M988X.122 | McGill University

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McGill University
Percy Erskine Nobbs
1909-1913, 20th century
45.9 x 61.1 cm
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Cityscape (3948) , Painting (2229) , painting (2227)
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Keys to History

This watercolour view of the main campus of McGill University depicts the buildings as they appeared in the early years of the 20th century.

The university was the result of a bequest of 10,000 pounds and approximately 46 acres from the estate of James McGill (1744-1813). McGill was an important Montreal merchant during the second half of the 18th century. In his will, he specified that at least one of the colleges of the university should bear the name McGill.

The Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning, the agency of the provincial government responsible for education, was required to open the college or university in Montreal before the McGill bequest of 1813 could become operative. But the process to open a new university was a long one; the charter for McGill was obtained in 1821, and the first teaching began only in 1829.

  • What

    The watercolour is an aerial view of the main McGill campus and was probably sketched while the artist, Percy Erskine Nobbs, was in the Maxwellton Apartment Building, across from the university on Sherbrooke Street.

  • Where

    McGill University is situated on the former country estate of James McGill. The estate was called "Burnside" for the small brook that ran through it. In lowland Scottish a "burn" is a small brook.

  • When

    The watercolour was probably executed between 1908 and 1913. Its view of the several new buildings and striking architecture on the McGill campus illustrates the importance of the university by the early 20th century.

  • Who

    Percy Erskine Nobbs (1875-1964), the artist who painted this scene, was the architect of a number of McGill buildings, including the addition to the Redpath Library seen on the left of the image and the McGill University Union (1904-06), now part of the McCord Museum.