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.
cold war created a strong interest in Russian and East European studies,
and in 1963 a centre under that name was established, with Gordon Skilling
as its director.
a 1934 Rhodes scholar from Toronto, had returned to Toronto's political
economy department in 1959 from his position at Dartmouth College. Before
the Second World War, he had been working on his doctorate in Prague
and broadcasting in English for the Czechoslovak Broadcasting Corporation
when the Nazis entered the country. He later broadcast in Czech for
the BBC and the CBC. Towards the end of the war, Toronto had started
teaching night courses on the Russian language, a beginning that led
to the formation of the Slavic studies department in 1949 - with the
help of a substantial grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.
centre was desirable at the university because of "the significance
of Russia, not only as a great power, but as a historic cultural
region and as a distinctive social order."
then at Dartmouth, had sent Harold Innis a report in 1951, advising
that a multidisciplinary centre was desirable at the university because
of "the significance of Russia, not only as a great power, but
as a historic cultural region and as a distinctive social order
features," he went on, "make Russian civilization and Soviet
society inherently worthy of study on a permanent basis, irrespective
of current conflicts and their outcome."
beginning of the twentieth century, James Mavor, the chair of political
economy, had taken a similar approach, but interest in Russian studies
had decreased after his retirement. Innis had wanted to hire Skilling,
and told Sidney Smith that Skilling "has established a reputation
as a scholar with his volume on Canadian Foreign Relations, and has
the advantage of a thorough training in Political Science and a specialized
training in Slavic Studies."
of students interested in Slavic studies kept increasing, particularly
after Sputnik was launched by the Soviets in 1957. Skilling set out
a plan for a centre on his return to the University. Toronto had built
up a large body of scholars interested in the field, including George
Luckyj in Russian and Ukrainian literature, Edward McWhinney in Soviet
law, Harold Nelson in Russian history, and Stephen Triantis in economic
planning, and also including some younger scholars such as Ian Drummond
in Soviet economics and Stephen Clarkson in Soviet government.
Political scientists Cranford Pratt, left,
and Gordon Skilling, in 1967
there would be some 35 specialists on Russia and Eastern Europe at the
university. As with criminology, funding was obtained from major foundations,
such as Ford and Mellon. The centre stimulated research and publication
and offered summer courses in Russian and exchange visits with the Soviet
The exchanges sometimes
sometimes created problems, however, particularly in 1970, when a scholar
from the Soviet Union at the University of Alberta, Boris Dotsenko,
defected and took a temporary position in the mathematics department
in Toronto. Bissell resisted Soviet pressure to fire him, and the Soviets
withdrew their students from Toronto and cancelled the program. The
previous year, a Toronto exchange student, Susan Solomon - now a professor
of political science at U of T - had been arbitrarily apprehended and
threatened by the Soviet security police for meeting with dissidents.