The Dunning Trust Lectures


The Chancellor Charles A. Dunning Trust was established in 1946 by an anonymous donor who gifted $100 000 to Queen’s University as a tribute to his friend, Chancellor Dunning, “in the hope that a life of public service will help future students to do their best services to humanity.” The donor requested that every three years, the trustees of Queen’s re-read their letter and decide how best the income from the Trust could be used to “promote understanding and appreciation of the supreme importance of the dignity, freedom and responsibility of the individual person in human society.”

Charles A. Dunning explains the origins of the Dunning Trust.

For the first three years, the committee decided that the Trust would be used to annually bring a noted scholar in the humanities to Queen’s to give a series of public lectures and meet with students and faculty over a period of several weeks. The emphasis for these first three lecture series – by T.E. Jessop, John MacMurray, and Sir Richard Livingstone – was “the responsibility of the individual in a modern world.” In Principal Wallace’s estimation, the first year of the Trust’s operation was a resounding success. In addition to his three public lectures, Jessop addressed the Kiwanis Club, the Saturday Club, the Public Affairs Club, the International Relations Club, the Student Christian Movement, the German Club, and several other student groups. The Trust’s success showed that “the things of the mind,” Principal Wallace concluded, “count, and count greatly.”

Over the years, the number of lecturers, the length of their stay, and the topics of their lectures have varied, but Dunning Trust lecturers continued to bring intellectual vigor to the university. A number of faculty and students at Queen’s consistently appreciated the unique nature of the Dunning Trust Lectureship, which brought lecturers who remained “for a considerable length of time with the sole purpose of promoting discussions on a casual basis.” In 1962-63, it was reported that the lecturer was often surrounded by students at breakfast and at the pub throughout their 10-day visit. After trying a renewed structure for the lectureship by inviting multiple lecturers to give single talks in 1954-55, the lecture series began to regularly feature several speakers each year from 1966 on. Often, these multi-lecturer series were related to current events. In 1976, for example, the Dunning Trust lectures adopted the theme “Canada Towards the Year 2000,” inviting speakers to comment on various areas of public policy, from the welfare state, to the arts, to official bilingualism. This series was so successful that over the two-week period, there was standing room only in each of the lectures.

The brochure for “Canada Towards in the Year 2000” in 1976.
The brochure for “Canada Towards in the Year 2000” in 1976.

While the number of lectures increased during the 1960s, in 1969, the Dunning Trust sub-committee decided to lower the number of lectures in an attempt to draw a larger student audience. Regularly, throughout the 1970s, the committee discussed alternatives to a traditional lecture format for achieving the goal of the Dunning Trust. This was nothing new: the Trust has been employed for a variety of uses beyond the typical lecture series throughout its existence. In 1959, the Trust provided a grant to the university library to acquire books on the subject of the freedom and responsibility of the individual in society. In 1969, it funded a symposium celebrating the installation of Dr. John Deutsch as Principal of Queen’s. To mark the start of International Women’s Year in 1975, the Dunning Trust Committee provided funding for both a lecture series on feminism and an associated film festival that, over the course of a weekend, provided opportunities to watch films and documentaries from around the world about the status of women with panel and group discussions. Under the theme “Human Dignity and the Experience of Women,” it explored love, sexism in the home and on the job, family relationships, oppression, exploitation, and imperialism. To celebrate George Orwell in 1984, the Dunning Trust committee organized a series of lectures centered on the theme “1984: George Orwell’s and Ours,” focusing on the theme of individual responsibility and sponsored a production of Brecht’s play The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by the Drama Department. During Fredy Peccerrelli’s 2015 visit, the Dunning Trust awarded a $10,000 grant to the Friends of the FAFG, to assist in the work of identifying victims of the Guatemalan civil conflict.

The Dunning Trust lectures regularly made the news far beyond Queen’s and Kingston. The lecture by Dr. Oppenheimer in 1960 required significant collaboration with outside news outlets. Occasionally, lectures were broadcast by the CBC, or hosted by CBC journalists, including Roy Bonisteel, who moderated a panel discussion on modern religion in 1979. While many of the lectures in the first two decades of the Trust were published as monographs by university presses, other lectures were adapted by speakers into articles for the Queen’s Quarterly. The 1972-1973 Dunning Trust lecture series, on “Social Problems in Environmental Recovery” were published in a special issue of Ontario Naturalist for a wide readership.

