Queen's 175th Anniversary

Queen's University Queen's University

[Queen's University Douglas Library]
[Queen's University Douglas Library]
Celebrating Queen's 175th Anniversary

The university opens its doors

March 1842
Decade: 1840s

[house on Colborne]

Queen’s first group of students didn't have an Orientation Week. No tams. No football game. They sang no Oil Thighs. When the university’s doors opened on March 7, 1842, there was virtually no fanfare. The “campus” was nothing more than a rented frame house at 67 Colborne Street.

Through its doors that day, Queen’s first 15 or so students (the number is imprecise) arrived for their studies under the guidance of two professors, one of whom was the college’s first principal, Reverend Thomas Liddell. They offered two degree programs: theological instruction for would-be Presbyterian ministers and general arts education.

Four months earlier, Rev. Liddell, selected by the Colonial Committee of the Church of Scotland, had arrived in Kingston. In his luggage, Rev. Liddell brought the new Queen’s charter across the Atlantic. His teaching focused on theological training: church history, Hebrew, logic and liturgy. He was joined by a second faculty member, Peter Colin Campbell, another Presbyterian minister, who taught students Latin, Greek, French and mathematics.

By the fall, the two professors found themselves overwhelmed, as each was teaching seven hours a day. To share the teaching burden, the college hired another Presbyterian Minister, James Williamson, who took to teaching natural philosophy and mathematics. Years later, Rev. Williamson increased his bond to Kingston by marrying Margaret Macdonald, sister to an up-and-coming local politician.

Queen’s tiny, all-male student body set about creating a campus community. They formed the Dialectic Society of Queen’s College to debate their mutual scholarship. These evening meetings provided the kernel of student self-government at Queen’s, which would solidify in 1858 with the birth of the Alma Mater Society. Since its earliest years, the dedication of Queen’s students has been one of its most abiding features!

The historical content of this site was curated by a committee of faculty and staff with submissions from the broader Queen’s community.
These moments are not intended to represent an exhaustive history of the university, but rather significant sign posts in its development.
Special thanks go to University Historian Duncan McDowall for his contributions.
Many thanks also to the people of Queen's University Archives for their support of this anniversary project.
Have feedback about the moments? Please contact qu175@queensu.ca