Helen Hogg - Astronomer and Faculty Stephen Leacock - Humorist and Graduate Elsie MacGill - Engineer and Graduate
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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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In 1878, what disciplines were launched in the University of Toronto's "Little Red Skulehouse?"

Answer Engineering, mining, mechanics and manufacturing were new additions to the "development of the province's economic resources and its industrial progress."

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.

The first Engineering building at U of T came to be known as the "Little Red Skulehouse."

Adam Crooks, now in Oliver Mowat's cabinet, brought in legislation in 1873 to establish a "School of Practical Science" in Toronto. In the words of the preamble, it would, "promote the development of the mineral and economic resources of the province, and its industrial progress" by the "establishment of a school for practical education in such arts as mining, engineering, mechanics and manufacturing."

It would provide post-matriculation study for the scientific professions (students would receive a diploma after three years) and also offer evening classes for artisans and others. The act establishing the School of Practical Science (SPS) anticipated a close connection between the school and the University.

The act permitted engineering students to take lectures at University College and use its library and museum and also permitted the affiliation of SPS with the University. The arrangement was unsuccessful, however, in part because the Mechanics' Institute was too far from the University. Crooks sought the advice of future university president James Loudon, who recommended that the school be established on university grounds, with one new professor being hired to teach engineering while University College professors taught all the other courses.

UC Natural Science Club, 1867
University College Natural Science Club, 1867 with two future deans of engineering: John Galbraith, second row far left, and William Ellis, second row from right

The school would be outfitted with laboratories that could be used by students and professors of both University College and SPS for work in the physical sciences. The report was well received by the government and by Casimir Gzowski, an influential engineer (and the great-great-grandfather of the broadcaster and author Peter Gzowski) who was a member of the university senate. In 1877, therefore, the government decided to sell the Mechanics' Institute and erect a new building on the grounds of the University.

When students tried to haze John Galbraith, he met them with "sword and dagger."

A site for the building on the south-west part of the campus was rejected as being somewhat out of the way for the evening workingmen's classes, so another was selected at the southeast part of the campus where the Medical Sciences Building now stands. The three-storey red-brick building, known for close to a century as "the little red Schoolhouse" - and after the Second World War sometimes spelled "Skulehouse" - was designed by Kivas Tully, the architect of Trinity College. The school opened in 1878.

Engineering building, 1927 Demoltio of the Shcool of Practical Sciences, 1966
Engineering building, 1927 Demolition of the School of Practical Sciences building began in 1966

In 1878, John Galbraith was selected as the first professor of engineering. Galbraith had received his BA from the University of Toronto in 1868, with the gold medal in mathematics and the Prince of Wales Medal for overall proficiency, and later received his MA. The story is told that as a freshman at University College, Galbraith refused to accept the usual hazing by upper year students: "when he learned of some of the performances in the initiation in which he was to take part, he refused to submit to the indignity and defied the whole residence, standing at the door of his room with a sword in one hand and a dagger in the other."

The sword-wielding Galbraith's memory is, of course, honoured in the name of the Galbraith Building, current home of the central offices of today's Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, descendant of the original School of Practical Science and the keepers of the "Skule" tradition.

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