Past Chancellors of the University of Toronto
History of the Position
On March 15, 1827, the University of Toronto, then called “King’s College”, was granted its royal charter by King George IV. In the years since its founding, the university has been home to a series of colourful Chancellors who, together with an extraordinary cast of presidents, governors, faculty, staff, students, and alumni have guided the university through a history filled with dramatic events — from the admission of women in the 1880s, the University College fire of 1890, two world wars, the student protests of the 1960s and 1970s, decades of growth and underfunding, to the new wave of building, renewal, and excellence today.
Below is a list of the University of Toronto’s past Chancellors. Click on a name to show (and hide) a photo where possible and a brief blurb about the Chancellor. The blurbs are not intended to be comprehensive, but rather representative and interesting. They are based on material from Martin Friedland’s University of Toronto: A History, The Dictionary of Canadian Biography, University of Toronto archives, and other sources.
The Honourable Peter Boyle DeBlaquiere 1850-1852
The University of Toronto officially came into existence on January 1, 1850 after the Baldwin Act of 1849 converted King’s College into the University of Toronto. The Honourable Peter Boyle DeBlaquiere was the first Chancellor of the newly created University. His service was distinguished, but brief. He resigned the Chancellorship of the University of Toronto in 1852, protesting changes to the legislation that had created the University of Toronto. These changes included the creation of University College where “no religious test would be permitted” (pg. 38).
Moreover, writes Friedland, “The 1853 Act [which superseded the 1849 Act]… had many defects. The University was now effectively controlled by the government. Appointments and significant expenditures required government approval, a state of affairs that did not change until the 1906 Act – more than fifty years later. The University was now to be headed by a chancellor and a vice-chancellor. … The chancellor would be appointed by the government and not elected by the graduates, as had been provided for under the 1849 legislations – and would again become the practice thirty years later.” (pp. 39-40)
The Honourable William Hume Blake, 1853-1856
The Honourable William Hume Blake was the first professor of law at then King’s College, Toronto, before accepting the position of Chancellor of the University of Toronto. He resigned in 1956 in large part from frustration over the lack of a building for University College. As Friedland points out, this act doubtless “helped increase the pressure” on the government and it subsequently “permitted £95,000 to be used for a new building, to include a library and a museum.” (pg. 56)
(£95,000 in 1853 would be about $12,000,000 CDN in 2010, based on purchasing power parity and the retail price index.)
The Honourable Robert Easton Burns 1856-1863
The Honourable Robert Easton Burns was one of three commissioners appointed by the government to “investigate the financial affairs of the University of King’s College and of Upper Canada College. Their report, presented in 1852, was severely critical of the financial management of both institutions.”
The Dictionary of Canadian Biography has this to say about Burns: “His legal career was not brilliant but he applied himself diligently to his work as lawyer and judge, and his decisions were well considered and well delivered. He was noted for his integrity and liberal views. ‘He was,’ writes David B. Read, ‘eminently a self-made man, of plodding habits and honesty of purpose, which obtained favourable recognition from all who knew him.’”
The Honourable George Skeffington Connor 1863
The Honourable George Skeffington Connor was professor of law at King’s College and one of the first solicitors for the University of Toronto. He was a staunch defender of the University in its early years, and argued against measures that would see a large shift in the endowment towards denominational colleges and commensurate growth in their influence, the renaming of University College to the old “King’s College”, and the exclusion of faculty from the university senate.
Joseph Curran Morrison 1863-1876
According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, Joseph Curran Morrison “served the University of Toronto as senator for 25 years and as its chancellor from 1863 to 1876. His interest in horticulture made his home, Woodlawn, purchased from William Hume Blake in 1844, something of a showplace for its gardens and conservatory as well as a centre for his noted hospitality. Blake might complain of Morrison’s ‘utter want of reticence’ but most contemporaries found it impossible to quarrel with his humour and good sense…”
The Honourable Edward Blake 1876-1900
The Honourable Edward Blake was the second Premier of Ontario and leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. He was the first chancellor of the university elected by its graduates. Chancellor Blake was an early and influential supporter of building a school of engineering on the University campus, he was instrumental in bringing Victoria University into the University of Toronto federation, and he helped lead the reconstruction of University College after the fire of 1890.
