The Chancellor is the highest officer and the ceremonial head of the University. Modelled after similar positions at Scottish universities, the office was created in 1874 and first filled in 1877, although it was only enshrined in law in 1882 after a convoluted process (see Royal Charter).
The Chancellor presides over convocations, confers degrees, and chairs the annual meetings of the University Council. He or she is an ex-officio voting member of the Board of Trustees and many of its committees.
The Chancellor is also a member of the University Council Executive Committee and the Honorary Degrees Committee of the Senate.
Joint Board-Senate committees for the selection of a Principal are normally chaired by the Chancellor.
The Chancellor is appointed for a renewable three-year term by the University Council.
The chancellor initially had little direct authority. The expectation was that the chancellor would act as an ambassador for the college, carrying its message and defending its interests well beyond its campus.
In 1877, there was discussion of offering the first chancellorship to Sir John A. Macdonald, but instead the office went to John Cook, one of the college’s original trustees and a former principal. In 1880, Chancellor Cook was succeeded by Sir Sandford Fleming, the Victorian engineer-inventor who set the pattern of a vigorous and opinionated chancellor working closely with the college’s principal.
When mining mogul James Douglas took over in 1915, he championed Queen’s transition into a secular institution and pushed it hard to court private benefactors. Chancellor Douglas himself would donate generously to library development at Queen’s.
Other businessmen later donned the robes: railroader Sir Edward Beatty and grain merchant James Richardson. So did politicians – former Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden and Liberal finance minister Charles Dunning. In 1980, Agnes Benidickson became the first woman to be chancellor after a lifetime spent contributing to social causes like the Red Cross and the Canadian Council on Social Development.
*Indicates a building on campus named in his/her honour.