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Positions of responsibility and opportunity come to few men and when they do tradition has usually marked out a way, a path well trodden by other men which it is fairly safe to follow. But seldom is it given a man or group of men to lay the foundations of great institutions, and while doing so, to blaze a path into which an established order shall compel other men to walk.
—Henry Marshall Tory
Address to the First Convocation of the University of Alberta


In the fall of 1923 a torchlight parade wound its way across the University of Alberta campus to the residence of the president of the University, Henry Marshall Tory.

Upon Dr. Tory's lawn the students sang and cheered "to tell you that we want you to remain." It was a sentiment that the students were not alone in expressing. That summer when it had appeared that President Tory might be leaving for Ottawa in his position as chairman of the National Research Council of Canada, the high regard in which Alberta held the founding president of its University was amply demonstrated. Newspapers expressed alarm at the loss which the province was about to suffer. The alumni petitioned the government to do everything in its power to retain Dr. Tory. The University staff did likewise.

In November 1923 The Trail (from which this New Trail is a branch) reported Dr. Tory's decision, a sigh of relief almost audible in the simple headline: "President Tory Remains." The report concluded: "... Dr. Tory is still our president and is also honorary chairman of the Research Council, a matter of gratification and pride to all alumni. Our Alma Mater would not be the same without him."

But inevitably the University of Alberta would have to do without its founding president. Henry Marshall Tory was a pioneer in the truest sense, with the pioneer's preference for unexplored and undeveloped territory. The love of new ground had brought him to Alberta in the first place, and in 1928 at the age of 65, he resigned the presidency of the University of Alberta to become the first full-time president of the National Research Council of Canada, an organization which he more than any other Canadian helped shape.

Both the University of Alberta and the National Research Council bear lasting witness to the remarkable man, Tory. And they are not alone. Before coming to Alberta, Dr. Tory, then a McGill University professor, had been entrusted with the founding of McGill College West on Canada's west coast; the firm foundations he laid enabled the College's ready evolution into the University of British Columbia. In his "retirement" years following his term as the NRC president, Dr. Tory gave his energy and sure guidance to the founding of Carleton College, now Carleton University, and was its first president.

Nor does the list of his extraordinary contributions to the Canadian pursuit of knowledge end there. While president of the University of Alberta, he led in the establishment of the Alberta Research Council; its success having much to do with the later direction given to the National Research Council. And he created one of the most remarkable institutions in the history of Canadian higher education: the Khaki University, born on the battlefields of the First World War, a University which at its peak had more than 2,000 persons registered for University-level instruction.

Henry Marshall Tory was a native of the province of Nova Scotia. His great grandfather had fought on the British side in the American War of Independence and at the end of that conflict was one of those given the choice of going to "Hell, Hull or Halifax." He chose Halifax and from the British crown received a grant of land in Guysborough County, Nova Scotia. It was here that young Marsh Tory, who was born in 1864, spent his childhood, his father one of the steady, stubborn, Conservative Torys, his mother a Ferguson from the emotional, ardent, Liberal Ferguson family. Both sides of the family tree would bear fruit in the mature Tory, and exposure to such diversity early in life would later help him to be patient with points of view which conflicted with his own.

By the time young Marsh was 15 years of age, he had read every book which he could get his hands on. He had also developed a keen interest in mathematics; three years earlier he had already worked his way through all of the problems in the three arithmetic books prescribed in Nova Scotia schools, even though two of the texts were normally reserved for high school students. And he had set his sights on a university education.

However, obtaining a university degree would be no easy matter. His family could not afford to send him to the county academy to prepare for university; any further education would need be supported by his own toil.

For two years the young Tory worked as a clerk in a Guysborough general store, continuing his studies the best he could on his own and eventually saving enough to finance six months of desperate classroom study ‚ his only formal high school instruction ‚ to earn a teacher's diploma.

During a subsequent three years spent as a grade school teacher he discovered a love and a gift for teaching. And he managed to save $200, enough to launch his university career. While an early religious experience had led him to decide upon a career in the Methodist ministry, he was determined not to do a narrow degree in theology but to obtain a broad education in arts and sciences.

Tory chose to leave Atlantic Canada for the greater opportunities offered in Montreal at McGill, and the first week in November 1886 found him newly arrived at that great institution (his teaching contract having lasted until October). At first he was lonely and unhappy, handicapped not only by his late registration but inadequately prepared in some subjects. Hard work yielded results however. All through the winter of 1866-67 he followed an exhausting daily regime of 14 hours for study, seven for sleep and three for meals and exercise, and when ‚ as was the custom at McGill ‚ the results of the spring examinations were read out to the assembled student body, Henry Marshall Tory was first in his year.

