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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Question

What major gifts were made to the University of Toronto during the Great Depression?

Answer Despite tough economic times, donors made possible the Wallberg Memorial Engineering Building and the Dunlap Observatory. None of the benefactors was a U of T graduate.

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.

Only a few major private donations came to the University during the depression. The largest gift by far was a bequest in 1933 from Miss Ida Wallberg, who left $1 million to the University for an engineering building to be called "The Wallberg Memorial Building" as a memorial to her brother, Emil Andrew Wallberg, who had died in 1929, never having married, and had left his estate to his sister.


The engineering building to be called "The Wallberg Memorial Building" as a memorial to her brother, Emil Andrew Wallberg.

Neither Miss Wallberg nor her brother was a graduate of the University of Toronto. Emil Wallberg had been born in Sweden, emigrated to the United States at an early age, and received his engineering education in Illinois. He moved to Canada in 1892, where he practiced as an engineer and became president of several large companies, including Canada Wire and Cable. The start of construction of the Wallberg Building, at the corner of College and St George streets, was delayed, however, because the University did not have the additional resources needed for its completion. Funds would not become available until after the war.

Wallberg Memorial Building
The Wallberg Memorial Building for chemical engineering and the department of chemistry, officially opened in late 1949.

A second major donation during the depression - also from a woman - was from Jessie Dunlap for an observatory in honour of her late husband, David Dunlap. Again, neither the donor nor the person honoured was a University of Toronto graduate. It will be recalled that, in 1921, David Dunlap, an amateur astronomer, had met C.A. Chant, the head of astronomy.


Professor Chant sent a note to Mrs Dunlap reminding her of her husband's possible interest in assisting the department and boldly asking if she "would be willing to consider the question of providing the observatory - or, if not the entire observatory, the great telescope - as a memorial to Mr. Dunlap.

A good relationship began to develop between Chant and the very wealthy Dunlap, who had made his fortune as a lawyer and mining promoter in Northern Ontario. Dunlap, however, died in 1924. A few years later, Chant sent a note to Mrs. Dunlap reminding her of her husband's possible interest in assisting the department and boldly asking if she "would be willing to consider the question of providing the observatory - or, if not the entire observatory, the great telescope - as a memorial to Mr. Dunlap."

Astronomy department, 1962ory
Members of the astronomy department in 1962 with the David Dunlap Observatory in the background: from left to right, S. Van den Bergh, Helen Hogg, D.A. MacRae, Ruth Northcott, J.D. Fernie and J.F. Head (director)

She expressed interest in the project, and in 1927, Chant visited her at her elegant home in Rosedale - 93 Highland Avenue, coincidentally to be purchased by the University in 1956 from a subsequent owner to serve as the official residence for presidents of the University. The money for the observatory was promised, but could not be given until her husband's estate was finally probated a number of years later.

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