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McGill University


By: Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca


McGill University - Arts Bldg - 1869  (Photo Wm.Notman - Arch. McCord Museum)
McGill University – Arts Bldg – 1869 (Photo Wm.Notman – Arch. McCord Museum)

McGill University, named after James McGill, a prominent Montreal merchant from Glasgow, Scotland, whose bequest formed the beginning of one of the oldest universities in Canada.


Upon McGill’s death in December 1813 the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning, established in 1801 by an Act of the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada, added the establishing of a University pursuant to the conditions of McGill’s will to its original function of administering elementary education in Lower Canada. As a condition of the bequest, the land and funds had to be used for the establishment of a “University or College, for the purposes of Education and the Advancement of

The Arts Building, built in 1839 designed by John Ostell, is the oldest  building on campus still standing.
The Arts Building, built in 1839 designed by John Ostell, is the oldest
building on campus still standing.

Learning in the said Province.” The will specified that the college would be required to bear his name and must be established within 10 years of his death; otherwise the bequest would revert to the heirs of his wife. On March 31, 1821, after legal battles with the Desrivieres family (the heirs of his wife), McGill College received a royal charter from King George IV. The Charter provided that the College should be deemed and taken as a University, with the power of conferring degrees


James McGill
James McGill

In June of 1829, classes were started in Burnside Hall, the late McGill’s house, which was named after a small brook that meandered through the property. In this year, McGill College, as it was then called, annexed the Montreal Medical Institution so that it could grant degrees and McGill could have students. In 1837 McGill’s new Board of Governors decided to erect the first buildings on campus, In 1839, John Ostell, a prominent Montreal architect of British origin, began construction and in 1843, the central and east portions of the McGill College Building (now the Arts Building) were complete. Later a third floor and a cupola would be added to the central block to provide more room. Since the 1860’s, McGill has had several gates placed at the main entrance on Sherbrooke Street. In 1924, McGill acquired a permanent and monumental entrance. Lady Amy Redpath Roddick donated the Roddick Gates in memory of her husband, Sir Thomas George Roddick, a renowned doctor who began the regular practice of sterile surgery using antiseptics and was dean of the Faculty of Medicine from 1901 to 1908. Lady Roddick commissioned Gratton Thompson to carry out the work on the Gates.



Arts Building in 1860  (Photo Wm.Notman – McCord Archives)
Arts Building in 1860 (Photo Wm.Notman – McCord Archives)

ames McGill was buried in the old Dufferin Square Cemetery, which was eradicated in 1875. His remains were reinterred in front of the Arts Building on the University Campus


With 21 faculties and professional schools, McGill offers degrees and diplomas  in over 300 fields of study, including medicine and law. Approximately 34,000 students attend McGill, with international students comprising one-fifth of the student population.



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