Steeped in tradition and excellence that stems back over 135 years, the University of Manitoba has grown to be the largest and most recognized post-secondary educational institution in the province.
In a typical year, the university has an enrolment of approximately 22,000 undergraduate students and 3,000 graduate students. The university offers over 90 degrees, more than 60 at the undergraduate level, in academic programs as diverse as agricultural and food sciences, music, engineering and medicine. Most of our academic units offer graduate studies programs leading to master’s or doctoral degrees.
The University of Manitoba is also home to a wide range of research centres and institutes, and Smartpark Research and Technology Park, a community of innovators that forges collaborations between university and industry.
But how did it all start? Where did it begin?
Manitoba Premier Norris and John Bracken, then president of the Manitoba Agricultural College, in front of the Administration Building, 1922.
The University of Manitoba is Western Canada’s first university, founded on February 28, 1877 just seven years after the province of Manitoba and only four years after the City of Winnipeg.
At the time, Manitoba was a small postage stamp province, Winnipeg was hardly more than a town and the University of Manitoba was a university in name only, created to confer degrees on students graduating from its three founding colleges – St. Boniface College, St. John’s College, and Manitoba College.
Accessible to All
But from the beginning the University of Manitoba was pushing the boundaries of what a university should be. Alexander Kennedy Isbister, whose maternal grandmother was Cree, came to appreciate the power of education when he was earning his own degrees in Great Britain. When Isbister died in 1883 he left a legacy to the University of Manitoba: to provide scholarships and prizes based on merit to students who wished to attend the University of Manitoba. And it was Isbister’s wish that the awards be made to people regardless of sex, race, creed, language, or nationality. Even then, the University of Manitoba took the view that education should be accessible to all people.
Jessie Holmes put the truth to that belief in 1886 becoming the university’s first female student and in 1889 its first female graduate.
Meanwhile, the family of colleges continued to grow, reflecting a diversity of skills, beliefs and locations throughout the province. In 1882 the Manitoba Medical College became a part of the University. It was followed by
Methodist Church’s Wesley College in 1888
Manitoba College of Pharmacy in 1902
Manitoba Agriculture College in 1906
St. Paul’s College in 1931
Brandon College in 1938
St. Andrew’s College, established to train the ministry for the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church, became an affiliated College in 1981.
The professional schools went on to become faculties within the university.
In 1967 United College, which had been formed by the merging of Wesley College and Manitoba College, became the University of Winnipeg, and Brandon College became Brandon University.
St. John’s College, St. Paul’s College, and St. Andrew’s College maintain their affiliation with the university and are housed on the Fort Garry campus. Collège universitaire de St. Boniface retains its affiliated relationship with the University of Manitoba while operating independently on its own campus on Cathedral Ave. in St. Boniface.
The first faculty of the U of M, 1904. From left to right, Matthew Parker, Gordon Bell, A.H.R. Buller, Frank Allen, Swale Vincent, and R.R. Cochrance.
At the turn of the 20th century it was recognized that the University of Manitoba needed to be both a degree granting and teaching university and to do so it would need to have its own faculty members and facilities. To that end a science building was built on Broadway, where Memorial Park is now located, in 1901. In 1904 the university hired its first dedicated faculty, to teach in the newly created Faculty of Science. The new faculty members were supported by a gift from Lord Strathcona who, like Isbister, was willing to step forward and support something he believed in. Affectionately known as the university’s original six, the new science professors included A.H.R. Buller, botany and geology, Frank Allen, physics and mineralogy, M.A. Parker, chemistry, R. R. Cochrane, mathematics, Swale Vincent, physiology, and Gordon Bell, bacteriology. The new faculty members took their positions seriously, establishing public lectures to build links between the university and the community.
The university’s early history was alive with discussion about how teaching should be carried out in the province and how the workload should be divided between the university and its member colleges. But the trend was towards the university shouldering more of the teaching duties and the debate quickly turned to where a full university campus should be located.
An expanded location on Broadway and a site south of Assiniboine Park – now the home of the Canadian Mennonite University – were both held up as possible homes for a full grown University of Manitoba.
In the end, the University decided to move to the Fort Garry site to be near the Manitoba Agricultural College, which began constructing the campus’s first buildings -- Tache Hall, the Administration Building, and the Home Economics Building (now the Human Ecology Building) – in 1911. These buildings were complete in 1912, and one year later the University moved to the site and began erecting some of its own buildings, such as the Engineering building. In 1924 an act of legislature officially merged the University with the Manitoba Agricultural College and in the 1930s the University moved its administrative offices to this new campus. The history of the Fort Garry campus is evident today on the Administration Building, which is adorned with the University of Manitoba’s name on its western side and the Manitoba Agricultural College’s name on the eastern side.