The Dunning Trust received national attention with its 1985 series on “Health and Human Dignity” featuring Mary O’Brien, Richard Selzer, and Henry Morgentaler. A crowd of nearly 1000 people lined up two weeks in advance of Morgentaler’s talk to secure tickets, filling the hall easily. Outside of the lecture, several hundred anti-choice and some pro-choice activists demonstrated on University Avenue. In advance of the lecture, several alumni threatened to withhold donations to the university unless it was cancelled. Despite this, Queen’s principal David C. Smith refused, stating that “the role of the university in providing a forum for [the expression of controversial views] is not in question.” In an attempt to control security after a Morgentaler event in Edmonton received a bomb threat, organizers issued only 950 tickets. Student constables, campus security, and city police were all on hand for the event. Even with the vocal anti-Morgentaler protesters, Morgentaler reportedly won a standing ovation from most of the audience after his lecture.

Hundreds of Queen’s students and faculty lined up for tickets to hear Dr. Morgentaler’s Dunning Trust lecture.
Hundreds of Queen’s students and faculty lined up for tickets to hear Dr. Morgentaler’s Dunning Trust lecture.

In 2021, more than seven decades after its beginning, the Dunning Trust continues to draw notable scholars and public figures to Queen’s. When classes and events went remote for the 2020-2021 school year, the Dunning Trust sponsored virtual public lectures by Silvia Federici and Josèfa Ntjam, as well as “This is Our Reconciliation”: A Night of Dancing and Dialogue with Virago Nation.

By opening space for the discussion and debate of several of the most pressing issues we have confronted since the Second World War, the Dunning Trust has left a mark on the intellectual community of Queen’s University and Kingston. Lectures and lecturers were widely discussed among faculty, students, and community members before and long after their visits. You can scroll through all the past years of the Dunning Trust Lectures or browse the lectures by decade or lecturer name.


Charles A. Dunning

Charles A. Dunning. ca. 1925
Charles A. Dunning. ca. 1925

Charles A. Dunning was born in Leicestershire in 1885. After a workplace accident, he immigrated to Canada at the age of 17, settling as a farmer in Saskatchewan. After spending time as a director of the province’s Grain Grower’s Association, Dunning entered the provincial cabinet as Treasurer and Minister of Agriculture. In 1913, he was appointed to two Royal Commissions on agricultural credit and grain marketing in Europe. That summer, while he was in Europe to collect data, he met his wife Ada Rowlett. They were married in July 1913. After his election to Parliament in 1926, the press often printed stories about Dunning’s youth as a farmer in Saskatchewan. Reportedly, he taught himself with the library of his elderly Scottish neighbours. Dunning’s career, the Globe said, was intimately woven with that of the Province of Saskatchewan from an early age.

In 1922, at the age of 38, Dunning became Canada’s youngest premier. He also served as Canadian delegate to the League of Nations. He quickly became known as an active, sleek, and wealthy man popular far beyond Saskatchewan. Within the decade, he relocated to Ottawa as the Member of Parliament for Moosejaw County (Regina). During this time, he also formed part of Mackenzie King’s cabinet, taking up the position of Minister of Railways and Canals and later Minister of Finance. After losing an election in 1930, he temporarily left politics before returning in 1935 to serve as Minister of Finance once again. During the Great Depression, Dunning bridged the worlds of politics and business, becoming an important activist for the country’s economic elite. Dunning suffered a heart attack in 1939 and subsequently retired from political life to focus on his second career in education and business. He was chairman of the board or director for a number of leading Canadian companies. In 1940, though he was himself self-educated, Dunning was elected Chancellor of Queen’s University. Through his close relationships with Canada’s business elite, he brought a number of significant financial donations to the university. Dunning received honorary degrees from Queen’s, McGill, University of Montreal, and the University of Saskatchewan.

After his death, C. A. Dunning was memorialized in the Queen’s Review as “one of Canada’s giants in the fields of politics and education, finance and industry,” who lived a life of “great personal dignity and achievement.”