The Greatest McGillians

-1850
James McGill (1744 – 1813)
Very simply, he’s the man whose vision and generosity led to the creation of the University. A successful fur trader and one of the wealthiest men in Montreal, he went on to become a member of the Legislative Assembly for the Colony of Lower Canada.
George Jehoshaphat Mountain (1789–1863)
When the Governors of McGill College needed a learned man to oversee their newly established institution, they turned to respected theologian, scholar, and preacher George Jehoshaphat Mountain.
1851-1900
William Osler (1849 – 1919)
Osler has been called a man who “revolutionized the teaching of medicine.” He believed students should learn medicine by working at the bedside rather than just through lectures.
Wilfrid Laurier (1841 – 1919)
A man who made great strides toward unifying Canadians of different stripes – French and English, Catholic and Protestant – during a period when many emotional debates split the country.
William Dawson (1820 – 1899)
When Sir John William Dawson became McGill’s principal in 1855, cows still roamed parts of the campus. Over the next four decades, he would transform McGill from a small but ambitious college into a full-fledged (and widely respected) institution of higher learning.
John Abbott, (1821–1893)
John Abbott, the third prime minister of Canada, famously said “I hate politics” but in fact, he meant that he hated the sideshow that surrounded politics.
1901-1910
William C. Macdonald (1831 – 1917)
An enormously successful merchant and tobacco manufacturer, Sir William C. Macdonald is one of the most influential philanthropists in Canadian history.
Percival Molson (1880–1917)
Percival Molson is considered one of the great athletes in McGill’s history; he also left a legacy that built one of the landmarks of McGill’s downtown campus.
Percy Erskine Nobbs (1875–1964)
At a time when architects and designers were producing “modern” designs no matter the cost, Percy Erskine Nobbs stood by his belief that new buildings should look like they had always been there ...
1911-1920
Ernest Rutherford (1871 – 1937)
Rutherford was the scientist whose work gave birth to the field of atomic physics. Albert Einstein called him “a second Newton.”
Maude Abbott (1869 – 1940)
Of course, Maude Abbott is an important historical figure because she opened the door for women to practise medicine in Quebec. But her life story also illustrates the enormous challenges her era posed to women in general.
Carrie Derick (1862–1941)
Carrie Derick was Canada’s first female university professor. She was also known as a social reformer worked tirelessly to promote her far-reaching vision of political and educational equality for women.
1921-1930
Stephen Leacock (1869 – 1944)
Stephen Leacock is probably Canada’s best-known humorist and was even at one point in his life even called the best-known Canadian in the world.
Arthur Currie (1875–1933)
Arthur Currie was a Canadian war hero, a decorated First World War general who was knighted in 1917. As commander 1st Canadian division in France, he orchestrated the famous Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge.
1931-1940
Wilder Penfield (1891 – 1976)
Wilder Penfield can be called, without exaggeration, one of the great medical minds in Canadian history.
Thomas H. Clark (1893 – 1996)
Thomas H. Clark has been called one of Canada’s great scientists of the 20th century and is probably the only person on this list to have a mineral (Thomasclarkite) named in his honour.
Phil Edwards (1907–1971)
Phil Edwards raced his way to fame and the Olympic medal podium five times for his Canada. He was the first Canadian Olympian to win five Olympic medals (making him the country’s most decorated Olympian at the time) ...
1941-1950
Charles R. Drew (1904 – 1950)
He was an African-American physician, surgeon and medical researcher who created new techniques for storing blood in the early 20th century and, as a result, he helped save countless lives during World War II.
John Humphrey (1905 – 1995)
A McGill grad who drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Eleanor Roosevelt called “the Magna Carta of all Mankind” and which may be the most cited legal document ever drafted by a Canadian.
E.P. Taylor (1901–1989)
Business leader E.P. Taylor is the man who created the McGill Alma Mater Fund, the forerunner of the McGill Annual Fund — an enterprise that the University’s supporters now donate more than $8 million to yearly.
1951-1960
Brenda Milner (1918 –)
Dr. Brenda Milner pioneered the field of neuropsychology, and her work has greatly expanded our knowledge of memory and other cognitive functions.
Thomas Chang (1933 – )
Thomas Chang embodies the drive and ambition that has always been the hallmark of McGill students. In 1956, while living in Douglas Hall, he invented the world’s first artificial blood cell in his dorm room.
Colin MacLeod (1909–1972)
McGill administrators knew they had a prodigy on their hands when they were forced to make 15-year-old Colin MacLeod wait a year before starting medical school due to age restrictions.
