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Sir Robert Falconer

Sir Robert Falconer: A Biography

Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 400
  • Book Info
    Sir Robert Falconer
    Book Description:

    Biblical scholar, social critic, and internationalist, Robert Alexander Falconer was also the foremost Canadian university leader of his generation, serving as president of the University of Toronto from 1907 to 1932. James Greenlee's biography chronicles his development as an academic leader and a public man.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7997-9
    Subjects: Law, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  6. CHAPTER I Cold Baths and Classics
    (pp. 3-19)

    Conflicts of tribal identity were alien to the Falconers of Pictou County. They were transplanted Scots and rugged Presbyterians. It was as simple as that. The passage of a few generations in the New World did nothing to dim their ancestral memory. There was, of course, no reason why it should. Alexander Falconer of Inverness left Scotland in 1784 only to settle among kinfolk who had departed in the storied brigHectora decade earlier.¹ Following the American Revolution the Pictou settlements grew with an infusion of former highland soldiers and some loyalists. Privation may have been general but a...

  7. CHAPTER II Of Tools and Their Wielders
    (pp. 20-47)

    In those days a trip to Scotland was no trifling matter for a colonial Presbyterian. Clarence Mackinnon, a contemporary and classmate of Falconer, once likened the experience to a sojourn in the Holy Land.¹ Understandably then, as he drew nearer to Edinburgh, Robert’s habitual emotional reserve deserted him. Here, after all, was the ‘ecclesiastical hearth of Presbyterianism.’² Here was the fabled city so often described to him as his ‘intellectual capital.’ At eighteen the excitement was difficult to contain. Half a century later that well-remembered glow still warmed him. ‘Few moments of my life.’ he once recalled, ‘have been charged...

  8. CHAPTER III Pine Hill
    (pp. 48-75)

    Fortune smiled on Robert Falconer. Unlike many of his fellow graduates, he did not have to endure long years of apprenticeship in a rural pulpit. A scholar by inclination, he yearned to teach and write. As it happened, his wish was swiftly realized. In the autumn of 1892 he was appointed lecturer at the Presbyterian College, Halifax, an institution popularly known as Pine Hill. From his point of view this was the happy issue of a process, at times stormy, which had begun some years earlier. The college had evolved out of the old Pictou Academy. After decades of incessant...

  9. CHAPTER IV No Sabbath Droner
    (pp. 76-104)

    No squabbling, no unseemly bickering marred the selection of a new principal. Pollok no sooner resigned than all eyes turned to Falconer. Without hesitation, his nomination was unanimously endorsed.¹ Circumstances, after all, conspired to recommend him. For one thing, there was a natural desire to preserve continuity at Pine Hill. In the space of a few years the old guard had melted away and new men crowded the stage. A decade earlier Currie might have been the obvious choice. But in 1904 he was well past his prime and destined soon to retire. That left Falconer, the next senior man....

  10. CHAPTER V Loudon’s Ghost
    (pp. 105-134)

    Locked in a struggle to resuscitate Pine Hill, Falconer had known his share of problems. Yet things could have been much worse. Given free rein, he had fostered reconstruction in a positive atmosphere, unimpeded by internal division or outside interference. Finances, of course, imposed a ceiling on ambition. But even here a measure of relief had been found. Altogether, he must have counted himself fortunate if ever he paused to compare his lot with that of others at larger institutions. D.M. Gordon, for example, was finding Queen’s University a trying burden. ‘King Arthur’ had inherited a financial problem from Grant...

  11. CHAPTER VI The Organic University
    (pp. 135-155)

    The polar star was not always clearly visible to one engulfed in a morass of administrative detail. Moving abruptly from the intimacy of a small college to the complexity of Canada’s largest university, Falconer at times felt like a raw and much harried apprentice. Inundated with committee work, he complained to Walter Murray at Christmas 1907 that he scarcely had time to breathe, let alone reflect. Still, the labour had to be done, and he conceded that ‘through it one gets to know thoroughly the working of the machine.’ Slowly, he was coming to master the intricacies of his new...

