1900 - 1959

Entering the 20th century

Mary Blair Jackson (later Mary Fowler), the first female to graduate from the Faculty of Engineering (outside Architecture), with classmates attending a lecture in the Macdonald Engineering Building (1939). Photo: McGill University Archives, PR001209


The Department of Electrical Engineering sponsors lectures by the Bell Co. in the new technology of telephony. The Department acquires a high-voltage laboratory, a reflection of an era when hydro-electric power was being developed and transmitted at high voltage over considerable distances.



Thanks in part to financial and technological support from the Grand Trunk Railway, as well as support from the Federal Minister of Railways, the Department of Railway Engineering is founded.



Percy Nobbs, second Director of the School of Architecture, designs the first McGill Coat of Arms. His design formed the basis of the Coat of Arms being used today.



Macdonald Engineering Building after the fire (1907). Photo: McGill University Archives, PR015240

On April 5, the Macdonald Engineering Building burns. Everything in it, except the contents of the ground floor laboratories, is destroyed. Fortunately, the fire doors that were built in the adjoining Workman Technical Shops (commonly referred to as the Workman Wing) help in keeping the building intact and sparing it from significant damage. This fire occurs less than a week after McGill’s Medical Building burns down.









Phoenix on south wall of Macdonald Engineering Building (1907). Photo: McGill University Archives, PR008054

Following the destruction of the Macdonald Engineering Building, Sir William Macdonald steps forward once again, this time volunteering to contribute to build a new structure on the foundation of its predecessor. Percy Nobbs, the Director of the School of Architecture, is asked to design and build the new edifice. The University and Macdonald both stress to him the importance of function and fire resistance over ornamentation. A phoenix rising from flames is cared on the south wall of the building to pay homage its predecessor and signify the building’s rebirth.















Frank Dawson Adams is named Chair of Civil Engineering and Dean of the Faculty.


11 students constitute the first graduating class from Railway Engineering. Each student is required to apprentice with one of the sponsoring railway companies and accept employment with the company after graduation.


The Faculty continues to expand, with two new additions: Chemical Engineering and Metallurgical Engineering. It is now made up of Architecture, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Metallurgical Engineering, Metallurgy, Mining, and Railways.



New Macdonald Engineering Building (c. 1908). Photo: McGill University Archives

The grand opening of the rebuilt Macdonald Engineering Building is held. Although there is little ornamentation on the final structure, the carving of the phoenix rising from the flames on the south wall pays homage to the fate of the original Macdonald Engineering Building, as well as its rebirth. Over a century later, this edifice still stands and is used by the Departments of Civil and Mechanical Engineering, as well as housing the Dean’s Office.








The rifle-shooting courses at McGill that, since 1907, had qualified students for commissions in the Canadian militia or British army, are counted as credit towards the BSc.



The first students graduate from a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering.


Group photo of Engineering frosh initiation (1911). Photo: McGill University archives, 2016-0063.04.9














The grand opening of the rebuilt Macdonald Engineering Building is held. Although there is little ornamentation on the final structure, the carving of the phoenix rising from the flames on the south wall is a striking reminder of the fate of the original Macdonald Engineering Building, as well as its rebirth.


AC Lab (1910). Photo: McGill University archives, PL028627













The rifle-shooting courses at McGill that, since 1907, had qualified students for commissions in the Canadian militia or British army, are counted as credit towards the BSc.


Engineering Frosh event (1911). Photo: McGill University archives, 2016-0063.04.6













The Birks Family endows a Chair in Physical Metallurgy.



Hired as the Macdonald Chair and Director of Architecture, Ramsay Traquair promises to regard teaching as his life’s work and design only enough to keep current. True to his word, his work in Canada is hard to find, although one creation is among the most enduring and best known of all — Traquair is credited with designing McGill’s flag.



Plaque for Faculty students who died in the First World War. Photo: Faculty of Engineering archives

A plaque in the entrance hall of the Macdonald Engineering Building commemorates most of the estimated 250 Engineering students who died during the First World War.














Robert E. Jamieson, a future Dean of the Faculty, graduates from Civil Engineering and serves during the war with the Canadian artillery.


