Henry Marshall Tory: Alberta’s Educator, Innovator, and Visionary
Before travelling home from the West in 1905, where the newly formed province of Alberta had just begun conceptualizing the inaugural institutions that would form the foundation for present-day Alberta, Henry Marshall Tory—innovator, educator, builder—wrote to his wife in Montreal:
“This country fascinates me. There is wine in the air; a feeling of excitement; of expectancy. It is difficult to explain. Perhaps it is just that everything is new, the people young and the conviction grows that great things are bound to happen in this rich new country.”
Unbeknownst to Dr. Tory, his future lay in the nascent province, where settlers from all over the world and of nearly every religious background had established their homes in the new West. Tory was a pioneer in his own right, having set off to McGill University at the age of twenty-two to pursue an education. Born in 1864 in Guysborough, Nova Scotia to Scottish farmers, the family had little money to support his education, so Tory paid his way through school by working as a teacher, bookkeeper and on the docks of Montreal.
“Great things are bound to happen in this rich new country.”– Henry Marshall Tory
Tory graduated from McGill with a Bachelor of Divinity, Master of Arts, and Doctorate in Science, top of his class, sticking to a strict doctrine of fourteen hours of study, seven hours of sleep and three hours of exercise and meals each day—a level of discipline and commitment that he kept up throughout his life—and was eventually invited back to serve as a lecturer and then professor of mathematics. By 1893, he had become a counsellor and friend to a large number of undergraduates, with one recalling Tory as someone who was “eager, capable, sympathetic and devoted to high aims.”
But it was not the marbled corridors of McGill or the well-established streets of Montreal where Tory would make his greatest impact, but Canada’s pioneering West. In British Columbia, there was a growing sentiment that the new province could abate the desire of secession by forming an institution of higher learning, which would become a unifying force through its affiliation with eastern Canadian universities.
In April of 1905, Tory travelled to BC and formed what would later become the University of Victoria and the University of British Columbia, which at the time of his founding were two colleges under the parentage of McGill University. It was on his way back to Montreal, when he visited Edmonton and Calgary, that he formed a quick and warm friendship with Alexander Cameron Rutherford, who would become the first Premier of Alberta.
“Rutherford was very keen to establish a university in the province, and he and Tory had a meeting of the minds,” says Rod Macleod, Professor Emeritus, Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta. “They both knew exactly what they wanted to do in terms of creating a university for the province. Their ideas were very ambitious considering the state of Alberta at the time.”
Both Rutherford and Tory believed that the new institution needed to be publicly funded and non-denominational. While Tory was a devout Christian his whole life, and in his younger years ordained as a Methodist minister, he did not believe that the modern state university should be burdened by religious dogma or theological leanings.
“Rutherford was very keen to establish a university in the province, and he and Tory had a meeting of the minds.”– Rod Macleod, Professor Emeritus, Department of History and Classics, University of Alberta
Another important piece of the university’s legislation, which both Tory and Rutherford agreed upon, was that “no instruction should be offered to men which is not offered to women.” In 1907, Tory travelled back to Alberta and began forming the new university.
Strathcona, the native land of the Cree people, which eventually became incorporated into Edmonton, was to be the site of the University of Alberta. In 1907, the site was nothing but mud, cows, and wild rose bushes, and three-quarters of its population lived in tents. But Tory had a vision.
While the early academic council of the province wanted Tory to hire professors from across Alberta, he wanted the best and the brightest. Taking on a tour of North America, he travelled not only across the province to recruit his first students, but across the eastern United States to recruit the university’s first four founding professors. Each either studied or taught at McGill, Columbia, Berkeley, New York University and Harvard.
“He wanted the best, he was a visionary,” says Ellen Schoeck, historian and author of four University of Alberta histories, “He knew what he wanted the university to look like in twenty years and what the building blocks had to be for that.”
“He wanted the best, he was a visionary.”– Ellen Schoeck, Historian of the University of Alberta.
Edmund Kemper Broadus, a Harvard doctorate recipient and inaugural Professor of English at the University of Alberta described meeting Tory in Boston before he was recruited to the university:
“He dreamed a dream and there was a passion of fulfillment in him. He didn’t quite seem to belong to Boston, he did not speak Bostonese. He seemed somehow to belong in a place where things hadn’t yet begun, and where his restless spirit could lose itself to the doing of them. And he had a way with which he made you want to go along with him and see him do it.”
In this way Tory inspired people all throughout his life–in school, at work, in Canada and abroad. He is described by his friend and biographer, E.A. Corbett as a “thinker who can lead, and his leadership was based upon a profound understanding of human needs and a remarkable capacity for interpreting them.”
“He seemed somehow to belong in a place where things hadn’t yet begun, and where his restless spirit could lose itself to the doing of them.”– Edmund Broadus, inaugural Professor of English at the University of Alberta.
