Bibliographic Essay

This essay is an introduction to the sources for Dalhousie’s history. Many of these are cited in detail in the notes. Primary sources, of course, comprehend Dalhousie’s official records, the minutes of the Board of Governors from 1818 onward, and the minutes of Senate from 1863. These are by no means as complete as one might wish; university bodies are adept at concealing, or even omitting, real difficulties. They usually offer bland versions instead. Other than those, the university kept no official records until 1911, deeming board and Senate minutes sufficient. Hence the Dalhousie Gazette, started by students in 1869, is of fundamental importance, especially so prior to the establishment of the President’s Office Correspondence in 1911. That was begun by President A.S. MacKenzie and is now described online and housed in the President’s Office Fonds in the Dalhousie University Archives. It is the single most important source for Dalhousie’s history from 1911 to 1963.

Lord Dalhousie’s papers, at the Scottish Record Office in Edinburgh, are considerable. He was Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia from 1816 to 1820, and Governor General of Canada from 1820 to 1828; his papers are valuable not only for Dalhousie’s and Nova Scotia’s history but Canada’s as well. Especially interesting are the three volumes of Dalhousie Journals, edited by Marjory Whitelaw. The first one is devoted to Nova Scotia (Toronto: Oberon Press 1978). The whole of Lord Dalhousie’s Canadian correspondence has been microfilmed in fifteen reels by Library and Archives Canada (LAC). The personal papers of Thomas McCulloch (formerly at the Archives of Nova Scotia, now at Dalhousie University Archives), Joseph Howe (LAC), and Charles Tupper (LAC) are referred to in the notes.

Of Dalhousie presidents before A.S. MacKenzie, only Thomas McCulloch left papers; MacKenzie’s are by no means ample. The most comprehensive set of private papers are those of Professor Archibald MacMechan, in the Archibald MacMechan Fonds at the Dalhousie University Archives. MacMechan’s own essays about Nova Scotian and Dalhousie history are labours of love, wrought with care by a consummate stylist: The Life of a Little College and Other Papers (Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1914); Old Province Tales (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart 1924); The Book of Ultima Thule (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart 1927); There Go the Ships (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart 1928). They may now seem a little old-fashioned; Victorian is what they were and what MacMechan was too.

Dalhousie is frequently mentioned in Halifax newspapers. The newspapers are very extensive, and no historian, or two historians, could search them through from 1818 to 1925. The best that can be done, at least in this book, is give an irregular and uneven sampling, when men and issues appeared to warrant it.

Secondary sources have served Dalhousie and its history well, though not sufficiently comprehensively. Two good ones, George Patterson’s A History of Dalhousie College and University (Halifax: Herald Printing 1887), and D.C. Harvey’s An Introduction to the History of Dalhousie University (Halifax: McCurdy Printing 1938), are both by Dalhousie graduates, 1882 and 1910 respectively. Both do not go beyond the 1880s. Harvey’s is done with diligence and scholarship, written in an elegant, succinct style. Not for nothing was he Dalhousie’s Rhodes scholar in 1910. Patterson’s was written at an earlier stage in life, but has details found nowhere else. John Willis wrote A History of Dalhousie Law School (Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1979), a delicious mixture of shrewdness and sentiment, showing at every stage Willis’s Oxford first. Patricia Monk has recently published a fine biography of Dalhousie’s first professor of history, James De Mille, The Gilded Beaver: an Introduction to the Life and Work of James De Mille (Toronto: ECW Press 1991). Articles about Dalhousie’s history are mentioned in the notes, but one deserves notice here – Judith Fingard’s “College, Career, and Community: Dalhousie Coeds, 1881-1921” in Paul Axelrod and John Reid, eds., Youth, University and Canadian Society: Essays in the Social History of Higher Education (Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press 1989), pp. 26-50.

Dalhousie’s history is also subsumed within the political, social, and educational history of Nova Scotia, especially for Dalhousie’s first half-century. Here Murray Beck is essential: first, his two-volume biography of Joseph Howe, Joseph Howe: Volume I: Conservative Reformer, 1804-1848, and Volume II, The Briton Becomes Canadian, 1848-1873 (Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press 1982 and 1983). Not less important is Beck’s The Politics of Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1710-1896, and Volume II: 1896-1988 (Tantallon: Four East Publications 1985 and 1988).

From the beginning, Dalhousie’s history is tied to that of Halifax. One history of Halifax must be mentioned, Thomas H. Raddall, Halifax, Warden of the North (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart 1948). It is a survey covering the two hundred years since 1749. It has the once-over-lightly feel of such books, but try to write one like it! With its faults, it is a great achievement, and there is no other to match it. Raddall was a boy of fourteen at the time of the Halifax Explosion of 1917, and describes it vividly in In My Time: A Memoir (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart 1976), pp. 30-41.

Perhaps the most useful secondary sources are the short essays, some of them masterpieces of compression and research, in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, especially volumes VII (1836-1850) to XII (1891-1900). Volume XIII (1901-1910) is expected to be published in 1994. One could mention here Peter Burroughs’s “George Ramsay, ninth Earl of Dalhousie” and Susan Buggey and Gwendolyn Davies’s “Thomas McCulloch” in volume VII, Allan Dunlop’s “James Ross” in volume X, Murray Beck’s “William Young” in volume XI, and Judith Fingard’s “George Munro” in volume XII. All content from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography is now available online.

Numerous alumnae and alumni, and Dalhousie professors, have taken the trouble to write or talk about aspects of Dalhousie history. Many of their contributions are mentioned in the notes; my records of these conversations, and the correspondence, are now in the Dalhousie University Archives, housed in the Peter B. Waite Fonds.


The Lives of Dalhousie University: Volume One, 1818-1925 Copyright © by Governors of Dalhousie College and University. All Rights Reserved.

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