The Department of Biochemistry was officially established in 1920, but its real origin was with the arrival of the brilliant young biochemist James B. Collip in Edmonton in 1915. Collip came highly recommended by his University of Toronto PhD supervisor, Archibald Macallum, the first professor of biochemistry in Canada. Macallum was also the founder of the National Research Council (in 1917).
Collip was recruited by the first University of Alberta President, Henry Marshall Tory, who went on to establish the combined Department of Physiology and Biochemistry in 1920 with Ardrey W Downs as chair. By 1922, Collip became chair of the Department of Biochemistry at the tender age of 29.
Collip maintained a collaboration with the Toronto group that discovered insulin and when John Mcleod and Frederick Banting won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1923, Mcleod shared his award with Collip.