Previous Principals and Vice-Chancellors

Heather Munroe-Blum, O.C., O.Q., Ph.D., FRSC,  2003-2013

Principal Heather Munroe-Blum

Heather Munroe-Blum became 16th Principal and Vice-Chancellor (President) and Senior Officer of McGill University in 2003. An accomplished scholar in the fields of psychiatric epidemiology and public policy, and a distinguished administrator, Prof. Munroe-Blum is a member of McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and Professor in its Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health. She has dedicated her career to the advancement of higher education, science and innovation, in Canada and internationally. She advises governments on the role that progressive, evidence-based public policy, and especially, policies concerning universities, health, research and highly qualified talent play in enriching society and enhancing international competitiveness. Prof. Munroe-Blum serves on the Internationalization and Membership Committees of the Association of American Universities (AAU).

She is Chair of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada’s Standing Advisory Committee on University Research (SACUR). She is a member of the Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC) of Canada, the President’s Council of the New York Academy of Sciences, and, in the past two years served as a member of the U.S. National Research Council’s Committee on Research Universities which reported to the U.S. Congress in June 2012. She serves on the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Trilateral Commission, and, is the co-chair of the Private Sector Advisory Committee of the Ontario-Quebec Trade and Co-operation Agreement. She serves on the boards of the Trudeau Foundation, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), the Conférence de Montréal, and the Royal Bank of Canada. Professor Munroe-Blum is the past President of the Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec (CREPUQ), was a founding director of the Toronto-based Medical and Related Sciences Discovery District (MARS), and, of Genome Canada, where she also served as founding Vice-Chair of the Board. She has served on the boards of numerous Canadian teaching hospitals, the Council of Canadian Academies, the former Medical Research Council of Canada, Neurosciences Canada, the Conference Board of Canada, the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, Alcan, Canada Forum of Rio Tinto Alcan, Yellow Media Inc., Hydro One (Ontario), and Four Seasons Hotels, among others.

Prior to assuming the position of Principal and Vice-Chancellor at McGill, she served at the University of Toronto as Professor, as Vice-President (Research and International Relations) from 1994 to 2002 and as Dean of the Faculty of Social Work from 1989 to 1994. Earlier, she was a professor at York University and McMaster University, respectively. Prior to her doctoral studies and academic career, she worked as a psychiatric social worker in an academic health setting. She has lead a number of major clinical and population-based research studies, and contributed to the development of mental health policy and programs. Prof. Munroe-Blum has received numerous honors and awards. Named an Officer of the Order of Canada for an outstanding record of achievement in science, innovation, health and higher education policy, she holds numerous honorary degrees from Canadian and international universities, is a Specially Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a Senior Fellow of Massey College, and, an Officer of the Order of Quebec.

Prof. Munroe-Blum holds a Ph.D. with distinction in epidemiology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in addition to M.S.W. (Wilfrid Laurier University) and B.A. and B.S.W. degrees (McMaster University).

Bernard J. Shapiro, 1994-2002

Bernard J. Shapiro

Born and raised in Montreal, Shapiro earned his undergraduate degree at McGill University, where he was awarded the Alan Oliver Gold Medal. He is past president of the Canadian Society for the Study of Education and of the Social Science Federation of Canada. He has also served on the executive committee of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) and as Chair of the governing board of the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation in Paris. He is the author of numerous articles on curriculum, public policy in education, the development of logical thinking in young people, and educational research and methodology. He has addressed provincial, national and international educational organizations in Canada and abroad, and has received honorary degrees from McGill University, University of Toronto, University of Ottawa, Yeshiva University, McMaster University, Université de Montréal and the University of Edinburgh.

David Lloyd Johnston, 1979-1994

David Lloyd Johnston

Born in Sudbury, Ontario, Johnston received his BA 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.

Robert Edward Bell, 1970-1979

Robert Edward Bell

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 program as the new system of CEGEPs was instituted throughout Quebec.

Harold Rocke Robertson, 1962-1970

Harold Rocke Robertson

Born in Victoria, B.C., in 1912, Robertson received his BSc (1932) and MD,CM (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.

Frank Cyril James, 1939-1962

Frank Cyril James

Born in 1903 in London, England, Frank Cyril James attended the London School of Economics and the University of Pennsylvania, where he obtained his PhD 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 the 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 in new ones: the Faculty of Divinity was created in 1948; the departments of Geography and Chemical Engineering, the Foster Radiation Laboratory, the Institute of Islamic Studies and the Bellairs 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.

