Skip to main content

Sir George Williams University History

The history of Sir George Williams University began with the establishment of the Young Men's Christian Association in Montreal in 1851. Part of the YMCA's mandate was to meet the needs of its members and to serve the Montreal community. So when members of the community, working individuals and local business leaders voiced the need for education "obtained from no text book ... [but] from original sources," the Montreal YMCA stepped in. In 1873, the association inaugurated evening courses in vocational and general education. This system was known as the Educational Program and, later, the Montreal YMCA Schools.

In 1926, the Montreal YMCA Schools changed its name to Sir George Williams College in honour of the founder of the YMCA (London, England, 1844).

The college was intended to expand formal education opportunities for both young men and women employed in Montreal. Student guidance counselling and student-faculty interaction were particularly encouraged within the tightly knit college community. The Depression and the subsequent economic boom in the 1930s both led to steady enrolment increases. The college grew from a two-year program in the 1920s to a four-year program in 1934.

In 1948, Sir George Williams College officially obtained its university charter, although it had been granting degrees since 1936-37. The recognition and financial assistance that came out of this led to further expansion. In 1959, the college requested that the Quebec legislature amend its university Charter, changing its name to Sir George Williams University.

The university operated in various annexes throughout downtown Montreal, but its rapid expansion led to the construction of a new building to accommodate all of its activities. In 1956, Sir George Williams moved into the newly constructed Norris Building. Even as the new building was opened, it was evident it would not be large enough, and increasingly heavy enrolment forced the university into more annexes. Planning began for the construction of a new and larger building, and in 1966, the Henry F. Hall Building was opened on De Maisonneuve Boulevard West.

Meanwhile, in 1963 the university implemented a faculty structure that separated the combined Faculty of Arts, Science, and Commerce into three distinct faculties and created the new Faculty of Engineering. Increased enrolment and larger government grants allowed Sir George Williams to hire more full-time faculty members. Many disciplines began to offer more specializations, and the univerity added master's and doctoral programs to the growing list of majors and honours.

Sir George Williams was the first Canadian university that offered a full range of university programs to evening students. In the late-1960s, Sir George Williams University severed ties, financial and otherwise, with the YMCA.

At the time of the merger with Loyola College, Sir George Williams University offered undergraduate and graduate programs to a diverse community.


Back to top

© Concordia University