The Honourable Sir William Ralph Meredith 1900-1923
The Honourable Sir William Ralph Meredith was Chief Justice of Ontario and is widely regarded as being the founding father of Workers’ Compensation. He was a Senator of the University of Toronto when he was unanimously elected Chancellor in 1900.
He also welcomed the University of Toronto Alumni Association at its first annual gathering. From Friedland’s history: “In its first year, the association instituted the annual gathering of alumni at the June graduation exercises. Four hundred alumni attended a banquet in the gymnasium the night before graduation, June 1900. The new chancellor, Chief Justice William Meredith, welcomed the graduates, noting that the energetic secretary of the association, McLennan, would receive his PhD the following day. A garden party was held on the front campus after graduation, and a moonlight boat cruise on Lake Ontario in the evening. No doubt sitting through convocation in the examination hall of the School of Practical Science brought home to the alumni the idea that a proper convocation hall was required to replace the one that had been destroyed in the fire.” (pg. 189)
Sir Byron Edmund Walker 1923-1924
Sir Byron Edmund Walker was one of Toronto’s most influential and notable citizens. Though he had never been to university, he served as President of the Canadian Bank of Commerce, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the University of Toronto (1910-1923) and Chancellor of the University of Toronto (1923-1924).
He helped lead or establish several of the city’s main cultural institutions, including the Royal Ontario Museum (co-founder), and the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Sir William Mulock 1924-1944
Sir William Mulock was a distinguished and influential member of the University of Toronto community. Sir William was an alumnus of the University who, as a student in 1861, captained one of the sides in the first football game ever recorded.
As Edward Blake’s Vice-Chancellor, Sir William played a central role in negotiating the federation of denominational colleges and professional schools into a modern university.
He donated the Mulock Cup, for the Annual Championship Football Team, Canada’s oldest continuously awarded trophy. Originally, the idea was to raise money to buy a trophy, but “Sir W. Mulock was approached first for a donation. He asked the probable cost, then replied, ‘get a good one and send the bill to me’”. [U of T Varsity History website]
He served as Chancellor until his death at the age of 100 in 1944, one year after granting a degree to his great-grandson. He was affectionately known as the “Grand Old Man” of Canada.
The Honourable and Reverend Henry John Cody 1944-1947
Henry John Cody had a long and distinguished relationship with the University of Toronto. He graduated from U of T in 1889, served on the provincial royal commission on the university in 1905 and chaired the 1922 commission on university finances. In 1917 he joined the University’s Board of Governors and he served as Chairman from 1923-1932. In 1932 he became President, stepping down in 1945. And from 1944-1947 he served as Chancellor. Cody was the only person in the University of Toronto’s history to simultaneously occupy the offices of President and Chancellor.
Charles Vincent Massey 1947-1953
Vincent Massey received a B.A. from the University of Toronto in 1910 and an M.A. from Balliol College, Oxford.
Massey believed that undergraduates at UofT needed a facility for extracurricular activities. Accordingly, in 1911 he donated $16,290 (roughly $350,000 in 2012 dollars) to be added to funds already raised by the students for a student centre. Vincent Massey led the endowment and construction efforts for the new building, Hart House, named for his grandfather, Hart Massey. In the 1920s, Vincent Massey was active as an actor and director in Hart House Theatre.
In 1963 Massey established Massey College, modelled on his experience at Oxford. Robertson Davies, Massey’s friend and protégé, became the first master.
