The Principal is the academic head and chief administrative officer of the University. Under the original Charter of 1821, the Principal constituted with the Board of Governors and the Fellows (now the Senate) a body politic and corporate. Later amendments to the Charter and changes in the University statutes have not significantly altered the position of Principal. Ex officio, by virtue of his office, the Principal is also Vice-Chancellor of the University, a member of the Board of Governors and Chairman of the Senate. Frequently, it has been the Principal's vision and personality which have determined the course of McGill's development; therefore, the records not only document the administrative activities of the office, but also often reflect the character of the whole institution.


1824-1835 Rev. George Jehoshaphat Mountain

1835-1846 Rev. John Bethune

1846-1853 Edmund Allen Meredith

1853-1855 Charles Dewey Day

1855-1893 Sir John William Dawson

1895-1919 Sir William Peterson

1919-1920 Sir Auckland Campbell Geddes

1920-1933 Sir Arthur Currie

1935-1937 Arthur Eustace Morgan

1937-1939 Lewis Williams Douglas

1939-1962 Frank Cyril James

1962-1970 Harold Rocke Robertson

1970-1979 Robert Edward Bell

1979- David Lloyd Johnston


Archdeacon George Jehoshaphat Mountain was appointed the first Principal of McGill College in 1824. During his tenure the Faculty of Medicine was inaugurated in 1829. The rest of the University existed only on paper, because its organization was impeded until 1835 by the lawsuit, Desrivi\eres vs The Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning. After his term as Principal, Mountain served as President of the Royal Institution and as a member of the Board of Governors.

Administrative Records, 1821-1839, 10 cm (c.1)

Principal Mountain's papers contain a fairly detailed record of his Principalship in the form of incoming correspondence (with some copies of outgoing letters) and reports and petitions concerning the establishment of McGill College and the administration of the existing Medical Faculty. These are microfilm and xerox copies of originals at the Montreal Diocesan Archives. There are additional records from Mountain's tenure including correspondence, reports, invoices and legal papers in the correspondence series of the R.I.A.L. and Board of Governors: R.G. 4 (especially c.70, files 618-621; c.103).


The second Principal of McGill, John Bethune was rector of the Anglican Parish of Montreal. While he was Principal, the central and east wing of the Arts Building were constructed and instruction in subjects other than medicine was offered for the first time. The period was marked by financial difficulties, administrative disputes and Bethune's attempts to make the University into an Anglican institution. After a dispute with the Board of Governors, Bethune's term lapsed. He remained in Montreal, becoming Dean of Christ Church, the Anglican Cathedral. He died in 1872. Records of Principal Bethune including correspondence, reports and legal papers can be found in the correspondence series of the R.I.A.L. and the Board of Governors: R.G. 4 (especially c.68, files 588-597; c.69, file 598; c.103).

Addresses and Writings, 1843, 1846, 1 cm (c.604)

Among Bethune's works are two which arose from his activity as Principal: an address at the opening of McGill College and a narrative about his controversial term of office.


In 1846 Edmund Allen Meredith was appointed the third Principal of McGill as well as lecturer in mathematics and natural philosophy. In October 1847 he became assistant Provincial Secretary for Upper Canada, resigning his lectureship but retaining the Principalship. In 1849 he moved with the government to Toronto and attempted to resign as Principal; but it was not until 1853 that his resignation was accepted. A claim for compensation by Meredith in 1885 for services rendered during his Principalship will be found in the papers of Principal Dawson (R.G. 2, c.14, folder 55, item 17).

As a virtually absentee Principal, Meredith appears to have left few records of his tenure. Accordingly, the administrative history of McGill during the years of his Principalship must be sought mainly in the records of the Royal Institution and the Board of Governors and in particular in the correspondence series where there are scattered letters to and from Meredith: see R.G. 4 (especially c.59).


In 1853 the Board of Governors named Charles Dewey Day as the fourth Principal of McGill. Day accepted the position on a temporary basis and resigned as soon as he could be replaced in 1855. He also served as President of the Royal Institution, 1852-1864 and as Chancellor, 1864-1884. There is no existing body of Principal's records for Day's brief tenure. The administrative record of his period is to be found chiefly in the records for 1853 to 1855 of the Royal Institution and Board of Governors: R.G.4.


