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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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What theological college bucked the federation trend with the University of Toronto in 1888?

Answer Toronto Baptist College chose independence and would later become the foundation of the new McMaster University.

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.

Trinity also was unprepared to join the University, particularly when it became clear that the government would not compensate it for the move. Trinity had an impressive building on Queen Street, in the west end of Toronto, and in the fall of 1884 it had opened a fine new Gothic chapel. It would not enter into federation until after the turn of the century, and it would not physically move from Queen Street until its present building was constructed in 1925.

Trinity College
Trinity College moved from its Queen Street site to its present location on Hoskin Avenue in 1925; a quadrangle was completed during the Second World War and Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's chapel in 1955.

The ecclesiastical colleges of Knox and Wycliffe were happy to continue their association with the University .

The ecclesiastical colleges of Knox and Wycliffe, however, were happy to continue their association with the University. Both formally affiliated with the University in 1885 and were satisfied to continue focusing on ecclesiastical training. Knox had had a long association with the University and encouraged its students - who at times constituted a significant proportion of University College students - to take degrees at the University while studying for divinity degrees at Knox.

The college was located physically close to the University, having opened, in 1875, in the still-standing churchlike structure on a crescent in the middle of Spadina Avenue north of College Street. In 1915, it moved even closer - to a prominent position on what would later be called King's College Circle. Wycliffe had been founded in 1877 by low church Anglicans who wanted to "combat the Catholic heresies allegedly promoted by Trinity." In 1882, it was established on university land near College Street. In 1890, it chose the closer link of federation with the University, and in 1891 it moved to its present location on Hoskin Avenue.

Knox College
Knox College on Spadina Crescent, completed in 1875; date of image unknown. Note the horse-drawn streetcar. The Spadina streetcar was electrified in 1892.

Another denominational college, however, the Toronto Baptist College, rejected federation in favour of becoming an independent arts and theological college. Its building on Bloor Street on land purchased from the University (now the Royal Conservatory of Music) had been made possible in 1881 by the generosity of the Toronto businessman William McMaster, who provided $100,000 for what became known as McMaster Hall, and an annual contribution of $14,500 a year. Although the college participated in the federation discussions, it had serious concerns about the form of federation.

McMaster University
Postcard of McMaster University on Bloor Street
Date unknown

Later in 1887, legislation was introduced to unite the Baptist theological college with a Baptist arts college in Woodstock. The supporters of an independent Baptist university knew they could count on further support from William McMaster, and three weeks after the bill was introduced, he drew up a new will leaving virtually his entire estate to the new Baptist institution, McMaster University. He died suddenly the following spring, and the princely sum of close to $1 million came to the institution.

A movement by some prominent Baptists to thwart independence and join the University of Toronto was decisively defeated by the Baptist Convention of 1888, which passed a motion that McMaster University "be organized and developed as a permanently independent school of learning, with the Lordship of Christ as the controlling principle." In 1912, the university purchased a large block of land on Avenue Road north of Eglinton, but owing to the war it did not proceed with its plans to relocate there. The question of federation would continue to be raised from time to time, and in 1930 it was finally laid to rest when McMaster University physically moved to Hamilton, Ontario.

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