In 1986, near the end of his term as president of Dalhousie University, W.A. MacKay invited me to write Dalhousie’s history. His successor, Howard Clark, agreed. Submission of the manuscript we established as 31 December 1992.

In that time I believed it possible to master the main sources of Dalhousie’s history. I was partly right, but only partly. Dalhousie’s official records are substantial; they, and the Dalhousie Gazette, were canvassed, as well as collections of private papers such as those of the ninth Earl of Dalhousie (1770-1838) and Archibald MacMechan, professor of English here from 1889 until 1931. What was impossible to master, save as the work of two lifetimes, was Dalhousie in the Halifax newspapers. The references to newspapers are but samples drawn from a sea of information. There were eleven newspapers in Halifax in the 1860s, and if in time they became fewer, they also got thicker.

I once cherished the idea that Dalhousie’s history could be written in one volume, that the current fashion of writing universities’ histories in two volumes, such as those of Queen’s, McGill, McMaster, Mount Allison, was simply lack of control on the part of the author. Ruthless principles of selection could surely get Dalhousie’s history within the covers of one convenient volume. So indeed it could; but it would have been a stiff, dried-up book, full of charters and statutes, stones and buildings, the humanity baked out of it. No reader, unless he be a monster of determination (and digestion), would be able to read so dense a book as that would have to be. So what has emerged has been, to continue the metaphor, a Christmas cake: flour, butter, and eggs to be sure (the building materials of cakes), but with cherries, raisins, candied fruit, and brandy mixed up in it. Thus the reader will encounter poetry, real and doggerel, flippant remarks from the Dalhousie Gazette, nasty (and elevating) comments from legislators, as well as usual accounts of buildings, finances, appointments, and curriculum. A university is a place where human beings meet and work, where professors teach students, and students even teach professors, and their lives and thoughts are worth trying to recover.

Dalhousie was, and is, a university in Halifax, and it seemed essential, right from the start, to give something of Halifax’s character and history. Dalhousie was also, for its first forty years and more, a creature of Nova Scotian politics, at the centre of the one-college idea in the 1840s – an idea it never quite abandoned. A little of the history of that imperialism, as it may well have been regarded by other colleges in Nova Scotia, was also inevitable.

This is a narrative history of Dalhousie. Analysis there is, but it is derived mostly from the work of others on the social backgrounds and careers of Dalhousie, and other, students. I have used their research with gratitude.

I have reason to be grateful to many people in this long process. Dr Charles Armour, Dalhousie University archivist, put the full resources of the Archives at my disposal, and I have imposed myself and my exigencies upon his good nature and that of his staff. Allan Dunlop of the Public Archives of Nova Scotia has often suggested material relevant to Dalhousie that I would not have found. The staff of the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, that wonderful place, have been unfailingly helpful. Mrs Carolyn Earle of the Maritime Conference Archives at Pine Hill introduced me to papers that I should certainly have missed otherwise. Many professors, students, members of the Board of Governors, alumni, and others have given me their time and their recollections. They have been acknowledged more specifically in the notes and bibliography.

The manuscript has been read by the doyen of Nova Scotian historians and political scientists, Murray Beck, professor emeritus of Dalhousie. His Lunenburg background, experience of Acadia University, eighteen years as Dalhousie’s professor of political science, and especially his comprehensive knowledge of Nova Scotia’s history and politics, have been brought to bear on this manuscript. I have taken his points unreservedly.

Dean Judith Fingard, of Dalhousie’s Graduate Studies, herself an expert on Dalhousie’s history, found time to read the manuscript and make several suggestions which I trust I have incorporated, not too imperfectly. Dr T.J. Murray, dean of medicine from 1985 to 1991, has been good enough to read and comment on sections where I deal with the Medical School and has saved me from several pitfalls. Denis Stairs, vice-president academic of Dalhousie, 1988-1993, to whom this project reports, has been a great help. In the midst of far more weighty responsibilities he has answered requests quickly and dexterously.

Two anonymous reviewers evaluated the manuscript for McGill-Queen’s University Press. Thankless labour that, for only a modest reward; but they made valuable suggestions. Mary Wyman typed the whole manuscript into the History Department’s word processor, chapter by chapter, revision by revision. Efficient, quick, amiable, she is a paragon. Diane Mew edited the manuscript from end to end. She is the best editor in Canada I know, whose information ranges from Caesar to Shackleton, whose travel from Shetland to South Africa; best of all she is armed with an impatient disdain for prosy writing. She has spruced up the whole text.

My wife, Masha, has read it all in draft and in proof and I have continually relied on her judgment and good taste.

Halifax, Nova Scotia
June 1993


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

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