by Brother G.R. Bellows, C.F.C., Ph.D.
The Memorial University of Newfoundland is currently celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Memorial University College. This anniversary is a fitting time to recount the fascinating story leading to the establishment of the University College in 1925. It is a story that centres around the translation of a dream into a reality.
The dream was born in the minds of three men, all intimately connected in official capacities with the Newfoundland Department of Education during the World War I era. They were Dr. William Blackall, Church of England Superintendent of Education; Dr. Vincent Burke, Deputy Minister of Education; and Dr. Levi Curtis, Methodist Superintendent of Education. It was they who conceived the idea of perpetuating the memory of the gallant Newfoundlanders who had died in World War I by a memorial in the shape of a college. Their proposal was given concrete form on the evening of January 22, 1919. On that date, the Patriotic Association, a local group of responsible citizens dedicated to assisting the Newfoundland war effort, met to consider ways and means of "...how most fittingly the Dominion can give expression to its gratitude and respect for those who during the Great War served King and Empire with all that these stand for." Present at this meeting were two Superintendents of Education, Dr. Blackall and Dr. Curtis, who put forth the following proposal:
"...this Patriotic Association agrees to take into consideration the advisability of erecting in St. John's a Memorial for our sailors and soldiers, in the form of an Educational Building which shall raise to a higher level the whole status of education in Newfoundland, and materially assist its young people to achieve success in life".
After much debate, it was unanimously decided that a Committee of the Association should be appointed to deal with the Resolutions submitted by the Superintendents of Education and to report generally to the Association upon the matter.
Before this report was received, however, the suggestion sponsored by the Superintendents of Education received varying comment from the public at large.
Wholehearted approval was voiced in a letter written by Dr. Vincent Burke, then in residence in the Teachers' College, Columbia University, New York. Writing in the Evening Telegram of April 14, 1919, Dr. Burke stated:
"...The idea of keeping the memory of the dead greener by rendering continuous service to the living was not a new one. The great University of Oxford had resulted from the tiny All-Souls College raised at Oxford in 1455, to commemorate Henry V and those who died in the French wars."
In a speech delivered at Bedford College the Rt. Hon. H.L. Fisher, M.P., President of the Board of Education of England, referred to the University of Layden, Holland, which was founded in 1574 in remembrance of the raising of the awful siege. The Hon. Mr. Fisher suggested that England's War Memorial should be a great University of England, which would be a means of raising the whole country to a higher level of learning and culture than had hitherto been possible.
"The great movement in the United States was away from the conventional and futile monument, a man on horseback and so on, of which there was a superfluity as a result of the Civil War of 1861-65. The National Government at Washington in the matter of Community buildings as war memorials, advocated wherever possible the erection of a public schoolhouse.
"This Newfoundland Memorial College should be a building useful to the community for all time. On the walls of the corridors should be in bronze tablets bearing the names of each of the Country's Martyrs to Liberty, side by side with the name of the dead man's mother. Also on tablets should be inscribed the names of all comrades-in-arms, those potential martyrs, as well as the name of every Newfoundlander who donned the blue or khaki in those hours of peril and uncertainty.
"Furthermore, the College should serve to give the son of the fisherman a University training (though not in full) which at present was denied him. Again, Newfoundland students who went abroad to complete their education did so at an impressionable age and, becoming enamoured of foreign vistas, did not return, so their motherland was the loser by their energy and intellect.
"Many Newfoundlanders were of the opinion that the country could not support a university: yet Nova Scotia with a population of 450,000, was at present supporting five, and New Brunswick with a population of 350,000, three degree-conferring universities. Surely Newfoundland with 250,000 inhabitants could bear the expense of one university, to which at a convenient time a professional training of Normal School might be attached.
"The war memorial now in contemplation should and must take the form of a Newfoundland University where the greater minds of our youth can have ample and secure development and where, unencumbered by the bars of society, creed, or race in a common endeavour, they will prepare the Colony for a greater future and leave behind forever the arresting and narrowing influence of varied localism."
