The History of Saint Mary's University
|Aerial view of campus, including the completed McNally Building. Year: 1955|
The Early Years: Founded on Freedom
Saint Mary’s already boasted more than a century of achievement in higher education when it offered its facilities as an emergency hospital in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion in 1917. One of Canada's oldest universities, Saint Mary’s traces its earliest beginnings to 1802 when the Reverend Edmund Burke, later Bishop Burke, initiated instruction for young men at the Glebe House, located on the corner of Halifax’s Spring Garden Road and Barrington Street.
The next 75 years saw a number of changes in location as the boys’ school grew first into a college and then into a university, but Saint Mary’s never wavered in its commitment to education and community service. Landmark dates in the first century include 1841, with degree-granting status conferred by the Nova Scotia House of Assembly; 1868, when 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; and 1876, when the Archdiocese took over from the Christian Brothers and moved the school to Barrington Street.
Hopes Dashed for Amalgamation
The year 1876 also marked the passing of the University Act, which created the University of Halifax by amalgamating the colleges of Acadia, Dalhousie, King’s, Mount Allison, St. Francis Xavier and Saint Mary’s. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned, and when the University of Halifax closed in 1881, the individual colleges lost their government grants and Saint Mary’s had to close.
The only hope at that time was a bequest in the will of prominent Halifax businessman Patrick Power for a Jesuit-run boys’ college, but Saint Mary’s was ineligible because the Archdiocese couldn’t find a Catholic order to run the school. More than three decades later, the executors of Patrick Power’s estate agreed to release the bequest in 1913 when the Irish Christian Brothers became the teaching order at Saint Mary’s.
A New Beginning
Under the leadership of the Irish Christian Brothers, the college shared its Windsor Street campus with a high school. By the time that John McNally became Archbishop in 1937, Saint Mary’s had a solid reputation for its undergraduate offerings and had pioneered a number of new instructional programs including one of the first Faculties of Commerce in Canada.
A new era began in 1940 when the Upper Province of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) succeeded the Christian Brothers as Saint Mary’s administrators and teachers. Until the 1970 Act of Incorporation gave legal status to a Board of Governors and Senate, the college remained under Jesuit supervision, establishing itself in teacher education, initiating the first courses in continuing education in Halifax/Dartmouth, purchasing the first computer in Atlantic Canada, and becoming coeducational.
A New Decade --- A New Location
In 1951 the high school moved with Saint Mary’s to the Robie Street campus where it occupied three rooms on the second floor of the new McNally building. The high school closed in 1963 and in 1970 the University became a public institution. A long period of growth and stability accompanied the tenure of Dr. Kenneth Ozmon, University President from 1979 to 2000.
Support for Students with DisabilitiesIt was during the “Ozmon Era” that Saint Mary’s became known for programs and supports for students with disabilities. The stage had been set in 1968 when the Edmund Rice residence opened with 21 units specifically designed for accessibility, and in 1975 when the university initiated a library of taped books recorded by volunteer readers. When the Atlantic Centre of Research, Access and Support for Students with Disabilities opened in 1985, it was one of a handful of such facilities in the entire country.
Global and GrowingNow a modern, urban university with more than 11,000 full and part-time students, Saint Mary’s has a compelling vision of global engagement and a focus on success for all students. Under the leadership of Dr. J. Colin Dodds, the University has also taken a leading role in the global community and boasts 40,000 alumni in more than 100 countries. A slew of international partnerships speak to our role as the “University of choice for aspiring citizens of the world” and our reputation for diversity is evidenced in the approximately 25 percent of our students who come from countries other than Canada.
As one of Maclean’s top ten universities in the primarily undergraduate category, Saint Mary’s is known for providing quality education in a supportive environment. Key advantages of our safe, compact campus are friendly, approachable faculty and staff; small classes and opportunities for experiential learning; state-of-the-art facilities that have just undergone a $100 million renewal; and a spirited and inclusive community where students are known by their names, and not by their student numbers.
Saint Mary’s offers a full range of undergraduate programs and select graduate studies in arts, commerce, education, and science. Our Sobey School of Business is a regional leader in business education and the challenging Sobey MBA has top ranking for its award-winning faculty, diverse student body and first-class facilities.
Currently home to 10 Canada Research Chairs, Saint Mary’s is also distinguished by a rapidly growing research capacity that, of late, has been accompanied by a significant increase in federal and provincial funding. Because of our size, even undergraduates have the opportunity to conduct research and work with professors to publish their findings.