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Sir John William Dawon

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Sir John William Dawson and His Legacy

Ioan Grosuliac
Dawson College

Research Methods 300-300-DW
Prof. C.A. Ramsay
February 5, 2016
More students are enrolled in Dawson College more than any other CEGEP in Québec province. Few however are aware about the building’s story and the man after who it was named. Its toponymy is relevant to the author because of his interest in Quebec politics and how its creation is tied to a reform in higher education in Quebec with the creation of the CEGEP system. The author’s bias towards the general topic comes from the fact that this is English-speaking CEGEP, which may make the people interviewed at the college favor the francophone side less. The research problem is to explain why Dawson’s College name is relevant as a part of a Montreal Landmark. Professors from the politics and history department of Dawson College as well as students from the CEGEP will be interviewed and the author will be expecting responses that show how John Dawson’s achievements make him eligible to have an English-speaking CEGEP named after him.

Literature review The majority of the building that now constitutes Dawson College started out as the Mother House of the Congregation de Notre Dame, built on ground bought from the Sulpicians and located at the northeast corner of Sherbrooke and Atwater (Breslaw, 2009, p.6). Designed by Canadian architect Jean Omer Marchand, its construction started in 1904 and finished in 1908 (Breslaw, 2009, p.6). In 1909, it opened within its doors a bilingual institution for higher learning addressed to women, the Notre-Dame Ladies’ College (Lindsay, 2009, p.8). According to Lindsay (2009), some notable alumni include Marie-Gérin Lajoie, who was the first graduate in 1911 (p.8). Jumping a few decades to 1945, there was a massive demobilization of the Canadian air crew which enrolled at McGill University (Edwards, 1990, p.150). Due to overcrowding, a second campus was set up in the former air force buildings at St-John and it was first named Sir William Dawson College, in honour of a notable McGill principal (p.150). After the Parent commission of 1961, the institution was renamed Dawson College and officially became the first English-speaking member of the new CEGEP system (p.150). It opened its doors in 1969 at 350 Selby Street and as the population grew, more buildings were rented across Montreal such as the Air Canada Building at 3401 St. Antoine (Breslaw, 2009, p.6). According to Lindsay (2009), by the 1970’s, the Congregation de Notre-Dame was losing members and the Mother House became coveted by investors (p.9). In 1981, Dawson’s College Director General Sarah Paltiel, with the permission of the Quebec government, negotiated a 12.2 million dollar deal with the congregation and the Mother House became the official new home of Dawson College (Breslaw, 2009, p.9). After 32 million dollars spent on renovation, classes began on the campus in 1988 (Breslaw, 2009, p.9). The other notable landmark is Dawson Avenue located in Ville Mont-Royal, which was officialised by the Comission de Toponymie du Quebec on January 25, 2001. Sir John William Dawson is a well-documented topic of Canadian history. After a search on a popular academic research website (JStor), it came up with 2500 articles written in the past 25 years. This literature review will only focus on a few specific articles. Our goal is to establish why Dawson’s name is relevant for the major historic landmark located on Sherbrooke Street. By presenting an objective view of his accomplishments as a principal and as a scientist, the author can design relevant interview questions.
Dawson College and Avenue Dawson were named in honour of Sir John William Dawson, a world-renowned geologist and paleontologist, as well as a principal and author born in 1820 in Pictou Nova-Scotia and dead in 1899 in Montreal (Eakins & Eakins, 1990). He was a distinguished naturalist who put America on the front page of scientific achievement (Adams, 1899, p.907). Born of Scottish immigrants, his childhood was marked by a period of financial difficulty where his father was flooded with debts (Eakins & Eakins, 1990). Over these years, he inherited from him a deep Presbyterian faith which will become an integral part of his life (1990). He developed an early passion for geology and natural history, and he eventually attended the University of Edinburg in 1840 where he studied in geology and taxidermy (1990). Due to a lack of money, he had to return home in 1841 where he advised against becoming a reverend because that job wouldn’t be sufficient in order to pay his father’s debts and because he could already see his future in geology, having done considerable field work in Nova Scotia (1990). He married in 1847 and began to work for the government of Nova Scotia on mineral deposits (1990). Becoming the superintendent of Nova Scotia, he was interested in the education system and proposed reforms to make local schools more efficient and better suited for students (1990).
After major scientific discoveries and important works in geology, he received an offer in 1855 for the post of principal at the McGill University, who needed a distinguished scholar at its head (1990). When he arrived at Montreal, he found the 2 campuses in poor shape, with almost no funding (Dufour, 1990). Having a promising board of governors at his side, Dawson set out for the task ahead (Eakins & Eakins, 1990). Being himself a professor, he transformed McGill into a renowned institution (1990). According to Adams (1899), he was a progressive thinker on the development of university teaching and as such, he established in 1858 a new school of Civil Engineering (p.909). However, his heavy schedule combined with his son’s health concerns restricted his field work (Eakins & Eakins, 1990). That didn’t stop him from publishing ground breaking works in the field of paleobotany in 1859 and 1871, which are his most important scientific achievement (1990). In 1860, he began criticizing Darwin’s theory of evolution and, being a devout Christian, he saw in it the “destruction of religious beliefs and social morality” (1990). In total, he published over 300 scientific works (1990). He was also a supporter of women’s right to higher education, creating an institution for them and even teaching the course on natural history himself (1990). He also was a defendant of the Protestant Education in Quebec and fought for a separate protestant school board (1990). He was awarded in 1881 the Lyell Medal by the Geological Society of London and after suffering a Pneumonia attack in 1892, he died a few years later in 1899 in Montreal (1990). During the interview, the author will ask questions about the controversy of selling a historic building which was previously a catholic Mother House to an Anglophone CEGEP named after a Presbyterian McGill principal who supported protestant school boards. The research will help the author ask specific questions that will help him arrive at a conclusion faster, as well as allowing him to create a better survey. Students have a general understanding of Quebec history, but their basic knowledge is somewhat resistant to it being reformed (Letourneau, 2006, p.84). They can add new information, but not change their fundamental structure (Letourneau, 2006, p.84).The author will first present the subjects with the literature review in order for them to have a general idea of the building and who Sir John William Dawson was. Furthermore, one of the errors that the author has to avoid is to think that the results obtained by the use of any type of survey means legitimate social research, which must take in account the design of the survey and the statistical method used (Hexham, 1992).

Avenue Dawson. (2001). Comission de Toponymie du Quebec. Retrieved from Adams, F. (1899). Sir William Dawson. Science. Retrieved from: Dufour, P. (1996). Science Emerges From a Cold Colony. Scientia Canadensis: Canadian Journal of the
History of Science, Technology and Medicine, 20. P.125-127. doi: 10.7202/800400ar
Edwards, R. (1990). Historical Background of the English-Language CEGEPs of Quebec. McGill
Journal of Education, 25. Retrieved from
Eakins, S., Eakins J.S. (1990). DAWSON, Sir JOHN WILLIAM. Dictionary of Canadian Biography, 12.
Retrieved from
Hexham, I. (1992). History May Be Bunk but, You Can Still Debunk Historians and other academics, Irving Hexham's Courses and Course Materials (University of Clagary). Retrieved at Létourneau, J. (2006). Remembering Our Past: An Examination of the Historical Memory of Young
Québecois, in Ruth Sandwell (dir.), To the Past: History Education, Public Money & Citezenship in Canada, Canada, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, p. 70-87. Retrieved at
Lindsay, D., Breslaw, C., Convington, B (February 2009). Congregation de Notre-Dame de
Montreal in Westmount. The Westmount Historian. Retrieved from…...

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