Following his graduation from McGill, Tory spent a happy year as an assistant minister in a Methodist congregation in Truro, Nova Scotia. Then, just as he was beginning the second year of that appointment, an invitation came from Sir William Dawson, principal of McGill, offering him a lectureship on the staff in the department of Mathematics. The young clergyman accepted, but only because it would enable him to finish his theology degree. His heart was still set on the ministry.

Returning to McGill, however, Tory came to a new understanding of his calling, discovering a ministry that transcended a single religious congregation. He was to give the remainder of his life to the encouragement of the pursuit of knowledge, never finding that at odds with his religious convictions.

By the year 1905, Dr. Henry Marshall Tory was well established at McGill as a full professor of mathematics. He had studied at Cambridge University in England and had spent time at the Cavendish Laboratories in that country, he had married the former Annie Frost, he had earned master of arts, bachelor of divinity, and doctor of science degrees with the highest distinctions, he had proven to be an excellent teacher and he was a trusted counsellor and friend to large numbers of undergraduates. He had also been instrumental in establishing an affiliation system which brought engineering students from the Atlantic universities of Acadia, Mount Allison and King's College to McGill for the completion of their degrees. It was no doubt largely because of this involvement that in the spring of 1905 Dr. Tory was instructed to proceed to British Columbia to investigate the possible establishment of an affiliated McGill College to meet the higher education needs of the Columbia west coast province.

Returning to Montreal from that assignment, he drafted the legislation which would give shape to the new college. He then returned to British Columbia to see these bills through some stormy times before their eventual passage through the provincial legislature. In October 1906 classes commenced at the McGill University College of British Columbia and Dr. Tory, his work completed, returned his attention to matters at McGill. Little did he suspect that he would soon be leaving the university which he had served for two decades to found another institution of higher learning in the West.

In 1906 on his way back to McGill from Vancouver, Dr. Tory had stopped in Alberta. He had discussed the possibility of McGill affiliation with Alberta College in Edmonton and Western Canada College in Calgary, visited a number of high schools in the province, and met with leaders in education and the professions. Prominent among these was Alberta's first premier, Alexander Rutherford, and the two men became ready friends. In early 1907, therefore, when Premier Rutherford travelled east to find a president for the new university his government was establishing, among the men he wished to speak with was Henry Marshall Tory.

Rutherford eventually decided that the McGill mathematics professor was the right person for the job, Tory eventually accepted, and the history of the University of Alberta leaves no doubt as to the wisdom of the premier's choice.

Among those still living in Edmonton who remember Dr. Tory during his tenure as the president of the University of Alberta is Hazel McCuaig, Premier Rutherford's daughter. The Torys were frequent visitors in the Rutherford home, particularly in the early years of the University that took shape on the bank of the North Saskatchewan. "We saw a great deal of them, Dr. and Mrs. Tory," recalls Mrs. McCuaig. Her earliest recollection of the University's founding president is of riding with him in his horse drawn buggy to the ceremony for the turning of the sod on the Arts Building site.

She remembers Dr. Tory as a man of great energy who was always very busy ‚ but never too busy to take an interest in the University's students.

"He was just a real father to all the students," she says, noting that he took a particular interest in the few girls in attendance ‚ even to the point that, "if they went out with some of the boys with whom he didn't think they should, he would be sure to have a word with them."

The president took a keen interest in all that was happening at the University. Recalls Mrs. McCuaig: "He would be out watching the buildings being built and the roads being constructed ... interested in anything that was going on."

"He was very ambitious for the University. He was very anxious for it to go ahead," she says. All the same, when it came time for him to leave, she believes that he did so with little regret.

"He felt that he had done his work here and was ready to move on. He liked to begin things‚ and finish them, leaving them in good shape."

The man who now serves as the University of Alberta's president knows the man who was its first from a different perspective. Myer Horowitz never met Henry Marshall Tory, but he has had different occasions to go through the Tory papers which are housed in the University's Archives, and once he even wrote a term paper on Tory's contribution to higher education in Canada.

"He looms bigger than life," says Dr. Horowitz of the first U of A president. "We all go through life having 'heroes'‚ for lack of a better word ‚ and within the higher education arena, Tory has that kind of status in my mind."

