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The Founding College of the University of Toronto
UC front enterance & tower

Our History

University College was established in 1853 by the University of Toronto Act as a non-sectarian institution of higher education.

Architects Frederic Cumberland and William Storm designed the Romanseque Revival-style building with inspiration from the designs of Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England. Construction began on October 4, 1856. 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 in the fields behind the College.

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

Women were first admitted to University College in 1884.

University College in background, road with rocks in foreground, trees

Timeline of UC History

1853: University College is established as a nonsectarian institution of higher education by the University of Toronto Act.

1854: Founding of the University College Literary and Athletic Society, Canada’s oldest student government.

1856: Inspired by British Universities, Oxford and Cambridge, architects Frederic Cumberland and William Storm, design the main University College building in the Romanseque Revival style. Construction begins on October 4.

1859: The University College building opens its doors to students on October 4. Toronto is a town of 30,000 people. Cows still graze in fields behind the college.

1884: Women are first admitted to University College.

Damaged University College with pedestrians in foreground
University College after fire of 1890

1890: On February 14, fire erupts as the result of a kerosene lamp falling on the ground during the annual student ball. Flames destroy most of the college’s interior, except Croft Chapter House and the cloister wing. The stone structure also remains intact. The University College community, Toronto citizens, and government rally to restore the building.

1892: University College reopens in January with minor adjustments to its original plan.

A young William Lyon Mackenzie King with four other young men, standing in front of arched doorway
William Lyon Mackenzie King with other students in front of UC

1964: The Laidlaw Wing opens, enclosing the quadrangle to the north.

1968: University College is designated a National Historic Site by the government of Canada.

1972: Structural inspection reveals post-fire weakness and outdated plumbing and electrical systems. The community rallies once again to save the building. 

1980s: An alumni-led fundraising campaign continues, allowing for extensive improvements to bring the building up to code.

2013: UC announces a new plan to revitalize the historic building.

2018: Construction on the Revitalization Project begins.