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Senator William McMaster - Our Founder



Not many Canadian universities can point to one individual as their single founding benefactor. McMaster University has this unique distinction, owing its origin to the fortune of William McMaster, one of Canada's most successful entrepreneurs of the 19th century.

A member of the first senate after Confederation, founding president of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, a director of several other banks and insurance companies, and chairman of the Great Western Railway, McMaster amassed a fortune by the 1880s.

Young William McMaster came to Canada in the 1830s from New York, to which he had emigrated from Ireland a year or two earlier. He rapidly rose from being a 22-year old dry goods clerk in "Muddy York", as Toronto was then known, to store owner. By the 1850s he was one of Toronto's leading merchants and financiers.

Senator McMaster and his wife, Susan Moulton McMaster, were ardent Baptists deeply interested in education. Some credit Mrs. McMaster with suggesting that her husband found a university. He had already spent considerable sums to finance Baptist divinity schools, including in 1885 $160,000 of his own money to build McMaster Hall, the University's first home, which is still standing on Toronto's Bloor Street.

After his death in 1887, it was discovered he had willed $900,000 for the founding of a university. McMaster University was created by a provincial charter that same year.


McMaster by the Decades

Click on the images below to read about McMaster University's early history.

School Building Woodstock Rugby
McMaster Band
School Building Woodstock Rugby
1880's 1890s 1900s 1910's 1920s
McMaster Band
McMaster Band
McMaster Band
McMaster Band
McMaster Band
1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s
Peace Studies
1980s 1990s 2000s

Honour Roll


Over a half century ago an Honour Roll tablet was unveiled in McMaster University's Alumni Memorial Hall, the red brick building completed and opened in 1951. The impressive tablet bears the names of the thirty-five McMaster graduates and undergraduates who died serving in World War II.

Click here to view a comprehensive biography of McMaster's WWII soldiers and their captivating stories.


125 years of moving pictures...

For the vintage enthusiasts, we have digitized our archival Super 8's, 16 mm films, slides and VHS footage for release over the course of our 125th Anniversary celebrations. Experience the sites and sounds of McMaster through the years--see how the campus, not to mention the student fashion trends, have evolved.

McMaster 125 Playlist

125th Anniversary Highlights

Learn more about history & campus life

125 People of Impact

Which McMaster figure has made the greatest impact? We want to hear what you think!


McMaster Favourite Things Project

As alumni, you have experienced some of your life's most important moments at McMaster. Whatever it is, we want to know!

McMaster's Memory Lane

McMaster by the Decades, Monthly Highlights, McMaster's Honour Roll,
This Week in McMaster History

Coat of Arms

Media Page

Check out the media page for 125th Anniversary desktop wallpapers and Facebook cover photos.