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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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What small town fought to keep its college from moving to Toronto and federating with U of T?

Answer Cobourg, Ontario, offered Victoria College $25,000, good drainage and no temptations for students in its bid to retain the college. But federation became fact in 1890.

On March 15, 1827, King's College - the precursor to the University of Toronto - was granted its royal charter by King George IV. Throughout 2002, U of T celebrated 175 years of Great Minds. As part of the celebration, the U of T website featured excerpts from The University of Toronto: A History, written by Martin Friedland, University Professor and Professor Emeritus of Law at U of T.

Strong opposition to Victoria College federating with the University of Toronto continued. The Victoria senate rejected the board's decision. The Victoria Alumni Association was also against federation, as was the town of Cobourg, which did not want Victoria to leave and promised it $25,000 plus yearly grants if it stayed.

Cobourg brought a lawsuit, claiming that it was illegal for Victoria to move.

Cobourg brought a lawsuit, claiming that it was illegal for Victoria to move. Pamphlets were circulated for and against the move. One pamphlet argued that "Cobourg is a much more desirable place for the residence of youth, in pursuing their student work - especially of youth who may not resist the temptations or afford the expense of a large city - than Toronto."

Furthermore, it went on, Cobourg "is a notably healthy town - not subject to the effects of the doubtful water and bad drainage for which Toronto has become notorious." The pamphlet set out government statistics showing that the death rate in Toronto was more than double that in Cobourg. It was a well-known fact that Taddle Creek had been so polluted it had had to be covered over. Disease was widespread. (Even in Cobourg, four of Principal Nathanael Burwash's children had died of diphtheria in one week in 1889.)

Victoria College
Victoria College in Cobourg

Not only did Cobourg offer Victoria money to stay, but Hart Massey, the head of the farm implement company that earlier had had its headquarters near there, offered the college $250,000 if it would consent to remain as an independent institution in Cobourg. In September 1889, however, Victoria received $200,000 from the will of William Gooderham. He had made his money in railways, having declined a role in the family's distillery business.

The money was given on the condition that Victoria move to Toronto. Gooderham had favoured an independent college not in federation on an 11-acre site on the high ground just west of the present Casa Loma, but acceptance of the concept was not made a condition of the bequest.

The sudden windfall made the move to Toronto considerably easier. As it turned out, the college would have not only the Gooderham money, but also $200,000 from the will of Hart Massey, who died in 1896. The Cobourg lawsuit was settled during the summer of 1890, and in September the Methodist Conference once again voted for federation, this time with a more decisive vote - 165 to 83 in favour. Victoria's senate then reversed its earlier vote against the move, and the provincial government was notified that Victoria now accepted federation.

Victoria College
Victoria College, 1900

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