Samuel Beatty 1953-1959
Samuel Beatty enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of Toronto in 1903 and subsequently earned a PhD in mathematics under J.C. Fields’ supervision. In 1934 Beatty became Head of the Mathematics Department and, in 1936, Dean of the Faculty of Arts. In 1953, he was elected Chancellor.
Dr. Beatty published a small number of research articles, but among them was the discovery of an interesting result that carries his name, the ‘Beatty sequences’.
He was committed to higher education in general and mathematics education in particular. This passage from the History of Mathematics archive at the University of St Andrews, Scotland is characteristic:
“Dean Beatty is remembered for the enormous support he gave to his students, and he earned their deepest appreciation as a result. One of his students, Walter Kohn, who won the 1998 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his development of the density-functional theory, expressed heartfelt appreciation to the Dean who in 1942 helped Kohn to enrol in the Mathematics Department at the University. Kohn, a young chemist of enormous potential, could not gain access to the chemistry buildings during the war because of his German nationality, and Dean Beatty was instrumental in helping him to continue his studies.”
François Charles Archile Jeanneret, 1959-1965
F.C.A Jeanneret was Head of the Department of French at University College, then Principal of University College from 1951-1959. In 1958, together with the Dean of Medicine, he placed the President’s blue gown on the shoulders of Claude Bissell at his installation as the 8th President of the University. In 1959 Jeanneret was elected 22nd Chancellor of the University, a position he held for two three-year terms.
Jeanneret was a prominent and distinguished member of the University community. Mr. J.A. Boyd wrote: “Jeanneret was very influential. If his name was there, you knew it was good. He gave the stamp of approval, everybody knew Jeanneret’s name.”
Omond McKillop Solandt, 1965-1971
Omond Solandt graduated in medicine from the University of Toronto and began a research career in physiology under Charles Best before going to England on scholarship for advanced training in 1939.
The Canadian Encyclopedia notes:
“When running a London blood bank in 1940 Solandt was asked to investigate why army tank crews were fainting in action. It turned out that when the gun fired, its gases went back into the tank rather than outside. His success led to his becoming one of the chief British army advisers on scientific methods, and he became superintendent of the British Army Operational Research Group, with the rank of colonel.”
Back in Canada, Solandt became the founding Chairman of the Defence Research Board in 1947 and the founding Chairman of the Science Council of Canada.
In 1954 he received an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Toronto and he was elected Chancellor of the University of Toronto in 1965.
The Honourable Pauline McGibbon, 1971-1974
The Honourable Pauline McGibbon graduated from Victoria College in 1933 and later became the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. In 1971 she was appointed the first female Chancellor of the University of Toronto, and in 1972 she presided over the installation of John Evans as President – the first time the proceedings had been led by a woman. From Friedland’s History, it is apparent that the spirit of the times was very much in the air:
“Between six and seven thousand people attended the ceremony, under a clear sky. To no one’s surprise, there were minor disruptions and a large number of placards – in favour of ‘free day care’ and ‘access to library stacks’, and against ‘racism’ and ‘repression of women’.
Eva Mader MacDonald, 1974-1977
Dr. Eva Mader MacDonald earned a Diploma of Public Health from the School of Hygiene at the University of Toronto in 1929. She then began a four-decade career at Women’s College Hospital, working her way up from Staff Physician to Director of Hospital Health Services.
In 1974, the year she was appointed Chancellor of the University of Toronto, Dr. MacDonald was awarded Alumnus of the Year and a honorary Doctor of Laws from Dalhousie University.
Arthur B.B. Moore, 1977-1980
Arthur Moore was President and Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University (1950-1970) and Moderator of the United Church of Canada (1971-1972). In 1977, Moore began a three-year term as Chancellor of the University of Toronto.
From the Victoria University Archives: “Moore’s twenty year tenure as President at Victoria University was marked by his vision as a builder of campus resources, and for his involvement in the formation of the Toronto School of Theology.”
