bust of Sidney Smith that was to have been placed in the lobby of the building. The members of the board did not think it a good likeness of Smith, and Bissell had the sad task of telling the artist that her work was rejected. There is still no bust of Smith in the building.

Also built at this time were the north section of the University College quadrangle, Victoria College's Margaret Addison residence, St. Michael's College's Loretto College residence and John Kelly Library, Trinity College's Chapel and the Gerald Larkin Building. At no period in the University's history, writes Friedland, had so much building taken place in so short a time.

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