The transition to the Fort Garry campus and debate over where the University of Manitoba should be located would continue for some time and until 1950 the university was split with junior students studying at the Broadway campus and senior students studying in Fort Garry.
The University of Manitoba’s second home, the Bannatyne campus, houses the faculties of Medicine, Dentistry and the Schools of Dental hygiene and Medical Rehabilitation. The Bannatyne campus is historic in its own right as the home of the Manitoba Medical College. In 2008, the Faculty of Pharmacy joined the Bannatyne campus.
While students had always been active in sports and social activities, the post First World War period also marked a boom in student organization with the creation in April 1919, of the University of Manitoba Student’s Union and in 1921 the creation of the University of Manitoba Alumni Association.
During the First and Second World Wars, the University of Manitoba served as a training ground for troops and watched some of its best and brightest to go off and fight for their country. A sacrifice that was recognized after the First World War with the planting of the Avenue of Elms stretching from the Administration Building to Pembina Highway along Chancellor Matheson Drive. Following the Second World War the university also played a critical role in helping troops complete their education and re-enter civilian life.
The change in university life was substantial, enrolment reached 6,488 in 1946-1947 and then soared in the post war boom with many families sending their children to university for the first time. The Fort Garry campus saw significant growth in the 1960s to meet the demands of the baby boom generation of students with the addition of University College, University Centre and new teaching facilities.
Of course the Fort Garry site has faced challenges over the years. During the 1950 flood the campus grounds were inundated with water, forcing university employees to paddle between buildings in an effort to ensure that library materials and research equipment was not damaged in the flood. The 1950 flood would leave its mark on the graduating class of 1950, which had to miss its convocation as members took up the fight against the rising waters. At its 25th class reunion that loss was rectified with a mock convocation and in 2000 then-Chancellor Arthur Mauro recognized the alumni as the ‘flood class.’
|Engineering and Information Technology Centre|
The University of Manitoba’s student population has continued to grow in diversity with close to 10 per cent of the population now composed of International Students, allowing the University of Manitoba to say it truly is part of the global community.
In 1999 the university launched Smartpark, a 100-acre research and technology park at the University of Manitoba’s Fort Garry Campus. The park now hosts over 1,000 employees, many who are co-op students and graduates of the university. Smartpark serves as a bridge between basic research and industry, facilitating collaboration between the university and more than 30 research-oriented companies now residing in the park.
Building on Strengths: Campaign for the University of Manitoba, completed in 2004, raised $237 million to bolster student supports at the university and has had a tangible impact on the campus, helping create the Engineering and Information Technology Centre and supporting redevelopment of buildings across the campus.
And we can expect the face of the University of Manitoba to change dramatically over the next few years thanks to two significant events. In 2007 the university acquired the 120-acre Southwood Golf Course property directly adjacent to the Fort Garry Campus. The new land will provide the university with room to grow in the future and will help it create a true university community with increased housing for students and faculty.
Finally, in 2008 the university announced Project Domino, a $100 million project which will directly impact at least 13 faculties and departments at the university over the next five years. But the watch-word of Project Domino is conservation rather than construction. So, there will only be one new building constructed during the project – a new 350-bed residence on the south side of campus. The rest of Project Domino will focus on redeveloping old buildings for new tasks. The university’s historic Tache Hall, for example, will be redeveloped as a home for the Marcel A. Desautels Faculty of Music and the School of Art. Once Music and Art move into Taché Hall their former buildings will be redeveloped to house the Faculty of Graduate Studies and International House … and so the dominos will continue to fall creating a revitalized campus.
Source: J. M. Bumsted, The University of Manitoba: An Illustrated History University of Manitoba Press: Winnipeg, 2001.
University of Manitoba Archives
Looking to learn more about the University of Manitoba?
Information about our presidents, both past and present, can be found at:
Archives and Special Collections has a variety of online resources at http://umanitoba.ca/libraries/units/archives/ and a dedicated University of Manitoba history page at http://umanitoba.ca/libraries/units/archives/UofM_history/
The history of the University of Manitoba Alumni Association is available at http://umanitoba.ca/alumni/70.htm.