In 1895, A.C. Rutherford arrived in Alberta. A graduate of McGill University, Rutherford had practiced law for ten years in Kemptville, Ontario. Rutherford opened a law office in the rail head city of Strathcona. Ten years later, in 1905, he was appointed as the first premier and the minister of education of the newly created province of Alberta. The area of the new province was immense: a quarter of a million square miles. In this vast, sparsely populated land, Rutherford and his fellow citizens had to create a united, functioning province. With the priorities that were involved in this challenging task—housing, schools, hospitals, transportation, utilities, and communications—a university might seem the least of their preoccupations. But in fact, an act to authorize the establishment of the University of Alberta was among the first to be passed by the provincial legislature in its initial session in 1906.
To many skeptics, the destiny of Alberta would depend upon its farmers, not its scholars. The province needed rain, hired hands, good crops, and markets. A university? Who would go to it? Who would teach at it? The need for a university seemed remote to the average citizen. It was Premier Rutherford’s responsibility to find a man wiling to organize the development of the new institution, a man who could lure academics from the settled communities in the east to teach at a frontier university. Rutherford not only found a man to direct the fledgling university, he found a man of vision.
Henry Marshall Tory, formerly a professor of mathematics and physics at McGill University, was a tireless worker, a dynamic man of action, and an inspiring leader. One of Tory’s first tasks was to hire a teaching staff. The first professor of English, E.K. Broadus, recalled:
In June of 1908, the president of a university not yet in being, in a province I had never heard of, in a country I had never visited, came here to Harvard and offered me the Professorship of English. I think that what I accepted was not the position, nor the salary, but the man himself.