Newspaper editorials also generally favoured the suggestion. The lead editorial in the January 23, 1919, edition of the Daily News commended the Proposal "...to raise to a higher level the whole status of Education in Newfoundland, and materially assist its young people to achieve greater success in life."
Letters to the Editor, too, were generally favourable. A person signing himself Citizen approves the suggestion of the Superintendents: "...and no doubt if any large sum of money is raised this would be the best way to spend it." Another writer, John T. Ashley, S.T.L., suggested the addition of a scientific college to the Normal School. Not all the letters, however were favourable. A lady, Julia Salter Earle, begged the committee to devote its funds "...to buying a suitable building to be used as clubrooms for the factory employees of our city." Another person writing under the pseudonym of Chain Rock recommended the establishment of night schools "...to teach our returned soldiers the science of navigation." A.H.K. urged that "...a life-saving status... be erected somewhere in the vicinity of Cape Race."
A strong objection was lodged by a correspondent writing under the name of Beaumount Hamel. He commended as follows:
"...That the committee is a little too one sided must be apparent to all who attended the last meeting of the Patriotic Association in which a certain educational scheme was eloquently voiced by three school superintendents. When judges are advocates their verdict is not difficult to arrive at."
The writer then proposed the "...erection and endowment of a home for the mothers and widows of those who have seen active service, and who may be in need."
On January 7, 1920, the special committee appointed by the Patriotic Association tabled its report. The memorandum, signed by A.J. Harvey as acting Chairman and by J.J. McKay as Honourary Secretary, stated that nine meetings in all had been held to consider the various proposals for a memorial. It then reported:
"We have considered most carefully the various suggestions offered as to the form such a Memorial should take, and find that in the opinion of the Committee, the original proposal for an Educational Building to serve as a centre for a Newfoundland University and for a teachers' College where pupil teachers may receive professional training is the most suitable."
The Patriotic Association then passed the following resolution:
"That the Government be requested to erect, equip and maintain a Memorial Building which shall comprise a Normal School, a Technical School and a Memorial Hall in which, inter alia, the names of all those from Newfoundland who served in the forces of the Empire and its Allies should be recorded and preserved; and that all moneys left from the public subscription, after defraying the full cost of the Memorial Monument, shall be devoted towards the erection or endowment of such a building."
A deputation from the Patriotic Association was then empowered to call upon the Prime Minister of the day, Sir Richard Squires, to request that the Memorial to the dead of Newfoundland take the form of an Education Building. Not only did the Prime Minister approve the request but he also promised on behalf of the Government a contribution of $100,000.00 towards the project. This sum of money was voted by the Government at the last session of the legislature in July 7, 1920.
On that date in the House of Assembly, Dr. Arthur Barnes, the newly-appointed Minister of Education, moved a second reading of a bill entitled "An Act to amend the Education Act." In discussing the contents of this Act, Dr. Barnes deplored the absence of adequate facilities for the training of teachers;
"...In Newfoundland we have no Normal School, and teachers receive practically no professional training and certificates are too often given on the results of the Examination of the Council of Higher Education."
The certificates mentioned would be the equivalent of secondary school diplomas today.
The specific section of the 1920 Act which pertained to the Normal School stated the following:
"The Governor in Council may:
(a) Erect, equip and maintain a Normal School for the purpose of affording professional training and practice for students and teachers.
(b) Appoint the Principal for the Normal School.
While many parts of the new Education Bill were bitterly attacked in the local press, kind words were reserved for the establishment of a Normal School. "... Its (the 1920 Education Bill) only redeeming feature is the proposed Normal School."
The proposal for the inclusion of an interdenominational Normal School in a system wedded since 1874 to denominationalism in education was made possible only with the prior approval of the leaders of the various Church groups in Newfoundland. Dr. Barnes himself reported this information in an address given at a session of the Newfoundland Teachers' Convention on July 12, 1920. The Methodist Superintendent of Education, Dr. Blackall, also confirmed it in his Annual Report for 1923-24.
