Sir William C. Macdonald and The Good Seeds

Sir William Christopher Macdonald (Source: Wikipedia)

February 9th, was Founder’s Day at the MacDonald Campus. Crowds of students, faculty, staff and alumni gathered in the festively decorated gymnasium to celebrate the founder of the MacDonald campus, and major benefactor of McGill University, Sir. William C. Macdonald.

I have been a student at MacDonald Collage since 2005, when I started as an undergraduate in nutritional biochemistry. In all the years I have been at this school I have never gone to a Founder’s Day celebration. Classes are cancelled for this affair, and as an undergraduate I took every opportunity possible to not trek out to this campus, literally located on the furthest point away from Montreal as possible. I realized however, that this year I would have to attend as it would be my final opportunity to do so. By next year I will have graduated (fingers crossed).

The theme this year was ‘seeds of change’ and MacDonald campus “invited three dynamic and thought-provoking speakers to plant some seeds of their own.” I will briefly talk about some of these speakers, students Christian Elliott and Alex Pritz.

But first, I want to tell you what I learned about Sir William C. Macdonald.

Around the 1850s, Sir William Macdonald had a successful tobacco company with his brother called McDonald Brothers and Co. Despite Macdonald himself being (like me) vehemently opposed to smoking, he made a killing (pun intended) selling tobacco to the United States during the American Civil War. Around 1870, he started to give his hoards of money to McGill. At first, it was just a handful of scholarships. He even sponsored promising, yet needy students, anonymously. I’m not sure what happened, but Ol’ Mac started to seriously pimp out McGill, sugar daddy style.  He created entire departments with his donations, notably the architecture and engineering. He built the chemistry and physics building, and apparently did whatever Mr. Nobel-Prize-Winning Rutherford asked. He also bought a huge chunk of land, named the Macdonald Park and gifted it to the University. Perhaps the most obvious achievement was the establishment of the Macdonald College on 300 acres of land, later donated to McGill.

Although the speaker didn’t outright say it, I got the feeling that McGill University would not be what it is today without William’s generosity. If you want more info you can buy his biography from the book store, or read Wikipedia.

As previously mentioned, two students gave a presentation at Founder’s Day, and oddly enough one of the students, Alex Pritz, is in the class that I am a TA for. Both Alex and Christian have been awarded the McGill Dalai Lama Fellowship, for their Iwastology project. Essentially, high school students from Montreal engage with students in the Philippines in discussion about environmental issues. It’s cool. You can watch his TEDx talk Pritz gave at McGill last year for more elaboration.

I am impressed with the initiative of these students, and others, who are motivated to make and inspire social change. Sir William Macdonald had tons of cash, McGill students got tons of brains.

McGill has a rich history that I was completely unaware of and I can only imagine that this history will continue to grow and amaze me simply because of all the creative, thought provoking, motivated and passionate students/faculty who make it up.

OK. Enough from me, I have baths that need to be sat in.

Have a great Valentines everybody!




One thought on “Sir William C. Macdonald and The Good Seeds

  1. I just stumbled across your founders day post. Thanks for not putting the really embarrassingly awesome vegetarian/non-veg picture up. Founders day was great. I never knew that Ol’ Billy McD was so influential in shaping what is currently our fine institution. Or that they could make that big room where we write finals look so fancy.


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