In the image below, Arthur Moore (left) appears in conversation with Northrop Frye (middle) and Lester B. Pearson (right).
George Ignatieff, 1980-1986
George Ignatieff was born into a distinguished family in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 1913. His mother was a Princess and his father was Count, the last Minister of Education and a close advisor to Tsar Nicholas II.
After the revolution, the Ignatieff family fled first to France and then to Canada. Ignatieff attended Trinity College in the University of Toronto, an institution he would later serve as Provost from 1972 to 1979.
George Ignatieff was an influential figure in Canadian diplomacy and international relations. He was Ambassador to Yugoslavia (1956–1958), permanent representative to NATO (1963–1966), Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations (1966–1969) and President of the United Nations Security Council (1968–1969).
In 1980, he began his first of two terms as Chancellor of University of Toronto, retiring in 1986.
John Black Aird, 1986-1991
John Aird attended Trinity College in the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall Law School. He served as a Senator from 1964 to 1974, and as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1980-1985. From 1977 to 1985, he was Chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. In 1986 Aird was elected 19th Chancellor of the University of Toronto.
As Lieutenant Governor he courted controversy when he invited David Peterson (who, coincidentally, would succeed Aird as Chancellor of the University of Toronto some 30 years later) to form a government following the no-confidence defeat of Frank Miller’s Progressive Conservative minority in 1985. The controversy arose because Peterson’s Liberals had fewer seats than Miller’s Progressive Conservatives. The Toronto Sun accused Aird of partisanship. However, the consensus among constitutional experts was that Aird had acted properly: the Province had just emerged from an election and it was clear that Peterson had the confidence of the House while Miller had just lost it.
Rose Wolfe, 1991-1997
Dr. Wolfe earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1938 and a Diploma in social work in 1939 from the University of Toronto. In 1998 the University of Toronto conferred an honorary degree upon her. And in 1999, she was made a Member of the Order of Canada; her citation notes that Dr. Wolfe is “a defender of social justice, whose extensive and tireless involvement with many boards and committees has made her a dynamic contributor to society”.
From the University of Toronto Magazine: “As a young social worker in 1947, Rose Wolfe helped place Jewish orphans from German concentration camps in Canadian homes. That experience is one reason the chancellor emerita (BA 1938 UC, Dip. Social Work 1939, LLD Hon. 1998) decided to establish a chair, in honour of her late husband, for the study of the Holocaust. Based in the history department, the Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe Chair in Holocaust Studies will be held by a distinguished scholar devoted to teaching, research and leadership in this important cross-disciplinary field. Professor Michael Marrus, dean of the School of Graduate Studies, has been appointed the first chair.
‘We owe it to our predecessors, to ourselves and to future generations to understand what happened during that terrible period in human history,’ says Wolfe, who served two terms as Chancellor of the University of Toronto, from 1991 to 1997.”
The Honourable Henry Newton Rowell ‘Hal’ Jackman, 1997-2003
The Honourable Hal Jackman is a triple graduate of the University of Toronto: B.A.Vic (1953), LLB (1956), and an honorary doctorate (1993). He served with distinction as the 25th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1991 to 1997.
At the celebration of the 175th anniversary of the granting of Victoria University’s Charter, Victoria conferred an honorary degree upon Chancellor Emeritus Jackman. President David Naylor read the citation, including the following remarks:
“The Honourable Hal Jackman is a great and loyal champion… one who has given not only of his financial resources, but also of his time, his expertise, and his tremendous accumulated wisdom.
Here is one measure of the man. During his six years as Chancellor, the ceremonial head of the University of Toronto, Hal Jackman did not miss a single graduation, even when a fall from his horse led to broken ribs and a badly bruised shoulder.
This was quintessential Hal Jackman – indeed, he came out to innumerable university events, always bringing his considerable presence, dignity, and great personal warmth.
