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13 reasons to celebrate 189 years of the University of Toronto

What you may not know about Canada's top university

You may know University College is a favourite backdrop for tourist photos but did you also know this iconic building is one of the most reliably clicky images on social media? Maybe you should test this theory on March 15.

The University of Toronto celebrates its 189th birthday on March 15 – and across its three campuses and around the world, students, faculty, staff and alumni are invited to participate.

You can test your knowledge of U of T through a quiz posted on the University of Toronto Magazine’s website or just quietly dress in blue and white and let others wonder if you're making more than a fashion statement.

Go on, take the quiz

We can't tell you what's in store for birthday #190 but for this year, photo contests are everywhere.

On the downtown Toronto campus, Student Life is hosting a photo contest open to staff and students and the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education are encouraging students to enter photo contests. The Division of University Advancement is also hosting a photo contest for U of T’s alumni.

At U of T News, there is no contest. But we hate arriving at a party empty-handed. So we asked social media expert Sarah Khan to compile 13 random facts about U of T for your enjoyment. Please scroll down:

 

1.    We have a hard time keeping track of this thing 

photo of the charter
 
(Above: the original royal charter for King’s College Circle, drafted in 1827/photo credit: University of Toronto Archives)

(Yes, we lost the royal charter. Twice.)

Although John Strachan obtained the royal charter for the establishment of King’s College in 1826, the College did not open until 1843. Political turmoil dissolved King’s College in 1849 but the University of Toronto replaced it the very next day, retaining the faculty and staff of King’s College.

Since the University of Toronto operated under provincial legislation, the original royal charter was no longer needed. Strachan kept it in his possession and passed it on to his successor, but that's when things get a bit fuzzy.

Sir Daniel Wilson, who became president of U of T in 1880, was an expert on antiquities and saw the need for official symbols to represent the institution. He eventually found the missing charter in a church that was oddly reluctant to hand it over. Wilson had to ask for the Premier’s help to bring the charter back to U of T.
 
In 1967, the charter went missing from U of T again. That summer, a student employee was helping to remove old records from Simcoe Hall. He saved an official-looking, leather-bound document that was headed to the incinerator, and took it to the library. The library staff, however, were not interested in this leather-encased document, and so the student took it home.

In 1976, nine years later, U of T officials realized that the charter was missing and launched a search, appealing for the charter’s return in the Bulletin through a story titled “The case of the missing charter: an Archives mystery.” The former student employee promptly returned it to the University, and it has been in the possession of the University of Toronto Archives since.

Read more about the peripatetic charter

 

2.    The Leafs borrowed U of T’s blue and white

photo of hockey player

 
(Photo above of recent Varsity Blues graduate Christian Finch/ photo credit: Martin Bazyk)

(It was Conn Smythe's styling shout-out to U of T)

Conn Smythe, who gave the Toronto Maple Leafs their name and team colours, was a U of T alumnus. After studying engineering at U of T, he went on to coach the Varsity Blues hockey team from 1923 to 1926. The following year, he claimed majority ownership of the Toronto St. Pats hockey team and renamed them to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He also borrowed the new franchise’s sweater design and colours from our own Varsity Blues. Because even then, the Leafs needed all the help they could get. 

Learn more about Toronto's greatest athletes 

 

3.    U of T was home to Canada’s first electronic computer

photo of computer scientist
 
(Above: FERUT computer at U of T Computation Centre, 1952/ photo credit: University of Toronto Archives)

(We also had Canada's first female computer scientist – but that's not her)

A predecessor to modern computers, the Ferut was Canada’s first electronic computer, and the world’s second commercially sold computer. Built in Britain, it was purchased by U of T for $300,000. The massive computer arrived in Toronto in 1952 and was installed in the Physics building (now known as the Sandford Fleming Building) on the downtown Toronto campus.

Trixie Worsely, Canada's first computer scientist, worked on Ferut. During its lifetime, Ferut was responsible for making complex calculations for the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, and for helping make Toronto the first city in the world to have a computer-controlled traffic system.

