Etherington: Medical school fuels Western’s legacy

On Homecoming weekend, the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry very properly celebrated the 130th anniversary of its founding and a proud history it is, with medicine being the only course of study in continuous operation at Western (“Reflecting on medical school’s history,” Sept. 29).

The first classes were in the fall of 1881 with courses offered in medicine, arts and divinity. In 1883, the first two graduates of ‘The Western University of London, Ontario’ – our original name – were William James Roche, medicine, and Robert Franklyn Sutherland, arts. They became Western’s first alumni. Both began studies at the University of Toronto, then the only publicly funded university in the province, and transferred to our fledgling, Anglican Church-sponsored university.

Roche became a member of Parliament from Manitoba and served 21 years. In 1916, he was named Western’s fourth chancellor and held that post until 1929.

Sutherland became a lawyer, later a judge, and also served as a member of both the provincial parliament and as an MP, was speaker of the House of Commons and became the first head of Canada’s civil service.

In 1885, failing enrolment and financial difficulties led to the suspension of studies in arts for the next 10 years. Studies in law were introduced in 1885, but ceased two years later when the Law Society of Upper Canada refused to recognize examination results from any university except those from its own Osgoode Hall. For a period of time Huron College withdrew its affiliation with the struggling university.

However, studies in medicine continued under the auspices of local doctors who funded the faculty and provided lectures.


Jim Etherington
Alumni Western