Massey College was a gift from the Massey Foundation to the University of Toronto in 1963 to “nourish learning and serve the public good.” Its motto is “Sapere Aude”, “Dare to know, Dare to be Wise.”
Massey College is a place where people and ideas intersect. The College strives to empower the next generation of thinkers and leverage the great intellectual wealth of interdisciplinary, intergenerational, inclusive and informed community in service to the public good.
The fellowship of Massey College Fellows, Quadrangle Society Members, and Alumni are encouraged to continuously address critical issues related to the rapidly changing world, to bring their cross-cultural and cross-generational understanding and ethical leadership to their respective fields and discover solutions to the complex problems facing society today .
An independent, registered Canadian charity located in the heart of the University of Toronto’s downtown campus, Massey College was founded in 1963. It is a unique and stimulating environment where graduate students, distinguished academics and established leaders from all disciplines, industries and backgrounds, share ideas and knowledge.
The College provides residence for up to 60 selected graduate students and is intellectual home to up to 70 non-resident Junior Fellows, who show an exceptional promise and engagement within academia and the world beyond it. The College community also includes our 500+ Senior Fellows, Quadrangle Society members, Senior Residents, Writers in Residence, Wm. Southam Journalism Fellows and 10 Visiting Fellows from the University of Toronto and other universities each year.
Massey College was a brainchild of Vincent Massey, a Canadian lawyer, diplomat and the first Canadian-born Governor General. Between 1949 and 1951, Vincent Massey headed a Royal Commission on the National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences, which resulted in the Massey Report. The report advocated for the federal funding of a wide range of cultural activities. It also made a series of recommendations that resulted in the founding of the National Library of Canada (now Library and Archives Canada), the creation of the Canada Council for the Arts, federal aid for universities, and the conservation of Canada’s historic places, among other initiatives. The recommendations that were made by the Massey Report, and enacted by the federal government, are generally seen as the first major steps to nurture, preserve and promote Canadian culture.
His philanthropic work continued through The Massey Foundation, which provided the financial endowment for establishing Massey College at, but independent from, the University of Toronto. His vision of the college was that “it should, in its form, reflect the life which will go on inside it and should possess certain qualities—dignity, grace, beauty, and warmth.” The idea was to create “an institution whose membership would be drawn from those graduate students of special promise”. The proposal for ”a centre for graduate studies, stimulating and enriching the academic community at the senior level” was unanimously accepted by the University’s Board of Governors, led by its President Claude Bissell. Robertson Davies, celebrated journalist and author joined the founders to help shape the college and he led it for the next twenty years.
Opened officially in 1963, the college and all its furnishings were designed by Canadian artist and architect Ron Thom. Alan Beddoe designed the Massey College coat of arms, which derives from the arms of Vincent Massey. Envisioned by its founders as an all-male college, it only allowed female graduate students in 1974, after many debates and protests, at the initiative of junior fellows, who filed a formal request with the board. The biggest proponents of admitting women were the members of the Massey family, who wrote a number of letters reproaching Robertson Davies for misinterpreting the founders’ wishes. “Your natural courtesy and imagination as to the wishes of the Founders who are dead is perhaps extended beyond recognized definition.” Listing counter-arguments on maintaining status quo at Massey, they concluded: “We note [in your letter] that the Corporation is ‘unanimous in its feeling that bringing women into the College would greatly change its nature.’ I must say Geoffrey and I don’t know what the Corporation means. Men and women have co-existed for some time, to the generally agreed benefit of the human race.”
Another letter, written by Hart Massey, confirms the views of the Massey Foundation that Massey should evolve and change with the times. “We decided, for reasons perhaps more nostalgic than otherwise, that the College should be for men only. More than ten years have passed since that decision was made and it is more apparent than ever that a college for graduate students restricted to only one sex is an anachronism. As you must realize yourself there are also potential dangers in maintaining the status quo in the face of a changing society. If Massey College is to fulfill its founders’ wishes, it can only do so by maintaining high standards and at the same time by being relevant to those within and outside the College. We did not expect that the College would, or should, remain frozen in its founding mold. To be vigorous and alive it surely must face, and from time to time accept, changes – even drastic ones.”
This reasoning has informed a thorough review of the college governance in 2015 and a number of subsequent changes, including the change of the title of the head of college from Master to Principal in 2018. Over the last decade, the College has continued to open its doors wider, and committed to working towards a more equitable, inclusive and diverse community. This evolution continues with the full support of the Governing Board, staff and Massey fellowship.