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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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What medical school was recognized as among the "best on the continent" within 20 years of its opening?

Answer The University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine, which opened on Oct. 6, 1887 with 29 faculty members and a healthy dose of ambition.

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 1887 act permitted the establishment of a "teaching faculty" of medicine at the University. A few months after its passage, the new faculty came into being. Two decades later, it was recognized as one of the best medical schools on the continent.

After the closing of the medical school in 1853, the University had continued to set examinations and grant medical degrees, even though it no longer offered a teaching program. The teaching was left to the proprietary schools in the city. These schools did not have the power to grant degrees, and those of their students who wanted degrees - most were content to practise, as they were entitled to do, without a university degree - had to obtain them through a university. The University of Toronto kept raising its standards, so fewer and fewer students took a Toronto degree. In 1883, for example, only ten degrees were granted in medicine by the University of Toronto.

There were three proprietary medical schools in the city of Toronto in the 1880s.

There were three proprietary medical schools in the city of Toronto in the 1880s: Trinity Medical College, the Toronto School of Medicine, and the Woman's Medical College; together they had more than 500 students. The Victoria medical school in Toronto, started by John Rolph in the 1850s, had closed its doors in 1874, and its faculty and students had transferred to the Toronto School of Medicine, which had purchased Victoria's building on Sackville Street opposite the Toronto General Hospital (then on the site of the present Regent Park) in the east end of the city.

Walter Geikie
Walter Geikie, dean of the Trinity medical school, who resisted a merger with the U of T.

Both buildings have been torn down. Trinity's building - still standing as the Trinity Mews condominiums at 40 Spruce Street - was also in the same area. So was the Woman's Medical College, established in 1883 at the urging of Emily Stowe. This college was linked to Trinity University, and its enlarged 1890 building is also still standing, at 291 Sumach Street. Women would not be admitted to the new University of Toronto medical school until 1906.

Since 1853, when the medical teaching faculty had been closed down, there had been agitation to re-establish the faculty at the University. Most major American universities had medical schools. Unlike the Law Society, the medical licensing body in Ontario had no interest in running a professional school. One of the strongest advocates of a faculty at the University was William Aikins, the dean of the Toronto School of Medicine, who had been a member of the University of Toronto senate between 1862 and 1880, and who hoped that if a faculty were established his staff would become its instructors.

Woman's Medical College
The Woman's Medical College; the building still stands on Sumach Street. From the college's 1891-2 calendar.

Although the cost of scientific work was probably the primary factor that drove the Toronto School of Medicine to seek to become the faculty of the University of Toronto, there were other reasons for the move. The school was having trouble preparing its students for the increasingly scientific University of Toronto medical exams. In addition, its students would no longer be able to take their medical degrees through Victoria University, because, with federation, Victoria would be giving up its right to grant non-theological degrees.

medical school
The medical school, King's College Circle, completed in 1903, demolished in the late 1960's to make way for the Medical Sciences Building

Robert Ramsay Wright
Robert Ramsay Wright

Furthermore, the Toronto School of Medicine was about to be faced with a potentially very strong additional competitor, a faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Toronto School of Medicine was keen to join the University of Toronto. The University of Toronto made arrangements to use the Toronto School of Medicine's building and established a faculty of medicine with 29 members, drawn from both the Toronto School of Medicine and the University of Toronto.

Ramsay Wright became the professor of biology, A.B. Macallum a lecturer in physiology, and W.H. Pike and William Ellis professors of chemistry and applied chemistry respectively. The new faculty officially opened on October 6, 1887.

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