Happy 268th Birthday, James McGill!
Today marks James McGill’s Birthday, founder of McGill University, pioneer and philanthropist.
268 years ago, on October 6, 1744 (Western Zodiac: Libra; Chinese Zodiac: Rat), James McGill was born on in Glasgow, Scotland, as the eldest son of an iron smith. To be precise, he was born on Stockwell Street – now a busy commercial street in downtown Glasgow and home to many restaurants and pubs, including one of the city’s oldest bars The Scotia which opened its doors in 1792 as a “a favourite watering hole for people on their way home after a hard days graft.”
But by that time, in 1766, James had already immigrated to Canada to work as a fur trade clerk for a Quebec merchant. His hard work and French fluency served him well as he spent much of the following years navigating the rivers and lakes of the Great Lakes frontier, until he established himself as a successful merchant, trading in furs and general goods.
Although James left university without completing a degree, his education instilled in him a lifelong love of new ideas. Always a visionary, the later James was determined to create a rigorous system of education for Lower Canada.
Between 1811 and 1813, he drew up a will leaving his “Burnside estate” (burn is a Scottish word for creek) – a 19-hectare tract of rural land and 10,000 pounds to the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning (RIAL). Spurred on by the gift, the RIAL became the governing body for McGill College, which was officially established in 1821.
After his death in 1813, James McGill was buried in the old “Dufferin Square Cemetery” (now occupied by Complexe Guy Favreau on René Lévesque Boulevard). When the cemetery was eradicated in 1875, his remains were reinterred in front of the Arts Building on McGill downtown campus.
Well, long story short, I wish our University founder a Happy Birthday. May your awesomeness continue to prevail on our beautiful campuses.