Over the course of his 50-year relationship with U of T and Vic, Dr. Jackman has served with distinction on a multitude of campaigns, committees, boards, and councils. Almost every corner of the University has been lifted by his volunteerism and generosity ― from Victoria University to Hart House.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the humanities where Dr. Jackman’s extraordinary support has been profound and far-reaching. Hal Jackman believes in the enduring relevance of the humanities – that these disciplines nurture the human spirit, cultivate the capacity for clear, critical and imaginative thought and offer novel perspectives on the world’s most pressing problems. …
It is fitting that on this landmark in the history of Victoria University – the 175th anniversary of the granting of its Charter – we mark the occasion by celebrating the life and work of one of the most distinguished graduates in the shared history of Victoria and the University of Toronto.”
The Honourable Vivienne Poy, 2003-2006
The Honourable Dr. Vivienne Poy is an author, entrepreneur, historian, fashion designer, and community volunteer. In 1998, she became the first Canadian of Asian descent to be appointed to the Senate of Canada where she focused on gender issues, multiculturalism, immigration, and human rights, and was instrumental in having May recognized as Asian Heritage Month across Canada. After her retirement from the Senate in September 2012, she continues to be actively involved with communities across Canada.
She is Chancellor Emerita of the University of Toronto, member of the Board of ORBIS (Canada), Member of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights National Advisory Council, Hon. Co-chair “For All Canadians” – Canadian Blood Services, Hon. Patron of Chinese Canadian Historical Project -SFU, Hon. Chair of Advisory Committee of “Hong Kong-Canada Crosscurrents Project,1962-2012,” Advisor to the Pacific Canada Heritage Centre – Museum of Migration Society, Member of the Advisory Committee of Journal of Modern Life-Writing Study, Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
She is a triple graduate of the University of Toronto: M.A. (History); Ph.D., History (Thesis “Calling Canada Home: Canadian Law and Immigrant Chinese Women from South China and Hong Kong, 1860-1990”); Honorary Doctorate, 2009.
From her 2009 Honorary Degree citation:
“In her role as a Senator, and as Chancellor Emerita, she is committed to inspiring young people to excel by pursuing higher education, and leadership in the community. She is the Patron of the Era 21 Networking Breakfast for Young Canadians on Parliament Hill, and the Founding Patron of Helping for a United Good, an education program designed to educate the children of the world about each other’s cultures and faiths, emphasizing the common threads that bind humanity. Her commitment to human rights has led to many honours and awards including the Progressive Muslims of Canada’s EID-UL-FITR Award, the Seneca College Distinguished Alumni Award, the Women’s Executive Network’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women ‘Trailblazer’ Award, an International Women’s Day Award, as well as a gold medal for outstanding contributions to the promotion of race relations from Toronto’s Human Rights and Race Relations Centre. In recognition of her international accomplishments, she has received honorary degrees from universities around the world. During her role as Chancellor for U of T, Vivienne Poy provided the University with invaluable and dedicated service that exemplified all the best qualities of voluntarism and institutional loyalty.”
The Honourable David Peterson, 2006-2012 | Slideshow Tribute | Flashmob Tribute
The Honourable David Peterson is a graduate of the University of Toronto Law School and was the 20th Premier of Ontario, from 1985 to 1990.
He served as Chancellor of the University of Toronto for two terms, from 2006 to 2012.
From President David Naylor’s speech at the 2012 tribute event for Chancellor Peterson:
Chancellor Peterson has always been more than the University of Toronto’s Chancellor – he has been our Champion in Chief. The facts and figures are truly astounding. Consider:
Chancellor Peterson has hosted over 35 alumni events, across three continents – travelling some 143,429 km in the service of the University of Toronto…
He has presided over 181 Convocation ceremonies…
Conferred degrees upon 94,973 students…
He brings the same irrepressible optimism, great personal warmth, and irreverent wit to every U of T event he attends. His affection for the University and his rapport with people – particularly with students – is wonderful to witness. …
Looking at David Peterson – greeting every student with a smile, a handshake, a word of congratulations, a question about the future, a photograph, or even career advice – one would never know he had done this same act, by my rough, back-of-the-envelope calculation, at least 45,000 times.
