About the History of the University of Ottawa

Group of professors and graduates on the steps of the former central building, 1890.  AUO, 38-09-7

Located in the heart of the National Capital, at the juncture of French and English Canada, the University of Ottawa has held a unique place on the Canadian academic map from its inception. Long a meeting ground for two of the prominent intellectual and scientific traditions of the western world, it is the oldest and largest bilingual university in North America.

Established by the Oblate Fathers as the College of Bytown in 1848, the institution moved from Lower Town to its present location in Sandy Hill in 1856. In 1861, the College, like the city in which it is located, was renamed and, five years later, elevated to university status by royal charter. Rev. Joseph-Henri Tabaret, OMI, three times rector of the College for a total of 30 years during the 19th century, is generally regarded as the builder of the University. The University of Ottawa has been conferring undergraduate degrees since 1872, master's degrees since 1875 and PhDs since 1888.

Originally a liberal arts college, the University of Ottawa nonetheless began teaching pure and applied sciences in both French and English well before the turn of the century.

On the first day of July 1965, Queen's Park approves Bill 158. It reorganizes the University as a corporation independent from any outside body, lay or religious. The civil and pontifical charters were kept by the newly created Saint Paul University, which is federated with the University of Ottawa. The Ecclesiastical, Pastoral, and Missiology fields of studies stayed under the administration of the Oblates, while the University of Ottawa retained the civil Faculties.

Following a major reorganization in 1965, the Universtiy joined the ranks of Ontario's provincially funded institutions. Its nine faculties - Administration, Arts, Education, Engineering, Health, Sciences, Law, Medicine, Science and Social Sciences - offer a full range of undergraduate and professional programs. The School of Graduate Studies and Research administers an equally broad array of graduate programs leading to master's and doctoral degrees in most of the disciplines taught at the University.

Over the years, the University has seen its distinct character and special mandate evolve in an increasingly multicultural milieu. Today, in what amounts to a small city within a city, 40,000 students from a variety of heritages study, live and work side by side surrounded by elements of both the English and French cultures. Its mission statement pledges the University to develop and maintain the widest possible range of teaching and research programs in both French and English while fostering international cooperation and providing leadership in the promotion of women in all aspects of university life.

In research, the University is an acknowledged leader in a variety of areas critical to society and to Canada's future. Several breakthrough discoveries by University of Ottawa researchers have earned worldwide acclaim and recognition. The isolation and identification of the defective gene causing myotomic muscular dystrophy, and the work done at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute at Ottawa Civic Hospital as well as at the Neuroscience Research Institute, are cases in point.

The University's proximity to government departments, agencies, laboratories and libraries as well as to the international community through the many foreign embassies and high commissions located in the National Capital provides faculty and students with invaluable resources. And because Ottawa also is the capital of Canada's high technology industry, the University also has been able to forge valuable links with several leading companies while expanding its innovative cooperative education program offerings.

Today, the University's pacesetting ventures in cooperative and distance education have added important dimensions to teaching and learning and have broadened horizons in remote parts of Canada and abroad. As a result, francophones from across Ontario can take a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate courses - some even leading to the PhD - through a University of Ottawa-centred distance education network. In addition to its innovative Ottawa-based executive MBA program, the University offers a similar program in Hong Kong.

Internationally, more than 100 bilateral agreements with governments, research institutes and universities throughout the world have given the University direct access to exciting new fonts of information and scholarship while expanding the cross-pollination of knowledge. Many of those agreements provide for exchanges which encourage faculty and student mobility as well as partnerships in a variety of academic pursuits. Currently, more than 200 University of Ottawa students study abroad every year while about 800 foreign students register at University of Ottawa.

With respect to international cooperation, the University has become increasingly involved in projects with an international dimension and in partnerships in the area of development. In fact, the University of Ottawa has been an active participant for more than 40 years in Canadian efforts to promote international assistance and development in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Culturally, campus life is equally stimulating and diverse. The departments of Music, Theatre and Visual Arts provide a varied menu of concerts, plays and exhibitions. In addition, festivals, fairs, films, and public lectures of every description - many with an international flavour - and a full spectrum of interuniversity, intramural and recreational sports round out a busy program that makes the University a lively and vibrant place.

During its 160 years, the University of Ottawa has been intimately associated with Canada's evolution. It has witnessed Confederation, the creation of a National Capital and the onset of the industrial revolution in Canada. during the first half of the 20th century, it twice lent its support to Canada's national war effort and then reaped the benefits of the postwar boom which provided the means for a major expansion that made it possible for the University to become one of Canada's leading institutions of higher learning.

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Last updated: 2014.04.29