"Undoubtedly the staunch adherence to a strictly denominational system of education had been in great measure responsible for the delay in the failure to make adequate provision for the training of teachers. Denominationalists were probably fearful of any step being taken that might even remotely threaten the system. They thought of the thin end of the wedge. The summer schools for the training of teachers so successfully conducted in the summer of 1917 and 1918 largely dispelled these fears. They showed that the teachers-in-training of all denominations could with great profit to themselves and to the cause of education, be brought together for higher and professional training. And so a Normal (sic) School happily received (sic) general sanctions; and the organization of it became a possibility."
With or without denominational approval, the proposed building was still considered extremely costly, despite the government allocation of $100,000.00. While fully appreciative of the generosity of the government in such hard times, the Patriotic Association was still not happy at the size of the allocation. At a meeting of the Association on August 17, 1920, a Mr. Gosling voiced the sentiments of the group when he said "...The Committee further considered the $100,000.00 allocated by the Government for the Normal School not really sufficient, to erect a building suitable as a Memorial."
This view was strengthened still further when Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the architect for the memorial project, estimated that it would cost $250,000.00. Nevertheless, hope for the ultimate completion of the building remained bright, since it was thought that the Government's allocation would be supplemented by large voluntary contributions on the part of the public. But in view of the financial depression in Newfoundland following World War I, the time seemed inopportune for a general appeal for this purpose. Despite the gloomy prospects of financing the building adequately and the growing clamour of opposition to the project, particularly in the House of Assembly, the building got underway in 1922.
During the course of the construction of the Normal School from 1922 to 1924 many sharp attacks were levelled against the considered extravagance and impracticality of the scheme. These attacks increased in intensity as the construction of the building progressed. On April 21, 1922, Mr. William J. Higgins, K.C., arose in the House of Assembly to denounce the site chosen for the Normal School - The Parade Ground. He declared: "...the clearcut idea was to hand the Parade Ground over to the people of St. John's to be used, not for sport, but as a recreation ground for the children. His objection on this point was seconded by another member of the Government Opposition, Mr. John R. Bennett. On August 16, 1923, Mr. Higgins again let the attack.
"...The whole thing is a creation to give Dr. Barnes a job....It is a joke to build this big place with eighteen or nineteen rooms just because somebody has become what is termed an educationist. Somebody has become enthusiastic over education, like people were about temperance some time ago. I hope I will be here when the Government will have the good sense to give up this crazy idea of a Normal School and turn the place into a hospital. I want to be the one who is going to predict that this will be done."
Another parliamentary compatriot agreed and expressed the hope "...when it is completed that it will be turned into a Woman's Hospital."
Under these circumstances, it is doubtful whether the project would have ever been pushed to completion if generous outside help had not been forthcoming from an entirely unexpected source, the Carnegie Foundation of New York. This philanthropic society was actively involved at the time in giving substantial financial support to institutions of higher learning in Canada. A particular project then sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation was a study of the feasibility of establishing in Halifax one large Maritime university, with constituent denominational colleges, to serve the people of the Eastern Maritime Provinces of Canada and Newfoundland.
In the fall of 1922, representatives from the Department of Education (Dr. Burke, Blackall, and Curtis) attended a conference in Halifax to examine the possibility of such a plan. Though extensive thought was given to the feasibility of a common university, the plan was never realized. Nevertheless, the Newfoundland Department of Education continued discussions with Carnegie Corporation officials with a view to obtaining financial assistance for the Normal School and eventually for what was hoped to be a Junior College. The negotiations were finally concluded on a successful note. In October, 1923, the Central Advisory Educational Committee of the Maritime Provinces and Newfoundland was informed that Dr. Keppel, President of Carnegie Corporation, had offered the Newfoundland Department of Education the sum of $15,000 per annum to be used for the advancement of higher education. This sum would be allocated for five years. If in that time, the Junior College proved itself successful, the contribution would become a permanent one. The benefaction hinged on the establishment at the Normal School of a full two years' university course.