But it is Tory’s own words, which he spoke during his farewell address to McGill, that describe what his motivation was in life and education:
“The ultimate teaching of all education is just this, that every man owes to the generation in which he lives the last full measure of devotion to whatsoever things are true.”
That principle, “whatsoever things are true,” would later become the motto for the University of Alberta, Quacumque Vera. The institution graduated its first class in 1908 and it is in Tory’s first convocation address as President that he reveals his guiding principle for forming a publicly funded university that seeks truth:
“The modern state university has sprung from a demand on the part of the people themselves for intellectual recognition, a recognition which only a century ago was denied them. The result is that such institutions must be conducted in such a way as to relate them as closely as possible to the life of the people. The people demand that knowledge shall not be the concern of scholars alone. The uplifting of the whole people shall be its final goal. This should be the concern of all educated men, it should never be forgotten.” [Emphasis added]
“Every man owes to the generation in which he lives the last full measure of devotion to whatsoever things are true.”– Henry Marshall Tory
In 1912, Tory and his staff took a significant step towards bringing the university straight into the lives of Albertans by establishing the Department of Extension. They would travel extensively across the province to give lectures and promote knowledge, scientific inquiry, and the university itself. It is estimated they met fifty percent of Albertans in their hometowns, and the others were later reached through a radio station set up by the department. Tory believed that there “would come a time, when the existence of a university will depend upon the public’s assurance that its thinking and research are vital to the community.” This couldn’t have been more accurate in the later years of the First World War and the Great Depression.
As the university grew in staff, students and infrastructure, Tory used his political skills to convince industry associations to add their disciplines to the faculties of the university. While in 1908 the university had only 27 students and the Faculty of Arts and Science, by 1914 there was the addition of Applied Science, Medicine, Law, a School of Pharmacy, and a Department of Accountancy. But Tory believed that the university could assist with areas directly relating to the province’s economic prosperity and formed what would become the Scientific and Industrial Research Council of Alberta (SIRCA), later referred to as the Alberta Research Council and today known as Alberta Innovates.
“Tory believed that the university could assist with areas directly relating to the province’s economic prosperity and formed what would become the Scientific and Industrial Research Council of Alberta (SIRCA), later referred to as the Alberta Research Council and today known as Alberta Innovates.”
It was during this time that Tory recruited Karl Adolf Clark, a chemist from Ontario who, during his time with SIRCA, was able to separate bitumen from oil, forming the foundation for Alberta’s oil sands.
During the First World War, Tory took a leave of absence from the university to establish a new institution of higher learning overseas in England to serve Canadian soldiers. Khaki University registered over 2,000 men who would later return to Canada to complete their studies. Tory was fifty-five years old at the end of the First World War, and he returned to the University of Alberta to continue his work until his appointment as the first President of the National Research Council of Canada in 1923.
Ever driven to promulgate the scientific principle in Canada and abroad, Tory immediately set out on an overseas tour of national laboratories in Great Britain, the United States, France, and Germany. He said that “it must be clear to everyone who considers the matter seriously, that if Canada is to maintain her place in the world and trade in competition with countries provided with scientific machinery, her greatest need is the provision of adequate laboratory facilities.”
The war had solidified Tory’s belief that scientific investigation was the tool with which Canada could take its rightful place in the world, and he vociferously propagated his message across the country, making use of the lectern and press with his usual vigour and intensity. Tory eventually secured funds from the government and established Canada’s first national scientific laboratories in Ottawa in 1932. In his opening address at the new laboratories, Prime Minister R.B. Bennett stated that “the purpose of the building is to determine how industry and mankind can best be served.” In his own farewell address, Tory proclaimed the following:
“I have always been a “Canada First” man, if by “Canada First” is meant creating the conditions which will enable Canadians to do their own intellectual work, thus assuring their intellectual equality with the rest of the world… my work is not yet done.”
Tory continued his journey, living in Ottawa and becoming the first President of Carleton College, which was established in 1942. Tory was seventy-eight years old.
The full legacy of Henry Marshall Tory is too large to record here. He has been honoured by nine Canadian universities, served on eight national and international Royal Commissions, and in his volunteer capacity was the President of the Association of Canadian Clubs, the League of Nations Society of Canada, and many other volunteer organizations.
“I have always been a “Canada First” man, if by “Canada First” is meant creating the conditions which will enable Canadians to do their own intellectual work, thus assuring their intellectual equality with the rest of the world… my work is not yet done.”– Henry Marshall Tory
And while his name adorns buildings at the University of Alberta and Carleton University, it was ultimately his belief in people and the power of science that defines his long and accomplished life. It is upon the shoulders of Henry Marshall Tory that Alberta’s modern innovation ecosystem stands today, with hundreds of scientists, chemists, physicists, mathematicians, engineers—both male and female—passing through the province’s institutions in the pursuit of “whatsoever things are true.”