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1821-1875

1821: A university is born

James McGill and the birth of McGill University, 1821

The oldest university in Montreal, McGill was founded in 1821 from a generous bequest by James McGill, a prominent Scottish merchant.
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1829: McGill's first classes are held

Burnside Estate where McGill's first classes were held, 1829

Eight years after it was officially established, "McGill College" began holding classes in conjunction with the Montreal Medical Institution.


1833: The first McGill degree is awarded

McGill's first graduate Leslie Lodgie, 1833

Four years after classes began, McGill awarded its first degree – and Canada's first ever medical degree – to William Leslie Logie.  Logie was McGill's only graduate that year.


1839: Building a Montreal landmark

Construction of the Arts Building: One of Montreal's recognizable landmarks, 1839

The college quickly outgrew James McGill's country home, and construction on the Arts Building began 10 years after its founding.  The Arts Building, with its cupola and flag pole, has become the signature of McGill's downtown campus, and one of Montreal's most recognizable landmarks.


1855-1893: Flourishing under William Dawson

Re-invention of McGill under Principal Sir John William Dawson, 1855-1893

Through his 38 years as Principal, Sir John William Dawson reinvented McGill as a university to rival the world's finest, even personally funding the beautification effort that created the stunning campus we enjoy today.
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1866: Canada's first francophone Prime Minister

Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the first Canadian Francophone Prime Minister, 1866

Canada’s first francophone prime minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, BCL'1866, made great strides toward unifying Canadians of different stripes – French and English, Catholic and Protestant – during a period when religion, culture and other debates threatened to tear the fledgling country apart. In 15 years as prime minister and 45 years as a Member of Parliament, Laurier helped establish Canada as a major player on the world stage and ushered in an era of unprecedented growth and prosperity.


1874-1904: Hockey, football and basketball are born

McGill and the birth of hockey, basketball and football, 1874-1904

McGill is a place of learning, but hard work needn’t come at the expense of hard play, and McGillians certainly exercise more than just their minds. A home to exceptional student teams and an alma mater to many star athletes and coaches, McGill has also played a key role in the creation of three pillars of sport.
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The forgotten war memorial and the campus that never was

Historic McGill architecture that was never built

Over the years, architects have proposed a variety of plans for McGill’s lower Downtown Campus, including an imposing tower on the Redpath Library. Here's a small selection of big ideas from McGill’s earliest days that never made it off the drawing board: the McGill that might have been.
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Read about McGill Pioneers« McGill pioneers
Brenda Milner makes a groundbreaking discovery in the study of human memory, and Sir William Osler's work revolutionizes the practice of medicine.


McGill University, 1876-19181876–1918 »
Pioneering women launch a new era at McGill, Rutherford becomes the father of nuclear physics, Macdonald College kicks off an agricultural revolution and a McGillian pens "O Canada."

Photo credits

McGill Football
Photo credit: William Notman / McGill University Archives, PL007787

John William Dawson
Photo credit: McGill University Archives, PR013431