Smith, Sidney Earle

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Principal, University College (1944-1945)

President, University of Toronto (1945-1957)

Sidney Earle Smith served as President of the University of Toronto between 1945 and 1958. Born in Port Hood, Cape Breton into a family which had moved there from Cape Cod, Massachusetts in 1786, Smith attended the local Port Hood Academy, and then King’s College, Windsor, at which he completed a BA in 1915. Following his graduation, he enlisted in the No.9 Siege Battery in France, serving at both Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele, and had just transferred to the RAF as the war ended. On return to Nova Scotia, he received his MA degree from King’s College in 1919, and completed his studies at the Dalhousie Law School the next year. After a subsequent year at the Harvard Law School, he returned to teach at Dalhousie Law School until 1925, when, until 1929, he served as a Lecturer at Osgoode Hall Law School. During this time, he married a fellow Nova Scotian, Harriet Rand, a niece of Sir Robert Borden. The Smiths returned to Nova Scotia in 1929, when Sidney Smith was appointed Dean of the Law School. In 1934, Smith was offered the Presidency of the University of Manitoba, where he remained for nine years before being invited to the University of Toronto in 1944, initially as Principal of University College, and then, in 1945, as President, replacing the retiring H.J. Cody. Sidney Smith left the University of Toronto Presidency in 1957 to join John Diefenbaker’s cabinet as Secretary of State for External Affairs, and died in office on March 17th, 1959. In recognition of his contributions, the University of Toronto accorded Smith the honourary degree of LLD in 1958.

Sidney Smith was felt to be very much a “model administration president”, and was described as a “reconciler of irreconcilables”. Both his university presidencies were considered to be very successful, and he is credited with seeing both the University of Manitoba and the University of Toronto through critically important periods of adjustment and reorganization. The University of Manitoba had just been financially devastated by the so-called Machray defalcation (the misappropriation of a major portion of the University’s endowment by the then bursar), and was suffering as well from the effects of the Depression and the Great Drought. The University of Toronto, in the mid-nineteen-forties, was facing the explosion of enrolment which was to follow the second world war. In addition to accommodating the influx of students, Smith was equally engaged in the development of the university’s faculty and research. He left a number of important legacies, including a much improved salary and benefit structure, a restructured School of Graduate Studies, a revised undergraduate program, a significantly expanded University Press, and an enhanced university participation in legal education.

Throughout his career, Sidney Smith was deeply involved in a range of community activities, serving, among other things, as president of the National Council of the YMCA (1938-1942), and then as chairman of the Canadian Youth Commission. He was the first chairman of the National Film Institute, and for more than two years from 1942, president of the Canadian Association for Adult Education. His interest in adult and extension education facilitated a collaboration during the war between the CAAE and the Canadian Legion in the establishing of the Canadian Legion Educational Service. His commitment to education continued after his move to federal politics, and in 1958 he was one of the principal instigators in the establishment of the Commonwealth Scholarship program. ADG

E.A. Corbett, Sidney Earle Smith. Toronto: University of Toronto Press,1961.


Sidney Smith Hall (photo)