It was while studying at Stanford University in the summer of 1962 that Dr. Horowitz, who himself has a McGill background, first became familiar with the onetime McGill professor, whose name he had occasionally come across during his graduate student days at the University of Alberta. For a graduate course on American higher education (in which he, with the professor's cooperation, was concentrating on Canadian higher education) Dr. Horowitz wrote a term paper on the remarkable Tory, little thinking that he would himself one day follow Dr. Tory and his successors as the president of Alberta's first university.

Dr. Horowitz well knows the challenges which can face the president of a university and he appreciates the magnitude of the difficulties which would face a founding president. "To get something going, I think that is the greatest challenge. We who came later can have other challenges, and I am sure that all of the other eight presidents have felt that they have faced great challenges, but you can never duplicate a beginning. Tory developed a model for a secular state university‚ we weren't the first, certainly, but the state institution was not the Canadian tradition." "And not only was he involved from the beginning, but when he went to the National Research Council 20 years later, he left a well-established university in the West."

But back to the beginning. Dr. Horowitz finds much to admire in the way Dr. Tory set about establishing the new University: "He comes to Alberta in 1908 and he has the wisdom that before he does very much in Edmonton, he makes a tour of the province talking about 'your university'. I wish that some of us today‚ myself included‚ would be that sharp about the issues of the day."

"He hires four people and he makes sure they understand that while they are going to be dealing with students in a classroom, they have a responsibility away from the classroom and away from Edmonton. He expected them to go out and provide general lifelong education‚ now we have labels for things that didn't have labels then, but he seemed to know what to do."

Dr. Horowitz describes his predecessor as a man of great vision and a "really eclectic individual."

"He came with the reputation of being a fine scholar. His field was science and math, but he was as interested in history as anything else. And he had a continuous correspondence about the need for the arts at the University." "Just a fascinating individual," concludes the ninth University of Alberta president, speaking about the first.

The History of the National Research Council of Canada can be traced back to 1916 when the Canadian government, acting upon a request of the Government of Great Britain, established both a committee of the Privy Council for scientific and industrial research and an Honorary Advisory Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. Little, however, had been accomplished towards the goal of establishing a national scientific research institute before Henry Marshall Tory was appointed to the Honorary Advisory Council in 1923 and later that year appointed its president following a unanimous vote of the Council. With his customary vision, energy and organizing ability Dr. Tory was soon able to demonstrate to a largely skeptical government and public the immense benefits which would accrue from a national institute for scientific and industrial research, and under his sure hand the National Research Council gradually took definite shape.

For five years he commuted between Edmonton and Ottawa before resigning as president of the University of Alberta to become the full-time president of the Council on June 1, 1928. He served in that capacity for seven years, leaving in 1935 at the age of 71 years.

It was not to be a quiet retirement. He kept active with various committees and commissions, and then, six years later, he was once again very much front and centre in the Canadian higher education scene.

Legend has it that Ottawa's Carleton University had its beginning on an Ottawa street corner in 1941 when Dr. Tory stopped to exchange greetings with a member of the city's YMCA board. The YMCA had been working on plans for the development of a college in Ottawa which would provide at least the first two years of university work and at the same time provide professional training for civil servants. (At that time the only schools offering university level work in the national capital were Catholic institutions.) With the coming of the Second World War, however, the attention of the YMCA had been diverted to other urgent matters.

The street corner speakers agreed that with thousands of young people crowding into Ottawa to take up work created by the war effort the need for a new college was greater than ever. One thing led to another and soon Dr.Tory was the chairman of a revived committee on college grade education. Not much later he was president of the newly-opened Carleton College.

In his 1954 biography of Dr. Tory, E.A. Corbett quotes from a letter written by Senator Cairine Wilson recalling Carleton's first days:

"The founding of Carleton College was a godsend, for Dr. Tory entered into it with all the zest of a young man and several amusing stories are told of the early days. One of the students, Ian Campbell, said that he registered before a kindly old gentleman whom he later met at the Bursar's wicket when he paid his fee, and then he took his first lecture from the same man, who turned out to be Dr. Tory, president of the College. Dr. Tory told of a young husband and wife who arrived with a three weeks old baby to register for the course in child psychology and he held the infant while they registered."

Carleton conferred its first degrees in October 1946 with Dr. Tory presiding. A few months later, in early 1947, he was dead. Tributes poured into Ottawa from across Canada and beyond, but one of the most moving appeared in the Carleton student paper. Its closing lines were particularly apt:

A great heart has stopped beating but a great spirit is left for us to benefit from.

Henry Marshall Tory, the man, had died, but the institutions which he shaped remained to serve Canada well. Through these, in spirit he remains.

Published Winter 1985.

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