1920 - 1939

The McGill School of Commerce is born 

School of Commerce carves its own path within the University

A growing interest in management education lent itself to the formation of the McGill School of Commerce and the introduction of the first BCom cohort. Unbound by the restraints of its governing Faculty of Arts, the School of Commerce was able to carve its own path within the University. With a spike in students and a renewed enthusiasm for business, members of the School of Commerce entered the 1920s with the hopes of establishing itself as one of the most important branches of McGill.

1920 – McGill’s School of Commerce is founded

McGill’s School of Commerce is founded, independent of the Faculty of Arts.

Class of 1920
Class of 1920

1920 – First BCom Graduates

The first Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) degrees are awarded by McGill in 1920.

Class of 1921
Class of 1921: Pres.: W. Werry; Vice-Pres.: R.S. O’Meara; Sec.-Treas.: Miss Dougall (First Female BCom Graduate, Greta E. Dougall, seated to the left.)

1920 – Commercial Society of McGill University

Members of the commercial society
Commercial Society

The School of Commerce School forms an association under the name of the “Commercial Society of McGill University,” with the following elected officers.

Hon. President: Mr. R. M. Sugars

President: M. Levitt

Vice-President: P. Laffoley

Treasurer: M. B. Caron

Secretary: A. M. Badian

2nd Year Representative: F. M. MacDonald

1st Year Representative: Miss G. E. Dougall



portrait of a woman
Graduation portrait of Greta Dougall. Photographed by William Notman and Sons Photographic Studio, 1921. Montreal, Quebec. Gelatin Silver Print on card. Gift of Pat Antliff. Courtesy of the Family Camera Network and the ROM

“During the last few sessions the School of Commerce has gradually arisen from a condition of unimportance, until now it occupies a well-merited position among the departments of study in the University. This has been due to a newly born enthusiasm in both the course and its activities, as well as by the large influx of students in the first year.

This enthusiasm has taken practical shape in the creation of an organization for binding the students in a close bond of fellowship. With promptness and energy, characteristic of an institution devoted to Commerce, the School formed an association under the name of the “Commercial Society of McGill University,” and the officers mentioned above were elected.

The society displayed laudable zeal and decided to meet regularly, every fortnight, at the Strathcona Hall. At these meetings debates have been held, papers read, and lectures delivered, all on topics of current commercial interest. It is now recognized that this association is destined to play an important part in the education of all commercial students.

The future of our School, then, seems bright and encouraging. We have already alluded to the large increase of students this session. With the advent of the coming year we confidently hope that the School of Commerce will still further establish its right to be considered as one of the most important branches of the University.”

Source: BCom100: 1920

Frederick Ernest Wigle (BCom’36)

Portrait of a man from Canadian Army
Fred Wigle / Canadian Army photo, courtesy McGill University Archives PR010356

In 1945, Frederick E. Wigle (BCom’36) was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada infantry regiment. Wigle received the Distinguished Service Order for his actions in a series of battles in the Hochwald forest in German territory. In the citation he was highly praised for his leadership and bravery for being constantly on the front lines with his troops to co-ordinate their defences.

Read more in The McGill ReporterA soldier’s story: to remember him is to honour him

1939 – Frank Cyril James, Director, School of Commerce

A seated man posing for camera
F. Cyril James, Director, School of Commerce

Dr. Frank Cyril James became the second director of the McGill School of Commerce in 1939, arriving in Montreal the day after war broke out between Germany and the UK. Previously, the UK native taught finance and economics courses at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. In 1940, he was appointed Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University, a position he would hold until his retirement in 1962.

During his brief time as the Director of the School of Commerce, Dr. James earned a reputation as an energetic, persistent leader. He secured federal government funding for McGill and other Canadian universities in the face of considerable opposition, and his involvement with political and educational organizations like the International Association of Universities and the American Academy of Political and Social Science significantly strengthened McGill’s international brand.

McGill News: F. Cyril James: 1903-1973
Frank Cyril James, The Principal Years
A group of people posing for a picture
Class of 1939. Source: BCom100: 1938