A geologist and educator, Sir John William Dawson was born at Pictou, Nova Scotia, 13 October 1820. Superintendent of Education for Nova Scotia from 1850 to 1853, he was Principal of McGill University from 1855 to 1893 and Principal of McGill Normal School from 1857 to 1870. The major achievements of his administration were the establishment of McGill on a firm financial basis, the development of instruction in pure and applied science, the continuation of a strong Faculty of Medicine, the establishment of the Normal School, and the construction of Redpath Museum and Redpath Library. His Principalship was also marked by a number of controversies such as the questions of the Jesuit estates and the coeducation of women at McGill. Dawson continued to write on geology and evolution throughout this period. He died in Montreal, 19 November 1899. His private papers are held in M.G. 1022.

Administrative Records, 1855-1893, 2 m (c.2-c.14)

These letters, memoranda, and reports reflect Dawson's involvement with both the major policies and minor details of university administration. Included are letters from members of the Board of Governors and staff, the provincial government, benefactors and students as well as many drafts of Dawson's outgoing letters. There is considerable material on buildings and grounds, the education of women, fund-raising and financial matters, the McGill Normal School, scholarships and awards, and various academic departments. Dawson's own original arrangement has been retained for the great majority of his administrative records. About half of the files, originally bundles, contain material on a variety of subjects, usually cover one or two years and are arranged chronologically. The remaining files were devoted to single subjects, e.g. Affiliated Colleges. For the bulk of these records, there is a listing available which summarizes in detail the contents of each item. There are also author/recipient, subject, and chronological indexes to each item.


Sir William Peterson was appointed Principal in September 1895, two years after the departure of Sir William Dawson. Born in 1856, Peterson was a classical scholar and served as the Principal of University College, Dundee before coming to McGill.

His administration at McGill saw the creation of Macdonald College, the Conservatorium of Music and expansion in both the sciences and the arts. Primarily through the benefactions of Sir William Macdonald and Sir Donald A. Smith (Lord Strathcona), the campus was transformed by the construction of the Macdonald Engineering, Physics, and Chemistry Buildings and the Strathcona Medical Building, the Students' Union Building (now the McCord Museum) and Royal Victoria College. Peterson died on 4 January 1921.

Administrative Records, 1895-1919, 3.5 m (c.15-c.35)

The records for Peterson's Principalship, while sizeable, has gaps, particularly from 1917 to 1919. Approximately half of Peterson's papers are files of incoming correspondence, together with reports and memoranda. The majority concern individual subjects, chiefly academic departments, Royal Victoria College, Macdonald College, the Carnegie Foundation, and the Board of Governors. There are some files of correspondence with various staff members and the public. The arrangement of Peterson's files is mainly by subject, with some correspondence files in alphabetical series, broken into chronological segments.

A listing of these files by title, with dates, is available. In addition, about half of the material has been listed and summarized item by item (c.15-c.31). The rest of Peterson's records consist of his outgoing correspondence in letterbooks. The subjects covered are as varied as those of the incoming correspondence; Peterson's replies, however, tend to be very brief. The letters are bound in strict chronological order. A listing is available which summarizes the main subjects touched in each volume. In addition each letter has been indexed by recipient, subject, and date (c.32-c.35).


Correspondence, 1907, 1 cm (CH413.002.7)

Letters from various people on McGill affairs written to Principal Peterson.


Born on 27 June 1879, Sir Auckland Campbell Geddes was Professor of Anatomy at McGill, 1913-1914, and later served as British Minister of National Service, 1917-1919. He was appointed Principal in 1919 but never undertook his official duties. He resigned in 1920 when appointed British Ambassador to the United States. For most of Geddes' brief tenure Frank Dawson Adams, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science served as Acting Principal. Some correspondence from Geddes, touching his appointment as Principal is contained in the papers of McGill Governor W.M. Birks, M.G. 1019.