Stephen H. Stackpole in his book, Carnegie Corporation - Commonwealth Program, 1911 - 1961, cites for 1924 the grant of $75,000.00 for the "...establishment of junior college" in Newfoundland. The 1926 Carnegie Report of the President - of the Treasurer also makes note of the substantial contribution:
"...An allotment of $75,000.00 made on the recommendation of this committee, to make possible the establishment of a Junior College at St. John's, Newfoundland, has been already fruitful in results, and the new college is not only providing collegiate instruction for the island, but is serving as a centre for adult education.
With the assurance of this unexpected bonanza and with increased financial help from the government (in 1924, the legislature had allocated the sum of $10,000.00 a year for the upkeep of the Normal School and Memorial College), the building was finally completed. The planning and equipment of the Normal School as directed by the Minister of Education, Dr. Barnes. In respect, his Deputy Minister, Dr. Burke, paid him the following tribute:
"...He gave much personal thought to its (the Normal School's) erection and to him we are indebted for having such a worthy and well equipped building, typical of the country's interest in the education of her children."
The Normal School officially opened on September 29, 1924. This significant occasion in the educational history of the island went relatively unheralded. A newspaper article, which appeared in the Evening Telegram on October 1, 1924, deplored this lack of fanfare: "...As modestly as the violet blows on some lone bank, the Normal School was opened in its new home on College Heights (The Parade Ground) on Monday morning, the 29th ult."
The same article enumerated the names of those who were present for the opening ceremony:
"...There were present: Hon. W.S. Monroe (Prime Minister and Minister of Education); Mrs. Monroe; Dr. Burke (Deputy Minister of Education), Rev. Dr. Curtis (Superintendent of Education, Methodist); Rev. T.J. Flynn (representing R.K. Kennedy, Superintendent of Education, R.C., who was unavoidably absent); Dr. Blackall (Superintendent of Education, Church of England); and the following members of the Normal School staff: S.P. Whiteway (Principal); Miss Betty McGrath, B.A.(Hons.) Toronto, Mrs. Stirling Frazer, Prof. Hutton and Prof. Murdock. J.C. Hogg, B.A.(Hon.) Cambridge (Science Tripos), lecturer in Science, and Capt. O' Grady, Instructor in Physical Culture, were unable to be present.
"Some 60 students and teachers - nearly all Associates in Arts of the Council of High Education - are enrolled for the first half-year and most of them were present."
Speeches were given by Principal Whiteway, Dr. Burke, Dr. Curtis, Dr. Blackall, and by the Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Mr. Monroe. Dr. Blackall's speech made specific reference to the need for the immediate inauguration of a Junior College.
"...He knew of parents who had not the means of sending their sons and daughters abroad who were longing for the Junior College to come and he also knew that the teachers of the land were longing likewise for the opportunity of gaining greater knowledge."
This "longing" materialized into reality, when, with the financial assistance of and the strong motivation received from the Carnegie Corporation, active plans were formulated during the 1924-25 year for the establishment of Junior College.
While students at the Normal School poured over books in their new quarters, Department of Education officials speeded their efforts to comply with the requirements for receiving grants from the Carnegie Corporation. Their first was to secure a competent faculty for the Junior College.
They were singularly fortunate in obtaining as first President Mr. John Lewis Paton, M.A. (Cantab.). With a most distinguished career behind him at the University of Cambridge, he had been for ten years Sixth Form Master at Rugby; for five years Headmaster of University College School, London; and for over twenty years Headmaster of the Manchester Grammer School. In the meanwhile, he had also held many important honourary positions in England, including a place on the Advisory Council of Education.
Recruited also to assist the President were the following staff members; A.G. Hatcher, M.A., (McGill); A.C. Hunter, M.A., (Oxon), Ph.D. (Paris); G.F. O'Sullivan, M.Sc. (Dublin); S.P. Whiteway, B.A. (Toronto), Registrar; Miss Jean Mutch, B.A. (McGill); and J.L. Nickerson, B.Sc., (Dalhousie).