Lewis Williams Douglas, 1938-1939

Lewis Williams Douglas

Lewis Williams Douglas, an American, but the grandson of James Douglas, who had served as a governor of McGill, 1911-1919, and who had been a major benefactor of the University, was Principal from 1938 to 1939. Born on 2 July 1894, Douglas was a graduate of Amherst College, with a postgraduate year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prior to being appointed Principal he was a Vice-President of the American Cyanamid Co. from 1934 to 1937. Under his administration the budget was balanced, to the astonishment of the Governors, the Sir Arthur Currie Memorial Gymnasium project was approved, and the plans for a building to house a radiation laboratory equipped with a cyclotron were authorized by the end of Douglas's first year. 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 to 1950. He died 7 March 1974.

Arthur Eustace Morgan, 1935-1937

Arthur Eustace Morgan

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. During his administration there was controversy over the attitude the University authorities should adopt towards the small but vocal group of socialist professors and students. He retired from the office in May 1937. 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.

Sir Arthur Currie, 1920-1933

Sir Arthur Currie

Born in Adelaide, Ontario in 1875, Arthur Currie was educated locally as a school teacher and left at the age of nineteen to seek his fortunes in Victoria, British Columbia. After a short career as a teacher, he became an insurance agent, then a manager and real estate developer. Concurrently, he also pursued a career in the militia rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel by 1912. After the outbreak of war in 1914 he rose quickly through the ranks, orchestrating the famous Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge, and by 1917 he was the commander of the Canadian Corps in France. Currie's leadership skills, mastery of complex situations and attention to detail on the battlefield were transferable, due to his hard work, to McGill's academic milieu. A fine public speaker, Currie greatly aided McGill's capital campaign of 1920. Currie's reputation as a general was attacked in 1927 by an Ontario newspaper which charged him with the needless sacrifice of Canadian troops during the war. Currie sued the newspaper and won. However, the trial had taken an emotional toll on Currie and he was given a leave of absence. He died in office in 1933.

Sir Auckland Campbell Geddes, 1919-1920

Sir Auckland Campbell Geddes

Born on 27 June 1879, Sir Auckland Campbell Geddes was Professor of Anatomy at McGill from 1913 to 1914, and later served as British Minister of National Service from 1917 to 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.

Sir William Peterson, 1895-1919

Sir William Peterson

Sir William, graduate of Edinburgh and Oxford, classical scholar and skilled academic administrator, was the ideal candidate for principal. After much negotiation Peterson was persuaded to accept the appointment in May 1895. As an administrator he showed considerable skill in the engagement of staff and in the management of finance. His administration at McGill saw the creation of Macdonald College and 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, 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.

Sir John William Dawson, 1855-1893

Sir John William Dawson

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 1855-1893 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 the 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 co-education of women at McGill. Dawson continued to write on geology and evolution throughout this period. He died in Montreal, 19 November 1899.

Charles Dewey Day, 1853-1855

Charles Dewey Day

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.


Edmund Allen Meredith, 1846-1853

Edmund Allen Meredith

The twenty-nine-year-old lawyer Edmund Allen Meredith, graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, was appointed the third Principal of McGill College in 1846. His appointment was not only as Principal, but also as lecturer in mathematics and natural philosophy. In October 1847 he was named assistant Provincial Secretary for the Province of Canada, at which point he resigned his lectureship while continuing in office as Principal. Edmund's principalship was during a period of disorganization of the affairs of the governors and the country; for this reason there was no one around when he sought to relinquish the position of Principal on 26 October 1849. When the government of the Province of Canada moved to Toronto in 1849, Meredith went with it. For the next four years it was not clear whether McGill had a principal or not. Not until 21 June 1853 did a competent body formally accept his resignation.

John Bethune, 1835-1846

John Bethune

John Bethune was forty-four years of age when he was appointed Principal of McGill College. At the time of his appointment he was a clergyman and the rector of the Anglican Parish of Montreal. He suffered from the disability that he had never attended a university, and therefore possessed no degree, but he was available and willing to serve as Principal of McGill College. 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.

George Jehoshaphat Mountain, 1824-1835

George Jehoshaphat Mountain

George Jehoshaphat Mountain, Anglican priest and son of Bishop Mountain, the president of the Royal Institution, was named the first Principal of McGill College in 1829. The Principal and his colleagues were determined and broadminded in their development of the constitution and set of rules for the government, to which he remarked that those rules were liberal in every sense of the word, "they imposed no test upon Professors or Students ... all offices in McGill College were left freely open either to Protestants or Roman Catholics, and students of all denominations would be permitted to attend." Taken in a contemporary context this was truly a liberal practice.

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