Administrative Records, 1919-1920, 20 cm (c.41, c.43, c.45, c.46, c.49-c.51, c.58-c.60, c.69, c.70, c.76)

Except for a very small amount of correspondence to and from Geddes, the records of the Principal's office for this period are those of F.D. Adams. The bulk of the material relates to the administration of departments and the appointment of staff. Adams' records were, and remain, integrated with those of Principals Currie, Morgan, and Douglas. These correspondence and subject files generally span several years. Listed.


Sir Arthur Currie was Principal from 1920 to 1933. Born 5 December 1875, he served as Commander of the Canadian Corps in France, 1917-1919, before coming to McGill. His administration was marked by the establishment of the Faculty of Music, the School for Graduate Nurses, and the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research. Constructed during this period were Moyse Hall, the Roddick Gates, a Biology Building (now the F. Cyril James Administration Building), and additions to Royal Victoria College and Redpath Library. Currie died in office on 30 November 1933. His private papers are in M.G. 1030.

Arthur Eustace Morgan served as Principal from 1935 to 1937. Born in Bristol, England on 26 July 1886, Morgan was the first Principal of University College, Hull from 1926 to 1935 before being appointed as McGill's Principal. He retired from the office in May 1937. He returned to Britain where he was Assistant Secretary, Ministry of Labour and National Service from 1941 to 1945. He died 3 February 1972. Between the departure of Morgan and the arrival of L.W. Douglas, W.H. Britain, the Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture served as Acting Principal, 1937.

Lewis Williams Douglas was Principal from 1937 to 1939. Born on 2 July 1894, Douglas was a Vice-President of the American Cyanamid Co. 1934 to 1937, before being appointed Principal. He returned to the United States at the outbreak of World War II where he served in the War Shipping Administration. He was Ambassador to the Court of St. James, 1947-1950. He died on 7 March 1974.

The records of Principals Currie, Morgan, and Douglas are interfiled. While some files cover periods as brief as one year, others span the two decades from 1920 to 1940; still others match the tenures of individual principals. The records fall more or less into the three general series: external correspondence, internal administration and academic matters. Within each series, they are arranged, for the most part, in alphabetical order.

A complete listing of file titles is available, prefaced by a brief explanation of the filing system, prepared by the Principals' Secretary, Dorothy McMurray.

Administrative Records of Principals Currie, Morgan, and Douglas, 1919-1940, (c.36-c.79)

External Correspondence, 1919-1940, 5.1 m (c.38-c.54) RESTRICTED

This series consists chiefly of correspondence with individuals, most of whom were from outside the University and with various organizations and universities.

Records relating to Internal Administration, 1919-1940, 1.8 m (c.55-c.60) RESTRICTED

This series deals with the internal administrative affairs of the University, with file titles such as Committees, Convocation, Development, Finances, Gifts and Endowments, Board of Governors, Principal's activities and expenses, Salaries, Statutes - revisions of 1935, Senate, Visitor. Listed.

Records relating to Academic Matters, 1919-1940, 6 m (c.61-c.79, c.205) RESTRICTED

This series deals with academic matters, being files on the various faculties and departments. It also includes files on the Provincial Department of Education and on the Neurological Institute. Listed.

Governors' and Academic Committee Reports, 1931-1939, 60 cm (c.36-c.37)

These include reports of special committees on various faculties, and minutes of committees on education. Listed.

Scrapbook, 1933-1936, 6 cm (c.598)

This scrapbook covers the death of Currie and the installation of Morgan.


Born in 1903 in London, England, Frank Cyril James attended the London School of Economics and the University of Pennsylvania where he obtained his Ph.D. in 1926 and pursued a career as an economist, professor of finance and author. Invited to McGill in 1939 to reorganize the School of Commerce, he was appointed Principal and Vice-Chancellor, when L. Douglas returned to the U.S. shortly after war was declared. While Principal of McGill, he also kept active in his field and participated in the work of many organizations in both Canada and United States. Chairman of the Canadian Advisory Committee on Reconstruction from 1941 to 1943, he was also a member of the American Committee on Financial Research of the National Bureau of Economic Research from 1935 to 1945. Member of the Executive Committee of the National conference of Canadian Universities from 1940 to 1952, he was its vice-president, 1946-1948, and president, 1948-1950. His involvement in wider university affairs was constant; he was member of the executive of the Association of Universities of the British Commonwealth, 1948-51, 1960-62; Chairman, 1949, of the Canadian Universities foundation, Vice-Chairman, 1959-62, and President of the International Association of Universities, 1960-65. Recipient of many awards, he also lent his support to various social and charitable organizations. He resigned as principal in 1962. He died in England in 1973.

