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.
staff for University College arrived in the fall of 1853. Two years
earlier, advertisements had been placed in the British literary and
scientific journal the Athenaeum for five new chairs for the University
at £350 a year.
U of T wisely hired
Wilson, but passed over two other young researchers who would also
become famous scientists.
a decade earlier, Sir Charles Bagot had had difficulty recruiting faculty
members, this time there were many first-rate applications from which
to choose. Toronto was now a wealthy city of about 40,000 persons and
was growing rapidly. The question is whether the University chose the
best of the applicants.
no doubt that Daniel Wilson, one of those who arrived in 1853, was an
excellent choice as the professor of English history and literature,
said to be the first such professor in British North America.
was an indication of the shift of the University away from classics
to literature and history. He was and continued to be an excellent scholar
with wide interests in history, literature, anthropology, art, and archaeology.
Before coming from Scotland to Canada, he had published two major works,
Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time and The Archaeology
and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland. He is credited with having first
used the word "prehistory." He is credited also with giving
the first course in anthropology in the world.
never completed his university degree in Scotland, though just before
coming to Canada, the University of St Andrews awarded him an honorary
doctorate. It did not hurt his cause that the Governor General, Lord
Elgin, as a member of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, was familiar
with Wilson's work and career.
after whom a University College residence is named, was a powerful intellectual
force in the University, and later became its second president.
Wilson is credited
with inventing the word "prehistory" and giving the first-ever
journal and his letters to his wife reveal his views of Toronto and
the University. (His wife and two children did not join him until 1854.)
In a letter dated September 21, 1853, he gave his first impressions
of the city: "It is a busy, bustling, active town ... bearing such
evident marks of rapid increase that I should not wonder if ten years
hence it be found to number nearer a hundred thousand ... Everything
indicates wealth and prosperity. As to the shops, many of them are equal
to the best in Edinburgh, and if a person has only money, he need want
for nothing here that he desires." He pointed out that one could
get a servant for "just £12 a year" and that he thought
his own salary would soon be raised to £400 a year.
wasn't as fortunate with some of its other hiring choices. Among those
who had applied for teaching positions along with Wilson but were passed
over were physicist John Tyndall, 31, discoverer of the "Tyndall
effect" and an associate of Bunsen and Faraday; and biologist Thomas
Huxley, 27, who had included Darwin among his references. Huxley had
optimistically hoped he would be appointed, writing, "Toronto is
not very much out of the way, and the pay is decent and would enable
me to devote myself wholly to my favourite pursuits." But both
were passed over for older men.
later, in 1901, Professor A.B. Macallum, the first Canadian-born member
of the Royal Society of London, would state that if Huxley and Tyndall
had been appointed, "Toronto, as a seat of learning, today would
more than rival the leading universities of this Continent."
would come to dislike the man who hired him, President McCaul, Friedland
goes on to write. But he got along well with the students, helping them
in early 1854, to found the University College Literary and Scientific
Society, the first student organization at U of T. He kept up his research,
too, despite an inadequate library at U of T: his major work, Prehistoric
published in 1862. It has been called "one of the great anthropological
syntheses of the nineteenth century." Later, during his term as president
of University College, Wilson would oversee the first admissions of
women students, and the federation of Victoria and St. Michael's Colleges
with U of T.