Over 100 years ago the founder and first president of the U of A set his sights on higher education’s ultimate goal — uplifting the whole people. That goal would also see Tory go on to be the principal founder of the University of British Columbia, Carleton University and the Khaki University during World War One. He also created and erected a “Temple of Science for Canada” — the National Research Council — as well as the forerunner to the Alberta Research Council.
I seem to have reached the end of my opportunities,” Professor Henry Marshall Tory, ’28 LLD (Honorary), observed to one of his young students in 1904. At that point in his life, Tory had been teaching mathematics and physics for 11 years at the University of McGill and was feeling, it seems, rather dispirited.
During those years, he had gained a reputation as an excellent teacher, colleague... and student — earning his master’s in mathematics in 1896 and a doctorate in science in 1903. Early in his studies at Cambridge University’s Cavendish Laboratories, Tory gained valuable laboratory research experience under J. J. Thomson, the discoverer of the electron, and Arthur Cayley, the greatest mathematician of the time.
But it was his late start in the world of academic research that would prove to be both Tory’s Achilles heel and the University of Alberta’s good fortune. At the age of 40, he gave his McGill student what appeared to be a realistic assessment of his future: “I was not trained soon enough and adequately enough for a career in research,” he said, “but I want to promote higher education and I’m going to keep on trying.”
With a reputation among his colleagues for ceaseless energy and organizational acumen, Tory, everyone agreed, could be depended upon to deliver. And deliver he did, as 1904 did not mark the end of Tory’s opportunities but, rather, the beginning of his greatest achievements in the promotion of higher education. Armed with talent, passion and, above all, vision, he became the driving force in the history of 20th century higher education and research in Canada.
Tory with A.C. Rutherford, Alberta’s first premier.
He began that year by setting out for Eastern Canada to establish affiliation agreements for graduate education between McGill and colleges in the Atlantic provinces. A year later he was dispatched on a similar mission to Western Canada where he set up a McGill affiliate in Vancouver, which eventually became the University of British Columba. It was while on the way back from this trip that Tory made the fortuitous acquaintance of fellow McGill alumnus Alexander Cameron Rutherford, ’08 LLD (Honorary). They met over tea at a gathering of the McGill Graduates Society of Strathcona and Edmonton where they both immediately recognized a kindred spirit.
When Alberta became a province in 1905 with Rutherford as its first premier — and self-appointed minister of education — the first act this new government passed was “An Act to Establish and Incorporate a University for the Province of Alberta,” a rather unusual move so early in any province’s life. Nevertheless, Rutherford, a great champion of education of all levels, promptly began planning the University of Alberta.
Rutherford knew he would need a forward-looking and indefatigable individual to lead the new university and, after meeting Tory, sensed he had found the natural choice for president. That perception was solidified over the next two years as he and Tory engaged in an epistolary relationship in which they expressed similar views on the importance of the role of the university in modern society. Not only did they agree about how the University of Alberta should be structured, but Rutherford was convinced Tory had the pioneering spirit it would take to will the University into being.
Tory with his wife Annie Frost shortly after they were married in 1893.
In his book Saturday and Sunday, Edmund Broadus — the U of A’s first English professor, who was hired in 1908 — recalls being rather taken aback during his initial encounter with Tory who had travelled to Cambridge, MA, to meet with him.
“The president of a university not yet in being, in a province which I had never heard of, in a country which I had never visited, came to Harvard and offered me the professorship of English,” wrote Broadus. “The offer sounded like midsummer madness. I think that what I accepted was, not the position or the salary, but the man.”
Once Broadus arrived at the newly-minted University of Alberta, he observed, “outside of the little faculty, there were virtually only two men in the whole province who did not think the establishment of a university in a province only three years old utterly premature; those were the Scotch-Canadian premier of the Province, who had the faith and foresight to make the immediate establishment of a provincial university the cardinal principle of his creed; and the president of the University who had come here to do just that thing, and he had the bit in his teeth.”
Tory (back row, centre) with staff at McGill’s MacDonald Physics Laboratory, 1905.
The University’s founding in 1908 ultimately unleashed the full potential of Tory’s impressive leadership skills. Those protean abilities began to take shape 44 years earlier in the small Nova Scotian village of Guysborough. Born to a conservative, Episcopal father and a liberal, Methodist mother, Tory grew up in a home where good humour and religious devotion were often matched by political and intellectual debate. By the time he was 15, Tory had decided he would attend university, inspired by the story of Thomas Wolsey, the son of a butcher, innkeeper and cattle dealer who rose to become Lord Chancellor in King Henry VIII’s court after receiving his BA from Oxford as a teenager. That Tory found Wolsey a model for his own life is the first inkling of Tory’s core conviction that education has the power to uplift every person.
One of Tory’s most important legacies is the secular, democratic ethos he applied to the policies of the U of A. From Tory’s perspective, meeting the needs of the public in all its diversity was a central part of the modern university’s mission. When President Tory addressed the first convocation of the U of A, he outlined a vision of the University founded on the dignity and substance of ordinary people. “The modern state university,” he said, “has sprung from a demand on the part of the people themselves for intellectual recognition, a recognition that only a century ago was denied them.... The people demand that knowledge shall not be the concern of scholars alone. The uplifting of the whole people shall be its final goal.”
To this end, upon his arrival in Edmonton, Tory immediately set out for Calgary and other parts of the province, visiting high schools and talking to principals, rustling up enthusiasm — and new students — for the U of A. It wasn’t an easy job, especially in Calgary, where many were angry with Rutherford’s decision to not locate the University in their city.
