The genesis of the college bearing his name was a difficult, drawn-out affair. One of his heirs, a nephew named Francis Desrivières, was eager to claim Burnside Place as his own; he stalled all progress, in the hope that the McGill fortune would default to him. The Royal Institution, meanwhile, was a fledgling operation ill-equipped to deal with its own day-to-day operations, let alone do battle with the uncooperative Desrivières. It was thanks to the rallying efforts of McGill’s former friend, John Strachan, that the Royal Institution pulled itself together and obtained a charter from King George IV in the spring of 1821. Three years later saw the appointment of a principal, Reverend George Jehosaphat Mountain (later Anglican Bishop of Quebec), and the hiring of four professors. Now all the Royal Institution needed was the school itself.
On June 24, 1829, Burnside Place was formally opened as McGill College. The college immediately struck a deal to have the Montreal Medical Institution act as its faculty of medicine. James McGill’s dream was picking up steam, although it would take another six years to settle the case with Francis Desrivières, and internal bickering would cause even further delays. Finally, on September 6, 1843, twenty students filed into the new Arts Building. It was McGill College’s first day of classes, an historic moment thirty years in the making.