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.
afternoon, February 15, 1895, the "largest mass meeting in the history
of the University" was held in Wardell's Hall, since then demolished,
a large hall on the west side of Spadina Avenue, half a block south
of College Street. The hall was often used for religious and political
meetings. A large sign greeted those entering the building: Gentlemen
Will Please Not Spit on the Floor.
students attended, including a hundred women. The immediate cause of
the demonstration was the dismissal by the Ontario government of the
popular University College professor of Latin, William Dale, which had
been publicly announced earlier in the day. The news of his firing had
galvanized the student body. William Lyon Mackenzie King - called "Billy"
by his classmates - a member of the class of '95 and a future prime
minister of Canada, noted in his diary, "I was that excited that I could
not keep still, my blood fairly boiled. I scarcely ate any lunch."
A motion was introduced
to "abstain from attendance at lectures at University College until
a proper investigation be granted by the provincial government into
the difficulties existing at the University."
was introduced at the meeting by the "rather solemn, moon faced" "Billy"
King to "abstain from attendance at lectures at University College until
a proper investigation be granted by the provincial government into
the difficulties existing at the university." A journalist later wrote
that King "electrified his hearers by his denunciation of the age-old
cult of tyranny," just as his grandfather William Lyon Mackenzie had
done as one of the leaders of the 1837 rebellion. Another leader who
spoke was James Tucker, the "frail, but thoughtful and soft-spoken"
editor of the Varsity. The motion passed with five dissenting
of classes was successful. George Wrong, the professor of history, wrote
to his father-in-law, Chancellor Edward Blake, then a member of parliament
in England, that only one student turned up at one of his lectures.
the causes of the strike was the appointment of Wrong himself, the previous
fall, amid rumours of nepotism due to his connections with Blake. The
editor of the Varsity, James Tucker, a member of the class of
'95 and considered by some of his classmates "the outstanding man
of our year," kept up the attack, assisted by other members of
the Varsity staff such as King. It is likely that behind-the-scenes
support for the Varsity was being given by William Dale, the
Latin professor, and other members of the staff who lived in the University
College students' residence
A further issue creating controversy
was the cancellation by the university council in early 1895 of an advertised
debate involving two workers' advocates that had been organized by the
Political Science Association. Once again, the Varsity, with
strong student backing at a mass meeting, attacked this "most truly
regrettable state of affairs."
"Rather would we leave
the University without a degree," Tucker wrote, "than surrender
the principle for which we have been contending."
Varsity was ordered to apologize. The issues, Tucker wrote in the
Varsity, had to do with freedom of the press and freedom of assembly.
He would not apologize. On Wednesday, January 29, the university council
suspended him. "Rather would we leave the University without a
degree," Tucker wrote, "than surrender the principle for which
we have been contending."
week, the Toronto Globe published a remarkable letter to the
editor from Dale taking up the Varsity's cause, which inflamed
both the government and the university professoriate. It appeared on
the front page of the paper. "I have," Dale wrote, "read
the testimonials which Mr. Wrong took the trouble to print and I should
imagine that no chair in the University was ever filled on such slight
grounds as those testimonials afford." "It is the letter of
a madman," Wrong wrote to Chancellor Blake.
the professors in the University were outraged. The government moved
quickly. President James Loudon was summoned to meet with the cabinet
on Monday and was informed "they had decided to dismiss Professor
Dale." On Thursday Dale himself was summoned to a cabinet meeting,
and asked to resign. He refused to do so, and on Friday, February 15,
his dismissal was announced officially. The announcement gave rise to
the previously described strike vote.
strike was declared, there was much discussion between the students
and the university administration. On February 20, another mass meeting
was held at Wardell's Hall, and a motion was passed that students should
return to lectures pending negotiations to appoint a commission. On
Friday, Loudon sent the government a recommendation for a commission
of inquiry, which the government accepted. The students returned to
continued to have problems with the students. The evening of the day
the strike was called off was the conversazione, the first that had
been held since the fire in 1890. Promenading, that is, walking with
a partner to music, was part of the program, but the students preferred
dancing, which was banned. The Toronto Star described Loudon's
undignified attempt to stop it: "The president evidently anticipated
[dancing] and was on hand at once to prevent it. He was successful in
each room in which he was, but when he entered the East Hall the dancing
began in the West, and when he returned to the West it was resumed in
The dancing was kept up at intervals until nearly three
commission's report, released April 27, 1895, Friedland goes on to write,
rejected the students' complaints, though it found there was a "want
of tact at times" in the administration's dealing with them. Tucker's
Varsity's articles were deemed "offensive and entirely beyond the line
of fair comment." The students' other claim that they had a right to
invite people to deliver lectures on university property was "untenable,"
and it was "impossible to see how any other course could have been pursued"
with the dismissed Professor Dale. Many of the participants in the student
strike of 1895 would go on to distinguished careers. King, of course,
went on to be Canada's longest serving prime minister. Wrong would become
known as one of Canada's foremost historians. But his adversary Dale
would never find a permanent teaching position again. And the Varsity's
"frail but thoughtful" Tucker was not allowed to write finals or receive
a degree from U of T… he died at the age of 31.