Henry Marshall Tory founded three universities—including Carleton—and did much of the groundwork himself, from establishing academic programs right down to operating the plow. This look back is the first in a series on the histories behind Carleton’s founders whose names are commemorated on campus buildings. Today, the Tory building faces the library from across the quad and houses academic development and research resources for the university—two of Tory’s priorities.
By Mark Bourrie, MJ/04, historian and author of The Killing Game: Martyrdom, Murder and the Lure of ISIS, Fog of War: Censorship of Canada’s Media in World War Two, and Kill the Messengers: Stephen Harper’s Assault on Your Right to Know.
Henry Marshall Tory was a driving force in the expansion of Canadian universities into the country’s social and economic landscape. He founded three of them, a record that is unlikely to be broken anytime soon.
Alberta historian Rod McLeod, who chronicled much of Tory’s work, said Carleton’s founder was “probably the most important figure in the history of higher education in Canada in the first half of the 20th century.” As founder of the University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, and Carleton College—later Carleton University—Tory lives up to that assessment.
He was a firm believer in the idea that knowledge belongs to the people, not to an elite that sets itself above society. “The people demand that knowledge shall not be the concern of scholars alone,” said Tory in his first convocation speech at Carleton. “The uplifting of the whole people shall be its final goal.”
Apart from his administrative work, he was a well-published mathematical theoretician who nonetheless sought to “bring science out of the narrow limits of the laboratory into practical spheres of industry, labour and agriculture.”
He was also a firm believer in internationalism. He headed the League of Nations Society in Canada during the 1930s and later, until his death in 1947, was a member of the United Nations Association.
Tory was born January 11, 1864, on a farm near Guysborough, N.S. After graduating from high school, he taught elementary school for two years until a lucky meeting with Sir William Dawson, principal of McGill University, who was spending a summer collecting fossils on the Nova Scotia coast. Dawson encouraged Tory to go to McGill, where he studied math and physics, graduating with a BA in 1890, a BD soon after and an MA in 1896, after two years preaching in a Montreal church.
Then, to qualify to work as a research assistant at McGill’s new physics lab, he spent two years at Cambridge University’s Cavendish Laboratory, returning to teach at McGill and study for a DSc (the equivalent of a PhD), which he received in 1903. He was appointed associate professor of mathematics that year.
Tory and his wife, Annie Gertrude Frost, married a few years after he finished his BA. They had no children, but their home was a meeting place for professors and students, testimony to Tory’s success in connecting with people, his greatest strength. McGill sent him across the country to promote the school and, if possible, to create satellite campuses and distance learning. In Vancouver, he realized the city had a pressing need for a university and conveyed the need to McGill.
The response, in 1906, was McGill University College of British Columbia, which later evolved into the University of British Columbia. Meanwhile, the governments of the new provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were creating their own universities, and Alberta turned to Tory to head its effort.
Despite strong Methodist beliefs early in life, Tory always opposed religious affiliation for the universities he founded, although both the University of Alberta and Carleton University did have Roman Catholic colleges. In 1967, Carleton incorporated St. Patrick’s College, a Roman Catholic institution, which moved to the Rideau River campus from its home in Ottawa East.
The University of Alberta opened in 1908 with just 32 students, five professors and 250 acres of vacant land across the Saskatchewan River from the provincial capital. When ground was broken for the university’s College of Arts, Tory manned the plow while Alexander Rutherford, the first premier of Alberta, guided the horses. For the first year, the university borrowed classrooms from an Edmonton elementary school.
Tory stayed at the University of Alberta until 1928, except for a stint in the Canadian Army during the First World War doing what came naturally to him: creating yet another college.
He did so because most men who went overseas to fight were in their late teens or early 20s, which, in normal times, were years for college or trades training. University education was rare, but the federal government believed soldiers who wanted a higher education should have that opportunity.
The YMCA asked Tory to look at ways to bring college education to the troops, and after requests for books and courses from chaplains and YMCA officials in the United Kingdom, Tory went overseas in January 1918. As head of the army’s educational department, he created Khaki College in less than six weeks.
Classes were organized at army bases. Men heading to the trenches carried Khaki College correspondence course materials. When the war ended and Canadian soldiers waited in camps to be demobilized, Tory went to work broadening Khaki College’s course offerings. By then, he had won over Canadian, British and American generals, who saw Tory’s 14 Khaki College campuses as models to emulate, and Tory was invited to set up a program for British troops.
More than 50,000 Canadian soldiers enrolled in Khaki College, and 1,000 of them got credit for a year’s university work. Some soldier-students stayed behind in the United Kingdom to finish their studies, and more enrolled in Canadian universities when they got back home. Tory was determined to reach as many soldiers as possible, with whatever resources he could, and soldiers with no interest in courses were given books and periodicals.