And – lest there be any misunderstanding – let me hasten to add that there is nothing affected or feigned: no matter how long the ceremony, how late the hour, or how hot the room, David Peterson’s smile is absolutely genuine and his congratulations are heartfelt.
He believes ardently in the importance of higher education and the power of ideas, learning, and young people. I have always thought that this combination of passions helps explain why David Peterson has been such a dedicated and compelling Chancellor. His boundless optimism and enthusiasm are infectious – and they make him a singular leader.
On Friday afternoon, surprised by the flash-mob literally singing his praises, Chancellor Peterson rose to a resounding standing ovation and thanked everyone for their tribute.
And with characteristic modesty and consummate grace, he shared the celebration with our graduates. Addressing the students, he said that because of ‘the joy, confidence, and intelligence you radiate, I just believe that this troubled world is in wonderful hands. And I remain a total optimist about the future.’
It was a beautiful expression of the spirit that has made David Peterson such a remarkable chancellor.”
The Honourable Michael Wilson, 2012-2018
The Honourable Michael Wilson served as Chancellor of the University of Toronto from 2012 to 2018.
A graduate of Trinity College, he is a prominent Canadian leader in the investment banking industry and a long-time champion in the cause of mental health. From 1979 to 1993 he served as a Member of Parliament, and held key positions in the government of the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, including Minister of Finance, Minister of International Trade, and Minister of Industry, Science, and Technology. From 2006 to 2009 he was Ambassador of Canada to the United States.
The following is an excerpt from remarks by Professor Meric Gertler, President of the University of Toronto, at a reception in Chancellor Wilson’s honour in May, 2018:
Michael Wilson has won the gratitude, respect, and friendship of countless individuals, in every chapter of his incredibly distinguished career: from Parliament Hill to Capitol Hill; from Bay Street to Wall Street to the City of London and beyond; and in every board room, committee room, and community centre where he has spoken up for the cause of mental health.
Likewise, here at the University of Toronto, Michael Wilson has built a tremendous legacy of good will. We are nearing the end of his time as Chancellor – two full terms, the maximum allowed under the University of Toronto Act. As we survey his record in the position, we can see why he is held in such high esteem.
We see it in his contributions as the ceremonial head of the University. Michael has presided at scores of Convocation events, and he has shaken tens of thousands of hands. But he approaches each ceremony as if it was his first. He interacts with every student as an individual. And, through a word of advice or encouragement, he leaves them with a sense that the University cares about them – that we’re proud of them and excited for their future. I have had the privilege of seeing this interaction up close, sitting next to him on the stage at Convocation Hall, and it really is remarkable. Probably our abstract image of a finance minister or investment banker is of someone who’s all about the bottom line. Michael Wilson’s genuine warmth and humanity is perhaps all the more impressive, as a result.
Michael has also left a lasting impression through his tireless service as ambassador to the University’s alumni community. He has convened dozens of luncheons with graduates here in Toronto, representing a wide range of faculties and divisions. He has also hosted receptions around the globe, from Seoul to Singapore, London to Tel Aviv, and New York City to Naples, Florida – among other major centres he has visited on our behalf. In every case, our alumni are excited to have the chance to meet him. They are inspired by his passion for U of T. And they come away motivated to stay engaged – and maybe to increase their engagement – in support of their alma mater.
The role of Chancellor also involves serving as the University’s advocate, in relations with government partners and others in the wider community. Here too, Michael Wilson has provided outstanding service. He has opened doors for us in Ottawa. He has shared his unique insights in dealing with officials at the highest levels. In addition, he has never missed an opportunity to promote a greater appreciation of U of T’s academic mission and our unique contributions to society.