“It is clear that the Montreal Conference
proved of great value, and it has appeared to the
London Committee desirable … that similar
local conferences may be arranged in other
parts of the Empire.”
crucial common problems. On the former, the presidents expressed their
hope that at least “a minimum standard for admission” could be agreed
upon. They struck no less than three committees to look into the various
aspects of the problem and to report back at a later date.
On the latter issue, the concern from presidents was that Canadian
students were going primarily to the U.S. and Germany for graduate studies
and not to the Mother Country. The problem, they said, was that British
universities did not make their requirements sufficiently clear to Canadian
students and that those who did go to Britain were made to take another
undergraduate degree before being considered for graduate work.
“Upon this question,” Dr. Roberts wrote, “the opinion was unanimous
that … it was of supreme importance that something should be done with-
out delay to divert the stream of able Canadian students from America
and Germany into the United Kingdom.”
Among other issues discussed were – of all things – music education, the
interchange of professors and university publications, and military educa-
tion. The federal government had put forward a proposal for setting up officer
training programs on campuses, and the conference participants resolved
that any such instruction should be funded entirely by the government.
At the end of the day, the participants agreed to again meet in Montreal
on their way to the London meeting the following year “if this should be
thought necessary,” but no follow-up meeting was held. Dr. Roberts later
wrote: “It is clear that the Montreal Conference proved of great value,
and it has appeared to the London Committee desirable … that similar
local conferences may be arranged in other parts of the Empire.”
The London Congress was held as scheduled in 1912, with many of
the Canadian university heads in attendance, but this was followed by a
three-year lapse before the Canadian institutions again met. This was
most likely due to the unsettled conditions leading up to the outbreak of
the First World War. The second Conference of Canadian Universities
was again a one-day affair, with representatives from 15 universities
meeting this time in Toronto on June 1, 1915.
The delegates were presented with a full program of topics for discussion, under the headings: “Standards for Degrees,” “Transfer of Students,”
“Student Life” and “Administration.” The first item up for debate, to no one’s
surprise, was the urgency to achieve uniform matriculation standards.
The attendees were not able to discuss all the topics at length and the
afternoon was devoted to appointing further committees. One of these
was the Committee on Organization, whose task it was “to draft a constitution and nominate officers for the next conference,” thus institutionalizing
the operations of this nascent national body.
The 1916 conference, again at McGill, was held over two days in May
and was attended by no less than 35 executive heads and faculty members.
They adopted a provisional constitution, including the criteria for membership, and assigned an annual $10 fee per representative.
By 1917, at its next conference at the Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottawa,
it was becoming apparent that the NCCU was moving beyond matters
of purely internal academic concern and was starting to act as a unified voice of higher learning. Two items discussed at the Ottawa meeting
were a proposal urging the federal government to offer assistance to First
World War veterans to pursue postsecondary education, and the demand
that the government remove the dreaded head tax on Chinese students
who had entered Canada to attend university.
Back to Toronto in 1915, the conference adjourned on a congenial
note, with Dr. Falconer offering “his appreciation of the interest of the
universities in the discussions in which they had been engaged, the sense
of fraternity engendered, and the power such meetings would have in
welding together the different parts of the Dominion.” During informal
conversations at the dinner that evening, according to the published
proceedings, “several speakers emphasized the importance of the univer-
sities of Canada co-operating more closely for the development of a truly
This was “surely the aim of men who envisioned higher learning not
as an end in itself, but rather as a means to achieving a much broader
purpose – that of furthering the creation of a unified progressive Canada,”
wrote Gwendoline Pilkington in her authoritative history of the first
50 years of the NCCU. “A review of their discussions at both the 1911 and
1915 conferences suggests that even then they saw the university not as a
narrow single track culminating in academic achievement, but as a wider
path with many accesses and exits, all leading to a better life for the nation
as a whole.”
References: Harris, Robin S., A History of Higher Education in Canada, 1663-1960, University of Toronto
Press, 1976. / National Conference of Canadian Universities, Proceedings, Ottawa: NCCU, 1911,
1915, 1916, 1917. / Pilkington, Gwendoline, A History of the National Conference of Canadian Universities, 1911-1961, a thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements for the Degree of Doctor of
Philosophy, University of Toronto, 1974.