March 7th – The University of Western Ontario is founded

Here is a picture of Western's campus back in 1933. From this picture, you can see the J.W. Little Football Stadium (now the present site of the South Valley Building). University College (then known as the Arts building) and the Natural Sciences Building (now known as the Physics and Astronomy Building) can be seen in the background.

Here is a picture of Western’s campus back in 1933. From this picture, you can see the J.W. Little Football Stadium (now the present site of the South Valley Building). University College (then known as the Arts building) and the Natural Sciences Building (now known as the Physics and Astronomy Building) can be seen in the background.

On this day in 1878, the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, my alma mater, was founded. With 12 faculties and professional schools, and three affiliated university colleges (Huron University College, Brescia University College, which is Canada’s only female university-level college, and King’s University College), the University of Western Ontario, Western for short, has approximately 30000 currently enrolled undergraduate students and 5300 graduate students from 107 countries around the world. Western is nationally and internationally well recognized as one of Canada’s prestigious and illustrious institutions.

Western’s founder, Bishop Isaac Hellmuth was born in Poland in 1819 and educated at the University of Breslau (present-day University of Wrocław). While Hellmuth was originally Jewish in faith, discussions with theologians at Breslau made Hellmuth question his faith, and upon moving to England in 1842, Hellmuth converted to Anglicanism. In 1844, he entered the ministry, and was then sent to the Anglican Diocese of Toronto. Following some time spent as a professor of Hebrew and rabbinical literature at Bishop’s University (in Lennoxville, Quebec), Hellmuth found himself in London, Ontario.

Once in London, Hellmuth recognized the need for an institution to educate and train clergy in the area. In 1861, Hellmuth set off for England to raise funds to establish this clerical training institution in London. After enough funds had been gathered, in 1863, Hellmuth founded Huron College, which remains to this day as one of Western’s affiliate colleges. In 1871, Hellmuth became the Bishop of the Diocese of Huron, and with his newfound clout, began pushing the provincial government for the establishment of a university in London, Ontario. Hellmuth would invest much of his own money to the procurement of a charter for the new school. Though legislation for the creation of an university in London met stiff resistance in provincial parliament, in 1878 a charter for Western was finally authorized, undoubtedly aided by the fact that Hellmuth was married to the sister-in-law of the Minister of Education, as well as support from Premier Oliver Mowat.

Beautiful picture of University College (Arts Building) and the Lawson Memorial Library (now known as Lawson Hall, home to the Department of History) in 1940.

Beautiful picture of University College (Arts Building) and the Lawson Memorial Library (now known as Lawson Hall, home to Western’s Department of History) in 1940.

On March 7th, 1878, ‘The Western University of London Ontario” was founded. Three years later, Western opened its doors to students for the first time, with degrees in four faculties: Arts, Divinity, Law, and Medicine. At this time, Western was still a religiously affiliated institution, and it was clergy members that served as faculty for the school, with Bishops of Huron serving as Western’s first chancellors. Only in 1908 did the school become non-denominational and secularized. In 1923, the university was officially renamed “The University of Western Ontario”. Contrary to what many current students and alumni believe, that name is still the institution’s official name; while in 2012 the university re-branded itself as “Western University”, that epithet is only the school’s marketing name and not its official legal name.

Here are some of the notable alumni/faculty to have passed through Western’s doors:

  • Sir Frederick Banting – Nobel laureate in Medicine, for co-discovering insulin
  • Roberta Bondar – first female Canadian astronaut
  • Margaret Chan – director-general of the World Health Organization
  • David Furnish – filmmaker and civil partner of Sir Elton John
  • Dr. Chil-Yong Kang – developer of an HIV/AIDS vaccine currently undergoing clinical trials
  • Silken Laumann – Canadian champion rower, Olympic medalist
  • Alice Munro – author, Nobel Laureate in Literature for “mastery of the contemporary short story”
  • Kevin Newman – previous anchor of Global National
  • Kevin O’Leary – chairman of O’Leary Funds, dragon and shark on CBC’s Dragons Den and ABC’s Shark Tank respectively
  • Michael Ondaatje – poet, novelist of The English Patient, which was adapted into multiple Academy Award-winning film of the same name
  • Adrian Owen – neuroscientist, the Brain and Mind Institute
  • John Robarts – 17th Premier of Ontario
  • Alan Thicke – actor in Growing Pains and father to Robin Thicke
  • Paul Wells – columnist and journalist for Maclean’s Magazine

So on this Founder’s Day fellow Mustangs, wear purple and white, and let us take pride in our school’s past and the exciting future that is yet to come. Happy 136th birthday Western! Go ‘Stangs go!

Here is a video released by Western for this year’s Founder’s Day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWuaMNbZfI8

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