You're welcome, commuters.

Read about U of T's Trixie Worsley

 

4.    A U of T Prof created the Iron Ring Ceremony

 photo of engineers with ring
(Above: Engineering students with their new iron rings at Convocation/ photo credit: Greg Fisher)

(Because Engineers were seen as shy & bashful)

In 1922, U of T’s Professor Herbert Haultain and six other past presidents of the Engineering Institute of Canada attended a meeting in Montreal. Haultain, who graduated from U of T and later returned to teach engineering at U of T, was one of the speakers of the evening and he mused aloud about the need for an official oath or a creed to bind engineers together.

It wasn't just talk. Haultain approached poet Rudyard Kipling to compose an oath. The resulting poem, known as “The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer”, has since been used to remind Canadian engineers of the civic and social responsibilities of their profession.

During the ceremony, the engineers also receive their iron rings, which are worn on the little finger of the working hand. The rings serve as a reminder to the wearer to live by a high standard of professional conduct. Thanks to Haultain, engineering students across Canada celebrate their Iron Ring ceremonies every year.

5.    U of T has been to space – more than once

photo of Roberta Bondar

(Above: Alumna Roberta Bondar at the Canadian Space Agency/ photo credit: Canadian Space Agency)

(Don't forget Julie Payette!)

When David Onley, UTSC alumnus and Ontario’s 28th Lieutenant Governor, wrote his space novel Shuttle: A Shattering Novel of Disaster, everything fell into the right place at the right time. It was 1981, space travel was on everyone’s minds and his book instantly launched onto the bestseller lists. This book was so popular that American astronauts even took an autographed copy on a space shuttle mission with them.

A decade after Onley’s book went to space, Roberta Bondar also took a piece of U of T into space. In 1992, Dr. Bondar, UTM alumnus and the first Canadian woman in space, went on her first flight into space on the space shuttle Discovery. Among the personal items she took on her voyage: the crest of Erindale College, as UTM used to be known. 

Read more abour Roberta Bondar

Read more about Julie Payette

Download David Onley's book from Audible

 

6.    A time capsule is buried outside Robarts Library


(Above: Members of Pollution Probe with the time capsule outside Robarts Library/ photo credit: U of T Archives)

(You really don't want to dig up this one)

In 1970, an environmental group called Pollution Probe organized a week of events in Toronto. This included lectures, tours of conservation areas and theatre performances. On the last day, they buried a time capsule at U of T, on the south side of Robarts Library.

The capsule contains vials of pollutants which have since been banned in Canada, water from the Don River, an audio recording of noise pollution in Toronto, newspaper clippings and a bronze plaque that says “In the hope that this time capsule will be found by a civilization wiser than our own, we have buried here a record of man’s folly on the planet he has outgrown.”

 

7.    U of T alumni make the shows you watch on Netflix 


(Above: U of T Law alumnus David Shore created the popular television show House/ photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

(They also make the shows your parents watch on TV)

Any U of T student can rattle off a list of films and shows that were shot a U of T. But not many people know that U of T alumni have gone on to create several well-known television shows.

One of the longest running shows, Saturday Night Live, is the brainchild of U of T grad Lorne Michaels and national institution Degrassi was created by alumna Linda Schuyler. (U of T students have also acted on Degrassi over the years – although the show's most famous alum isn't technically a U of T guy... or is he?

Alumnus Hart Hanson created Bones, and the late, lamented House was created by alumnus David Shore. Alumna Tassie Cameron created Rookie Blue (and also wrote the late, lamented Eleventh Hour) and Stephanie Savage, a U of T grad, co-created Gossip Girl.

Orphan Black was not created by U of T grads. We just wish it was.

 

8.    A U of T prof chased butterflies all the way to Mexico


 


(Above: Monarch butterflies were the focus of Professor Urquhart’s career/ photo credit: UTSC)

(He cared about those monarchs long before it was a thing)

After researching butterflies for 38 years, UTSC professor Fred Urquhart finally solved the mystery of the monarch butterfly’s winter home in 1975. Urquhart had been tracking monarch butterflies across North America. Eventually, he crowd-sourced his work and enlisted butterfly enthusiasts from Canada, the US and Mexico to help. They were able to track the butterflies flying south from Canada all the way to Mexico and discovered that these delicate creatures spend winter in the Sierra Madre mountains. Urquhart’s discovery made news headlines around the world.

