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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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Why did the University of Toronto have to give up the old King's College site in the 1850s?

Answer The government wanted it for a parliament building thinking Toronto would be the capital of the United Province of Canada. Not as it turned out.

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.

It had been assumed when the Baldwin Act of 1849 was introduced that the University of Toronto would occupy the King's College property in Queen's Park and, until it was completed, the legislative building on Front Street. But things did not work out that way because, after fire had destroyed the building housing parliament in Montreal, parliament returned to Toronto for its sittings.

University of Toronto was short of space.

As a result, the University of Toronto was short of space. The east wing of King's College, which had been used as a residence, was converted into lecture rooms, administrative offices, a library, and a museum, as well as chemistry professor Henry Croft's laboratory. The library consisted of about 4,500 books - somewhat smaller than the King's library had been, because the books Bishop Strachan had acquired from the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge were transferred to Trinity College (along with the Duke of Wellington Scholarship).

King's College residence
Residence for King's College on the site of the present legislative grounds, 1886

The faculty of medicine was housed in a Greek revival brick building similar to King's College, constructed in 1850 (later known as Moss Hall) on the site of the present Medical Sciences Building. In addition, a house was rented on Wellington Street for meetings of the senate and other official university bodies.

As it turned out, Ottawa was selected as the capital, but the old King's College site was never returned to the University.

Architects were invited to submit designs for the centre block at the old King's College site, and once again Thomas Young was selected. He produced an elegant design, but before anything could be done, the government took over the site for a possible permanent parliament building for the United Province of Canada, thinking that Toronto would become the capital. As it turned out, Ottawa was selected as the capital, but the old King's College site was never returned to the University. The building was needed for a women's mental hospital.

King's College
Approach to King's College, now the site of the provincial legislative buildings, viewed from present Queen Street, circa 1868

The University was then forced to occupy the newly constructed medical building, which was no longer required for the medical school (the government had eliminated the medical faculty in 1853). The King's College building, perhaps not inappropriately, was named 'The University Lunatic Asylum.' The University obviously needed a new building. The magnificent University College, the building of which commenced in 1856, would be the answer.

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