Tory eventually won them over with his pledge that the University would pay attention to and value the experience of all Albertans and take education into the community through widespread extension efforts. An example of his commitment to that promise is the Department of Extension — now a faculty — that was established in 1912 with the clear mandate of “carrying the University to the people.”
Over the next several years, Tory often faced opposition to the establishment of new programs and faculties at the University from professional groups such as doctors, lawyers, accountants and teachers, who preferred controlling accreditation themselves. Armed with ingenuity and exceptional negotiation skills, Tory usually prevailed.
Tory’s leadership acumen, combined with his uncommon public empathy, however, may best be illustrated in a little-known episode during the First World War. When war was declared in September 1914, University of Alberta students and faculty readily enlisted. In total, 484 went to war, and one in six did not come home. Tory deeply felt the loss of so many young men.
Although he was far too old to enlist, Tory subjected himself to the gruelling Canadian Officer Corps training with the rest of his younger students and staff. Georgina Thomson, ’19 BA, ’25 MA, a first-year student in 1915, told of a day when a military recruitment officer tried to shame students into enlisting by calling them “slackers.” In her recollection, the officer “had hardly sat down when Dr. Tory was on his feet, informing the officer how many had already gone from the University and how many fallen, while most of the young men present were taking military training on the campus and would leave for overseas as soon as the term finished. If his eyes were angry then, there were other times, when the casualty lists were heavy, that the tears were not far off.”
As the war dragged on, Tory looked for some way to do more for these young soldiers. He found it in 1917 when he travelled to France and England at the request of the YMCA to conduct research on how to engage the soldiers’ minds during long periods of inactivity behind the lines. What he proposed was something called the Khaki University, which would provide classes ranging from basic instruction in reading and arithmetic to university-level courses. After his proposal was accepted, he took a leave from the U of A to lead the initiative as its president.
Tory as a colonel during the First World War.
Through the final months of the war and the long period of demobilization, Tory managed to create a “campus” in England where approximately 650,000 men attended lectures and 20,000 enrolled in courses. He also worked with fellow university presidents to ensure that Canadian and British universities would accept completed coursework for legitimate credit.
It would still be many years before Tory would take permanent leave from the U of A, but the experience of leading the Khaki University laid the foundation for the next two chapters in Tory’s life. Convinced by his war experience that Canada needed to be more proactive about its own scientific research, in 1923 Tory became a member of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. By that time, plans to build a National Research Council with laboratories and government scientists had languished for years for lack of government support. As a council member, and later chair, Tory launched a major advocacy campaign, travelling the country speaking about Canada’s vital need for advanced scientific research and the benefits that could be reaped from it by government, industries and the general public.
In 1927, the Canadian government finally committed to building a National Research Council in the nation’s capital and asked Tory to be its first president and CEO. As deeply connected to the U of A as Tory was, he saw this as another opportunity to create an institution that would have a profound and positive impact on the education and general welfare of “all the people.” So, at the age of 64, Tory prepared to leave his beloved U of A. One can only imagine what he must have felt when he looked one last time upon the once-barren piece of land he’d first stepped foot on 20 years earlier and saw students — now 1,600 strong — walking about a fully functional university with eight modern, well-equipped buildings housing five faculties plus related offices.
A certificate issued to a soldier from the Khaki University of Canada.
But, it was time to say goodbye and take up a new challenge. Within 18 months of his arrival in Ottawa, Tory had toured scientific laboratories in Britain, France, Germany and the U.S.; led the planning of a 270,000 square foot building complete with lab space, meeting rooms, library and exhibition halls; and signed contracts for its construction.
The National Research Council (NRC) that Tory steadfastly willed into being opened its doors in 1932. As R.W. Boyle — director of the NRC’s Division of Physics and Engineering — wrote after Tory’s death, “it was a stroke of good fortune that at the beginning of the great depression there was a man of such amazing energy, great imagination, and faith behind an effort to erect a Temple of Science for Canada.” In the end, however, his energy, imagination and desire to continue as president of the NRC were not enough to keep him from being summarily dismissed from the position he held for five years. It must have been one of the most disappointing moments of Tory’s life when he learned the Privy Council had decided that, at 71, he was too old for his job. Unforgivably, he was given only two days notice of his dismissal.
For the next few years, Tory tried retirement on for size, if active participation in several Royal Commissions, the Association of Canadian Clubs, the League of Nations Society, the Institute of Intellectual Co-operation, the YMCA and the Canadian Citizenship Council can be called retirement. In 1939, two years after the death of his beloved wife, Annie, he was also elected president of the Royal Society of Canada.
It was a chance meeting on an Ottawa street corner in 1941 — so legend goes — that presented Tory with his last major opportunity. Bumping into a fellow member of the YMCA board, Tory observed that the streets of Ottawa were becoming increasingly crowded with young men and women drawn to the capital to work in the war effort. The observation must have awakened memories of the Khaki University, for the two men determined that something had to be done to meet the educational needs of these young people. So marks the birth of Carleton College (now University), an institution that sprang up in 1942 under Tory’s leadership as, yet again, president.
On February 6, 1947, Henry Marshall Tory died at the age of 83. His death came swiftly after he contracted the flu three weeks earlier. As one Carleton student wrote, Tory “died all at once,” undiminished by age or loss of vitality.
Life for Tory was a grand adventure in which he played the pioneer, the instigator, the inspiring leader and the visionary. He led with fairness, kindness and genuine empathy. At heart, Tory was a consummate student, always learning, observing, thinking and imagining a better way forward. As he once remarked, “I know of no greater adventure than the search for knowledge; no life more pleasurable than seeking to use it for the common good; no joy so great as the joy of real discovery to the well-balanced mind.”