F. Cyril James' term as Principal of McGill coincided with the retirement of Sir Edward Beatty as Chancellor and opened an era of greater control by his office over all aspects of the administration of the University. His Principalship was marked by the expansion of the university's commitment in a number of traditional fields as well as its involvement into new ones: the Faculty of Divinity was created in 1948; the departments of Geography, Chemical Engineering, the Foster Radiation Laboratory, the Institute of Islamic Studies and the Bellair Research Institute were all established during this period. The Principal's records reflect the involvement of James in all aspects of the life of the University. Records documenting James' work for various external organizations, such as the International Association of Universities will be found in his private papers, M.G. 1017.

Administrative Records, 1940-1962

Administrative Records, 1940-1962, approx. 65 m (c.80-c.194, c.206, c.207, c.224-c.278) RESTRICTED

This series deals with many aspects of McGill's administration, as well as the University's teaching and research activities during that period. The files are arranged alphabetically within blocks covering periods of several years: subject files blocks are followed by administration and faculty files blocks. A listing of file titles is available, prefaced by an introduction to the filing system by the Principal's Secretary, Dorothy McMurray. Listed.

Minutes, 1939-1962, 4.5 m (c.209-c.223)

Draft and printed minutes of Governors' and Executive/Finance Committee meetings.

Annual Reports to the Principal, 1939-1958 1.5 m (c.600-c.603)

Bound copies of the annual reports from the departments and faculties of the University. Each volume has a table of contents and is paginated.

Annual Report, McGill University, 1961-1962, 5 mm (c.604)

Manuscript of the last Annual Report by James.


Born in Victoria, B.C. in 1912, Robertson received his B.Sc. (l932) and M.D.,C.M. (1936) from McGill. He was Professor of Surgery at the University of British Columbia and afterwards Surgeon-in-chief at the Montreal General Hospital and chairman of the Department of Surgery in the Faculty of Medicine. In December l962 he became the first McGill graduate to be appointed Principal. Under his administration, several buildings were planned or constructed including a new upper campus formed by the McIntyre Medical Building, the Faculty of Law Building and the Stewart Biology Building. The number of students and staff doubled. Robertson implemented administrative decentralization with the creation of additional Vice-Principals and other administrative officers. His private papers are to be found in M.G. 1069.

Administrative Records, 1962-1970

Academic Matters and Internal Administration, 1962-1970, 29.7 m 107 reels, (c.279-c.377) (See Microform Inventory) RESTRICTED

This general series consists of minutes, correspondence, memoranda and reports concerning the academic and administrative departments as well as various subjects such as Gifts and Scholarships. Except for the years 1963-1966, which are interfiled, the records are divided into yearly blocks, arranged alphabetically. The years 1962-1966 are also available on microfilm. Partly listed.

Correspondence, 1962-1970, 90 cm (c.378-c.380) RESTRICTED

These copies of the Principal's outgoing letters are arranged


Committees and Organizations, 1962-1970, 5.7 m (c.381-c.400)

This series of the Principal's records arising from internal and external committees is kept separately from the main series of administrative records. It contains the Principal's correspondence, minutes and reports, the bulk of which relates to the Board of Governors, Deans' Meetings, Conseil des Recteurs et Principaux des Universités du Québec (CREPUQ) and the Tripartite Commission. Partly listed.

Subject Files, ca 1967-1970, 2 m (c.401-c.405, c.608-c.610)

A few records dealing with particular events or situations were maintained separately. The titles include Student Activism, the McGill Daily Affair, 1967-1968 and the establishment of the C.E.G.E.P. system, 1970. Listed.

Annual Reports, 1962-1970, 3 m (c.540-c.549)

These are annual reports by the heads of departments to the Principal, on which the latter partly based the published Annual Reports of the University.

