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University of Ottawa and Saint Paul University

Bytown, a lumber settlement, was founded in 1826. By the time of the Oblates arrival in the settlement in 1844, it was a rapidly growing town with a reputation for violence and alcoholism. Bytown had many French Catholics and English-speaking Irish Catholics to whom the Oblates ministered.

In 1848, Father Joseph-Bruno Guigues, OMI, founded the College of Bytown in the rapidly-growing settlement. This Oblate-run college was originally a boys’ school with a classical liberal arts curriculum. It was also bilingual, holding French classes in the morning and English classes in the afternoon.

Originally, the college was housed in a modest wooden building in the Lower Town district of the city, but the expanding population of the college required a move to a stone building in 1852, on Sussex Avenue. The college did not move to its current location until 1856, when notary Louis T. Besserer donated land in the area of Sandy Hill.

In 1861, when Bytown was renamed Ottawa; the college was also renamed. In 1866, the College of Ottawa received its first royal charter, becoming a university. In these years, Father Joseph-Henri Tabaret, OMI, had a principal role in developing the school. He was rector of the school three times for a total of 30 years. During his time as rector, Father Tabaret ensured that the college remained bilingual, according to the founder’s ideals. He played a central role in the development of the new curriculum in 1874. In 1889, the university received a pontifical charter from Pope Leo XIII.

The University of Ottawa saw numerous changes during the first half of the 20th century. Tragedy struck the university in 1903 when the main building was destroyed by fire; three people died. The main building was rebuilt gradually from 1905 to 1931, with a design based on the Capitol Building in Washington. It was renamed Tabaret Hall in 1971. An influenza epidemic in 1910 led to the temporary transformation of some of the dorms into an emergency hospital. Women began attending the university in 1919. Also, at the beginning of World War Two, an Officers’ Training Corps was set up. However, the University continued to remain a largely liberal arts school, until after the war. In 1955, Father Raymond Shevenell, OMI, introduced the School of Psychology and became its head. By 1965, the university had nine faculties and four schools.

On July 1st, 1965, the University of Ottawa Act was passed by the Ontario legislature creating Saint Paul University and making the University of Ottawa a non-denominational, publicly-funded institution. Through this Act, the pontifical charter was transferred to Saint Paul University, as were the theology programs. The Oblates became the administrators of the theological studies, while the civil faculties came under the control of the University of Ottawa’s new secular administrators. The Universities of Ottawa and St. Paul are now complementary institutions; St. Paul appoints members to the Senate and the Board of Governors of the University of Ottawa. The Rector of Saint Paul University is a member of the University of Ottawa Senate. The universities also share faculties and exchange professors, confer degrees jointly, and they both maintain a bilingual status. 

Today, the University of Ottawa is the largest bilingual university in North America. Bilingualism there was officially institutionalized in 1974. From the 1970s onwards, the University of Ottawa expanded and gained many new buildings including several residences, a university centre, a main library, sports facility, a health sciences complex and new faculty buildings including Arts and Engineering buildings, and a new multidisciplinary structure.

Saint Paul University remains a bilingual, Catholic institution, federated with the University of Ottawa. The University is still under the leadership of an Oblate rector. The school has an ecumenical curriculum with four faculties – Human Sciences, Philosophy, Theology and Canon Law.


Archives of the University of Ottawa. “About the History of the University of Ottawa.” Retrieved May 14, 2009 from http://www.uottawa.ca/services/archives/eng/history.html

Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. “Saint Paul University.” Retrieved May 14, 2009 from http://www.aucc.ca/can_uni/our_universities/st_paul_e.html

Prévost, Michel. “Childhood Friends.” Tabaret. Retrieved May 14, 2009 from http://www.tabaret.uottawa.ca/article_e_275.html

Saint Paul University. “About SPU: History.” Retrieved May 14, 2009 from http://www.ustpaul.ca/aboutSPU/history_e.asp

Saint Paul University. “About SPU: Mission.” Retrieved May 14, 2009 from  http://www.ustpaul.ca/aboutSPU/mission_e.asp

University of Ottawa. uOttawa History Microsite. Retrieved May 14, 2009 from http://www.uottawa.ca/since1848/
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