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Department of Geography and Program in Planning
Est. 1935

Donald Kerr, “University of Toronto Department of Geography and Program in Planning: A brief history”. CAG/ACG (2001)

The geography department at the University of Toronto was founded in 1935 with, Griffith Taylor as the first head. The department faced several challenges while leading towards establishment. There were times at the beginning when the department went through vulnerable stages and the university wanted to shut it down but there were figures such as William (Bill) Birch who saved it and lead towards ultimate success.

Over the years academic geography came across many challenges in several areas. During the late 1960s and early 1970s two revolutions swept across the discipline, quantitative and humanistic geography. World war two was identified as the key driving force for the quantitative revolution as the war initiated interest in the social sciences. One of the significant contributors to this from U of T was Ian Burton as he published a book called, The Quantitative Revolution and Theoretical Geography. Within the next couple of years, the geography department at U of T became the leader of geography's 'Quantitative movement'. Towards the end of the 1960s however, tension started growing between the quantifiers and the historical researchers. Cole Harris, an assistant professor then, claimed that the focusing too much on the quantitative part will move attention from the history and the context of it all. He further stressed this in his publication, 'Theory and synthesis'. Over the years the geography department faced many changes as it explored different areas.

As the department was progressing, it started expanding at the Scarborough College in 1965, which later became University of Toronto at Scarborough (UTSC). Ali Tayyeb and Fred Watts moved from the department at St. George campus to set up the new geography program. They were later joined by Brian Greenwood and Colin Clarke along with many others, to further the progression. Courses were offered in the areas of cultural, economic and urban geography along with climatology, hydrology and soils. It was part of the Faculty of Arts and Science at St. George until it was separated in 1971. It then became part of the division of Social sciences at UTSC.

Similarly, the Erindale College, later known as the University of Toronto at Mississauga (UTM), was established in 1967. Associate professors started off by familiarizing the students in their particular fields. Finally in 2003, UTM had its first individual department of geography.