Addresses and Writings, 1963-1970

Addresses and Writings, 1963-1970, 1 m (c.568-c.569)

This consists chiefly of addresses given to a variety of groups by Robertson in his capacity as Principal.


G.A. Grimson was successively assistant accountant from 1929 to 1933, accountant to 1945, chief accountant to 1955 and comptroller until 1964. He became executive assistant to Principal Robertson in November 1964 to oversee the business operations of the University and assist the Principal in a number of administrative areas. He played an important role in the development of plans for the university's physical expansion in the 1960's.

Administrative Records, 1941-1971, 28.5 m (c.406-c.448, c.605) RESTRICTED

The records of this office relate to the several functions which were assigned to G.A. Grimson and, as such, contain general information on various aspects of the administration of the university. A substantial portion of the records document his active role in the management and planning of building projects, buildings and grounds and fund raising. Listed.


After research and teaching in nuclear physics, including terms as Rutherford Professor of Physics and Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, Robert E. Bell was appointed Principal in 1970. Under his administration, the Rutherford Physics Building and the Bronfman Building were constructed and the University switched from a four-year to a three-year undergraduate programme as the new system of C.E.G.E.P.s were instituted throughout Quebec.

Administrative Records, 1970-1979

Academic Matters and Internal Administration, 1971-1979, 38 m (c.449-c.529, c.579-c.587, c.611-c.624) RESTRICTED

This is a general series consisting of correspondence, memoranda,

minutes, and reports, relating to the academic and administrative units of the University. Gifts and Scholarships are other subjects covered. The records are arranged alphabetically by yearly blocks. Listed.

Correspondence, 1970-1973, 1976-1979, 1.5 m (c.380, c.536-c.539, c.606-c.607) RESTRICTED

Copies of the Principal's outgoing letters, arranged chronologically.

Committees and Organizations, 1970-1979 2.5 m (c.381-c.395, c.555-c.557, c.530-c.534, c.558, c.599) RESTRICTED

Certain records created by internal and extra-University committees or dealing with particular issues have been maintained in this separate series. The bulk of the records, consisting of correspondence, minutes and reports, relates to the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors, Senate Standing Committees, Deans' Meetings and Retreats, Conseil des Recteurs et Principaux des Universités du Québec (CREPUQ) (c.381-c.395, c.530-c.531, c.555-c.557, c.588, c.599), Macdonald College (c.532-c.534) and reorganization of the Vice-Principals' offices (c.558). Listed.

Annual Reports, 1971-1979, 2.6 m (c.549-c.554, c.529, c.570-c.571, c.596, c.597, c.641-c.642)

This series consists of the annual reports by department heads to the Principal which form the basis for the published Annual Reports of the University.

Addresses and Writings, 1970-1979

Addresses and Writings, 1970-1979, 90 cm (c.558, c.568-c.569)

Addresses to various audiences by Bell in his capacity as Principal.


Administrative Records, 1972-1976, 1.7 m (c.624-c.629) RESTRICTED

Correspondence and reports of various committees including the Principal's Advisory Group, development programmes and university relations. Listed.


Born in Sudbury, Ontario, Johnston received his B.A. from Harvard in 1963. He holds law degrees from Cambridge and from Queen's and served on the Law Faculties of Queen's and Toronto before being appointed Dean of Law at the University of Western Ontario in 1974. The author of numerous publications, he has specialized in securities regulation and in corporation and labour law. He took up his duties as Principal in September 1979.

Administrative Records, 1979-, 6 m (c.559-c.567, c.570-c.578) RESTRICTED

Minutes, correspondence, memoranda, and reports relating to the faculties, departments and offices; including series covering Gifts, National Research Council, and Students. The arrangement is alphabetical.

Records relating to the Advisory Committee for the nomination of Vice-principals and Deans, 1964-1981, 1.5 m (c. 581-c.585) RESTRICTED

Minutes, correspondence and reports of the various committees set up from time to time to advise the Principal on the nominations of Vice-Principals and Deans. These records are restricted for 50 years. Listed.

Annual Reports, 1979-1981, 1.2 m (c.643-c.646)

These annual reports by department heads to the Principal serve as the basis for the published Annual Reports of the University.