F.R. Scott, (1899–1985)
F.R. Scott was a poet, political activist and constitutional scholar who became known as one of Canada’s great champions for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Hugh MacLennan (1907–1990)
One of the most important Canadian writers of the 20th century, Hugh MacLennan developed a literature that was distinctly Canadian, and is credited as the first major English-speaking writer to attempt a portrayal of this country’s national character.
1961-1970
William Shatner (1931 – )
Not only did he play Captain James T. Kirk in the original Star Trek franchise, but he continued on to other noteworthy roles like T.J. Hooker, Denny Crane on The Practice and Boston Legal ...
Leonard Cohen (1934 – )
His words are legendary. Leonard Cohen’s poetry – often delivered in his own unmistakable baritone – has inspired readers and listeners, mended broken hearts, and closed down bars for nearly 60 years.
Phil Gold (1936– ) and Samuel O. Freedman (1928– )
In 1965, Phil Gold and Samuel Freedman co-discovered the carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), which is produced during the growth of cancer in digestive cells, in particular in the large intestine, and now serves as the basis of a blood test used to identify cancer.
Burt Bacharach (1926 – )
Many who hum his hits have no idea that a great McGill grad is behind the catchy refrains, and yet there are very few stars in the musical realm who can boast as wide-ranging, influential, and long-lived a career as Burt Bacharach.
Moshe Safdie (1938– )
Many architects have had a hand in designing museums, hotels, and airports. Some have been involved in planning large-scale urban spaces. But Moshe Safdie has the distinction of having been called upon to rebuild one of the oldest cities on earth.
Willard Boyle (1924–2011)
Willard Boyle won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2009 for helping develop a device that, as the New York Times put it, is “at the heart of virtually every camcorder, digital camera and telescope in use.”
Val Fitch (1923– )
We often think of Newton when the laws of physics come to mind, but a little more recently, it was a McGill grad that turned many of science’s ideas upside-down.
1971-1980
Ken Dryden (1947 – )
Ken Dryden has represented Canada on the hockey rink and in the trenches of government. He has been an author, businessman, law graduate, member of parliament, cabinet minister…and one of the greatest hockey goaltenders of all time.
Charles Taylor (1931 – )
One of Canada’s great thinkers. His writings have been translated into 20 languages, and have covered a range of subjects that include artificial intelligence, language, social behaviour, morality and multiculturalism.
Richard Pound (1942– )
Some say that the Olympic Games are still around today in part thanks to Richard Pound, one-time chancellor of McGill, founder of the World Anti-Doping Agency, and former vice-president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Andrew Victor Schally (1926 – )
Born in Poland, Andrew Victor Schally is a Nobel-winning scientist whose pioneering research opened up a whole new realm of knowledge concerning the brain's control over the body’s chemistry.
Rosemary Brown (1930–2003)
Rosemary Brown was the first black woman to hold public office in Canada when there were very few women of any colour in positions of power.
1981-1990
Bernard Belleau (1925 – 1989)
Bernard Belleau, along with colleagues Francesco Bellini and Gervais Dionne, developed 2,3 dideoxy – 3-thiacytidine, 3TC for short.
Alan Emtage (1964– )
Every time we use an internet search engine, we owe a debt to talented McGill grad Alan Emtage. While still at the university he created ‘Archie’, the very first tool used for searching on the internet, before the World Wide Web had even taken off.
David Hubel (1926– )
David Hubel was a co-winner of the Nobel prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1981. His research, performed with colleague Torsten Wiesel, another Nobel co-winner in 1981, made the visual cortex the most mapped out section of the brain ...
1991-2000
Charles Scriver (1930 – )
When it comes to children’s healthcare, many parents have reason to be grateful to Dr. Charles R. Scriver.
Robert Thirsk (1953– )
When, in the future, space tourists are spending extended periods of time orbiting our planet it will be in no small part thanks to the pioneering work of McGill grad Robert Thirsk.
Julie Payette, (1963 – )
In a world where there are still so few female role models in the world of science and engineering, Julie Payette stands out.
Rudolph Marcus (1923– )
Describing the work of Rudolph Marcus won’t help you much in dinner party conversations, but the practical consequences of his achievements extend over all areas of chemistry and have helped scientists interpret a number of important chemical phenomena.
2001-Present
Dave Williams (1954– )
Williams, BSc’76, MDCM’83, MSc’83, DSc’07, has made his mark in many fields. He has logged nearly 700 hours in space and holds the Canadian record for number of spacewalks.
Jennifer Heil (1983 – )
Jennifer Heil, currently a student working toward a BCom at McGill, is one Canada’s most accomplished athletes.
Jack Layton, (1950–2011)
Most Canadians will know Jack Layton as the man who orchestrated a stunning breakthrough by the federal New Democratic Party (NDP) in Canada’s 2011 elections, when the NDP became the country’s official opposition for the first time in its history.
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