Past Presidents

Meet the University of Alberta's distinguished past presidents.

David H. Turpin

David H. Turpin, President (2015-2020)

"Through multiple initiatives, actions, and achievements, faculty, staff, and students across faculties and units have dedicated their individual and collective talents to build, experience, excel, engage, and sustain for the public good. Through common cause, together we continue to build a better province, a better Canada, and a better world."

Indira V. Samarasekera

Indira V. Samarasekera, President (2005-2015)

"We live in an age where intersections and integration are the breeding ground of novelty. It is at the intersections of learning, discovery, and citizenship, and through integration of all three that we will inspire students to achieve their potential. In such an intellectual climate gifts are discovered, passions ignited, and purpose imagined."

Roderick D. Fraser

Roderick D. Fraser, President (1995-2005)

"Let me tell you a short story—a true story about a famous violinist. Nicolo Paganini is considered to be one of the greatest violinists of all time. One day as he was about to perform before a sold-out concert hall, he walked out on stage to a huge ovation and realized something was wrong. The violin in his hands belonged to someone else. Horrified, but knowing he had no choice, he began to play. That day, he gave the performance of his life. After the concert, Paganini was in his dressing room speaking to a fellow musician and he reflected, 'Today, I learned the most important lesson of my entire career. Before today, I thought the music was in the violin. Today, I learned that the music is in me.' There is a message in this story for every graduate of this university. The music is in you."

W. John McDonald, President (Acting, 1994-1995)

W. John McDonald received his MSc from the University of Saskatchewan and PhD from the University of Ottawa. His long career in the University of Alberta's Department of Physics began in 1962 and continued after 2002, when he was made a Professor Emeritus. Dr. McDonald was also involved in University administration and was Dean of Science for nearly ten years from 1982 to 1991. In 1991, he became Vice-President (Academic) and held this position for the next three years. In 1994, McDonald was appointed Acting President of the University of Alberta, a position he held until Roderick Fraser became President in 1995.

Paul T. Davenport

Paul T. Davenport, President (1989-1994)

"In universities, research in the humanities and social sciences will continue to probe the depths of human feelings and beliefs and explore the complex interactions among individuals, groups, and nations. Universities are among the most enduring of humanity's institutions because the human imagination has no boundaries. As a species we will never tire in our efforts to understand better who we are and how the natural world around us works."

Myer Horowitz

Myer Horowitz, President (1979-1989)

"We serve society well when our graduates leave us with a rich and rigorous education that helps them to become sensitive to the problems of society and appreciative of a myriad of cultural possibilities.

"We serve society well when many of our undergraduates are prepared for the demands of graduate study and when our graduate students and students in professional programs are perceived by government, by business and labour groups, by professional associations, and generally by fellow employees, as extremely well-prepared teachers, lawyers, physicians, engineers, and numerous other professionals—not just master technicians, but also thinking and feeling and committed people.

"And we service society well when we are involved in the exploration of the frontiers of knowledge in many fields."

Harry Gunning

Harry Gunning, President (1974-1979)

"Under the dynamic leadership of Walter Johns, this university gradually emerged from the chrysalis of parochialism into a fully developed centre for creative education. He worked tirelessly to make the university better known and more highly respected. ...Under Max Wyman we have developed a new awareness of the importance of treating all people with justice and humanity. To me this represents a giant step toward true institutional maturity."

Max Wyman

Max Wyman, President (1969-1974)

"The university is growing old and growing big, and these are two events which tend to make it resist change. We must find a way of reforming it. I don't know how. It has been suggested that we could do it by getting greater student participation in General Faculties Council. One difficulty here is that student members would change every year, but I'm quite prepared to support the move; I'm prepared to try the method. If it turns out not to be the right way to reform, we'll just have to find another one."

Walter H. Johns

Walter H. Johns, President (1959-1969)

"The past 31 years at the University of Alberta have been interesting, challenging, frustrating, and rewarding, and in retrospect I would not have wished to miss any of the experiences I have had, not only on this campus, but in university affairs nationally and internationally. I still think a university career is the most rewarding anyone can have, and I could wish for no other."

For many years, Johns was also a U of A professor of classics.

Andrew Stewart

Andrew Stewart, President (1950-1959)

"You are here primarily for an educational purpose. The university must provide you with the conditions which will aid you in achieving your purpose. But what you take with you when you leave will be mainly the result of your own efforts. I would urge you to do the utmost for yourselves. ...You are preparing yourself for the responsibilities of citizenship. In our days these responsibilities may be heavy, but there is nothing new about that. We will, I trust hopefully, prepare to live with purpose in this, 'the best of all possible worlds.'"

Robert Newton

Robert Newton, President (1941-1950)

"Life is rarely easy, and the university as training ground for life necessarily reflects that condition. Now especially, when our country and its associates of like mind are struggling to preserve for ourselves and our children the things we prize above all others—freedom, justice, and the dignity of the individual—I know we shall take up gladly our full share of the common burden. Even our play we shall try to keep on a level of quality worthy of the times. ...As Colonel Ralston said recently, the most that is asked of us is self-denial, surely a small thing in comparison with the pledge of life which so many of our kith and kin have freely offered."

William A. R. Kerr

William A. R. Kerr, President (1936-1941)

"Mindful of the many lessons learned in the last war, the Government of the Dominion has, with great wisdom, determined to conserve and use as fully as possible in the best interest of the country the special training and abilities of her citizens. Through the Department of National Defence, Canada has therefore announced a policy of restricted enlistment, designed to conserve her trained personnel for the many purposes for which their services are required by the nation. Her first call to the students of our university for national service is therefore that they carry on with their academic work with enhanced vigour and earnestness. While this applies with special force to students in medicine and engineering who are within measurable distance of graduation, it applies also, as circumstances are at present, to all students."

Robert C. Wallace

Robert C. Wallace, President (1928-1936)

"The university is the training ground for clear, consecutive, courageous thinking.... It is the place for untrammeled thinking in the fundamentals of human life and conduct and for unbiased appreciation of the values in the aesthetic and moral spheres. It is probably the only place where thinking is free in the deepest sense of the word. At the university men examine the things that have been handed down from the past in the light of their applicability to the present and future."

Henry Marshall Tory

Henry Marshall Tory, President (1908-1928)

In 1905, Alberta officially became a province, with Alexander Cameron Rutherford its premier and first minister of education. As the first act of the 1906 legislature, the University of Alberta was created—an act that Rutherford himself sponsored.

Once the policy was in place, Rutherford scoured the land for the best person he could find as president, convincing Henry Marshall Tory to leave McGill University in Montreal for a 258-acre scrubby patch of wilderness that would become our University of Alberta. And so began the University of Alberta's distinguished list of presidents.

"The ultimate teaching of all education is just this, that every[one] owes to the generation in which [they] live the last full measure of devotion to whatsoever things are true."