The Newfoundland Memorial University College was formally opened on September 15, 1925, by His Excellency the Governor, Sir William Allardyce. In addition to the Governor and Lady Allardyce, the Hon. W.S. Monroe (Prime Minister and Minister of Education); Hon. John R. Bennett (Colonial Secretary) and Mrs. Bennett; the Chief Justice, Sir W.H. Horwood and Mrs. Horwood; Sir Joseph and Lady Outerbridge; Hon. A.B. Morine and Mrs. Morine; Dr. V.P. Burke (Deputy Minister of Education) and Mrs. Burke; the different church representatives; the educational officials; the college president, John L. Paton; the principal of the Normal School, S.P. Whiteway; the staff of the college; and the staffs and senior pupils from various schools in St. John's.
All of the speakers on this occasion referred enthusiastically to the venture and predicted great things for the new Junior College. The Prime Minister, the Honourable Mr. Monroe, paid a particular tribute to the Deputy Minister of Education, Dr. Burke, and to the Superintendent of Education, who, he said should take the whole of the credit for obtaining the Carnegie Fund for Memorial University College.
Commenting on the memorable opening, the Evening Telegram editorialized as follows:
"...The College has been erected as a Memorial to those who fought and fell in the hope that by their sacrifice their country might be made a better and happier place for their fellow men...Is there not reason to hope that the conditions under which the College will function tend to break down the barriers which make for discord, understanding of each other will lead to a closer fellowship in our community life?"
With the official opening over, the first year of work at the new university college got underway in earnest. The curriculum offered a two-year course in arts and pure science, with the following subjects taught the first year: English, Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, Latin, Greek, French, German and Spanish. In attendance at the opening lectures were forty-two full-time students with six special students. In addition, fifty-three students pursued the Normal School course in the same building.
In his first Annual Report to the Department of Education, Mr. Paton mentioned happily how harmoniously the staff and students worked together. "...Staff and students have worked together as an enlarged family with one heart and mind." Still there were naturally many obstacles with which to contend. The science apparatus, ordered on July 7, 1925 did not arrive in its entirety until Easter, 1926. This delay, according to Mr. Paton, was partly responsible for the mental breakdown of the science teacher, Professor O' Sullivan, who in consequence was forced to resign from the staff in late November. Fortunately, a replacement was found for him in the person of Mr. J. L. Nickerson, B.Sc., a graduate of Dalhousie University.
Still another handicap resulted when the Memorial University College took in 260 students from the Methodist College, a secondary school that had been recently destroyed by fire. These students were housed at Memorial until Easter of 1926.
Understandably, at this stage, the library facilities were grossly inadequate. Mr. Paton indicated that of the 2,050 volumes in the library, considerably more than half had been selected with a view to the requirements of teacher-training. There were no Latin or Greek classics, very few French books, no German books, and very few books in Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics or Biology.
Despite these handicaps, intensive work in the classroom continued daily. Occasional respite from the academic routine was had by specially arranged concerts and by a full programme of sports often played on a small pitch in front of the College. Mr. Paton whimsically described this playing area as being "...fairly level, but the vegetation, such as it is, consists of 95% weed to 5% grass."
In his first Annual Report, too, Mr. Paton indicated that the two-year course offered by the Memorial University College would be recognized and accepted by Dalhousie University, the University of Toronto, and McGill University.
The Rhodes Scholarship Trust Committee also gave notice of its recognition of the two-year university programme of the Junior College.
Thus, with strong assurance of the future success of the College, the first year of its operation came to an end. It had now begun to fulfill the initial purpose for its foundation; to honour the dead by giving service to the living.
Subsequent events in the next fifty years would attest to the vision and courage of the founding fathers and to the strength and durability of their work. Truly it can be said of them: "If you wish to see their monument, look around you." - NEWFOUNDLAND QUARTERLY.
History | How We Grew