Applied Science Class photo (1915). Photo: McGill University archives, PL006068









Civil Engineering Wickstead Machine (1915). Photo: McGill University archives, PR008212














The Blackader Library of Architecture is founded in memory of Gordon Home Blackader with an endowment provided by his parents. Blackader, who was one of only two students enrolled in Architecture when Percy Nobbs first arrived at McGill, succumbed in London in 1916 to wounds sustained while commanding a company of the 42nd Battalion of the Royal Highlanders of Canada near Ypres.


As a result of the war, major railways run short on funds. This hastens the demise of Railway Engineering. The only program of its kind in Canada, it ends having graduated 44 students.



Frank Dawson Adams becomes Vice-Principal and joins Henry Marshall Tory in establishing the Khaki University. This was a series of credit courses, transferable to Canadian university programs, for troops returning from the war. The program encouraged veterans to continue the pursuit of higher education.



The courses offered through the Faculty of Applied Science are rearranged into divisions: School of Architecture, Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering and Surveying, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Metallurgical Engineering, and Mining Engineering. The teaching of Practical Chemistry is discontinued.



The Faculty conducts an early fundraising campaign for the construction of a new building. The campaign is successful, and a new three-storey Electrical Wing is raised on the site where the forge and foundry once stood – the foundation attached to the east end of the Workman Wing of the Engineering Building.

The First Plumber’s Ball is held by the Applied Science Undergraduate Society (later to become Engineering Undergraduate Society).



Electrical Engineering introduces a new curriculum that includes courses in telephone system hardware and exchange operations. Behind these changes is Bell Telephone, which, at this time, employs nearly half of the Department’s annual graduating class.



The name of Civil Engineering and Surveying is changed to Civil Engineering.



After obtaining a PhD at University College London, alumnus Fred S. Howes, BSc (Electrical) 1924, MSc 1926, returns to McGill as a professor and initiates training and research in electronics and radio communications. Howes is also a pioneer in offering evening engineering graduate courses to professionals.


Engineering students watch steel railway (1930). Photo: McGill University archives, PR038079














The Faculty of Applied Science becomes the Faculty of Engineering. It offers two degrees – Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) and Master of Engineering (MEng).


McGill introduces a completely revised curriculum in Chemical Engineering, to be administered by the Department of Chemistry. McGill alumnus and new hire J.B. Philips revamped the program using his experience teaching at MIT and their courses as a guide, making McGill the Canadian leader in chemical engineering.



Robert Shaw, DSc’85, later the Deputy Commissioner-General for Expo ’67, graduates from McGill with a degree in Civil Engineering.



Chemical Engineering awards its first PhD to R.D. Bennett, BEng(Chem)’32, MSc’33.



Early Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) Executive (c.1937). Photo: McGill University Archives, PL007057

The Undergraduate Engineering Society (EUS) forms this decade.














McGill approves the admission of women to the BArch program, however, admission of female students is delayed because of the absence of women’s restroom facilities. Dean of Engineering Ernest Brown requests capital expenditure funds of $1,400 to provide these facilities.


Engineering students recreating 1873 graduating class photo (1939). Photo: McGill University archives, PR001550












Philip Turner, who succeeded Traquair as Director of the School of Architecture, fights hard against those seeking to shut down the School as a result of a temporary drop in enrolment. Having enlisted the support of several distinguished Montreal architects, Turner and his Executive Secretary (and eventual successor) John Bland, BArch’33, join with newly appointed principal F. Cyril James in arguing that in the post-war reconstruction period, architects would be needed more than ever before. Avoiding extinction, the School then scores two key hiring coups – Group of Seven founding member Arthur Lismer, and Gordon Webber, an artist and exceptional teacher who had studied with László Moholy-Nagy at the New Bauhaus in Chicago.


Bland expands the scope of the School to prepare for post-war rebuilding by adding training in housing design and urban planning. Recognizing the importance of maintaining the union of Architecture and Engineering, Bland insists that his students take engineering courses even if it is “painful for the man with a flair for design to suffer the minutiae of structural calculations.”


For the Fall term, 106 students enroll in one of five courses offered in Electrical Engineering’s new fourth-year Communications Option. The option was introduced to satisfy industry demand for wartime radio engineers.



