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1870-1920

Science during This Era

Canadian universities modernize

The end of the 19th Century saw the emergence of an organized scientific community within modern universities. The higher learning model that continues to exist today in Canada was implemented then.

Leaders of this scientific community worked mainly at the University of Toronto, Queen's University in Kingston and McGill University in Montréal (referred to then as McGill College). These establishments offered postgraduate programs in natural science, chemistry, physics, engineering and medicine.

Université Laval founded in 1852 taught sciences, but scientific training was directed at students completing their classical education and students of medicine. Courses included chemistry, physics and botany. In terms of science, the Montréal branch of Université Laval, which would become the Université de Montréal in 1920, operated solely as a Faculty of Medicine.

John William Dawson

John William Dawson, geologist, professor and rector of McGill University from 1855 to 1893 was the first internationally acclaimed scientist from Canada. This native of Nova Scotia initially gained renown as a geologist and then as the greatest scientist of his era in fossil plants. In 1882, he participated in the foundation of the Royal Society of Canada (becoming its first president), the main national organization working on the promotion of knowledge and research in Canada at the time.

These two French-language universities did not offer programs leading to a postgraduate diploma in sciences. However, several science professors from Université Laval were recognized for their research efforts. The most well-known included Abbots Louis-Ovide Brunet (botany), Joseph-Clovis-Kemner Laflamme (geology and physics), Henri Simard (physics) and Doctor Hubert LaRue (chemistry). Along with self-taught naturalists, they were also active in several scientific societies.

Mgr Joseph-Clovis-Kemner Laflamme

Joseph-Clovis-Kemner Laflamme, priest, educator and scientist. He was a professor of geology and mineralogy at Université Laval in 1870 and also taught physics from 1875 to 1893. From 1880 on, he led several expeditions in Quebec for the Geographical Survey of Canada. However, his fame was due primarily to his contributions to the field of education and the dissemination of scientific knowledge. Through his public conferences, scientific work and newspaper articles, he informed French Canadians of important scientific discoveries made during the era and their applications, in particular electricity, the telephone and X-rays. He was a founding member of the Royal Society of Canada and became its president in 1891. In 1893, he was named Rector of Université Laval.

Some Scientific Societies of the Era

Literary and Historical Society of Quebec (1824)

Natural History Society of Montreal (1827)

Institut canadien de Montréal (1844)

Institut canadien de Québec (1848)

Montreal Horticultural Society & Fruit Growers' Association of the Province of Quebec (1846)

Entomological Society of Ontario, affiliates of Québec (1863) and Montréal (1873)

As was the case in earlier decades, geology was the most advanced applied science of the era. Work was supported by the Geographical Survey of Canada, whose role was to explore the potential development of mineral resources (iron coal, etc.).

Greater need for specialized manpower

Parallel to scientific development at the university level, technical training was also increasingly prevalent in response to industry's growing need for specialized manpower. The result was the creation in Montréal of the École Polytechnique (1873) and the École des hautes études commerciales (founded in 1907 by the Chamber of Commerce of Montréal). In Québec City, Université Laval opened the École d'arpentage (surveyors' school) in 1907) and the École de foresterie (forestry school) in 1910.