Find out more about the Fred Urquhart memorial garden at UTSC 

 


9.    In the Name of the Rose was inspired by Robarts


 
(Photo credit: Ken Jones)

(You know what else Robarts inspired? This video game)

 

Italian novelist and semiotician Umberto Eco was a long-time friend of U of T. He spent many months wandering through Robarts Library, giving lectures on the St. George and Mississauga campuses, and having philosophical debates with faculty members.

In fact, he enjoyed Robarts Library so much, he based the monastery library in his well-known novel, In the Name of the Rose, on U of T’s Robarts Library and Yale University’s Sterling Memorial Library.

You'd probably like to know how many other novelists U of T has inspired. We'll start compiling the list now. Maybe we can finish in time for birthday #190.

 

10.    U of T faculty members are helping solve crime cases


 

(Above: Dr. Tracy Rogers, Forensic Anthropologist at UTM/ photo credit: Department of Anthropology)

(Our forensic science program predates CSI by five years)

When UTM’s forensic science program launched in 1995, it was the first of its kind in Canada. Forensic science was a new field of study at the time and only 15 other universities around the world offered degrees in this program.

Since its launch, many faculty members and students from this program have assisted local authorities on forensic cases, including the Robert Picton trial and the recent Tim Bosma trial.

 

11.    World’s first G-Suit was born at U of T


(Above: Wilbur Franks with the Franks Flying Suit, the world’s first G-suit, in 1962/ photo credit: University of Toronto Archives)

(U of T students make aeronautical history too)

The suits worn by test pilots and astronauts are based on an “anti-gravity suit” invented at U of T. Wilbur Franks graduated from U of T’s medicine program, and went on to work with Frederick Banting (yes, that Frederick Banting).

As a cancer researcher, Franks noticed that his glass test tubes broke under centrifugal force. He came up with the solution to insert the test tubes into larger tubes filled with water. He took his idea further and applied it to pilots - if pilots wear water-filled outer suits, they will not feel the G-forces in the air, he theorized. The team tested his concept called “Franks Flying Suit” and thus, the first G-Suit was invented at U of T in 1942.

It wasn't the first great scientific discovery made by U of T scientists looking for something else and it won't be the last.

 

12.    World’s rarest Shakespeare volumes live at U of T


 


(Above: Bust of William Shakespeare inside the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library)

(So do a lot of other books. And we do mean a LOT)

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. To celebrate this anniversary, the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library is hosting an exhibit which includes some of the rarest books in its collection - Shakespeare’s First Four Folios.

Shakespeare’s First Folio (also known as Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies: published according to the true original copies), is one of the rarest and most valuable printed books in the world, and U of T has the only copy in Canada. “The fact that the First Folio that we have here in the Fisher Library is the only copy in Canada is a fact to celebrate,” says Scott Schofield, lead curator.

Published seven years after his death, the First Folio is the first time Shakespeare’s plays were printed in one volume. Shakespeare’s Third Folio, which is also on display, is even rarer, as most copies of this volume burned down in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The exhibit, 'So long lives this' : A Celebration of Shakespeare's Life and Works will be open to the public from March 19, 2016 to April 23, 2016.

Take an audio tour of the exhibit 

 

13.    Football started at U of T


 


(Above: Captains J.R. Pampe and B.R. Taylor outside University College, 1965/Photo credit: University of Toronto Archives)

(No, really. Right here.)

North American football, or “gridiron” football, has deep roots in front campus. The first documented game was played on front campus in front of University College on November 9, 1861.

We were also the first Grey Cup champions

(#U of T Birthday 190 is just 12 months away. Email your suggestions for how we should honour it here at U of T News to uoftnews@utoronto.ca