  12. CHAPTER VII The Larger Context
    (pp. 156-197)

    Ideas flooded his mind faster than Falconer could transcribe them one crisp autumn afternoon in 1913. A unique opportunity seemed at hand and he was eager to grasp it. The centenary of Sir John A. Macdonald’s birth had found the Borden government casting about for a fitting tribute. Reflecting on this matter, Falconer outlined a brainstorm for transmission to the prime minister through Joseph Flavelle. It was a long shot, but there was nothing to lose. To be appropriate, said Falconer, a memorial should continue Macdonald’s great work by tangibly strengthening the fabric of national unity. There was a need,...

  13. CHAPTER VIII The Glorious Days of Our Race: 1914–18
    (pp. 198-241)

    With blackout drill in effect, nervous passengers huddled by night in their cabins. The air aboard was stifling as, lights darkened and portholes closed, theCalgariansteamed for New York at all possible speed. It was September 1914. Shipboard life had always delighted Falconer. For him it signalled a sweet, if fleeting, release from burdens waiting ashore. This time, however, the cares of the land reached out to trouble him as war’s lengthening shadow cast a pall across the North Atlantic. But he at least could keep his mind off larger matters while ministering to the stricken Sophie. Always a...

  14. CHAPTER IX Service, Tact, and Diplomacy
    (pp. 242-273)

    Where stability had been longed for, dislocation reigned. Where plenty had been prophesied, unemployment flourished. Inflation gnawed at wages; doubt wrestled with conviction; harmony dissolved in strife. To Falconer, as to many others, the first fruits of victory tasted far from sweet. He never doubted, of course, that had Germany won the war ‘a chilling ice-age of materialism would have crept over the earth.’¹ Not for a moment did he imagine that the four years of costly struggle had been wholly in vain. Still, the reward for sacrifice fell lamentably short of once-bright expectations. ‘It is wrongs unanswered,’ he recognized,...

  15. CHAPTER X Skylarking on the Ragged Edge of Folly
    (pp. 274-304)

    The political demise of the United Farmers of Ontario came none too soon for the embattled Falconer. But the passing of one crisis did not signal a new era of olympian calm in university circles. Granted, the provocative issue of constitutional reform was allowed to slip quietly from view. Yet others soon arose to render Falconer’s last decade in office at times less than easy. Indeed, in the 1920s and early 1930s he would find himself at the centre of numerous conflicts, great and small, which turned on the emotive question of academic freedom. Few aspects of his long career...

  16. CHAPTER XI Beyond the Office Walls
    (pp. 305-327)

    Despite the nearly insatiable demands of office, Falconer’s involvement in the larger world never waned. Indeed, a variety of extramural causes engaged his attention in the 1920s, not the least of which was the unsettling matter of church union. The truce he had helped negotiate with anti-unionists in 1917 was respected throughout the remainder of the war. But, while animosities among Presbyterians were temporarily restrained, they by no means vanished. As the period of grace neared its agreed end late in 1920, Falconer and others braced themselves for a resumption of strife. It was clear that the ‘antis’ would not...

  17. CHAPTER XII Emeritus
    (pp. 328-336)

    Unlike many an old war horse put out to honourable pasture, the now president emeritus had no itch to return to harness. He had followed the drum long enough. On the other hand, he had never been the sort to loll about in a state of gracious inactivity. Given free rein, liberated from the thousand and one demands of administrative routine, he viewed retirement as an opportunity rather than a curse. Of course less than perfect health imposed some annoying restrictions, but he had no intention of frittering away the precious hours left to him. Taking first things first, he...

  18. CHAPTER XIII Some Thoughts on Robert Falconer
    (pp. 337-340)

    Complex individuals, especially intellectuals, we are told, have the disconcerting habit of confounding those who delight in rigid classification.¹ Robert Alexander Falconer is a good case in point. Throughout a long and crowded life he donned a wide variety of hats and none of them seemed out of place. Indeed, each helped highlight a different aspect of his many-sided character and thought. Unfortunately, the depths of his personal life are hidden from view. However, as a thinker, a public figure, and a university leader, Falconer is open to assessment. The question is, what are we to make of him?


  19. Notes
    (pp. 341-386)
  20. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 387-398)
  21. Index
    (pp. 399-407)