About Saint Mary's


Saint Mary’s: one of Canada’s oldest universities

Saint Mary's traces its earliest beginnings to 1802 when the Reverend Edmund Burke, later Bishop Burke, taught young men at the Glebe House, on the corner of Spring Garden Road and Barrington Street. The boys’ school grew first into a college and then into a university, never wavering in its commitment to education and community service.

Landmark dates in the 1800s

  • 1841: Received degree-granting status by the Nova Scotia House of Assembly.
  • 1868: The Christian Brothers of Saint John the Baptiste de la Salle took over teaching duties and moved Saint Mary's to the Belle Aire Terrace off Agricola.
  • 1876: The Archdiocese took over from the Christian Brothers and moved the school to Barrington Street.


For a brief period between 1876 and 1881, the colleges of Acadia, Dalhousie, King's, Mount Allison, St. Francis Xavier and Saint Mary's were amalgamated into the University of Halifax.

Generous bequest from Patrick Powers’ estate

In 1913, a generous bequest from the will of prominent Halifax businessman Patrick Power was released to Saint Mary’s when the Irish Christian Brothers became the teaching order.

One of the first faculties of commerce in Canada

Under the leadership of the Irish Christian Brothers, the college shared its Windsor Street campus with a high school and built a solid reputation for Saint Mary’s undergraduate programs. They pioneered a number of new instructional programs including one of the first faculties of commerce in Canada.

A change in administration

From 1937 to 1970, Saint Mary’s was under a Jesuit administration, a change brought on by John McNally when he became Archbishop. During this time, the college established itself in teacher education, initiating the first courses in continuing education in Halifax and Dartmouth, purchasing the first computer in Atlantic Canada, and becoming co-educational.

Saint Mary’s becomes a public institution

In 1951, Saint Mary's and the high school moved to the Robie Street campus where it occupied three rooms on the second floor of the new McNally building. In 1952, Saint Mary’s was granted university status by an act of the Nova Scotia Legislature. The high school closed in 1963, but Saint Mary’s continued exclusively as a Roman Catholic college. As higher education boomed in an era with radical changes in morals, dress, and music, the student population grew. In 1970, the university became a public institution.

A focus on students with disabilities

From 1979 to 2000, Saint Mary's became known for programs and supports for students with disabilities, including accessible residence rooms and audio books in the library. When the Atlantic Centre of Research, Access and Support for Students with Disabilities opened in 1985, it was one of only a handful of such facilities in the entire country.

Saint Mary’s today

Now a modern, urban university with more than 7,250 full and part-time students, Saint Mary's continues to make educational inroads into supports for students with disabilities.

The university has also taken a leading role in the global community and boasts over 40,000 alumni in more than 140 countries. A slew of international partnerships speak to our commitment to educating citizens of the world and our reputation for diversity is evidenced in the approximately 25% of our students who come from countries other than Canada.

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