A Brief History of University College

University College was established in 1853 by The University of Toronto Act as a nonsectarian institution of higher education.

Architects Frederic Cumberland and William Storm, inspired by Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England, designed the building in the Romanseque-Revival style. Construction began on October 4, 1856 and University College first opened its doors to students three years later on October 4, 1859. At the time, Toronto was a town of 30,000 people and cows grazed on the fields behind the College.

The University College Literary and Athletic Society, Canada’s oldest student government, was founded in 1854.

In 1884, and in keeping with the College's spirit of inclusivity, women were first admitted to University College.

On February 14, 1890--the night of the annual student ball--a fire broke out in the southeast corner of the building when a kerosene lamp fell to the ground. Flames quickly destroyed most of University College's interior, although Croft Chapter House and the cloister wing survived. The stone structure also remained intact and a community of UC students, faculty, citizens of Toronto, and governments immediately rallied to restore the beloved building.

University College reopened in January 1892 with minor adjustments to its original plan, and improvements on its already significant aesthetic merits.

In 1964, the Laidlaw wing opened, enclosing the quadrangle to the north, and in 1968, University College was designated a National Historic Site by the government of Canada.

In the spring of 1972, a structural inspection of University College revealed several post-fire weakness as well as outdated plumbing and electrical systems. Faced with the prospect of demolition, the University College community once again rallied to save the magnificent building. The alumni-led campaign continued into the 1980s and allowed for extensive improvements to bring the building to code.

In the fall of 2013, UC announced an exciting new plan to revitalize the historic building for the 21st century. Learn more about the building restoration project and how you can help.