Catherine Chard (later Catherine Chard Wisnicki) becomes the first woman to graduate (with distinction) from the School of Architecture. Following a move to Vancouver in 1946, she became an inspiring teacher at the University of British Columbia and a pioneer of the West-Coast style. At the Faculty of Engineering convocation in 1996, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree.



To accommodate the influx of returning veterans, McGill negotiates with the Royal Canadian Air Force for the use of its base at St. John’s, Quebec (now Saint-Jean-sur- Richelieu). Located some 30 km from Montreal, the base is renamed Sir William Dawson College and is populated mainly by engineering and science students, who are required to live on the site. Dawson College opens for teaching on October 1 with 620 students on site.



Mary Blair Jackson (later Fowler) and classmates on survey in Montibello (1946). Photo: Mcgill University Archives, PR001210

Mary Blair Jackson (later Mary Fowler) graduates from Mechanical Engineering, becoming McGill’s first female Engineering (non-Architecture) graduate. She would go on to become a pilot officer at RCAF training command headquarters in Trenton, Ontario, where she conducted statistical work connected with the training of ground crews.












Chemical Engineering becomes a separate department in the Faculty. J.B. Philips serves as the newly recognized Department’s first Chair.


School of Architecture Director John Bland and Harold Spence-Sales establish Canada’s first postgraduate Architectural and Planning Program. The Planning Program (later becoming the School of Urban Planning) is interdisciplinary, with a master’s degree being granted in the students’ undergraduate disciplines.



A fifth floor is added to the Workman Wing, and a new entrance built. Existing labs become offices and classrooms.

Faculty of Engineering class at McGill’s Dawson College (c. 1947). Photo: McGill University archives, PN000273














The Department of Mechanical Engineering awards its first doctoral degrees.



The Faculty takes over administration of the pre-Engineering year from the Faculty of Arts and Science. The course of instruction within Engineering, following Quebec Grade 11, is thus extended from four to five years.


Construction begins on the Physical Sciences Centre (renamed the Frank Dawson Adams Building in 1971), the first new Faculty of Engineering building since 1925. It was commissioned by the firm of Fleming and Smith, who later worked to build both the McConnell Engineering and the Otto Maass Chemistry Buildings. The three-storey structure links the Macdonald Engineering and the Macdonald Mining and Chemistry Buildings, and features large windows to provide an abundance of natural light at the west and east ends, as well as a view of the opposite side of campus. The building’s west entrance connects to the campus via a small bridge. It currently houses the part of the Department of Mining and Materials Engineering, as well as the McGill Engineering Student Centre (MESC).



Dawson College closes. Of the estimated 5,600 students to pass through, some 1,490 engineering and 105 architectural students studied there at some point during the college’s five-year existence. An unaffiliated C.E.G.E.P. under the same name would later open in Montreal.


With its worldwide reputation as among the best undergraduate programs in engineering long since established, the Faculty strives to add another dimension to its reputation: a pre-eminent postgraduate and research facility. Not always a popular direction, with traditionalists both within and outside the Faculty who resist the idea of advanced degrees in engineering, the end of the decade finds McGill as an emerging centre for advanced and experimental postgraduate research in many areas.



For the first time in 25 years, Mechanical Engineering revises its curriculum. The revisions emphasize mathematical and engineering analysis over technique, practice, and the engineering sciences.



George Boyd Webster, BSc 1904, mining engineer and financier, endows a Chair of Mining in his name.



One-quarter of all undergraduates at McGill are registered in Engineering.


Mechanical Engineering introduces Mechanical Sciences as a new option. Later, this was renamed the Honours curriculum to conform to similar programs in Civil and Electrical Engineering.



McConnell Engineering Building. Photo: Faculty of Engineering archives

The McConnell Engineering Building is donated to McGill by John W. McConnell, a major benefactor of the University since 1911 and one of its Governors from 1928 until 1958. In the period after World War II when all of the Engineering Faculties were greatly expanding, this nine-storey structure doubled the number of classrooms, lecture rooms, and offices available for use. It is currently houses the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Bioengineering, Centre for Intelligent Machines (CIM), School of Computer Science, and the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS).








The new Chair of Electrical Engineering, G.L. (John) d’Ombrain, introduces the first computer to McGill.