After he left the army and spent another decade at the University of Alberta, Tory found himself involved in the creation of Canada’s National Research Council (NRC). Tory came to Ottawa to organize its staff, hire researchers and oversee the construction of the NRC’s laboratory on Sussex Drive. He retired in 1935 and stayed on in the capital.
Tory was 78 when he came out of retirement, in 1942, to begin work on Carleton College. By then he was living alone in a house in Rockcliffe. His wife had died in 1938.
Tory volunteered to help the Ottawa Association for the Advancement of Learning, a group of local professionals and public servants who were determined to create the city’s first non-denominational college and have it open for night classes in the fall of 1942.
For many years, people in the city had wanted a non-denominational or Protestant university in the city as a counterpart to the University of Ottawa and St. Patrick’s College. Before the Second World War, committees of the YMCA had tried, with little success, to start a college, and parents continued to see their children leave the city for universities in Montreal, Kingston and Toronto.
H.L. Keenleyside and W.H. Conner, members of the YMCA board, revived their committee on college-level education on December 2, 1941, and Tory was elected as its chair. Within a year, this committee morphed into The Ottawa Association for the Advancement of Learning, and Carleton College opened its doors on September 14, 1942.
Tory had to beg, borrow and scrounge for the school’s equipment. It had no permanent home, and some people said its prospects were dim. Not so. The board had expected an enrolment of about 150 but, within a few weeks of the opening of Carleton College’s office, more than 700 students had registered for night classes. In 1943, the college was officially incorporated and Tory began shaping Carleton College into a degree-granting day institution.
His efforts went forward in the context of an entire country on the move and the city of Ottawa absorbing an influx of managers and professionals. Pro-university forces were at work too. The federal government was determined to ensure veterans a place in affordable post-secondary education. And many senior public servants in Ottawa were graduates of Queen’s University, which had a strong political science department. They hoped to build a new faculty of public administration in Ottawa that could draw on their expertise.
Tory went door to door in downtown Ottawa asking business owners for pledges of $100, and he was persuasive—out of the 50 merchants he approached, only one turned him down. But the pledges were not needed at first nor was government money, because the college was able to survive on student fees. The parsimony was the result of Tory’s acquaintance with senior bureaucrats in the federal public service whom he persuaded to teach courses for almost nothing.
The school borrowed space at Glebe Collegiate, the old Ottawa Technical High School and the High School of Commerce on Albert Street and from churches in downtown Ottawa.
On September 21, 1942, Tory hosted the formal opening of Carleton College in the Glebe Collegiate gym. He told a crowd of about 300 people that the University of Alberta, too, had a humble beginning, opening with three professors, 35 students and his own office in an old ventilator shaft.
A few minutes after the ceremony, Tory and the new professors retired to Glebe’s library for Carleton’s first faculty meeting. Then he began hunting for real estate, buying a former girls’ school on First Avenue.
Jim Coulter, an early journalism graduate in 1948, kept a diary of his years at Carleton College. After his first encounter with Dr. Tory, Coulter wrote: “A visit to the evening classes at the High School of Commerce showed the Carleton College office inundated by inquiring students and the spectacle of Dr. Tory behind the counter darting from inquirer to inquirer, with eyes agleam, somewhat in the manner of a sincere bartender serving his rationed commodity to his eager customers.”
In his five years as president of Carleton College, Tory received no salary. By 1944, the school had operated for two years without a deficit and was bracing for a flood of returning soldiers as victory in Europe approached. In the spring of 1946, they began to arrive. At Carleton, they took intensive high school-level courses to bring them up to academic speed, then they were admitted to post-secondary programs.
During 1945-46, the various courses offered by the college were consolidated into a Faculty of Arts and Science. Tory lived to see the first degrees—three Bachelors of Journalism and three Bachelors of Public Administration—conferred at convocation on October 24, 1946.
Tory died of influenza in 1947 and was buried in Ottawa’s Beechwood Cemetery, leaving behind three universities on a footing solid enough for their future intellectual and demographic expansion.
In 1957, Ontario premier Leslie Frost laid the cornerstone of the university’s new science building on the Rideau River campus. Named the Tory Building after the founder of Carleton College, it was the first to rise on land given to the university by the Southam family, which owned a chain of newspapers that included the Ottawa Citizen. The building was finished and faculty moved in two years later.
Since then, Tory has been memorialized in research and in teaching chairs across the country, as well as in the Royal Society of Canada’s Henry Marshall Tory Medal for science research, by a student prize at the Guysborough Academy in his Nova Scotia birthplace and by the University of Alberta’s own Tory Building.
When Tory died, Mackenzie King called him “a man of incalculable value to government, to science and to industry throughout our country,” while the Globe and Mail said he was “the dean of Canadian educationists.”