The Lives of Dalhousie University, Vol. 2: 1925-1980


487 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-1644-1
DDC 378.716'225





Reviewed by D.M.L. Farr

D.M.L. Farr is professor emeritus of history at Carleton University,
where he taught Canadian political history and the history of Canada’s
external relations.


Peter Waite was asked to write the history of his university, Dalhousie,
in 1986. The first volume, Lord Dalhousie’s College, 1818–1925, was
published in 1994. This second volume has been well worth waiting for.

Waite’s approach has been wide-ranging. His history is that of a
single institution, yet in examining the many facets of Dalhousie’s
growth and change Waite has given us the larger story of the experience
of most Canadian universities between 1925 and 1980. During this period,
student numbers have exploded, as have the numbers of women and
part-time students. The insistence in the arts curricula of the 1920s on
the study of classics, English, and the languages has disappeared. The
emphasis on teaching and the distrust of publication, so prevalent among
Canadian faculty members up to the 1950s, has given way to the
determined pursuit of research and the funds to support it. Financial
support to the universities now comes not from student fees and church
sponsorship but from provincial and federal governments, supplemented by
aid from alumni and wealthy benefactors. Students are no longer seen in
loco parentis but given a latitude in their living and learning. Faculty
members have become unionized; universities have adopted many of the
methods of the business corporation. Dalhousie University can be seen as
a mirror reflecting these broader trends.

Waite’s history is, of course, much more than a discussion of trends.
It focuses on a single institution, bringing out its particular goals,
its distinctive tone, its cast of characters. For the work of a loyal
faculty member, its approach is remarkably detached. Mistakes are
acknowledged, accomplishments identified. Waite has always been adept in
sketching pen-portraits and Dalhousie has given him a flourishing field
to cultivate. The three presidents in his story are vividly presented:
the brilliant autocratic Carleton Stanley, who had to be dismissed; the
narrow tight-fisted Alexander E. Kerr; and the energetic mercurial Henry
Hicks. The deans are brought forth, a varied group, as are the notable
among the faculty, the brash student leaders, and the campus
celebrities. There is a fascinating account of the prickly relationship
between Dalhousie’s two leading fairy goddesses of the 1950s and
1960s: Lady Dunn (later to be Lady Beaverbrook) and Mrs. Isaac Walton

The Lives of Dalhousie University, Vol. 2, is a book of compelling
interest to anyone concerned with the growth of the Canadian university
system; to a Dalhousie graduate it will be irresistible. Waite writes
with style, wit, and good judgment. His superb account of Dalhousie’s
transformation from “the little college by the sea” into a modern
university, strong and solid in teaching and research, is illustrated
with more than 75 well-chosen pictures showing personalities,
activities, and buildings mentioned in the text. The book also includes
a statistical appendix of enrolment, a bibliographic essay, careful
reference notes, and an index. The only shortcoming is the lack of a
map: As Dalhousie grew it thrust its tentacles into the quiet
residential streets of south Halifax. The residents were not pleased and
controversy followed. Waite explores the arguments but his explanation
would have been helped by the inclusion of a street map of the area.
This is a small gap in what is an outstanding work of critical


Waite, P.B., “The Lives of Dalhousie University, Vol. 2: 1925-1980,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 13, 2024,