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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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What university structure was created as a permanent memorial to the men and women who served, and those who died, in the First World War?

Answer Soldiers' Tower was completed in 1924. Read more about U of T's history and its tomorrow in the National Report, coming Nov. 22 in The Globe and Mail.

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.

On Armistice Day, 1919, one year after the end of the war, the foundation stone for a memorial tower was laid at the official opening of Hart House. The planning by the Alumni Association for a memorial honouring those who had served, and particularly those who had given their lives, had begun immediately after the end of the war.

A tall Gothic tower visible from any point on the campus was to be constructed. A site immediately north of the main library on King's College Circle was selected, but the board of governors wanted to keep the land for the expansion of the library. Another site considered was one between Convocation Hall and Knox College, but the board wanted to keep that land for possible use as an administrative centre. So the decision was made to situate the building on its present site.

'When the plaintive, haunting notes dies away, the audience, as if by common consent, remained still for some moments.'

At 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the cornerstone for the tower was lowered into place, and the governor general, the Duke of Devonshire, carefully smoothed the mortar, telling the audience that 'though this Memorial, the great name and the great tradition established for the University by those who died will be handed down as long as the University endures.' A prayer was offered by Canon Cody of the board, and the 'Last Post' was blown by cavalry trumpeters. 'When the plaintive, haunting notes dies away,' the Monthly noted, 'the audience, as if by common consent, remained still for some moments. It was a fitting close to the simple, impressive service.'

The memorial Soldiers' Tower, designed by Sproatt and Rolph, the architects of Hart House, was not actually completed until 1924. The funds raised by the alumni were to be used not only for the memorial tower but also for scholarships and loans for the great number of returned veterans and the families of those who had not returned.

Soldiers' Tower

It had been hoped that the federal government would assist the veterans with funds for education, but it refused to do so, saying that education was a provincial responsibility.

"We all foresee," Prime Minister Robert Borden wrote to President Robert Falconer, "a tremendous outcry and disturbance of public opinion if we should make general provision for assistance to students at universities and should fail to make the like provision for vocational training for assistance in embarking upon business enterprises, etc."

With no federal support, much of the money raised for the tower was needed for loans and scholarships. Half the students who wrote the entrance exam in engineering in 1919, for example, were ex-soldiers. By 1922, however, most of the demand for support had been met, and construction began. The planned 23-bell carillon was not put in place until 1927, the hundredth anniversary of the University. Since then, 28 more bells have been added, making a total today of 51 bells.

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