Yesterday’s News: Winter 1919 (First Issue!)

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Renowned satirist Stephen Leacock served as the first chair of the McGill News editorial committee. (Notman Photographic Archives)

Renowned satirist Stephen Leacock served as the first chair of the McGill News editorial committee. (Notman Photographic Archives)

In 1919, McGill, along with the rest of the country, was trying to reestablish some normalcy following the brutal interruption of the Great War. The University also wanted to reconnect with its alumni as they returned to civilian life, so in December, the McGill News was launched by the Graduates’ Society for dues-paying members.

The chairman of the editorial committee was Stephen Leacock and his gentle humour seems apparent in these opening words: “This magazine, if one may call it by so pretentious a name, will make no attempt to enter the field of general literature. …It proposes to occupy a field that will be all its own, a small acreage covered at present by a mingled growth of flowers and weeds but in the soil of which the News thinks to detect a rare fertility. The News comes to the Graduates of McGill University and it brings them a message. Indeed it brings them several. But the first message…is the whispered request for three dollars.” Three bucks was the going rate for a Graduates’ Society membership at the time, which included among its perks a subscription to the brand new News.

The News reported that enrolment in 1919 was record breaking as veterans who had learned “a striking object lesson of the value of education” returned to resume their studies. Plans and programs that had been suspended for years were revived. A reunion for all alumni, originally scheduled to take place in 1915, was now planned for 1921 when McGill would celebrate its centenary.

The Carnegie Foundation in New York had made a gift of $1 million to the University “in recognition of the noble and devoted service and sacrifice of McGill towards Canada’s part in the Great War.” In all, more than 2,500 alumni, faculty and students had served and 325 were killed. Many families made memorial gifts to the University to honour their loved ones.

The University had also recently received the historical collection of David Ross McCord, one of the most valuable of its kind in Canada. McGill turned over the Jesse Joseph mansion, purchased for the University in 1909 by Sir William Macdonald, to house and display the thousands of artifacts. Located where the McLennan Library building now stands, the Joseph house became the first home of the McCord Museum.

A new principal was named to replace Sir William Peterson, who had served for 24 strenuous years and during the war was said to have “felt the loss and injury of every McGill boy as a personal hurt.” He suffered a stroke at a fundraising event for the widows and children of soldiers and had to retire. William Osler was considered for the job, but was deemed too old at 70. Sir Auckland Geddes was appointed, but accepted instead to become British ambassador to Washington. Eventually Canadian general and war hero Arthur Currie filled the post.

Other University highlights recounted in the issue included the Department of Dentistry, founded within the Faculty of Medicine in 1904, being “raised to the dignity of a faculty.” In October, Molson Stadium was officially opened and the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, was presented with an honorary degree. The special convocation put McGill in the national spotlight, earning coverage across the country and in the New York Times.

by Diana Grier Ayton

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